Chastity has historically been considered a virtue in almost every segment of Christianity. It has sometimes been, however, the only test of holiness for some Christians, while today there are a great number who hardly see it as necessary. I want to explore why it is a virtue and yet show that it is superficial to make it the sum of all righteousness.
Firstly, let’s consider some definitions. Virtue is generally defined as moral excellence. It is righteous behavior and godly character. Chastity, as I mean it here, is sexual behavior that conforms to Christian values. It is sexual faithfulness in marriage and sexual abstinence outside marriage. Chastity as a virtue, therefore, says that sexual activity conforming to the Christian vision of humanity is a moral good. But why is it a moral good? The answer to this question solves the problem of ignoring it as a virtue as well as having a myopic obsession with it as a moral litmus test.
Morality – How we treat people
The biblical understanding of righteousness and sin is always from a relational perspective. In other words, right and wrong have to do with how we treat people. Righteousness is behavior that respects and honors people, whereas sin is a violation of relationship. Morality isn’t about some abstract code written on a tablet in heaven, but is simply the reasonable requirement of how to conduct oneself toward others.
What matters most in this world is people. In fact, things only have meaning in relationship to persons. Morality, therefore, has to do with the welfare of people. Behavior that diminishes a person’s humanity is wrong. Behavior that respects and contributes to a person’s worth is right. Chastity is a virtue because it respects the person and contributes to their welfare.
Intimacy = Vulnerability = Responsibility
Sexual union is about as intimate as you can get with another person. The more intimate we are with someone, the greater obligation we have to them since intimacy is vulnerability. The more vulnerable you are to me, the greater power I have to jeopardize your welfare, and so the greater moral responsibility I have toward you.
Intimacy is probably the most fulfilling experience a human can have because with it you are partaking of the greatest treasure in this world – the soul and essence of another person. Like Wesley says in the movie The Princess Bride, “This is true love – you think this happens every day?” Intimacy is the grand prize that everybody wants. But something so valuable must have an equally great cost, and that cost is commitment.
Solemn Gift, Solemn Commitment
Chastity basically acknowledges that if you’re going to entrust me with your soul, the most valuable thing possible in this life, I must be willing to commit to you in an equally valuable way. That’s called marriage. If I won’t bind myself with the most solemn of commitments when entrusted with the most solemn of things, then I necessarily cheapen what’s shared. And to cheapen a person is immoral.
Chastity is preserving the value of people. It’s saying that you can’t be treated lightly, that you are more important than a cheap thrill, and if I want to draw irrevocably close to you, I must irrevocably care for you. This affirms both your value and mine, and thus, chastity is a virtue.
Sex has been divorced from its meaning and has either been treated too lightly or been focused on in a way that eclipses the real story behind it. Sexual sharing isn’t simply about biological impulses and taking your clothes off. It’s an act of soul sharing that allows people to commune in a profound way. Sex matters because people matter. Making sure that people matter is what virtue is all about. Chastity ensures that the most sacred thing a person has, their very self, is treated in a most sacred way.