For some reason, when we talk about purity in the church, we’re almost always talking about sexual purity. We had a whole “purity movement” about a decade ago that was almost completely focused on staying sexually pure. While I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that, it’s not really biblical.
Purity in the Bible
What I mean by that is that the Bible doesn’t relegate the concept of purity to just sex. Actually, if you want to get literal and technical, the kind of purity that is mentioned most often in the Bible is the purity of gold. If you look up “pure” on Biblegateway.com or any other Bible search site, the vast majority of results will be about “pure gold” or other pure substances.
The first mention of purity outside of gold and such is actually in 2 Samuel 22:27 and it’s about God: “to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the devious you show yourself shrewd.” After that, the next couple of references are from Job. These are talking about the actions of people (and specifically of Job). They use the word “pure” next to words like “blameless”, “righteous” and “upright.” This trend continues in Psalms, Proverbs, and a couple of times in the prophets. In the New Testament, the word “pure” is most often used with “blameless” but is often used with “sincerity” as well.
I think the Bible’s use of the words “pure” and “purity” clearly show that the purity of the Bible goes beyond just sexual purity. The purity of the Bible is an all-encompassing purity. It’s talking about your motives, your language, your love of others and of God. This purity impacts every area of your life.
Purity Isn’t Just About What You Don’t Do
We do the idea of purity a severe disservice when we limit it to sex. Usually, “purity talks” are only for single people (as we talked about last week) and are completely focused on getting you to not do something, mainly have sex before you get married. There’s probably several reasons the purity movement was less than successful. Perhaps one of the main reasons is that the focus was on what not to do rather than what to do.
Telling people a bunch of things they shouldn’t do is rarely successful. We know about reverse psychology and how it works. If someone tells you not to laugh, the first thing you want to do is to laugh. When you see a “Wet paint, don’t touch” sign, the first thing you want to do is touch it to see if it’s still wet. As soon as you go on a diet, you start craving fried food and chocolate. Humans are natural rebels.
Instead of focusing on the “do nots” of purity, sexual and otherwise, I think it would be wiser to focus on the do’s. There are many things that God calls us to do. These things help to make us pure. They advance us in the process of purity and we don’t have to fight against reverse psychology.
Purity Is What You Do: An Example from 2 Timothy
2 Timothy 2:22 is a great example of this. The passage reads, “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” There isn’t a “do not” in this passage. Instead there are two things we are to do: flee and pursue. We’re to run away from one thing (evil desires of youth), but we’re also to run towards something else (righteousness, faith, love, and peace).
How to Flee
I guess you could say fleeing is a do not. The way Paul words it though, it seems more active than that. Paul doesn’t just say, “don’t do anything stupid”. He gives us a more active command. We are to actively flee from our evil desires. This means we’re purposeful about it. We recognize what our evil desires are and we make sure we’re going the opposite direction of where they want to take us.
This takes some discernment. It also takes some honest evaluation of yourself. If you want to flee your evil desires, you have to figure out what the evil things are that you desire. Even good things can turn into evil desires if we seek them with wrong motives. This takes some time to figure out and should be done with much prayer. It’s also good to talk to a close friend, mentor, spouse, or someone else who knows you really well to figure out what some of your evil desires and weaknesses might be.
How to Pursue
Paul’s second instruction is to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. Pursuit is always an active thing. You can’t accidentally pursue anything whether it’s a degree, a person, or a goal. How do you go about pursuing purity/righteousness? There are many ways.
Spending time in God’s word is always a great way to start. You could use a Bible reading plan or a devotional like 30 Days of Grace. Praying that God would help you in your journey to purity is also an excellent idea. You could meet up with others in your church to encourage one another. You could join a Facebook group to discuss purity with others near and far.
You could also explore the spiritual disciplines. These are practices that have been used by Christians for thousands of years to connect to God and pursue righteousness. If you’ve never explored the disciplines before, you can check out my Six Week Spiritual Growth Journey for a start. It’s a free email course that will introduce you to 6 different spiritual disciplines. If you’d like to go deeper in the spiritual disciplines, you can check out some great books like Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster or The Sacred Way by Tony Jones.
Purity Requires a Team
We don’t do those things alone either. We’re to do it with others who are on the same path as we are (those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart). Purity is not something we do on our own. We can try, but like any other journey, it’s generally easier if we have others to support us.
Last month, I read the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. In the book, Miller talked about how he biked across the country with a small group of fellow bikers to raise awareness for a cause. In one of the chapters, he talked about how much that group needed each other. Even though the group started out as strangers and had very little in common, they quickly became good friends.
Why? They were all experiencing the same thing and they all needed each other. No one else could understand the soreness and the tiredness and the pain that they were experiencing. They needed one another to encourage each other and provide for one another. The same is true in the Christian life.
We need each other if we want to walk the path of purity. We need people to call us out when we’re veering off course. We need to hear encouragement when we feel like we can’t fight temptation one more second. It’s impossible for someone who isn’t on the same path to understand our plight. We have to have partners on our journey.
Purity Ultimately Comes from God
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. Sexual purity is part of pursuing purity. God’s pretty clear about his expectations for our sex lives. However, he’s also a grace filled God who still loves us despite what we do or don’t do.
Just like there’s a tension in being in the world but not of it, there’s also a tension between accepting that God loves us no matter what, but not abusing his grace by living in a manner that doesn’t please him.
We’re to actively pursue purity, but ultimately, we don’t earn our purity. Purity, like any other good thing in this life, is a gift of God’s grace, given not earned. God’s spirit enables us to live a pure life. Still, we have a responsibility to participate with God’s spirit in order to walk down the path of purity.
Purity isn’t just about sex. It’s about living our whole lives in a manner pleasing to God. It’s about seeking to be more like Jesus a little more every day. While sexual purity is a part of that, it’s far from the only part. Purity is about loving others well, speaking in a manner that values others, viewing yourself rightly, dealing with everyone honestly, being truthful in all things, and everyday becoming more and more like Jesus.