What does it mean to be pure? Merriam-Webster offers several possible meanings for our consideration. The first is “unmixed with any other matter”. This is somewhat of a scientific definition, there is stuff and not stuff and when there is stuff and no not stuff in the container it is pure stuff.
The second is “being thus and no other” as in sheer or unmitigated. Pure evil or pure folly would be two examples of this usage.
Yet again, it could be “free from what vitiates, weakens or pollutes or containing nothing that does not belong”. The pure/clean food movement currently making the rounds (at least in restaurant commercials) would fall in this category.
But what does it mean in a Christian context? What does it mean to be Pure? I think that we have spent most of our time as church people talking and thinking about purity in terms of sex. We throw in a few other things, like language occasionally, but purity in church tends to be code for discussion of our sexual behaviors, outlooks, and thought life.
These are worthy points for discussion. Scripture is full of instruction about how we ought to behave sexually. If, as had been said, money is the most talked about topic in the bible, then sex must be second. A quick look at the world — not just today, but as it always has been — validates the necessity of the frequency of the topics. There is very little more top of mind for most people than sex and money.
But is sex the be all and end all of purity? Could we have our act together in that regard but be impure? And how much purity is enough anyway? After all the people who sell Ivory Soap built an empire with 99 and 44/100 percent pure. Might we get away with 99 percent or 90 percent?
Jesus taught about purity and told us what kind of purity He is looking for in Matthew 15. In these verses Jesus is talking to the pharisees and teachers of the law who were complaining about Jesus’ disciples not following the traditions for ceremonial purity under the law. In Matthew 15:16 – 20 we read:
“Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked. “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.”
Now, hold that thought and look at Titus 1:15-16 where it says:
To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
Put that all together, purity is not a matter of our actions it is a matter of the well from which our actions spring. It is said that you can tell the contents of a cup by what spills over the top when it is jostled. What spills over when we are jostled, what are the contents of our hearts?
Now Jesus is not saying that if we are pure in heart we are free to have evil thoughts, commit murder, adultery etc., nor does Paul insinuate that for the pure all actions are permissible. Rather they suggest that our actions speak about the content of our hearts. If we “deny Him by our works” our hearts are not pure. As Jesus said in his quotation from Isaiah, do we honor God with our lips while our hearts are far from Him?
Purity is a heart matter. If we have accepted Jesus’ offer to replace our life with His there should be no room in our hearts for anything else. Our hearts should be pure in the sense of the very first definition only Jesus in our hearts and nothing else. Our actions will follow.
However, we like to partition our hearts. There are certain parts we are willing to turn over to Jesus but not others. We’d like to think that 99 and 44/100% will do, but 56/100% impure is not pure. And the bad news is that we won’t even get to Ivory Soap pure. Frankly there is no way we can be pure before God.
But there is good news. The God of all purity, the one who is always pure, always unalloyed, always holy has seen our plight, He knows we cannot be pure and he loves us anyway. Part of the transaction when we allow Jesus to replace our life with His is that His purity replaces ours. How then should we live? If Jesus is in our heart, if His life is substituted for ours, how can there be a place for impurity? He alone has the power to make us pure and He will surely do so if we let Him.
And He has a promise for those who seek purity. In Matthew 5:8 he says,”Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Calvin Wittman, in a sermon titled “Walking in Purity Before God” says:
The blessing here is this: as the person who is pure in heart allows their life to be lost in Jesus and allows Jesus to live through them, their understanding, their perception, their discernment of who God is, of His ways, of His will, of His heart and of His hand will grow. Whereas those who do not know God are alienated from the life of God because of the darkness that is within them, because of the blindness of their hearts, as Ephesians 4:17-18 says, the pure in heart have had their eyes opened, they can walk in the light as He is in the light and have fellowship with God and with one another.
Is this not what we should desire as followers of Christ?