Question: "What does the Bible say about chastity?"
Answer: The word chastity means “the quality of being morally pure.” Usually, we think of chastity as abstention from illicit sexual activities. Priests and nuns in the Roman Catholic Church take a vow of chastity, promising to abstain from all forms of sexual activity. Chastity also has a lesser-known meaning related to personal integrity. For example, one might say, “The pastor was a shining example of chastity in every area of his life.” Although today we are more familiar with synonyms such as morality, purity, and modesty, the Bible has much to say about chastity, both sexual and otherwise.
Scripture exhorts young men to treat older women as mothers and younger women as sisters “with all chastity” or “purity” (1 Timothy 5:2). When Paul used familial terms to describe women in the church, he set the boundaries for chaste behavior between the sexes. The meaning was clear: “Treat every woman the way you want someone to treat your mother or your sister.” Paul also instructed his young protégé, Timothy, to take care that his own life was a model of chastity so that he would “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Deacons and elders must be models of chastity in every area of life (1 Timothy 3:1–13). This includes not being addicted to alcohol, remaining faithful to one wife, staying free from the love of money, and maintaining an honorable reputation in all ways.
The Bible’s teaching on sexual chastity is clear. Any sexual activity outside a one-man-one-woman covenant marriage is sin (Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 6:18; 2 Corinthians 12:21). But chastity is more than white-knuckled abstention from sex; chastity begins in the heart. It is from the heart that all evil comes (Matthew 15:18–19). Jesus taught that even private sexual lust is unchaste and sinful (Matthew 5:28). Pornography, immodest clothing, and heavy make-out sessions between dating couples all violate the Bible’s principle of chastity. Chaste people must set personal boundaries so that their hearts are not led into temptation (Romans 13:14).
All Christians are called to practice chastity by honoring the Lord with their bodies and minds (1 Corinthians 6:15–20; Colossians 3:17). For unmarried people chastity includes celibacy. For married people chastity means remaining faithful to their spouses (1 Corinthians 7:2–5). Christians who battle same-sex attraction practice chastity by remaining celibate for life, trusting that the Lover of their souls will satisfy even their deepest longings. Limiting exposure to sexually exploitive images and situations promotes chastity. Personal times of worship, prayer, and meditation on Scripture help keep our minds chaste as we work to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Even though the concept of chastity is quickly vanishing from our world’s value system, it remains part of God’s. He searches the hearts and minds of every person, seeking those whose hearts are wholly His that He might show Himself strong on their behalf (2 Chronicles 16:9; Jeremiah 17:10). The Creator of our bodies and our souls is not fooled by our outward displays of chastity designed to impress onlookers. He seeks those who long to be “pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8). When chastity is our goal in every area of life, the Lord strengthens and rewards us with power to overcome sin and enjoy more of His presence (James 4:8; Psalm 34:17–18).