What is Christian purity? “Purity” is not a word most people use in normal conversation, even in church. However, as a single Christian (either in a youth group or young adult’s group), purity is often equated simply with sexual purity or even with virginity. You’re told that it’s of upmost importance that you remain pure for your future spouse.
There are many reasons why I think that’s the wrong way of looking at the concept of purity. That’s why this month, I want to focus my blog posts on purity and what it really means. The concept of purity is a good one, but it gets misused a lot. Let’s clear up some of the misunderstandings and get to the heart of what purity is really all about.
In English, the word “purity” or “pure” means “freedom from adulteration or contamination”. There are two main ways that any object can be found to be pure. Let’s look at the two main ways something can be found to be pure and see in each case what the connotation is for our understanding of Christian purity.
1. Purity as Something Untainted
Sometimes, we consider something to be pure because it’s never been contaminated. An example of this is talking about pure, new-fallen snow. The snow is pure and white and untainted when it first falls. It’s beautiful to look at. However, it’s also really easy to taint. As soon as you take a step in the snow, you “ruin” it a bit. If your dog pees in the snow, it’s definitely ruined. There’s no way to undo that. It can never be taken back to its original state.
This Understanding at Work
Sometimes we can have this view of purity in the church when we focus too much on virginity as a measure of purity. There’s a point that shouldn’t be crossed (having sex), and once you’ve crossed it, you can never really be pure again.
I’m not a fan of this concept for a couple of reasons. The biggest one is because this idea leaves no space for God’s grace. Until the day that we die, God never puts us in a spot where if we cross a line, we can never come back again and we’re doomed to be second class citizens at best. No, God is always gracious to us. He even takes the mistakes that we make and somehow uses them for his good.
Honestly, I don’t think that this idea of purity is a biblical one. Is staying a virgin until you get married a good thing? Yes. Does God want that for you? Yes, that’s how he designed marriage. If you mess up before you get married does that mean you can never be pure again and God thinks less of you? No. This definition of purity leaves us in an “all or nothing” situation and that’s not usually how God works in biblical/theological history.
2. Purity as Something That’s Been Through a Cleansing Process
Sometimes when we talk about something being pure, we’re talking about how it’s been cleaned up. Pure water is a great example of this. Water isn’t really naturally pure. In fact, most water has a lot of germs and bacteria in it. That’s why we have water filtration systems. Even the nastiest water can be filtered and made pure by a good system. In this case, purity is a process.
I think that’s a more biblical way of looking at purity. It’s a process, not a point we’re not supposed to cross. There’s even biblical evidence of that. Psalm 119:9 asks the question, “How can a young person stay on the path of purity?” The answer is “By living according to [God’s] word.” A path is not a point in time. It’s part of a larger journey. A path takes you from one place to another, from being impure to being pure.
Here’s the truth, we’re not born pure. Adam and Eve were created pure in the garden, but because of their choice and the emergence of sin, none of us start out as pure. We start life as tainted creatures.
If you need evidence of this, do some babysitting. You don’t have to teach kids (even little ones) how to be mean or disobedient or selfish. They know that stuff naturally. If you want them to be the people that God designed them to be, you have to teach them how to be like Jesus. That doesn’t come naturally. It’s a lifelong process.
This Understanding at Work
If we start out tainted, there’s no way that any of us can qualify as “pure” under the first set of criteria. We’re not like fresh, pure, new-fallen snow. We’re like dirty water. There’s potential for us to be pure, but we have to go through a process to get there. We have to walk the path of purity to become pure.
We constantly must choose and fight to keep going in the right direction on the path of purity. There are going to be plenty of things that try to take us back or to the left or the right. We might be taken in by these things every once in awhile. However, we also have a steady guide in the Holy Spirit and in the Scriptures. They can always help us to get back on the right path if we falter for a moment (or two or three or ten).
One thing that shouldn’t pull us back is the idea that we’ve messed up so badly that we can’t ever be pure, that there’s no hope so we should just give up and give in. That’s not true. God’s grace allows us to get back on the right path no matter how far we’ve strayed. We’re not just allowed back on the path. We’re welcomed with open arms. Furthermore, God promises that he will be as gracious to us as if we never wandered at all.
Don’t be deceived. Purity is not a point, it’s a process.