19. Aspiring to Purity

Aspiring Meditations: 19.  Aspiring to Purity

2 Cor 6:4-6 “as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: …. in purity, understanding, patience and kindness”

1 Tim 4:12   set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

1 Tim 5:1, 2 Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

The awareness of falling short or of being less than we should be, so often makes us want to step back into the shadows and hide. If the mischievous preacher says, “Hands up all those who can claim to be pure,” we hunch down in our sits and together with most others have a sense of guilt and of inadequacy. Purity means free from fault or defect, free from anything that taints or pollutes or spoils, and few of us would dare to make that claim; we know that hidden thoughts are sometimes less than glorious, words sometimes come out that are less than gracious, and acts sometimes emerge that are less than goodness.

And yet, as we peer into the depths of the New Testament this word comes to the surface in this search of those things that suggest we should be aspiring to them. The apostle John nails it when he says, “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (1 Jn 3:2,3) He speaks of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ at his Second Coming, and he reminds us that Jesus is pure and so we should ensure, to the best of our ability that our lives are pure and clean.

I remember a time, many years ago, in the church where we were members as fairly young Christians, the leaders had invited a prophet to come and speak. This was a man with a serious ministry and the stories of that ministry went ahead of him. He saw through people and he ministered with authority. At one church where he went, he called out two leaders and challenged them about having been at loggerheads for years and told them to repent. In fact he went further than that and said if they did not they would not see the week out. By the end of the week one of the men had repented and the other was dead!

We cleaned up our lives before he arrived. Paul’s words at Communion took on a whole new meaning: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:28-30) Wow! It was real, people in Corinth had been dying because they failed to acknowledge their sins.

In our verses above Paul said they commended themselves to the believers by their purity of life (2 Cor 6) and encouraged Timothy as a young leader to be an example to his flock of a pure life (1 Tim 4) and especially in the way he had dealings with the women of the congregation. But when Peter counseled wives with unbelieving husbands, how to win over their husbands, it wasn’t with word but with their purity: “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. (1 Pet 3:1,2)

Purity is at the heart of who we are: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Pet 1:22) Obedience to the truth, responding to the gospel, means as we come to Christ we are purified: “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8,9) It didn’t matter whether it was Jew or Gentile, whoever comes to Christ IS purified: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:7)

Now the danger, when I come to think how I can aspire to purity, is that we focus on outward actions or outgoing words so a person who is working on purity in their life, will not abuse their body with wrong use of drugs or excess use of alcohol and, I suggest, will be careful what comes out of their mouths. Swearing or blasphemy are definitely out. Something I have observed, especially in some across the water from me, is the common use of “O my God!” as an expletive. It is using the name God in a derogatory manner, it is abusing His name and it is, I believe, offensive to Him, and yet it seems it has become culturally acceptable. I am not so sure.

But those are outward things and Jesus also warned about what went on inside our heads. Lust comes from imagining things. Hatred comes from allowing oneself to think badly against another. But tainting the mind can come to easily through the eyes, whether it be from online pornography, men’s magazines, sexually explicit novels (and there are more and more of them around) or sexually explicit videos or films, or whether it is extreme violence or torture, again whether it is on videos or films or even video games, a mind that is tainted by these is no longer pure. Not long ago while traveling, I picked up an innocent looking novel to read from the airport bookstand and was horrified a few hours later to find myself in the midst of the most sexually explicit questionable sex you could find. Realizing what I was doing, I shut the book and dumped it. I hadn’t seen it coming, but now it was too late; the imagery was there – impurity!

What do we do when such things happen? Ask the Lord to forgive us that we allowed ourselves to get into such a position and then ask Him to blot out those memories and replace them with good images. We need a work of grace and cleansing and purifying. But it can be thoughts about another that can only be described as fantasy, and if they are not our partner or if they …..  no, let’s stop there and suggest that fantasizing of any kind needs to have the lid put on. By definition, such thoughts are unreal and often stray over the line of what is acceptable if you spoke them out, so if you want a test, imagine speaking out this fantasy before the congregation. If you see horrified looks on their faces, you know the truth.

So, here we are, in the realm of the mind or of words or even deeds, anything that is at all questionable; these are the things that pollute the pure life. Let’s be real, let’s be honest and let’s face the truth of this study: I need to aspire to purity and therefore I may need to check my lifestyle, my thoughts, and the things I have so far permitted into my life. Perhaps some of them offend the thought of me having a life of purity. Maybe some action is required, but His grace will be sufficient. Do it.

31. Be Pure

Meditations in 1 John : 31 : Be Pure

1 John  3:3  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Sometimes I find myself looking at the lives of Christians, especially young Christians, wondering what I could say when I see the things they do and allow in their lives. Now it is very difficult sometimes to know whether things being done are simply cultural expressions of life today with no great significance to them, or if they are sin. Theologians often struggle when it comes to exactly defining what things constitute sin; they can define it as lawlessness and so on, but when it comes down to particular actions at specific times, it is not always so easy to say “That is wrong.” I know there are parts of the church that are negative about virtually any sort of pleasure and so in some quarters going to the cinema or watching DVDs is even prohibited, but that sort of isolation simply cuts off from the rest of society and means it is especially difficult to communicate with the world and impact it for good, and has very little to do with God’s definitions of righteousness or unrighteousness.

Perhaps this verse, although not specific about specific things, is helpful. But let’s not rush it; let’s deal with it in an orderly way. John speaks here of “Everyone who has this hope.” What hope is he referring to? The hope spoken of in the previous verse: “But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” In other words, the hope we have is that one day we will be like Jesus. Now I’m not sure, if I’m being honest, if lots of Christians in their present state relish that thought.

Consider: Jesus is completely given over to his Father’s will, at whatever cost – including that of giving up his life for humanity.  Consider: Jesus put himself out to reach the poor, the sick, the destitute, the unbeliever, and even the blatant sinner. Consider: Jesus never got drunk, never over-ate, never had casual sex and never demeaned or spoke badly of anyone, except those in high places who were being hypocritical – and these he spoke fearlessly against. Jesus never lied, not even white lies, never sought favour, never pushed himself forward, was never violent, never competed with others and never sought to get to the top of the pile. Submit that ‘x-ray machine’ to many modern Christian lives and how will they show up?

Perhaps we don’t respond well to this sort of speaking because we don’t actually think much about Jesus coming back and us becoming like him.  John implies that if we did think about this then we would purify ourselves. Perhaps part of our thinking might be, well he’s not likely to be coming back for a long time and I’ve got to live in this world while I wait, so what does it matter. I can always be cleaned up at the last minute. I would suggest that such thinking is second class thinking. What if Jesus wants to “turn up” not in the skies tomorrow, but simply in revival power by his Spirit? I am told that often in such times of revival, the first part of it is the Saints on their knees in floods of tears, as the things they tolerated are exposed by the purity of the light of the Holy Spirit shining with a power that is only seen from time to time in what we call ‘revivial’.

When John says this person “purifies himself” there is an echo there of the Old Testament, carried on into the New: “When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover.” (Jn 11:55)  There was an outer washing and also, as much as they could, a heart cleansing.  Peter spoke of being cleansed when we came to Christ: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22) Coming to the truth and now obeying it meant that their lives were being cleansed from the contamination of sin that we suffered previously, before we knew Christ. John has already touched on this in what may be considered takes place when we come to Christ in repentance and when we confess individual later failures: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9)

This cleansing or purifying makes us pure like Christ, part of the general process of making us like him: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” (Rom 8:28)  So part of the thing of being remade in Jesus’ likeness means that the Holy Spirit is seeking to work the same purity that is in Christ, in us. When something is ‘pure’ it is being free of impurities. When we came to Christ, he declared us free in this way, but in terms of practical, daily sanctification it is an ongoing process.  Part of that process is becoming aware of things in our lives that are not Christ-like, and then part of that process is making an act of will that we will change and no longer tolerate the things that come to light, and the final part of the process is with the help and empowering of the Holy Spirit, replacing those things with Christ-like things.

On the negative side, the apostle Paul said, Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Col 3:5) Those are un-Christ-like things. On the positive side he then went on to say, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Col 3:12,13)  That is the purifying process. Let it work!