What do you think of when you hear the word “pure”? I immediately think about sexual purity. No doubt, it is vital that we talk about and practice sexual purity in our current cultural climate.
Or perhaps, instead of thinking about sexual purity, you think about moral purity: that when the Bible speaks about purity, what it is really speaking about is keeping ourselves from sin—so being pure means being without sin. This is often the case in the Bible. In fact, there are many instances in which the New Testament points to purity as an issue of being free from the sin (Philippians 1:10, 4:8; 1 Peter 3:2).
However, thinking of purity solely in these ways misses the Bible’s underlying teaching about what purity is. As we look at how purity is described in the Bible, we see that it is speaking of something that is far deeper and more universal.
Purity is not merely an issue of lust that struggling men and women need to be concerned about. It is an issue that it is at the very heart of the Christian life.
Purity Is About Wholeness
In the well-known Beatitudes, Jesus uses the word “purity” in a way that Christians often don’t consider. There Jesus states, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Jesus is not pointing to a sexual purity or even a moral purity. Instead, he is pointing us to a spiritual purity, or a purity of heart. Once you start looking for this in the Bible, you see it all over its pages. But what exactly does Jesus mean by being pure in heart?
The best way to think about purity of heart is to consider the way purity describes any other physical thing. The Bible uses the term “pure” to speak of gold (Revelation 21:18). While this indeed speaks to a lack of blemish, it deals with something far more molecular than that. For something to be pure gold means that it’s gold—and nothing else. There is no other element within it. It’s 100% gold. It’s wholly gold.
So purity communicates wholeness. Not partially one thing and partially another. Wholeness.
Apply this to what Jesus says. For someone to be pure in heart, it means their heart is set on one thing and nothing else. It is wholly directed toward one thing. For us to truly be concerned about purity, we must be concerned about where our affections and devotions lie. While the Bible is certainly concerned with sexual purity, it is far more concerned with a purity of heart. While physical adultery is a sin, it is symptomatic of a far deeper issue: spiritual adultery.
Purity Is About Devotion
Both James and Paul used the language of adultery to speak of this purity. In 2 Corinthians 11:2-3, Paul states, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Paul’s great concern for the Corinthians is the temptation toward spiritual adultery, which would lead them away from pure (read “whole-hearted”) devotion to Christ!
James’ call against believers is far stronger. We read in James 4:4, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
James doesn’t mince words. We cannot be devoted to two lovers. We cannot be devoted to this world and devoted to God. It’s one or the other. His call to these Christians is to purify their hearts (James 4:8).
This is the practice we must make as well. We must continually seek to purify our hearts from spiritual adultery. This means that we must consider how our thoughts and actions demonstrate what we are truly devoted to—whether it be this world or God. This purity takes as much diligence (if not more) as our pursuit of sexual purity does. We must be whole-heartedly devoted to God.
Purity Is About Jesus Christ
But thanks be to God, he did not leave us on our own with this great challenge. In fact, we see a great paradox of purity presented to us in 1 John 3:2-3:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
Here, Jesus is both our example and reason for purity right now. As we behold and hope in what we will one day be in Christ—completely pure, following God whole-heartedly—we purify ourselves in the moment. In light of the fact that Christ has already accomplished on the cross all that is needed to make us pure, we can work out our purity here and now (cf. Hebrews 10:14). The war for your purity is won, so we can fight our daily battles with renewed vigor.
We should take David’s charge to Solomon in 1 Chronicles 28:9 as a charge to us: “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.”