Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Aspects of Purity

Purity is a necessary, but neglected, part of our spiritual lives. Jesus said that without purity we cannot see God. Without purity, no one can be in God’s presence or even be heard by God. The impure cannot abide in God’s presence, nor will their prayers be heard—except for a prayer requesting purity. The spirit world cannot accept any but the most pure, the most clean things. Any gifts to God must be pure, and this includes our words, our actions, our intentions and our very lives.
Today, purity is no longer considered a benefit. When we think of “purity” we think of chastity belts, frowning aged faces and strict people wearing black hats with a buckle on it. To be pure is to be fundamentalist, to be a disciplinarian, to be judging, and to probably be a hypocrite. Purity in ancient times used to be something desirable, but we have so many negative images associated with purity that even if we love God we probably don’t want to spend much time considering it.
It is time for purity to have a makeover. Not that we need to change what purity means in some Orwellian fashion, but that we need to forcefully steal purity back from the judging and hypocrites. To do this, we must first understand what purity is, what God intended it to be:
1. Pure focus on God
Because most people understand that God is forgiving and merciful, they put their relationship with God on a low gear, low intensity. Although they feel that their relationship with God could be improved in some vague way, they know that God will overlook their faults and just be glad that they think of him at all. However, God is not content with a casual relationship. God wants us to have a mind that is purely on Him and His desires. God doesn’t need casual friends, he has billions of those. God is looking for a faithful spouse, a best friend, a lifelong companion. God asks for people to be completely surrendered to Him and to His ways.
2. Pure actions of holiness
The only time we use “holy” it seems is in the phrase “holier than thou”. Holiness is either considered a divine prerogative or a fa├žade someone puts on to make themselves seem better than they really are. But God told his people to be holy, to be holy as He is holy. This doesn’t mean that God is wanting his people to look down their noses on others who are not holy. Rather, holiness is a gift that we receive from God to be a people that is distinctly divine, not a card to play to stomp on others. Holiness is simply having religious, sexual, relational, and even clothing differences that distinguish us from “normal” society. But holiness isn’t something we just make up—the holiness code is something given to us from God. God commanded his people to not insult each other, to be faithful to our spouses in action and mind, to follow God’s sexual ethics, to keep our promises, to not get drunk, to not worship images, to do our religious actions in private at times. To be pure is to follow God’s code of holiness, even if others do something different.
3. Pure intentions of love
Purity, however, is not just a matter of action and devotion but of intent. To be pure is not just in relation to God and his desires, but to others and their needs as well. To be pure, we need to be more than holy. Purity is also an act of love, an act of caring for those around us. Part of God’s holiness code is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If, in our holiness, we attack or condemn others then we have forsaken our holiness. Purity is keeping in mind the weaknesses and misunderstandings of those around us, swallowing our revulsion of their impurity and caring for them as best we can.

Three Is One
To be pure is not any one of these three, but the whole. If one loves God with all of his heart and does everything he can to live rightly, but displays anger and disdain to those around him, then he is not pure. If one loves everyone around them and she does so because of her love for God, but she rejects a part of God’s holiness code for herself, then she is not pure. If one decides to live among the Amish, for example, and truly cares for everyone and lives according to their community code as a good way of life, but has little true devotion for God, then he is not pure. Purity is living for God, living according to God’s ways and living in love—all three without exception. Without all three aspects of purity, one will not be welcomed into the presence of God.

Purity of heart
The most difficult part of purity, however, is our minds. We all know that purity is not just a matter of action, but a matter of the heart. Mind you, one’s actions must be pure in order to be pure, but if one’s heart is not pure, then no matter how many pure actions one does, purity is beyond our reach.

The relationship between intent and action is complicated. One can do some actions, especially in public, and not have the intent behind it. But, ultimately, all of our true intentions come out in our actions. And we are so good at deceiving ourselves, often we do not know our true intentions at all, for our actions deceived everyone, even ourselves. So, if we desire to be pure, how can we truly know that we have achieved purity?

There are certain actions that indicate our true intentions, beyond our conscious desires. Here are a few areas we can examine to see our true intention:

What we do with our money is an often unexamined area of our lives. We think of money to meet our needs, but God’s purity requires us to use our money to build God’s kingdom, for holiness and in care for others. Are we using our money in purity or impurity?

What we do with our eyes is a small action, almost unseen by most people. But what we look at often indicates what we are most interested in, and our interest can show our intention. What do we look at regularly that we may not notice?

Careless words
When we don’t mean to be saying anything, really, what do we say? Do we express hidden insults or impure desires? Do we indicate our separation of God? What do our careless words show about our true intentions?

Secret actions
We all have actions that no other human can see. If we think that these hidden actions are insignificant, we might not have a deep relationship with God. Or if our hidden actions are unholy or unloving and we do not repent of them, it is an indication that we are not pure, acceptable before God.

Everyone has to make tough choices in our lives. Some things have to be sacrificed in certain contexts in order to accomplish the greater good. What we allow to be sacrificed and what we give our sacrifice for indicates the priorities in our lives. If we are to live before God, then we would never sacrifice our relationship to God, our holiness to live before God or our concern and help of others. What do we sacrifice and what do we retain?

Achieving purity
Purity may seem like an uphill battle. To a certain degree, it is. Purity is not easy, and much in our human nature screams against our participation in the spirit world. This is why our flesh and the Spirit are not in communion, but battle one another. But this does not mean that purity is impossible. Many people have achieved it and God longs to have relationship with people. To obtain purity, we must do five things:

1. Commitment
We must make a lifelong commitment to God. This commitment is often done by being baptized in Jesus or committing oneself to him for one’s whole life. But unless we commit to something, we will never know what it really means or how to accomplish it. The first step to purity is to commit to it. We can pray like this: “Lord Jesus, I commit myself to you and to your ways. I want to be in relationship with God all of my life, without exception.”

2. Longing
Not only do we commit to it, but we must desire it with our whole heart. If we just think that purity is a nice thing that we want to do sometimes, then we will never accomplish it. We must eat, drink, live and sleep purity. We must work on having it be a deep part of our lives.

3. Prayer
We cannot accomplish purity on our own. It is humanly impossible. But God can make us pure before Him through his divine effort. To gain God’s help, we must ask. Pray this: “Father, I want to be pure before you, but I cannot do it on my own. Please help be to be pure through the power of your Spirit. Help me to desire that purity and live in it all the time.”

4. Separation
There are many things that are driving us to be impure. There are things that tempt us to go away from God, to be unholy to be apathetic to others. If something doesn’t effect you, it doesn’t matter. But if something drives you away from God, if someone causes hatred in you, then it is time to separate from that thing or person. Whatever makes us apathetic or lustful or separated from God, we need to have nothing to do with it.

5. Community
There are people who know about purity and can live it out. These people love God, live righteously, but isn’t holier than thou, and they are deeply concerned about others. Hang out with these people, learn how they do what they do and try to be like them. These are the people who can teach purity because they learned it from God and others who are pure. Do you see people who meet the three criteria of purity? Then be with them, in this way you will achieve purity yourself.

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