What Christian Culture Gets Wrong About Purity
It takes more than our effort.
We live in a culture that thinks of blessings as things we like or make us feel good. We get something we want it’s a blessing. Conversely, we’d define curses as things we don’t like or things that make life more challenging. Jesus defines them differently. Where we define a blessing as something centered around our happiness, Jesus’ view of blessing is centered around love for and obedience to God.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8
The heart often refers to the spiritual center of life. The view was that your thoughts, desires, purpose, will, character and understanding came from the heart. Being pure in heart means not just looking blameless. It means being blameless in the core of who you are.
There are two primary concepts that make up Biblical purity. The first is cleanliness. This is rooted heavily in the Old Testament in the book of Leviticus—the book that ruins all Bible reading plans. Leviticus is where God gives His people the law to distinguish them from the other nations. For as God is holy, so His people are to be holy.
Leviticus teaches us that certain things, certain actions, make us dirty; or what they would call being ceremonially unclean. Most of these were external things to avoid; things that if we ate, did, or came in contact with, would make us dirty.
Jesus comes along and He doesn’t play by the rules. Before you start quoting Matthew 5:17 at me, let me be clear: Jesus does not violate the law of God. He doesn’t practice it the way religious leaders thought He should. Jesus interacts with a lot of things Leviticus says make you unclean. He went into a home with a dead body in it, unclean. He touched lepers. Unclean. He ate with tax collectors and sinners which religious leaders viewed as an act of impurity.
There were certain things made you unclean: consulting with mediums or wizards, sexuality expressed outside of God’s design and intent, consuming blood, vampires and eating rare steaks. Unclean. Certain foods were unclean. Those were to be avoided. Then there were things that you couldn’t really control. Skin diseases, discharge of bodily fluids, touching something that was dead.
Once you were unclean, anything you touch became unclean. My wife and I work out together. When we come home, if I sit down on the couch I’m in trouble. When something dirty touches something clean, the dirty thing doesn’t become clean, the clean thing becomes dirty. There’s clean and there’s unclean and the two don’t mix. That’s why we don’t eat dinner in the bathroom. We don’t want what’s clean interacting with what’s dirty.
God uses the idea of cleanliness to teach us about His holiness. Don’t touch this, don’t eat that, don’t do this. The point was not to build ritualistic practices, the goal was to teach us about sin. These laws gave us practical ways to understand the concept of sin. Sin contaminates. Sin is like germs. It spreads on contact. The point was to give us a physical picture of a spiritual reality. Purity, like cleanliness is not a destination, it’s an ongoing process. We don’t arrive at good hygiene, we have actively practice it. Jesus doesn’t break the law, He fulfills the purpose and intent of the law.
The second concept of Biblical purity is being unmixed. We live in a culture that treats faith like a spiritual buffet. We mix and match different ideas, different teachings from different religions and build our own faith. That’s not purity. Our relationship with God is like a marriage. What makes a marriage special and powerful is that it’s exclusive relationship. Taking beliefs, attitudes, values and priorities from other faiths, from the world around us is cheating on God. It’s being unfaithful in our relationship with Him.
The whole idea is that it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you believe something, Jesus wouldn’t agree with you. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for our sins to give us another option, He died on the cross to make a way because there wasn’t one. The Old Testament is full of stories of the people of God being punished and suffering for their association with other nations because it contaminated their faith.
Our relationship with Jesus is a lot like a cup of coffee. The goal is to transform water into something else. It’s simple. Beans and water. Put them together. But if you take some beans and drop them into water, have you made coffee? No. What you have is not the morning pick-me-up you were looking for, it’s soggy beans inside of dirty water. It’s not one new substance, it’s two objects occupying the space.
That’s often how we approach Jesus. We try to sprinkle Him into our lives. There’s no change. No transformation. He hasn’t permeated every part of us. He just sits on top. If that’s what Starbucks gave you when you ordered a coffee, you’d send it back. It’s gross. Putting Jesus into our lives doesn’t make us Christians any more than putting coffee beans in water makes coffee. Following Jesus is changes us. When you make coffee you heat the water, grind the beans, the result is one new substance. Transformation process requires grinding, it requires heat, it doesn’t just happen.
Once the change is made, the two ingredients are made into something new. That’s what Jesus wants from us. Not part. Not some. Not to be in the glass. He wants all of us, every part, every cell of our being, every beat of our heart, all the time. Jesus wants to be joined with us in a way that can never be undone.
All throughout the Gospels, Jesus comes into contact with people or things that should have made Him unclean. They doesn’t. When Jesus comes in contact with the unclean, He doesn’t become unclean, He makes the unclean clean. What Jesus touches is clean because Jesus touched it. Being pure in heart is not about our behavior modification. It’s not about our rule-keeping or ritualistic practices, otherwise the Pharisees would have been pure in heart. Being pure in heart is about having a heart that is connected to Jesus. Jesus didn’t come to reform our bad behavior, He came to transform our dirty hearts.
The first step in become pure in heart is emptying. We aren’t a pure glass of water waiting to be transformed. The water in the glass of our lives is dirty. Before we met Jesus we filled our lives with other things. If we want Him to transform our lives, we have to make room for Him. In order to be pure in heart we empty ourselves of self so we can be filled with Jesus. Before you put the coffee in a glass that’s already full, you have to pour out the contents that are in the way.
In that emptying of self and in being filled with our new nature in Christ, we are transformed by Him to walk in the purity, the freedom and the life He gives. It starts not with behavior modification, not with ritualistic rule keeping; it starts with emptying. That’s what it means to be pure in heart. It means we let go of ourselves and let God begin His transformative work in us. Are we willing to pour out ourselves so that Jesus can make us into something new?