Monday, March 12, 2012

In Pursuit of Purity: Who Pursues Whom?

Recently, I heard a message on purity (Eph 5:1-10).  While listening, I had the uneasy feeling towards the end that the emphasis was being placed on the idea that a spiritual battle in this area can be won only if I put forth far more effort.  You might ask if that is such a bad thing, and my answer would be yes.  You see, no matter how much effort is put forth, I will fall short, and that daily.  If it's up to me, it will never happen.  The messages I heard did nothing more than heap hopelessness on my head, though that end was not intended.

I began being wary at the fourth and final point, which was: when we choose purity, it unleashes freedom in our lives  (Eph 5:7-10).  This does have a nugget of truth in it, as Paul alludes to a similar idea when he tells Timothy to flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, etc. (2 Tim 2:22), but the stated goal there is to be a testimony to others (2 Tim 2:25-26), not build up ourselves.  The sermon I heard was clearly directed at Christians to make themselves better.

The preacher clearly stated that purity without Christ is impossible.  True enough, but then he turned around and said that "purity is possible because it flows from identity."  Wait!  I thought purity was possible (and actual) by the atoning blood of Christ.

At this place in the sermon we were told that we "were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord."  That is our identity: absolutely true as it is directly from God's word.  But then he went on to say that purity and my pursuit of purity is a matter of faith in three things:
1.  Since God created me, he knows how I am wired
2.  God knows what is best for my life
3.  God's standard of "not even a hint" is a more satisfying way than being ruled by the passions of our flesh
And here I thought faith was to be in the good news of Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again on the third day according to scripture, all for my sin.  Who knew the truth was otherwise?

Following this was a call for each to change his ways and pursue purity.  Again, this seems pious and all, but on whom is the burdened placed?  It is on the Christian.  Why am I being told to do what Christ has already done?  Isn't the better instruction to trust in what God has done in Christ and subsequently walk in it as a finished work?

The theme of the message was wrapped up this way: the pursuit of purity pulls us toward Jesus.  This is backwards.  My pursuit of purity pulls me toward disaster.  Jesus is the pursuer seeking my purity.  He draws me (and us) to himself by being lifted on a cross.  It is God who changes me from glory to glory and is conforming me into the likeness of his son, not me changing myself.

Do I need to be an active participant concerning purity?  Of course.  The passage in question states this.  Added to this, God is holy, therefore the elect are to be holy (1 Pet 1:14-16).  But as I said above, I fall short of this: I sin.  As a result, repentance and confession are in order * with continuing attention to God's word and prayer.  I do not pursue purity: I let the Holy Spirit use what I receive to work purity out as fruit of my salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12-13).

* There was a plea in the sermon to repent and confess where needed, but it was given as a preparatory measure to the real work, rather than the first response.

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