Truths of Moral Purity
October 1998

“Truths of Moral Purity,” Ensign, Oct. 1998, 43

Truths of Moral Purity

It was the look in his son’s eyes that brought Blaine* back to the truth. Suddenly he saw that in his child’s hurt and confusion was the real disaster of his adultery and broken marriage covenant. He felt convicted.

Years earlier, Blaine had begun complaining that his wife spent too much time with the children and Church service. “I felt neglected,” insisted Blaine, who began to view his wife’s love of the children and of the gospel as a burden.

Over time, he began to embrace the views of the world and convinced himself that chastity was not a necessary moral commitment. “We all change as we pass through the various stages of life,” he said to excuse himself. “An affair is no big deal.” Seeking to justify himself, he blamed his wife for his behavior.

But with the disciplinary council behind him and divorce papers potentially ahead of him, Blaine saw his excuses, his rationalizations, his blindness. He had called good evil and evil good. He was losing his Church membership and perhaps his family. As he looked into his son’s eyes, he realized his own guilt, and, filled with remorse, he saw the anguish he had created for others.

Human sexuality is more than a physical matter. Chastity and fidelity begin in the spirit, not in the body. They are an expression of the condition of our spirit. When our spirit is in tune with godly thinking and gospel truths, we want to live high standards, and our actions reflect that desire. Thus, chastity and fidelity are more than sexual abstinence before marriage and sexual fidelity after marriage. They express the quality of our spiritual life.

Immorality and infidelity are likewise more than merely physical acts. They too are an expression of the condition of our spirit. They are the culmination of a path upon which the spirit embarked long before. The body simply responds as a lustful spirit directs. A lustful spirit produces the lusts of the flesh. When we reject light and truth, Satan’s thinking and worldly lies seem attractive. When we walk in spiritual darkness, we reject the truth about our lusts and think they are normal or “natural”—and somehow justified.

Hence, the threat to the chastity of the unmarried or to the fidelity of the married is determined by the condition or quality of our spirits, which is evidence of whether we are, in any given moment, choosing light and truth over captivity and death, whether we are honoring the light within us or rejecting that light.

The Truth

The truth is that the Lord’s call to chastity and fidelity is a great blessing, is essential for happiness, and is realistic and practical.

Susan, baptized into the Church at age 28, had always lived the law of chastity. “My parents had integrity and expected me to have high moral standards, to be honest and chaste, so I just did it,” says Susan, who was raised in the Midwest. “Now I realize that I was responding to the light of Christ. I never dated a Latter-day Saint until I met Tom. When I heard the gospel, I was glad that I had never given in to sexual temptation. Later, Tom and I were married in the Salt Lake Temple. One year later our baby daughter died at birth. We were devastated but grateful we had been worthy to be sealed in the temple when we were first married. Knowing that our baby was born in the covenant brought us critical understanding and peace.”

Susan and Tom still live in the Midwest after 24 years of marriage and five children.”Several of our friends and cousins have divorced,” says Tom. “We have had our share of financial and family challenges, yet we both want to be true to our temple covenants, so we just work things out.”

“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” affirms “that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of his children” and “that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102).

Such inspired counsel is essential to any individual’s well-being and to the favorable condition of his or her spirit. The commitment involves the giving of our hearts—our broken hearts, our softened hearts—unequivocally to our mates. We are, in fact, to have our “hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another” (Mosiah 18:21). For husbands and wives, there can be no fulfillment without such willing and mutual commitment in love.

Yet in our time, the ridicule of chastity and the justification of adultery constitute frequent attacks on the family—some of the most devastating of all the attacks made. In such an environment, the family seems to be under siege as never before. The unraveling of communities is often traced to the weakening fabric of its families. Whatever external forces fray family ties, sexual impurity is an even more destructive weapon because it attacks families from within. Lost because of adultery are trust, unity, sacrifice, honesty, humility, and covenants. Lost because of immorality are confidence, commitment, worthiness, and promise. Sexual impurity ruins individual lives, yet the consequences always continue beyond the present moment, beyond the illicit relationship, and stretch across generations. We cannot isolate the consequences of our sins from others. Mothers sorrow, fathers weep, brothers and sisters are horrified, children are visited with the impact of sins and of consequences not of their making. Marriages are deeply threatened or destroyed.

Yet repentance is possible. The wounded can be healed, but it requires the Savior’s atoning sacrifice. Further, the gospel teaches us that sexual purity is an essential feature of preserving the family across generations. As we honor our covenants with each other, as fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, we guard the power to create life as a gift from God. Those who have so lived, across generations, testify to the blessings of such a life. They joyfully testify it is the happiest way, the most fulfilling way, the most productive way, the safest way, the most glorious way, and the most honorable way to act in behalf of those we love.

The Counterfeit

The worldly response to the Lord’s call to chastity and fidelity, however, is to offer a counterfeit of the truth. The counterfeit version sees chastity and fidelity as unnecessary for happiness, as an unrealistic expectation. This view, supported by the philosophies of men, attempts to justify immoral living, to make it attractive and defensible.

Just as a well-made counterfeit bill is hard to discern, the seductive invitations to sexual impurity are so disguised as to make immorality seemingly acceptable, valuable, perhaps even inevitable. Alas, everything that worldliness promises it cannot deliver. Worldliness offers a false version of the way things really are, and that falsity is expressed in attitudes, feelings, beliefs, philosophies, and actions.

President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Lucifer … will use his logic to confuse and his rationalizations to destroy. He will shade meanings, open doors an inch at a time, and lead from purest white through all the shades of gray to the darkest black” (Faith Precedes the Miracle [1972], 152).

It is when we walk within these shades of gray that our thoughts and our actions place us in jeopardy. “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart,” said the Lord (Matt. 5:28). It is, however, we who give life to the danger as a result of what we seek and what we invite to stay in our thoughts.

In this and other ways, worldly and seductive influences are an invitation to live contrary to God’s commandments and to live against our best interests. The philosophies of men are pitted against the truths of the gospel to provide the thinking necessary to foster and defend the acts of fornication or adultery. Three specific false philosophies which challenge the Lord’s teachings about chastity are:

First, individualism—the false idea that personal identity, space, rights, development, and well-being must take place in opposition to the claims of family ties and relationships. This translates in attitude and action to mean that my life and my sexual feelings are my business. Only I know what is best for me. Nobody can tell me what to do.

Second, relativism—the false idea that all moral stands are equally valuable, and it is prejudicial to assume one way is better than some other way. This translates in attitude and action to mean that morals are a way of imposing points of view on others and that those views are to their detriment. The result is that morality becomes relative to one’s personal, possibly unique, understanding.

Third, victimization—the false idea that we are primarily simply products of our drives, desires, past environments, and imperfections. This translates in attitude and action to mean that we are not really free moral agents; thus we cannot help how we act or how we feel sexually and shouldn’t feel guilty about something which isn’t our fault. According to this view, when we “lose control” it may be a flaw in our humanity, but it isn’t something for which we should be held accountable.

These three false ideas—individualism, relativism, and victimization—are the counterfeits to the equivalent gospel truths relating to family commitment, morality, and agency:

First, it is in commitment to family and others that our personal identity and development are fostered. Thus, we come to earth to serve others; as a consequence of losing ourselves in serving others we further find ourselves.

Second, it is in morality that we acknowledge God’s unchanging standards of chastity and fidelity in a world of relativistic values (see Matt. 5:27–28).

Third, it is in agency that we recognize we are able to choose not to be acted upon by our sexual drives and desires in a way which makes us our own victims.

By contrast, Satan seeks to justify false philosophies and worldly behaviors with an attending worldly reasonableness about it all. He has not given up the tactics he used against Jesus in the wilderness, constantly saying that if we are what we say we are—the children of God—then there is nothing wrong with experiencing appetites, power, or glory (see Matt. 4:1–11). He constantly asks us to misuse our sexual desires, which are central to our mission on earth. If we succumb to living in ways counterfeit to the Lord’s ways, we destroy our happiness and damage our nobility. Where the Lord warns of danger on life’s straight and narrow pathway, Satan’s counterfeit signal is to suggest harmlessness. Where our very mission from the Lord in marriage and family is at stake, Satan’s counterfeit is to say sexual involvement is more attractive and to say it is inconsequential. When Satan asks, “Why not?” we are central targets of the temptation. The attack begins with us as it did with Jesus—it is an attack on the spirit to tell the body to do unseemly things. Truly, it is a serpent’s beguiling invitation.

Our Agency

When Joseph, son of Jacob, was sold into Egypt to Potiphar, he soon became the desire of Potiphar’s wife. “And it came to pass … that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, … how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? … And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within. And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me; and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out” (Gen. 39:7–12).

Like Joseph, we too can choose. Agency resides in the spirit, not in the body. Hence, the body responds to what the spirit tells it to do. We are not the victims of drives and desires that are beyond our control (see 1 Cor. 10:13). We are moral agents, capable of initiating action. Speaking of our agency, the Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves” (D&C 58:28).

In contrast to what Satan would say, sexual purity is realistic, essential, and a blessing. To choose to live a chaste life is to choose to be the most practical of all men and women. By shunning indiscriminate and self-centered sexual involvement, we not only avoid the physical consequences—which is what the world worries most about—we avoid the long trail of spiritual, emotional, familial, and social consequences as well. Such consequences often go far beyond what we anticipate or imagine. They are certainly more than we can control or avoid.

Further, physical consequences are not just the extremes of pregnancy out of wedlock or AIDS. Virtually incurable venereal diseases, some of which result in permanent infertility, are considered epidemic among the immoral. In addition, nonphysical consequences, such as emotional distress, regret, guilt, and heartbreak, cannot be conveniently handled with a pill or some other kind of the world’s so-called protection. These nonphysical consequences can destroy us spiritually, emotionally, and socially, with the results affecting generations of families. As Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles points out, “One cannot degrade marriage without tarnishing other words as well, such words as boy, girl, manhood, womanhood, husband, wife, father, mother, baby, children, family, home” (in Conference Report, April 1981, 15; or Ensign, May 1981, 14).

Yet in spite of the Lord’s teachings, some persons do not choose chastity and fidelity. King David, unlike Joseph, ignored the boundaries the Lord set. Counter to all that the Lord had given him, he lusted after Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife. Following adultery and Bathsheba’s announcement of her pregnancy, David put Uriah in a situation where he would be killed. Then when the prophet Nathan presented the parable of the ewe lambs, David did not see the obvious. Sin had blinded him to many truths (see 2 Sam. 12).

Unfortunately, in the world there are many persons who are like King David, blinded by their own sins, blinded to the meaning of their own actions. It is only after they come out of the darkness of their wrongdoing that they see the truth of their circumstances. Those who have chosen to repent of sexual sin bear testimony that their immorality was the most painful, regretful, despairing, false, subversive, destructive circumstance they ever invited into their lives.

No person I have ever talked to who has violated the law of chastity or the law of marital fidelity acknowledged their actions were wrong until they were in the midst of repentance. While being immoral or unfaithful, they believed their own excuses or rationalizations, statements like these: I couldn’t help it. We weren’t hurting anybody. We’re only human. These things happen. I just lost control. What else could I do, given how I feel? We’re just young. You don’t know what it’s like. Better find out now if we are compatible. People fall out of love. My spouse is just not the same. People change. I don’t know what came over me. We just slipped once. It’s no big deal. I’ll repent later. We’re different. At least this woke us both up. We are no longer taking each other for granted. It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.

Each of these incredibly false excuses is a denial that the actions committed were entirely wrong and that the individual is fully responsible. These excuses are attempts to deny that wickedness is wickedness. The gospel teaches that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Conversely, the world teaches that happiness is in wickedness. As long as the misuse of the power to create life is excused or explained away, it is the expression of an unrepentant or self-deceiving soul. As long as people try to see benefit in sin, it is as the Apostle John stated: “If we say [in our sin] that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8).

Walk Uprightly

In the spirit of “ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16), it is clear that the philosophies of the world reject the Lord’s teachings of individual agency, morality, and marriage and family commitment. We live in a time when immorality is not only blithely publicized but routinely permitted as if it were of no great consequence. And moral purity is often considered old-fashioned or only for the unsophisticated. While chastity may be seen as admirable in some ways, some herald that it is not realistic or expected or necessary. Yet anyone who takes the idea of personal identity and family seriously, anyone who sees the value of lasting, high-quality relationships across generations, anyone who understands how parents create a home where love, commitment, and sacrifice abound, understands the insidious threat to individual well-being that premarital sex and marital infidelity create.

If our hearts and minds are wrong, we cannot then live right. Consistent with our covenants as Latter-day Saints, our goal is to align our spirits with the Lord’s thinking and to his gospel truths—to give our hearts to God. When we do so, we change the condition of our spirits. Then chastity and fidelity become the result, and with that result comes a life of immeasurable blessings. The counsel to be virtuous is the Lord’s way of protecting us from harm and setting the stage of mortal life for our benefit. And as we “walk uprightly and remember the covenant wherewith [we] have covenanted one with another,” then “all things shall work together for our good” (D&C 90:24). If we are faithful, we will receive “glory … and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” (D&C 132:19).

Light Dispels Darkness

The false ideas of the world and the truths of the gospel are absolutely incompatible. Daily we are bombarded by the world’s views of chastity and fidelity. Too much of this worldly thinking, from its philosophies to its practices, is characterized by calling “evil good, and good evil” (Isa. 5:20). Following are some of the gospel’s responses to some of these false worldly ideas:

False worldly ideas

Truths of the gospel

1. It’s my life. I can do with it what I want.

1. I am a child of God. I belong to God. In fact, I have been “bought with a price” by his Only Begotten Son (see 1 Cor. 7:23).

2. To avoid sexually explicit movies or television is prudish. None of it really affects us. You can be above it.

2. Whether in big doses or small doses, poison is poison. Lustful thoughts give birth to sin (see James 1:14–15). In fact, we will be judged by our thoughts, words, and deeds (see Mosiah 4:30).

3. We have to be realistic about ourselves; we’re only human.

3. We each have the power to choose the right (see 2 Ne. 2:27; Hel. 14:30). We will not be tempted above what we can bear (see 1 Cor. 10:13; 3 Ne. 18:15).

4. Sexual feelings are normal and natural and need to be expressed. It is unhealthy to repress or deny those feelings.

4. Sexual feelings are normal and natural and are to be expressed after we are married, but it is not unhealthy to control them. Jesus taught, “And now for a man to take up his cross, is to deny himself all ungodliness, and every worldly lust, and keep my commandments” (see JST footnote to Matt. 16:24).

5. We shouldn’t be ashamed of our bodies, so why make a big thing out of how we dress?

5. Our bodies are not to be used to tempt or encourage sin in others (see 1 Tim. 2:9–10; 1 Cor. 3:16–17; 1 Cor. 6:19–20).

6. What is wrong with sex before marriage between consenting adults?

6. Premarital sex is forbidden by God and is a fundamental misuse of creative powers (see 1 Cor. 6:13, 18; Jacob 3:12).

7. It is easy to repent.

7. Repentance that brings back the Holy Ghost is an agony unanticipated by those who thought they could disobey God. The idea that anyone can trifle with genuine repentance and character change trivializes the Savior and his Atonement (see Alma 39:5–9; D&C 18:11; D&C 19:4; D&C 82:7).

8. Just because we’re living together doesn’t mean we’re not committed to each other. Marriage is not necessary. It is just a formality.

8. A commitment that rejects the covenant of marriage is in reality a refusal to commit. In fact, “marriage is ordained of God” and is a covenant that is not to be mocked (D&C 49:15). Our obligation is to God and to all present and future family members (see “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102).

9. If we don’t live together, how will we know if we’re sexually compatible?

9. Sexual compatibility is an expression of your social-emotional-spiritual compatibility. In fact, if you have problems, it will be because of the condition of your spirits, not the incompatibility of your bodies.

What People of Other Faiths Are Saying

“Choosing purity is difficult, but for those who put in the hard work and prayer, living by Christ’s standard is a road to deep joy and real sexual satisfaction. At no time in history has our society been more in need of men willing to stand up, be different, and demonstrate the joy of living by a fundamentally better standard. …

“We expect God to keep His promises to us. … Yet many men find it difficult to believe God has their best interest at heart with respect to sex. …

“Our sexuality and desires are a wonderful gift from God, and He knows they can best be enjoyed in the context of sexual purity—in both thought and action.”1—Jerry Kirk, author

“I am still a virgin. Abstaining from extramarital sex is one of the most unpopular things a person can do, much less talk about. From a sheer numbers standpoint, it can be a lonely cause—but that doesn’t mean it’s not right.”2—A. C. Green, basketball player with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks

“We should raise the standard and expect teens not to have sex. This standard should be upheld at home, school, church and in community education. It should be done by communicating a strong message of character education, … promoting abstinence and exploring relationships.”3—Amy Stephens, Public Policy Representative, Focus on the Family

“The more we learn, the more science is forced to acknowledge the link between promiscuous behavior and deadly disease.”4—Scott DeNicola, associate editor, Citizen

“The most important decision you will ever make is to live your life God’s way, and that includes sexual purity.”5—Joy Jacobs, author

“God … has made his standard clear: sexual involvement outside of marriage is wrong.”6—Josh McDowell, Bible scholar

For More Information

Following are some Church pamphlets and articles on the topic of chastity and fidelity:


A Parent’s Guide (item no. 31125).

For the Strength of Youth (item no. 34285).

Selected Ensign Articles

Robert L. Backman, “Chastity: The Source of True Manhood,” Nov. 1989, 38.

Ezra Taft Benson, “President Benson Speaks on the Importance of Chastity,” Dec. 1987, 67.

James E. Faust, “Serving the Lord and Resisting the Devil,” Sept. 1995, 2.

Steve Gilliland, “Chastity: A Principle of Power,” June 1980, 16.

Bruce C. and Marie K. Hafen, “Bridle All Your Passions,” Feb. 1994, 14.

David B. Haight, “Personal Morality,” Nov. 1984, 70.

Gordon B. Hinckley, “In Search of Peace and Freedom,” Aug. 1989, 2.

Spencer W. Kimball, “President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality,” Nov. 1980, 94.

Joy Lundberg, “Helping Youth Choose Sexual Purity,” Oct. 1991, 20.

W. Jeffrey Marsh, “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery,” July 1994, 43.

Dallin H. Oaks, “Same-Gender Attraction,” Oct. 1995, 6.

Boyd K. Packer, “Covenants,” Nov. 1990, 84.

Boyd K. Packer, “To Young Men and Young Women,” May 1989, 53.

Boyd K. Packer, “Why Stay Morally Clean?” July 1972, 111.

R. Gary Shapiro, “Leave the Obscene Unseen,” Aug. 1989, 27.

“Talking with Your Children about Moral Purity,” Dec. 1986, 57.

Selected New Era Articles

Elizabeth Cottrell, “V. I. S.,” Mar. 1990, 24.

Spencer W. Kimball, “President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality,” Nov. 1980, 38.

Neal A. Maxwell, “The Stern But Sweet Seventh Commandment,” June 1979, 36.

Name Withheld, “Courting Disaster,” Feb. 1998, 34.

Richard G. Scott, “Serious Questions, Serious Answers,” Oct. 1995, 4.

JeaNette Goates Smith, “Dating: Give Me a Brake,” June 1993, 8.


  • Name has been changed.


  1. “God’s Call to Sexual Purity,” Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper (1994), 92–93.

  2. U.S. News and World Report, 19 May 1997, 59.

  3. “They Say, We Say: Challenging the Myths of ‘Safe Sex’ Advocates,”Plugged In, 15 Oct. 1997, insert.

  4. “The High Cost of Promiscuity,” Citizen, Feb. 1998, 8–9.

  5. Single-Parent Family, Mar. 1998, 6.

  6. “What’s the Truth about Sex?” Right from Wrong (1994), 150.

  • Terrance D. Olson is a professor in the Department of Family Sciences at Brigham Young University.

Photography by Steve Bunderson; posed by models