Hot Topics

Why I Kissed God-is-a-Set-of-Rules Goodbye

Doug Bender

July 31, 2019 | 3 minute read

Bestselling relationship author and frequent purity-culture speaker, Joshua Harris, announced he regrets his books, is divorcing his wife, and has left the faith. The famed author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye said on Instagram, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”

I remember well when his book came out. I’m a little embarrassed to admit I held a personal grudge against him for some time. A girl I liked read his book and did exactly as he taught: she kissed dating goodbye. There went any chance I had with her. But my issues with the book went deeper than that.

The book responded to a culture that remade sex into a casual and meaningless physical activity. The idea that sex intrinsically carries emotional and spiritual affects is now considered passe by many people. This, this, and this story would beg to differ and insist that sex is a weighty thing, not to be treated like the decision to switch to decaf or from whole milk to 2% . But Harris’ book responded to this free sex culture with his own version of error.

In his book, Harris makes sexual purity a transactional morality. He taught that, “the joy of intimacy is the reward of commitment.” Abstaining from sex before marriage will win you great sex in marriage is the central error of his book.

Now, I speak as one who did in fact abstain from sex before marriage. My wife and I both have frequently said to each other how grateful we were to have both made this decision. Neither of us brought that particular baggage, set of expectations, health risks, or the emotional entanglement that sex before marriage tends to bring. But this did not guarantee us great sex in marriage or that we wouldn't have our own baggage, because that is not how morality works.

Morality is not something that you do and then gain a just reward. God has indeed designed a world, a universe, that has cause and effect built into its fabric, an action creates a reaction. Or in the words of Jesus, “You reap what you sow.” Sex is no exception. It has an affect, many in fact. Good behavior also has an affect. But this affect is not the formulaic reward of that behavior.

Paul, who wrote large portions of the Bible, explained it this way when he said, “When you sin, the pay you get is death. But God gives you the gift of eternal life. That’s because of what Christ Jesus our Lord has done.” You can earn a reward, but you cannot earn a gift. The only thing our behavior can earn is death. Love is what we owe God because love is what he gives us. Anything short of love separates us from the God of love, the creator and sustainer of life. When you unplug a vacuum cleaner it dies. Not because the power company wants to kill your cleaner, but because it is the natural effect of disconnecting from the source of power. The gift of God is that though we have unplugged ourselves from the author of love and life, he offers to plug us back in.

Good behavior will not earn you good gifts. Living the kind of life that God calls you to will save you from many negative natural consequences, that’s for sure. But the true beauty of what Jesus taught is the gift of grace. The God who invented cause and effect came to earth to break the very law he made and so give us an effect we did not cause. He came to give us a life forever with him.

If you feel you have disqualified yourself from the gifts of God, then you misunderstand the meaning of “gift.” Gifts by their nature don’t have qualifications. They are just gifts, free and clear. Life and its many decisions still brings certain consequences. But God gives gifts bigger than any consequence you may face. Great sex in a great marriage is not withheld because of something in your past or earned.

If you have been confused into thinking that Jesus taught transactional morality, you do not need to abandon Jesus to find freedom. Jesus came to break the negative consequences of our mistakes, to undo the cycle of karma that this world seems to run on. He came to give grace, forgiveness, new life, and a new beginning.

Joshua Harris may have left faith as he knew it. But he knew a faith that demanded good things for good behavior and feared only bad things from bad behavior. The faith I hope and pray that he finds is one that says you get good things even when you deserve less.

Watch In-N-Out Burger owner Lynsi Snyder share her story numerous failed marriages she discovered that God still has great gifts ahead.

Doug Bender

Doug Bender

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer and small groups coach. He developed many of the small group tools found at and has coached churches, organizations, and individuals to use I Am Second groups to share the message of Jesus with their friends and family. He also works with I Am Second's parent organization, e3 Partners, as a church planter and pastor in countries such as Ethiopia, Colombia, and the US. Doug and his wife, Catherine, have four children: Bethany, Samuel, Isabella, and Jesse.

Search for what you’d like to read about