Her name is Margaret and her story is not new. She moved to college as a shy, home-schooled, Christian 18-year-old with no knowledge of the world or men. Through a friend of a friend she met Damien, a high school drop-out who had fathered 3 children by different mothers and kept the campus supplied with illegal drugs. He was misunderstood and never really given a chance, Margaret told her friends when they tried to warn her. By the end of her first semester, she was pregnant and had dropped out of college to move in with her drug-dealing boyfriend.*
Her name is Christiana and her story is not new. An intoxicating mixture of innocence, beauty and spirit, Christiana was the most sought-after freshman at her Christian college. She went on group date after group date with athletes, academics and student government representatives. But it wasn’t until she met a tall, gangly musician that she succumbed to love. 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 Flick’s to shame – with everything happening so fast her friends couldn’t even keep up. But late one night, the couple found themselves alone and gave in to temptation. A month later she was pregnant and quickly married in a hurried ceremony.*
Her name is Layla and her story is not new. Brilliant, hailed as a genius by the people who know these things, Layla was sought after by top tier universities. A girl from a good Christian home, she brought a solid faith and a burning desire to evangelize with her to school. She made friends with the lost and set about winning them to the Lord. Soon, she spent more time pouring into the lost than being poured into by the saved. One weekend, she said yes to a road trip with her lost guy friends against the advice of her roommate and sister. Four lost guys and a Christian girl returned three days later…nothing had happened, but since the guys had a worldly reputation, her witness on campus was ruined.*
Their stories aren’t new. Inexperienced girls head out into the world and are faced with a plethora of evils lurking in the big bad world. 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 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. To be innocent of a sin, you have to have an opportunity to commit the act and the conviction to resist it. Real innocence faces evil but fights to remains pure.
Naïveté is being inexperienced because you haven’t had the exposure to be anything else.
Innocence is the choice to resist experiences that God says are not His best for you.
“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. “Yeah – don’t give that away to just anyone. You don’t realize how precious it is until it’s gone,” the Bible study leader counseled. An older girl chimed in, “and once you’ve taken that step you want more, and more, and 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. It’s considered a quality to be mocked by the ‘more experienced’ crowd.
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 (Eph. 5:25-27). No one would call our wise, all-knowing Savior naïve, but He is completely innocent of sin (Heb. 4:15). “Be imitators of God (holy and sinless), as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving…. Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.” Eph. 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. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up… whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:23-31
- Establish accountability – “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” 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
“You can’t keep from being tempted, but you can avoid rehearsing, and you can certainly refuse to act out a tempting thought. You can train your mind to mind. No temptation becomes sin without your permission.” (Every Young Woman’s Battle)
“After 8 years as a professional athlete, there aren’t many sins I haven’t committed at least once.” Jae choked out, a single tear escaping down her cheek. “Jesus has saved me from all that – I am pure in his eyes. But I don’t consider myself innocent – I still have intimate knowledge of all those sins. Nothing about me is innocent or pure,” she wiped away the tear. “I think you have an incomplete view of grace,” her accountability partner contradicted. “Yes, you have sinned, as we all have. But not only are we forgiven, but if we allow the Spirit to do his work in us, he can restore us to a place of holiness and innocence. Don’t sell God short.”*
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.“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2
How do we cultivate innocence? It’s simple, really. As much as possible, remove from our homes anything that reminds us of past sins or tempts us to continue in sinful patterns. It’s the only starvation diet I will ever recommend – starve the sinful flesh and it will wither away. Use Scripture as the filter for everything 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 worthy of praise, think about these things.” Phil. 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.
Because innocence is choosing to resist experiences that God says are not His best for you, so that your life brings Him the most possible glory.
“Set an example for all believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12
*All stories are true and used with permission. Names changed for privacy.