Keep Yourself Pure
Last week, we looked at the need for purity in the hearts of God’s people, and the need for maintaining that purity in thought, in word, and in deed. We addressed the need and importance of beginning with the heart in our effort to become and to remain pure, noting that it is the heart the Lord considers, and not the outward man, and also noting that who we are in our hearts is who we really are.
We also noted that the term purity, as used in the New Testament, infers chastity, which means sexual purity in actions and thoughts. We also noted that the Greek word translated into English as pure is not just about the sexual aspect, but applies in the broadest sense to one’s moral cleanness; it is the absence (and denial of) any unrighteous desire. Adam Clarke’s comments on Matthew 5:8 were cited, where he explained this as purification “from all vile affections and desires,” a fulfillment of the gospel message of “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts” that one might “live soberly, righteously, and godly” (Titus 2:12). With this said, I find it somewhat confusing that some Christians not only criticize those who would strive for purity, but go further and mock and ridicule such attempts.
Let us be reminded of a few New Testament passages regarding purity:
Paul admonished Timothy, “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure” (1 Tim. 5:22); he would later admonish him, “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22); and Peter would admonish the early disciples to “love one another fervently with a pure heart” (1 Pet. 1:22). We should also note that, though the exact Greek term is not used abundantly in the New Testament books, the concept is certainly addressed numerous times -— and it is never ridiculed or mocked. Quite the opposite, the writer of Hebrews noted that all disciples should “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14); holiness — synonymous with purity — is extremely important!
And since purity is both negative [“denying ungodliness and worldly lusts”] and positive [meditating on things that are pure], we have our work cut out for us, and there is no time when we may relax and be unconcerned with our purity — at least not if we want to see the Lord. Purity is a constant, lifetime effort.
This week, let us consider the aspect of keeping ourselves pure — what we must do to maintain our purity — since this will be the aspect where we spend the majority of our lives.
Let us begin by going back to the Old Testament and the commemoration of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread and the Passover. When this was established, God commanded, “On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses” (Exod. 12:15), and would repeat later, “For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses” (Exod. 12:19), and Moses would tell the people, “no leavened bread shall be seen among you, nor shall leaven be seen among you in all your quarters” (Exod. 13:7). When Moses repeated the commandments given to the people, as they prepared to enter Canaan, he reminded them, “no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory for seven days” (Deut. 16:4). The Cambridge Bible Commentary notes, “the house was elaborately searched with candles in order to discover and remove any ‘leaven’ (i.e. fermented dough, or certain articles made of fermented grain) that might be in it.” Needless to say, they took this command seriously. Can we see the importance of removing this impurity [leaven] from among them?
From this illustration, let us note a couple of things: (1) It is with this level of diligence we must remove any and all impurities from around us, too, if we truly seek to keep ourselves pure. This cannot be a half-hearted effort and we cannot approach it without seriousness and without an acknowledgment of what is truly impure; and (2) this is a personal responsibility for each individual — something someone else cannot do for me, nor I for them. If I want to keep myself pure, I must be the one doing the work of maintaining my purity, and I cannot blame someone else if I haven’t put forth the effort to maintain my purity.
Let us expand on those two points for the rest of the time and space we have.
A Diligent Effort. Just as the Jews made a diligent effort to search every corner of their houses to ensure there was no impurity of leaven within, so must disciples today thoroughly and diligently search their own lives and environment to ensure no impurities exist or linger near; we cannot deceive ourselves into calling something pure when we know it is something that will lead us into temptation and sin, either.
When Peter admonished the early disciples to add some important attributes to their faith, he began by admonishing them, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith” (2 Pet. 1:5); they needed to do this with “all diligence”; this same degree of effort must be employed if we seek to maintain our purity, and to constantly be on guard for any impurities that may invade our environment. We should be alert to anything impure to the point we react like a smoke alarm when it senses smoke particles. That alarm does not wait awhile, lest someone think of it as an ‘alarmist,’ but quickly warns anyone without earshot that a danger is present.
Our spiritual senses must be “exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14), and to know the difference between the pure and the impure; this requires spiritual growth and maturity. It is when we fail to mature that we deceive ourselves or allow ourselves to be deceived by those who would tell us that tolerating the impure things “just once” is really are no danger at all. Don’t be fooled!
Personal Responsibility. A few decades ago, there was a big push amongst evangelicals in the USA towards purity. Outwardly, it sounded good and noble, but the reality was that it shifted the focus off the individual and onto the external influences. For example, great efforts were put on outlawing pornography, but they also pushed for the elimination of sexually-suggestive material and spent a lot of time telling women they needed to dress more moderately so as to not inflame the lusts of young [and old] men.
Is the elimination of these things a bad thing? Only in the sense that it shifted the responsibility to someone other than self for keeping self pure. These efforts put the blame on others and other things, and not a whole lot was said to the young men about meditating on the pure things and having a mind set on the things above, rather than on the things of this earth (cf. Col. 3:2).
As noble as those efforts are [the elimination of the impure things is a good thing, remember], it does not relieve anyone of the personal responsibility to “keep oneself unspotted from the world” (Jas. 1:27); only I can do that. Only I can set my heart on the godly and righteous things, and shift my desires from the fleshly to the spiritual and heavenly things.
Keep yourselves pure. — Steven Harper