Reasons to Stay Pure


Neal A. Maxwell
Adapted from an article printed in the April 1981 Tambuli.
The blessings of obedience are beautiful. Disobedience is spiritually crippling. The power to choose is yours.

My attempt will be to deal somewhat differently with the basic cluster of standards associated with chastity before marriage and fidelity after—all of which are a part of the stern but sweet seventh commandment, perhaps the least popular of the Ten Commandments.

Not a usual topic in our day, the seventh commandment is one of the least heeded but most needed laws of God. The world cares very little for the keeping of this commandment, so long as people appear to be admirable in any other respect. Once they are driven off the high ground of principle, so many people then settle for being “practical.” But immorality is so impractical!

As disciples we cannot so cave in. We have been given the commandments concerning chastity before marriage, fidelity after, and the avoidance of homosexuality. We have even been instructed with regard to the perils of mental unchastity (see Matt. 5:28). The trends of a particular time cannot alter the eternal laws of God, nor can we give up.

Eternity Starts Now

I have long believed that inside some of the hardest doctrines, deep inside them, are some of the greatest truths and the most precious principles. But these are not to be discovered casually or irreverently. Obedience actually brings both blessings and additional knowledge as Peter promised; obeying correct principles accelerates knowing (see 2 Pet. 1:8). Such is the case with the seventh commandment.

For instance, Alma said that we must bridle all our passions so that we can “be filled with love” (Alma 38:12).

If such passions were actually true love, they would not need to be replaced with love. The Lord (in an 1839 revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith) linked “charity towards all men” with letting virtue garnish our thoughts unceasingly (D&C 121:45).

In the parable of the sower, Jesus spoke of how some of those who might change for the better fail to do so because the lusts of former things actually “choke the word” (Mark 4:19). This choking occurs because carnality is a profound contraction of the soul.

In pondering the seventh commandment, we come to see that we are also dealing with considerations of a transcendental or eternal character. In Proverbs we read, “Whoso commiteth adultery … lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul” (Prov. 6:32; emphasis added). There are some consequences of sexual immorality which we are simply not able to measure fully; but they are very real—though not seen. Paul wrote about the things that are not seen which are eternal (see 2 Cor. 4:18).

Quite frankly, brothers and sisters, we should be preparing now to live in a better world. This life is so vital, but it is such a small moment. And if we are too quick to adapt to the ways of this fleeting and flawed world, that very adjustment will maladjust us for our life in the next—a life that will last forever! No wonder those who break this commandment “lacketh understanding.”

Three Good Reasons

There are, of course, some concerns associated with the seventh commandment that we share with the world. Both in the kingdom and in the world there is a desire to avoid the disease that often goes with unchastity and infidelity.

A second point of concurrence is avoiding pregnancies in unwed mothers. Unfortunately, the world’s “final solution” is abortion. Abortion, like unchastity, produces, as Jacob so eloquently wrote of unchastity, conditions in which many hearts die, “pierced with deep wounds” (Jacob 2:35). Listen to these sounds of pain put in the form of questions to me by a young woman who had two abortions:

“I wonder about the spirits of those I have aborted—if they were there, if they were hurt. I was under three months each time, but a mother feels life before she feels movement.

“I wonder if they are lost and alone.

“I wonder if they will ever have a body.

“I wonder if I will ever have a chance again to bring those spirits back as mine.”

Alas, brothers and sisters, “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).

A third concern shared somewhat between us and the world is that sexual immorality adversely affects marriage and family life, increasing the spiraling divorce rate.

Fortunately, the kingdom’s reasons for keeping the seventh commandment go far beyond these three concerns, real as these are.

The Best Reasons

The primary reason for obedience to all the laws of chastity is to keep the commandments of God. Joseph understood that reason clearly when he resisted the entreaties of Potiphar’s predatory wife (see Gen. 39:9). Joseph, who clearly noted his loyalty to his employer, Potiphar, concluded, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” Joseph’s obedience was an act of many-splendored loyalty—to himself, to his future family, to Potiphar, to God, and, yes, even to Potiphar’s wife!

Another major reason for complying is that breaking the seventh commandment evicts the Holy Ghost from our soul. We lose the great value of His companionship, because He cannot abide in a sinful soul. And without His help, we then become less useful, less perceptive, less functional, and less loving human beings.

Real Love

Sexual immorality is also dangerous because it is so desensitizing. Lasciviousness can, ironically, move people who wrongly celebrate their capacity to feel to a point where they lose their capacity to feel! They become, in the words of three different prophets in three different dispensations, “past feeling” (see Eph. 4:19; 1 Ne. 17:45; Moro. 9:20).

The Atonement came through obedience and charity, not a lesser form of love. It was the most selfless and significant act in all of human history, while immorality, on the other hand, relentlessly reinforces selfishness—which already exists in plague proportions in the world. True love is the centerpiece attribute in both the first and second great commandments—on which every other law hangs! Therefore, to misunderstand the true nature of love is to misunderstand life.

To be unchaste, in the name of love, is to destroy something precious in order to celebrate its existence wrongly. When we lose our capacity to feel, it is because we have destroyed the taste buds of the soul.

Yet another reason underlying the need to keep the seventh commandment is that unchastity lowers self-esteem because we are actually sinning against our nature and who we really are (see 1 Cor. 6:18, 19). In my opinion, we are also breaching previous promises made in the premortal world. Unchastity also impacts severely on others.

The tens of thousands of young people who are unmarried but living together represent a major breach in the family way of life. The harsh consequences of that breach on our social environment will be felt for generations to come.

Being Free

These, and other concerns, go far beyond the world’s concerns over disease and pregnancy. But the Church must resolutely be, as Paul said, “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

The Church is also concerned with one of the ultimate dimensions of freedom, which is freedom from sin. Paul said, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). Jesus said, “The truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

When we think of this interconnected constellation of reasons, we can understand why it is not just recurring rhetoric when prophets, like Mormon, observe that the loss of chastity is the loss of that which is precious above all things (see Moro. 9:9). And why, so many times in history, have the writers of the scriptures, observing their own people’s decadence, equated ripening in iniquity with the spread of fornication and adultery (see Hel. 8:26)?

Finding Ourselves

By denying ourselves some appetites altogether, by governing other appetites, and by losing ourselves in service—we find ourselves (see Alma 39:9; 3 Ne. 12:30). We simply cannot make a difference in the world if we are just like the lost people of the world. Remember, if the salt loses its savor … (see Matt. 5:13)!

We must resist the wrong fashions of the world. The thirteenth article of faith does not say that we believe in all things that are popular, fashionable, ugly, and sensual, and that we seek after these things! Rather, “We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men” (A of F 1:13). And these attributes depend on each other.

Another of the consequences of gross sexual immorality with its desensitization is that it begins to rob people of hope. As an individual is emptied of hope, despair quickly enters in, for as one prophet said, “Despair cometh because of iniquity” (Moro. 10:22).

Ten Warnings

My closing counsel to you is contained in these 10 additional observations:

  1. 1.

    Resist the rhetoric of the world, and you will find that, if you stand fast, so will others—some surprisingly. As Paul said, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). Neither women nor men can be truly free if they behave so as to lose the Spirit.

  2. 2.

    Since you don’t let people come in and walk around in your house with muddy feet, do not let them walk through your minds with muddy feet.

  3. 3.

    Build your strong personal link in a chain of chastity and family fidelity, so it can proceed forth from grandparents to parents to children and then on to their posterity. To be so welded together is, of course, to be drawn together in the strongest kind of bond and is to affirm, by your actions, that you believe in the commandments in spite of what is going on in the world around you.

  4. 4.

    Do not company with fornicators—not because you are too good for them but because you are not good enough. Remember that bad situations can wear down even good people. Joseph had both good sense and good legs in fleeing from Potiphar’s wife.

  5. 5.

    Along with the traditional, predatory, selfish male there is now the predatory, selfish female. Both, driven by appetite, have a false sense of being free—but it is, alas, the same sort of empty freedom Cain possessed (after he had broken a commandment by slaying Abel) when, ironically, he said, “I am free” (Moses 5:33).

  6. 6.

    Where mistakes have been made, remember we have the glorious gospel of repentance. The miracle of forgiveness awaits all who are seriously sorry and who will follow the necessary steps. Bear in mind, however, these are situations in which the soul must first be scalded by shame, for only with real cleansing can real healing occur. But the road of repentance is really there.

  7. 7.

    Where the impulse to do wrong appears, act against that impulse while the impulse is still weak and while the will is still strong. Dalliance merely means that the will weakens and the impulse grows stronger. There is a Parkinson’s law of temptation: Temptation expands so as to fill the time and space available to it. Keep “anxiously engaged” (D&C 58:27) in doing good things.

  8. 8.

    Because our Church’s behavioral standards are different, connect that fact with what several prophets have told us about how we must come to despise the shame of the world. We must not hold the people of the world in contempt; we must love them. But we must come to have contempt for the shame of the world, because it matters so little in the end.

  9. 9.

    Remember, those who are in error must not call the cadence for your life, for those who boast of their sexual conquests are only boasting of that which has conquered them. We may pity behavioral clones, but we do not envy them.

  10. 10.

    My young friends, in your concern for justice, deal justly with yourselves! There is a very telling verse in the Book of Mormon that describes an ancient political leader with these words: “And he did do justice unto the people, but not unto himself because of his many whoredoms” (Ether 10:11).

Consequences and Blessings

I have tried to describe for you some of the consequences attached to immorality: antibiotics instead of abstinence; pills instead of children; partners instead of marriage; childbirth with unwed parents; and old perversions masquerading as new thrills.

I now need to say, however, that so far as the stern but sweet seventh commandment is concerned, obedience is also entrance. By avoiding the evils and consequences of unchastity, we also gain entrance and access to such blessings as always accompany those who keep the commandments. Moses promised ancient Israel that if they would keep the commandments, “all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee” (Deut. 28:2).

These next blessings and others “shall come on thee, and overtake thee” if you keep the seventh commandment:

  1. 1.

    Keeping the stern seventh commandment in the full sense of the word will yield the blessings of being in harmony with divine law and the Lord.

  2. 2.

    Obedience will likewise give the blessing of identity by being in harmony with our own potential selfhood. The gospel helps us think of ourselves not only for what we are, but for what we have the power to become.

  3. 3.

    Keeping the seventh commandment will bring the blessing of specific and deserved self-esteem.

  4. 4.

    The keeping of this commandment blesses us with freedom from the tyranny of appetite, which may be the most oppressive tyranny of all.

  5. 5.

    There will come, too, the blessing of freedom from corrosive guilt with its wasted rationalizations and with its turning inward to self-pity instead of outward in genuine service.

  6. 6.

    We also come to know the blessing of expanded agency by learning to act wisely for ourselves rather than merely being acted upon by appetite, a vital dimension of agency (see 2 Ne. 2:26).

  7. 7.

    There is, too, the significant blessing of personal momentum that always comes when we practice decision-making in which we both reject wrong and choose the good. It is not enough to reach a bland behavioral point when we no longer take pleasure in sin; we must hunger and thirst for righteousness.

  8. 8.

    Additionally, there is the immensely important blessing of the integrity of soul that leads to personal wholeness and unafraid openness. How can we become “one flesh” (Matt. 19:5) in marriage if, as we enter into marriage, we are a sundered self? Chastity, integrity, and serenity—these are interdependent and inexpressible blessings.

My young friends, deviations from the commandments of Jesus Christ are a lessening of our personal Christianity. Therefore, part of being a true Christian is to keep the seventh commandment.

When God the Father introduced His Son, Jesus Christ, to the young prophet, Joseph Smith, His opening words were, “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him” (JS—H 1:17). This Church and its prophets have been hearing Him ever since—including what He has to say about chastity and fidelity!

Photographs by Jed A. Clark