“Purity” This outdated, “uncool” word. Somehow, deep in our heart of hearts, we know purity is central to the intimacy and immediacy of our relationship with God. We sense its importance with our transparency and intimacy with those we love. We even suspect, with that creepy sense of a hint at the back of our minds, that purity may be important to our own comfort level, our transparency, with ourselves in our innermost hearts.
So here we are, at last, having arrived at the predictable destination for any discussion of “purity”… the “Sex-Drugs-RockandRoll” part… the “hot-n-sweaty-between-the-sheets” part… the “pornography” part… the “self-abuse” part! Mwah hah haaa! Finally! We’ve gotten to the “Dirty Dancin’ Sex” part! We’ve ARRIVED!
Here is where we… humanly… theologically… parentally… morally… religiously… miss the point so readily and frequently. We think this is the “end of the line”, this sexual immorality thing, when it is but a waypoint, (granted a MAJOR waypoint, but still just) a waystation on the path to our final destination.
And what’s that? What’s the final destination? As ever, it is our own hearts. Our interior selves, the place from which love comes and goes, where relationships form and are embraced. The place where we encounter and respond to God and to one another.
Paul addresses sexual immorality with the Corinthians thus: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” [1 Corinthians 6: 12-20]
This is not a condemnation of “sex”. God commanded Adam and Eve (and many others) to go forth, be fruitful, and fill the earth with new life. This is not a condemnation of “the body”. Paul speaks of immorality as a sin AGAINST one’s own body, and urges instead that we glorify God in our body.
So… as I am so often asked, “What’s wrong with pornography, Little Monk? There’s no victim. I’m not touching anyone but myself. How can there be a sin, when no one is hurt or touched, when I’m all alone?” And all that person has for their moral compass is this vague neurotic sense of guilt and shame, laid down when they were very young (incredibly young), when self-gratification was equated with the shame they knew if they pooped their pants or failed to make it to the toilet in time to pee. All they have in their conscience is the human equivalent of the downcast whimper of a puppy whose nose has been squashed into their mess.
They’ve been taught shame. The wrong kind of shame. They’ve been taught to be ashamed of their body. Ashamed of its reactions to visual (or other) sensory stimuli. Ashamed of their body’s connection to their minds and imagination. Often, ironically, this shame bleeds into their own marital relationships, toxifying the very place, the actual place where holiness dwells in all of this. They have been taught shame of passion itself, and thus become caught in a toxic trap that negates any sense of purity or light.
How did this happen?
Their understanding of purity stopped short of the destination. They got hung up at the “somatic”, at the “glandular”, at the “body” part… and they did not carry on with the issue all the way to the mind and the heart!
Jesus addressed this right at the outset in His Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.“ [Matthew 6:27-28]
This word “lust” here, epithumeo (ἐπιθυμέω), simply means “passionate desire”. Humans like to translate it “lust”, but it really doesn’t have an innately sexual meaning. Jesus uses this same word of His own feelings from time to time, feelings of love for those He has come to save, passionate desire to gather, to protect, to embrace. I’ve always likened it to that feeling a parent has, from time to time, where you just want to hug your children (or grandchildren) so intently that you must constrain yourself or cause discomfort. The passion is where the “mind”, the “emotions”, and the “body” (the glands, the intensity, the muscles) meet and cross over into one another.
So what has all this got to do with the topic?
We are speaking here of compromising purity, specifically (at the moment) through sexual immorality. Jesus points out that where it all goes haywire is not in the bed (though that may well be a likely outcome)… but the adultery is in the “look upon her with lust [passionate desire] in his heart”. THAT… is intense focus… THAT is placing the self in the intimate sexual scene… THAT is to generate and revel in the “fantasy”.
And THERE is where the problem lies with pornography, self-abuse, and all the other little “secret dirties” that nannies, and parents, and religious shame-mongers program children with. Such programmers seldom understand the mechanics themselves, and are usually so uncomfortable with the topic (not to mention ignorant), that they never do as Jesus did… get down to the heart of the matter.
If all we focus on is the physical, the material… the video playing… the magazine purchasing, hiding, drawing out behind the locked door… the movie-going… then we miss the point. The heart of the matter is not in the material, it is in the mental, the emotional, the relational.
When we take a false relationship of intimacy into our minds and hearts through the senses… (whether pornography, infidelity, sexual fantasy in the community, church, or workplace)… or any other form of sexual immorality, we make a conscious decision to devote and dedicate our mind and imagination to a LIE. We focus, concentrate, passion and adrenalin involving a whole biological system designed for a joyful, wholesome, and holy purpose… and we poison that, devaluing that to the “merely vicarious”, of no greater significance to us than watching a scary movie for cheap thrills.
The mind… the heart… the inner person… made in the image of God… capable of imagination and co-creatiion… such dignity and power is scarcely imaginable. THIS is what sets us apart (as far as we know) from all other life on earth (perhaps beyond). Here is the essence of the soul, of the heart. Here is where Paul says we sin against our very SELVES, our own body, when we cheapen this.
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Where’s the “Purity” issue?
To invest the self, the soul, the mind, the heart, the passion… the capacity we have for imagination and fantasy… into a the non-existent phantom of sexuality without relationship, call-to-oneness, or true trust and intimacy… this is utterly toxic and self-defeating. This leads, inevitably and unavoidably, to emotional desolation, emptiness, unrequited yearning.
The Serpent succeeded in seducing Eve with such a process… painting in her mind something impossible… “a good thing outside the will of God”. Once she conceived of that possibility, she yearned for it, judged it desirable, and acted upon that thought.
The irony is that the generation of “neurotic shame” and “shadowy mystique” usually strengthens the illusion of desirability. Sexual allure is largely cultural. What hairstyles, makeup, clothing (or lack thereof), is “attractive”… is largely dependent on where (and when) you are and who you grew up with. Even the “ultimate allure”, the naked form… varies in “attractiveness” from one culture to another, one era to another.
Why? Because Jesus had it right! It’s in the head, the heart, the desire, the fantasy, the “longing look”. Sin is in the “will”, the “choice”. Purity is a decision as well as a quality. Flee from sin. Refuse to pursue immorality of any kind (sexual or otherwise), and do not even remain “passive” and happy if it is upon you against your will.
Ah… we can “drive out the toxic”, by “embracing the wholesome”. Darkness cannot exist where/when light is brought in to the room. We can “import purity”, and by this means counteract all of the compromises… adulteration, corruption, and toxification. Paul told us how! Watch this…
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” [Philippians 4:4-9]
How amazing is this?
Paul teaches this TREMENDOUS truth here! And he’s not even talking about “behaving rightly”, or “being moral”, or “purity” or anything like that! He’s talking about PEACE! He’s talking about GRACE! He’s talking about how to invite the God of peace to be with us, and to guard our minds and our hearts!
Gentle Reader… God is NOT a DEAF MUTE! He is not passive! He doesn’t just sit there saying, “Well, let’s see how they handle THIS now, shall We?” or “AHA! He’s made his own bed and messed up, now let’s let him lie in it!” That’s NOT God. That’s not how God has EVER been! It’s not how God is through the Old Testament, New, or in our lives as we walk. If that were so, we’d all have been toast long, long ago.
No… if we will take what WE are and have and can… our attention, our focus… and direct that toward elements of light… “whatever is good, true, beautiful, etc.”. THEN He will bring us the rest of the way! He will purify! He will enlighten. He will guard and grant peace.
Why? Because we deserve it? Because we do such a great job cleaning house that He just can’t wait to get in here? Lol! No. Simply because it’s what He’s always wanting all along. He WANTS to dwell with us. He WANTS us to know peace, not turmoil, anxiety, fretfulness, loneliness.
I often teach that the single most persistent truth I see reflected in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments… is God’s desperate and determined desire to live intimately in, among, alongside His children in sheer love… and our equally determined efforts to resist that. (Fortunately, He’s God, we’re not. He wins!)
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Purity is not hokey or out-of-date. Purity reflects the clarity of connection, intimacy, immediacy between God and us, and among ourselves in light and transparency. Compromises of purity lie all around us every day. But the restoration, the maintenance, the protection of purity… lies all around us, among us, and within us as well.
Never despair. Never reject. Never shrink away in fear or shame. “Let your mind dwell”… LEARN… learn to meditate, to contemplate, to use the tremendous gifts God gave us for entering into His consciousness, to dwell on whatever is of good, whatever is of Jesus and Truth. And such effort will bear fruit in the reduction of any and all fantasies in/of darkness.