As I tucked my then-nine-year-old into bed one night, she asked, “Mommy, what is purity?” Since we hadn’t had The Talk yet, and since her question wasn’t actually about sex, I hesitated. I shot a silent prayer up to God for a simple, understandable answer and took a deep breath.
Whatever is noble . . . whatever is pure . . . think on these things (Philippians 4:8).
The phrases bounced into my head (not the reference—just the words), and I answered: “Purity is about keeping your thoughts pure, about never letting your mind dwell on things that God doesn’t like.” (Or something like that. It was a few years ago now, so I can’t remember word-for-word.) She was satisfied, but the Lord launched me on a long-term thought process that continues to bear fruit in my mind. It began with the conviction that purity is something much bigger than the box into which we have presently placed it.
Having started college in 1991, I was too late for True Love Waits. (You can go to the TLW blog here.) I hear wonderful things about the movement, so don’t read this as a criticism of the program or the way God has used it to honor Himself in many lives. True Love Waits espouses sexual purity, but we American Christians don’t even like to say the word “sexual”—much less talk about it—so somewhere in the last twenty years, “sexual purity” became just “purity” and we all knew what it meant. But we lost something big when we did that. We lost the rest of what purity really is.
Virginity is just one branch of the purity tree, and a low-hanging, usually-chopped-off branch at that. Is there no longer a need for purity after you get married? That’s just ridiculous; of course there is. And having sex within a marriage doesn’t make you impure. (I wonder how many newlyweds have struggled with this . . .) So we really need some expansion here.
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart . . . Psalm 24:3-4
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:8 (emphasis added on both)
Real purity allows us to stand unstained before God. It is about seeking God first, about not allowing anything to come between me and God. It’s about keeping intimacy with God as my number-one objective and testing everything else to see how it contributes or detracts from that intimacy. It’s about removing everything from my mind that is not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8 again). Real purity brings me closer to God.
What are the branches of the purity ‘tree’? (Not an exhaustive list—I’m just brainstorming.) But first, let’s assume that the one pursuing purity is a Christ-follower, rooted and built up in Him (Col 2:7).
- integrity. This includes taking credit only for your own work, being honest, leaving others’ possessions, ‘owning’ your mistakes, and much more.
- intimacy. It’s not just about intercourse. God restrains what we share of our personal lives, family lives, physical bodies, and emotional situations. He also limits what we need to see of others’ intimacy. Mom and Dad kissing? Fine and good. Couple having sex on screen (especially at the movie theater, where it’s SO BIG!! . . . okay that might just be me)? Not healthy. Married women who look to each other rather than their husbands for secrets and support? Not good. The motivation behind that phrase, “technical virgin”? Anathema.
- interactions. Paul says, Let your gentleness be evident to all (Phil 4:5). How we think of and speak to other people measures what is in our minds. Thus, Jesus gave interactions the second-most-important place in obedience: Love your neighbor as yourself (See Mark 12:29-31). Furthermore, acts of violence are unacceptable; committing them–definitely, but even watching them . . . well, it’s something to consider. Ask yourself, “Does the violence in this movie make it more difficult for me/my child to keep my/his mind pure?”
- ideas. Sometimes Satan just throws sinful thoughts into our minds (especially if we have a less-than-pure past). Entertaining them tarnishes our purity.
- language. (Somebody PLEASE give me a word that starts with –i- for this point. It’s driving me crazy!!) If you expose yourself to an excess of coarse language, such terms sink into your mind and eventually come out of your mouth. There’s a reason it’s called a “potty mouth”.
This list feels prescriptive, now that I’ve written it. Just remember that it all begins in one’s mind; the key verse is Philippians 4:8. Also, I was really trying to stay away from a list of negatives here, but if you want one, consider Colossians 3. Paul doesn’t specifically say “pure” or “purity” in that chapter, but look just before the list: Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3:1-2). Isn’t this a great description of full-bodied purity? Set your heart and mind on Him. Wow. I love it when the deluge of details boils down to something simple.
So sexual purity is important, of course, but it quickly descends into simple behavior modification and doesn’t focus on the heart of my preteen. The better approach will be to help our children focus on living a pure life with God-centered boundaries in every area, which honors Him and permits them to walk into adulthood with a mature and fruitful purity.