The greatest legacy my mother gave me was a legacy of holiness, of integrity, of a life well-lived and of exemplifying the Word in action.
Simply put, Alice Gray stood out among the crowd. Many of the people I grew up around attended church. But looking back, there were very few whom I would classify as true Christ-followers. That’s not to judge them and say that they were bad people. But there’s a difference between those who follow a religion (which simply involves rote repetition) and those who are committed to growing and developing in their relationship with God.
Even at an early age, I was fascinated by the life that my mother lived in front of me. Here was a woman—beautiful, educated and divorced—committed to living a holy, chaste, pure life in a time when society would say, “Do what you want. Live how you want. Sleep with whomever you want.”
Because my mother was raising me to know the Lord, she had already determined that her commitment to God was far more important than the will of society or the whims of a shifting culture. I give God the honor for Alice Gray. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.
Committed to Purity
Part of what my mother passed down to me was a deep desire to walk in purity, particularly in the area of sexuality. I was 13 years old when my mother made me promise to be a virgin when I got married. Though that certainly made an impression on me, what mattered more was when I made a personal commitment at 16 to be a virgin when I got married.
That commitment lasted 21 years. I was 37 years old when I got married, and my wife and I both waited for each other. We are so grateful that we did.
As any pastor or ministry leader knows, your title doesn’t make you immune to mistakes—far from it. In fact, God calls many into full-time ministry because of their past and how He’s redeemed them. If that’s your story and you made some missteps early on in your life, I’m here to encourage you. Maybe you made some bad decisions or took some wrong actions. Or maybe things happened that were outside of your control. Whatever the case, God can redeem you. He can redeem the time. He can restore your heart. He can restore your body.
Sadly, many Christians—both ministers and others—get bogged down with guilt and condemnation when it comes to issues of sex and relationships. If there is one regret that I have today in how I grew up, it’s that I did not have a lot of information. I came from a very conservative background, so we didn’t talk a lot about sex. As a result, I only understood certain things, and others I had to find out for myself.
But sex is much more than just a physical thing, and it’s crucial that we teach the emerging generations this in a time when they’re inundated with other messages. In fact, I encourage young people to understand that purity is not the external commitment to not engage in premarital sexual activity. It’s an internal commitment of your heart to serve God because you love Him.
If you approach purity from a rules-based perspective, it will be cumbersome and you won’t have joy. But when you serve God from a perspective of expectation and trust, then you’ll understand the Scripture that says, “Present your bodies [as] a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).
It is perfectly reasonable for us to give God our bodies in return for all that He has done for us. We need a generation of young people who will stand on this truth, who will live holy, who will serve the Lord, and who will honor Him in mind, body and spirit.
The Church’s Response
The ultimate expression of sexual intimacy can only be found within the confines of marriage, as God has prescribed it. This is not a popular statement, but I’m not searching for popularity. I’m searching for biblical relevance.
I believe that at their core, most young people are searching for the same thing.
Young people can live lives of purity. They can guard themselves from the danger zones of premature relationships, heavy petting and all forms of sexual activity that may not be intercourse but are still regarded as sexual immorality.
Sadly, the church doesn’t talk often about these issues, yet the need for godly voices to speak up with biblical truth about sexuality is greater now than ever. We need to have open and honest dialogue with the emerging generations, not from a judgmental perspective, but from one of healing, honor and covering. This allows young people to speak up honestly about the struggles they face, to express heartfelt questions and concerns, and then to realize practical application so they aren’t walking alone through this powerful yet delicate minefield that we call human sexuality.
As a man of God, it’s my prayer that God will capture the hearts of this generation and that they will commit themselves fully—not just on Sundays, but on Friday nights, Saturday nights, when Mom and Dad aren’t home, when there’s no one there to hold them accountable. That can only come from a true encounter with the real Jesus that causes you to commit yourself beyond what temptation can offer.
God deserves our very best, and He deserves it right now. I’m committed to celebrating purity. I’m committed to celebrating the body of Christ. I’m committed to seeing young people empowered to make God-honoring decisions in relationships.
I encourage young people regularly that if I can do this, anyone can do it. And I don’t say that boastfully but in true humility. By no means have I been perfect; there are times in my life I would love to have changed. But what I did commit to, I was able to hold on to, and I believe God received glory from it.
I’m blessed now—married almost three years with two beautiful children. God has been good to me. But I believe in no small part that I am where I am today because of the commitment I made as a teenager. And that commitment was a direct result of the impact my mother had on me. She was both a model for me and a steady source of guidance.
As Christian leaders, we must be the same for younger generations, particularly in this area of purity. Whatever our past looks like—whether we’ve walked in purity all our days or only began recently—God has called us as leaders to exemplify Christ to those we lead. We can offer hope to all ages in this area of sexuality, but particularly to those in the emerging generations who face a daily bombardment of sexual temptation. As we guide them, let’s remind them that what you do at 13 affects you at 35, 45 and beyond.
In a culture that throws caution to the wind and is all about instant gratification, we—both you and those you lead—can stand out from the crowd, just as my mother did. So let’s make wise decisions now, so God can get glory out of our lives later on.
John Gray serves as an associate pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston. A former youth pastor, Gray has toured with Kirk Franklin as a musician, appeared on TV hit shows as an actor and is an in-demand speaker.