Ten thoughts about the “Billy Graham Rule”

This is by no means everything that can or should be said about the so-called “Billy Graham Rule.” (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this.) Nevertheless, here are ten brief reflections on this particular discipline:

1. We must take sexual holiness seriously because God takes sexual holiness seriously. To reject God’s purpose of holiness in our lives is to reject God altogether. For this reason, we must be blood-earnest about holiness.

  • “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
  • “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality… Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thess. 4:3).
  • “But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints… For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph. 5:3-5).

2. The Bible commands us not only to avoid sexual immorality but to avoid situations in which we know that we are vulnerable to temptation.

  • “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).
  • “Flee youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22).
  • “Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14).

3. Jesus commands us to consider radical (even countercultural) measures in our pursuit of sexual holiness. Failure to do so could lead to judgment.

  • “And if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off, and throw it from you; for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:29-30).

4. It is good and wise to adopt habits and behaviors that promote good character and a good reputation.

5. It is good and wise to devise strategies for avoiding sexual immorality. Biblical wisdom teaches us to identify temptations to sexual sin and to make plans to avoid them.

  • “Keep your way far from her, And do not go near the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:8).
  • “Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths” (Proverbs 7:25).

    Please note that these texts from Proverbs are not teaching that all women are temptresses. Obviously, all of them are not (see Proverbs 31). These texts are simply a warning about women who are. Even so, the text is not singling out such temptresses as the sole instigators of sexual immorality in the world. The key thing to remember is that the Proverbs are written from a father to a Son. So the exhortations are the kinds of things that a father would say to a son about sexual purity. And this includes warnings about the kinds of women to avoid. If it were written from a mother to a daughter, it would include warnings about the kinds of men to avoid. By implication, the text does tell women about the kind of men they need to avoid. In that sense, the principles apply to all of us, male or female. All of us—male and female—need to strategize to avoid enticements to sexual immorality.

6. We must never confuse our wise strategies for holiness with actual holiness.

  • “But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:9).

7. Nevertheless, these strategies (such as “The Billy Graham Rule”) are only useful if they are pursued with some amount of consistency and rigor.

  • “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27).

8. When practicing the “Billy Graham Rule,” strategize arrangements and meetings to avoid awkward demurrals. Perhaps they cannot always be avoided, but it is worth trying. Otherwise, you risk unnecessary offense against well-meaning, unsuspecting friends and colleagues.

  • “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people” (Romans 12:18).

9. Beware of broadcasting your invocation of “The Billy Graham Rule.” If you do broadcast it, you risk the unnecessary offense mentioned above. You may also run afoul of Jesus’ admonition:

  • “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

    Remember that the rigor of your strategies is a reflection mainly of the sinfulness of your own heart, not of the hearts of each and every person affected by your rule. Therefore you should have some humility (and perhaps even some healthy embarrassment) about the measures you have to take to rein your own problems in.

10. Forebear with your brothers and sisters who are making a good-faith effort to pursue holiness and to protect their marriages. You may not agree with the rigor with which some pursue their strategies for holiness. And we all need to be open to wise correction as we pursue these things. In any case, try to see the best in the good-faith efforts of those who are trying to pursue holiness.

  • “Forebear one another, and forgive each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:13).
  • “Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5).
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