The dreaded teenage sex talk arrived from my mother. I was trapped in her car as she drove, then she blurted, “Keep it in your pants and don’t impregnate anyone.”
Subtle, I thought.
At least the one-way conversation was laconic and practical. And it was relevant. I would begin my first year at a secular university soon thereafter. But mostly, it was traumatizing.
Sexual morality is a salient part of purity, especially from a Christian worldview. Seemingly from birth, Christians kids begin hearing pastors and church leaders preach abstinence. More than likely, some of you might even wear a purity ring to symbolize your celibacy.
Followers of Christ should certainly avoid rounding the bases before marriage. The biblical teachings against fornication are clear (see 1 Corinthians 7:2). Some of you may be surprised, however, that there is another form of purity more foundational to the teachings of Jesus than the Sunday-school version.
Wholeheartedness Toward God
The crux of Christian purity is an uncorrupted faith and wholeheartedness toward God. It’s not only avoiding certain behaviors—though it includes that—but it’s a laser-like devotion to following Christ and His ways. Purity focuses on seeking God first. This is exactly why Jesus states “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
From Inward to Outward
Purity is a journey that must originate inward and flow outward. To begin otherwise is to take the dead-end road of the Pharisees. They were so obsessed with doing the right thing that they failed to be the right kind of person. Legalism is born from two sources: a neglected heart and an idolized outward appearance. This is why Jesus admonished these teachers: “You clean the outside of your cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).
Inner purity is most important to God. And it’s impossible to achieve on our own merits. Our state of spiritual depravity is simply too wrecked for good deeds to fix. Thankfully, Jesus incarnated not only to repair our broken hearts but to replace them entirely. He came to cleanse the inside of our cup.
This is why Titus 3:5 states, “[Jesus] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
And being pure doesn’t mean we don’t screw up occasionally. In fact, it means we recognize our utter depravity not to do otherwise—unless God intervenes. I’ve relied on 1 John 1:9 more times than I’d like to admit: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Even if we’ve avoided hitting home runs before marriage or slept with the entire team, our purity is based on Christ’s work, not ours. It’s simply a theological anathema to define purity by what we do or don’t do.
Purity cannot be lost or gained. It’s a permanent position His followers hold in Christ. Of course, that doesn’t mean sin isn’t a big deal or that we have some kind of license (see Romans 6). The key is to “fall forward” whenever we miss God’s best for us. This means we repent, learn and move-on. Thankfully, God doesn’t keep score, so neither should we.
Purity is also holistic. Over time, it permeates every dark corner of lives and removes every cobweb. Our motives become unsplintered. Inner and outer duplicity is banished. White lies disappear. Our internal turmoil is muted as we cease managing people for selfish outcomes.
Purity in Motion
Character growth is critical for the serious Christian but it doesn’t end there. The goal of purity is action—to love God, others and ourselves well. Peter says that “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
James states that pure religion is we look after “orphans and widows” (1:27). But whatever cause we undertake—whether we’re called to care for widows and orphans, end sex trafficking, protect the environment, engage the business world, stop abortion or raise a godly family—it’s all fueled from the waters in our spiritual reservoir (see John 7:38).
Absolutely, Christians should avoid sexual sin. But purity means much more. Purity before God happens when everything we do becomes an act of worship.