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Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Glorious Defeat- Final Reflection on Purity

This weekend, fifty something kids made vows of purity before God, their families, and the body of Christ.

I would like to be able to follow each one for the next ten to twenty years; I would like to see just how impactful this weekend really was. My goal is not to cast doubt on the genuineness of the intent of most of these students; my goal is to cast doubt on the follow-through of many of these students. It is one thing to go through the whole emotional ceremony of being pure; it is quite another to actually live it out in daily life, especially when there are no consequences other than breaking the heart of God.

There was a young man, a college age student, who said something that I deeply respect and who quoted the verses that I used with one my sessions:

Ecc 5:4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.

Ecc 5:5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. (ESV)

He told the gathered teens that he had, “never taken the vow, because he can’t keep a promise. He let his actions speak for him, rather than making a vow he won’t keep.”

I wish that many of us had half of the integrity and humility that this young man has.

How many of these students vowed something that they will not be able to pay? Only God knows the answer to that and I am not about to go around deciding whose was and whose was not a genuine decision. Yet, the young man’s words bear a weight that I cannot help but acknowledge; the seriousness of making a vow of purity and then breaking it.

Vows are often connected to emotions; they are not always emotion-driven, but a good portion of vows that are made are in the heat of the moment. Many times, we commit to something we are not even really convinced is the best way to go. How many people have “made a decision for Christ” and not really know whom they were supposed to believe? How many people have turned their hearts to God, supposedly, and have not even considered the ramifications of their actions. Thus, we have many, many conversion stories but so few actual converts; people jump with their emotions without counting the cost.

What is the cost of purity?

The answer is anything and everything; Jesus went as far as to say to hack off your own limbs (if your limbs were the actual problem, but a blind man can lust as well as a seeing man) if it meant you could maintain your purity. But what is purity and why is it so elusive to us? Are we unwittingly half-teaching the importance of purity and its effects on our daily walk with Christ?

Purity is found, as with all things spiritual, in love. Love gives; it does not demand, nor does it seize by force. If you are pursuing someone (any type of relationship) simply for what you may take from them, then your relationship is impure and based on lust rather than love. Purity then, is not a set of rules or even a state of being; it is an active pursuit of the God who is love. Purity is pursuing the holiness that comes from being set apart into the love of God.

So in order to pursue holiness and to be set apart into the love of God what must we give up? Or rather a better question is what can we give up? If my overarching desire is to pursue holiness in being set apart for the God who is love; what can I freely and joyfully rid myself of in order to pursue God with everything I have?

This is an entirely different mindset from our traditional list of rules and the old question, “how far is too far?” My answer is, if you even have to ask that question, you have already gone too far. We don’t need to be teaching behavior maintenance, we need to be teaching each other what it means to love and respect and protect one another in the love of God! If we love someone, are we really going to push them to compromise their purity until we take what is not ours?

Justin, our youth pastor, really put it well when he talked about how every time we take something in our lusts; we are robbing someone else of something precious. He used the story given to David by Nathan the prophet after David had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, murdered. It was a powerful image, and one I think that we should keep in our minds as we approach this subject. Then, it becomes a matter of, “do I love this person enough, to not only respect him/her, but also to love their parents and their future spouse by protecting and guarding what is precious to them?”

Purity takes on a whole other meaning when its more than just you and the other person; we are interconnected and what hurts one, hurts the other. Christ made us this way so that our actions would have consequences for more than just ourselves. When we are diseased and ailing; the whole body suffers a long with us.

So, where do we go from here?

Let me be the first to second, the young man I spoke of earlier; I too am wary of making vows to God. On the issue of purity, across the board, I have suffered greatly. I daily have to remind myself that my righteousness does not depend on my performance, but on what Jesus Christ has already done on my behalf. All of the power, strength, and most importantly love, is available to me through the Holy Spirit who lives inside of me. If I do not pursue of life of purity it is my own fault.

I entitled this blog “The Glorious Defeat,” because being pure is about being defeated. I am now moving from the abstract thought of purity and landing the plane to a more practical level.

I used to think that there would come a day where I would be able to enter a perpetual state of purity (there is such a day coming, but not till Christ returns). It is interesting how we hate the struggle so much; we would rather do anything but struggle. I used to think it was because I desired to be like Christ and that to do that, I needed to be untouched by temptations to impurity.

I was wrong.

There is a reason we hate the struggle; it’s called our flesh. You know the verse that talks about the enemy masquerading as “an angel of light?” This is one of those instances. When we are in the midst of the struggle we want out of it; it kills us that we struggle. In fact, we firmly believe that if we did not have to struggle we would never sin. So, why then does the author of Hebrews admonish his readers by stating that they “have not yet strived unto blood?” That says struggle to me.

Now, I admit that we are supposed to flee temptation and there are some temptations we should physicallyflee from. Yet, I believe that the “fleeing” we have to do in many cases is a fleeing to God in prayer. Sometimes this involves making your body-temple turn to God in worship. This is not you doing the work; you are simply making your body yield to God. God is then able to do the work, and he does provide a way out in the midst of our temptations.

The struggle is actually a good thing; oh, and one more thing.

Most of the time, you will lose.

Ah, you will progress in holiness and purity; your old nemesis will be vanquished under the blood of Christ. However, you will find new enemies within yourself every time an old one is put down. The number of victories you will win will dramatically increase to the glory of God, but most of the time…you will lose.
This is where we come to the difference between the pure and the impure.

Those who are pure live a lifestyle of repentance; they are not victorious warriors; they are broken sinners. The pure are the ones who will engage in the struggle and they will lose, but they are ok with that because it is not about their victory, but their defeat. They realize that they are the problem and that the only solution is an even more thorough bearing of their weaknesses; for in their weakness Christ becomes strong. They are defeated, but they are never beaten. They lose the battle, but Christ has won the war.
The impure don’t want to struggle; they want to be like Christ without having to face the temptations that he faced. They want to be gods not men and in their arrogance they are routed; even if they manage to control their external behavior, the inside is full rotten corpses. They believe that their regulations or their willpower will save them; they believe their willpower will impress God enough to “help them out a little bit,” so they can handle the rest.

They are blind fools.

Do you wish to be pure? Be broken.

Do you wish to have victory? Accept defeat.

Do you wish to have strength? Embrace your weakness.

Do you wish to be free? Become enslaved.

Do you wish to live? Die to yourself.

The Gospel is a paradoxical message that seems foolish to the world, but if we don’t follow and practice ourselves, then aren’t we claiming the exact same thing?

Where has your pursuit of purity brought you; is there anything you would like to share?

Grace and Peace



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