They had everything in common -- love for the Lord, desire to do mission work and a heart for the lost. Theirs was a whirlwind romance that would put most chick flicks to shame -- with everything happening so fast her friends couldn't even keep up. But late one night, they found themselves alone and gave in to temptation. A month later she was pregnant and the couple quickly married in a hurried ceremony.
Her story isn't new. Young adults head out into the world and are faced with a plethora of evils. I used to think their story was one of innocence. But it isn't; it's a story of the fateful combination of naïveté, temptation and lack of accountability. It's sometimes a story of a sheltered upbringing, not strong moral convictions.
G. K. Chesterton once wrote that a man cannot congratulate himself for being innocent of a wild life if he lives on a deserted island. Innocence requires a choice. Real innocence faces evil but fights to remains pure.
"So, when was your first kiss?" The question was posed at the end of an all-girls small group. "Um, I've never been kissed," 21-year-old Madeline admitted sheepishly, not quite able to meet the gaze of any of the girls in her Bible study group. "That's awesome!" One girl announced much to Madeline's shock. An older girl chimed in, "It's really admirable that you've waited -- even though I know you must be tempted, 'cause your boyfriend is super cute. Hold strong, 'cause once you've taken that step you want more. Innocence may mean less kisses right now, but it also means less temptation forever. Stay strong!"
Sadly, that isn't the standard reaction to innocence. Often associated with words like "inexperienced" and "gullible" and "ignorant," innocence has a terrible reputation. In current society, it's seen as a burden to get rid of -- as soon as possible.
Why are we ashamed of or eager to get rid of our innocence of sin? Why don't we praise innocence in those around us? Jesus calls His bride to be like Himself -- pure (Ephesians 5:25-27). No one would call our wise, all-knowing Savior naïve, but He is completely innocent of sin (Hebrews 4:15).
"Be imitators of God, as beloved children ... but sexual immorality and impurity must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints." Ephesians 5:1-4, 15. Innocence of sin must be fought for with great wisdom:
-- Determine your boundaries. "All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful ... whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." 1 Corinthians 10:23-31.
-- Establish accountability. "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." James 5:16.
-- Seek wise counsel. "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice." Proverbs 12:15.
How often do we assume that because we have experienced sin, that we can never really be removed from it? The power of God can transform our minds, replacing the knowledge of sin with the knowledge of God. Restoration of our innocence is possible, but we have to pursue it. Not because we deserve it, but because we desire to become like our Savior. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" Romans 12:1-2.
How do we cultivate innocence? It's simple, really. As much as possible, remove anything that tempts us into past sins or perpetuates sinful patterns. Use Scripture as the filter for everything in your life: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything praiseworthy, think about these things" Philippians 4:8.
Let us fight to remain innocent of the sin we don't know and seek to be purified of the sins we have known.
Innocence matters because it's what sets God's people apart from the sinful world around them (1 Peter 2:9). Innocence matters because it's God's method of protecting His children from the consequences of sin. Innocence matters because it provides an accurate representation of a pure and holy Savior to the world (Titus 2). Innocence matters because it's who we're called to be as children of God (1 Peter 1:13-16).
As believers, we're called not only to live in innocence but to proclaim the call to innocence to those around us -- an innocence and purity that draws the lost to their Savior, guides new believers in spiritual growth and encourages mature believers to allow the work of sanctification to continue.
As women, proclaiming innocence means:
-- Mentoring younger women in wise choices and pure living.
-- Raising children to value innocence out of love and obedience to Jesus.
-- Encouraging friends to maintain innocence and purity in marriage.
-- Challenging men to guard their eyes from anything that would tempt them from purity.
-- Choosing a life of innocence over the latest trend, experience or relationship that could lead us astray.
Gabrielle Pickle is a contributing writer to the Unlocking Femininity website (UnlockingFemininity.com), a freelance writer based out of Atlanta and a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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