Ten Thoughts about the “Billy Graham Rule”

Earlier today, I saw an interview on CNN about a Christian politician who practices the “Billy Graham Rule” (watch above). It is an awkward interview to watch, but it illustrates the cost to men and women who are making a good-faith effort to avoid compromising situations. This is by no means everything that can or should be said about the so-called “Billy Graham Rule.” Nevertheless, I thought I would update something I wrote previously on this topic. I personally believe that the rule is wise and ought to be pursued with rigor by Christians who are serious about holiness and witness. So in that spirit, 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.

  • “A good name is to be more desired than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1).
  • “A good name is better than fine perfume” (Ecclesiastes 7:1).

    This one can be tricky in the aftermath of the #MeToo moment, which in some cases de-emphasizes due process and stresses that every accusation is to be believed. Of course every accusation should be taken seriously, and there are many accusations that end up being substantiated. Nevertheless, there are other accusations that have proven to be false. The gentleman in the video above is concerned about the potential of a false accusation. A part of his motive for observing the “Billy Graham Rule” is to avoid scenarios in which he would have no defense against a false accusation that could ruin his reputation and witness. If he is never alone with a woman not his wife, it greatly diminishes the potential for false accusations. This is a wise approach.

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.

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

    Perhaps such demurrals cannot always be avoided, but it is worth trying. Otherwise, you risk unnecessary offense against well-meaning, unsuspecting friends and colleagues. If you observe the “Billy Graham Rule,” I recommend doing so in a way that is as inconspicuous as possible. Bend over backward not to make a friend or colleague feel awkward or left out. As far as it is up to you, be at peace with all people.

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 in part 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 measures taken to avoid temptation.

10. Forebear with your brothers and sisters who are making a good-faith effort to pursue holiness and to protect their marriages.

  • “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).

    If you are a Christian who doesn’t like the “Billy Graham Rule,” then you need to forbear with those who do. Those outside of the faith will always look on holiness as strange and will sometimes lodge accusations of “sexism.” But such should never be the case among followers of Jesus. Perhaps you don’t agree with the “Billy Graham Rule.” You may not even agree with the rigor with which some Christians pursue their strategies for holiness. We all need to be open to wise correction as we pursue these things. Nevertheless, try to see the best in the good-faith efforts of those who are trying to pursue holiness, and don’t castigate them publicly for trying to be faithful to Jesus in these areas. “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls” (Rom. 14:4).

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