When I hear the word purity, I picture a teenage girl wearing a ring to symbolize her promise to save herself for marriage. Sadly, I also remember the article I read by a woman who confessed to wearing her ring long after she’d broken the promise to stay pure. As in other areas of her Christian life, the goal was to appear pure and godly.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m not questioning the sincerity of those who wear purity rings. This actually isn’t about rings at all.
These days, I also picture someone I used to be close to, who served at church while hiding a pornography addiction.
I hear myself telling a friend how uncomfortable I was with the explicit scenes in that month’s book club selection. As a once-married—now-divorced woman, it was hard enough for me to keep my thoughts pure without reading stuff like that! What I didn’t tell her was I’d read the scenes anyway. It seemed a lot holier to stop at the part where they offended me.
I remember the day I sat at my dining room table writing the words to Philippians 4:8 in fancy lettering: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” I planned to take a picture of the page and send it to the women in my Bible study group. That morning, we’d challenged ourselves to filter every thought and attitude, and everything we allowed into our minds, through Philippians 4:8 for a week. As I dipped my calligraphy pen into the black India ink, I ruminated over a friend’s unkindness, and how badly I wanted to expose her as the cruel phony that she was (according to me) to anyone who would listen.
Whatever is true . . .
I’m thinking something true—the truth is she was mean and I’m mad, and I have every right to be!
But pure? Um . . . no. My thoughts may not have been sexually impure, but wishing for a sister in Christ to get hers while copying Scripture probably counted as impure.
I’d blown the challenge on Day 1. While writing out the verse!
Among the Impure
It hit me that I had a lot in common with that brave writer who admitted to wearing a purity ring after breaking her promise, and even with the person who led Bible club while struggling with a dark addiction. I claimed to make purity a priority, and I wanted to, but anyone with a window into my heart would know that sometimes my purity was all about appearances.
I began to think more deeply about purity and what it looked like in everyday life, while also asking God to help me make it a true priority.
Here’s what I discovered:
More than Sexual Purity
Scripture is full of verses that call us to keep our bodies pure, but it also names other things, often in the same sentence. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).
This verse reminds me to pursue purity in all areas of life, not just one. If I am committed to keeping myself sexually pure outside of marriage, I should also be committed to guarding my mind against lustful thoughts, and greed, and making idols out of things and people—anything that I know displeases God.
Starting in the Mind
When we challenged one another in our Bible study group to filter our thoughts through Philippians 4:8, we were all shocked by how difficult it was. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one who blew it on Day 1. I also wasn’t the only one who got a wake-up call to take responsibility for my own mind. We each found ways of fighting thoughts that failed the Philippians 4:8 test—listening to the Christian radio station, avoiding TV, praying. This exercise turned out to be a meaningful experience as we noticed the differences in what we wanted in our minds.
Reflected in Our Choices
The fact that a sexually-explicit scene in a novel offended me was a good sign—I considered sex something sacred and private for married couples. My choice to read it anyway reflected the true state of my heart that day. I wanted to be known as a woman with high moral standards while also satisfying my curiosity.
My goal now is for my choices to be as pure as my claims.
The Truth Comes Out
My friend hid his pornography addiction for years before evidence started showing up on the family computer, and his wife researched suspicious transactions on their credit card statement. He could no longer explain away his behavior, or those transactions. The truth was out. His refusal to face the truth and deal with it cost him his family, and the respect of everyone who’d seen him as a great Christian guy.
It’s easy for me to judge him, until I consider what the contents of my bookshelf and movie collection would reveal. My bookshelf happens to be only a few feet away from the computer where I write Christian articles, devotionals, and books.
My habits might not be as destructive as that friend’s, but if they contradict my Christian testimony, I need to take them just as seriously.
What We Need to Do
One of the many things I love about God is his kindness in providing clear instructions for how to achieve his desire for us. Growth in this area is possible when we are willing to . . .
Ask for it. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). I can’t recall a verse where God denies a request for a pure heart.
Stay connected to the source. “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word” (Psalm 119:9). Let’s face it; pure thoughts and choices come a lot more naturally when we read God’s Word daily and put what we read into practice.
Pursue it. “Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). If we want to lose weight, we exercise instead of sitting around; we eat healthy food instead of junk. If we want to sincerely make purity a priority, we go after different things than we did in the past. We watch different movies, read different books, pray for our friends instead thinking the worst about them. It isn’t always easy, but the more we experience the joy, peace, and closeness with Jesus that come with obedience, the more we desire the pure life that leads to those things.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve recognized areas of your life where your actions or thoughts contradict what you claim to value. Ask God to give you an authentic desire to pursue purity and honor him from your heart.
Jeanette Hanscome is the author of five books, including Suddenly Single Mom:52 Messages of Hope, Grace, and Promise. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys singing at her church and with a local chorus.