We need to talk about the P word. No, not that one.
I’m referring to purity.
So let me start with a question.
Do you want to be pure? Does it matter to you? Purity almost sounds old-fashioned nowadays, doesn’t it? It calls to mind words like “strait-laced” and “uptight”. Especially in a world where self-expression is seen as one of the great virtues, purity comes across as prudish and unhealthy.
It isn’t. It’s quite the opposite.
Purity has to do with holiness. Being set apart for God. That’s a good thing.
It also has to do with our bodies, and this is where the problem lies. Even if we’re new creations who trust in the Lord, our bodies will continue to betray us and lead us astray.
It’s summer. In busy places, everywhere you look, people will pass you in tight-fitting clothing, sparse clothing, or with more flesh showing than normal. Bodies are not invisible. We cannot avoid seeing them. And our own bodies may respond to what we see whether we like it or not.
So, here are the first three stages of our response to a sexually alluring person.
I am seeing. I am noticing.
I am taking a second look. My attention is lingering.
I am entering into a fantasy.
There are three ways in which we can respond to the challenge of sexual temptation, and here I’m simply talking about lust, the willing response to temptation that leads to sexual thoughts and fantasies.
Yielding that leads to guilt
The pursuit of purity
You’ll notice that there isn’t a category here marked “hope for the best.” Those who hope for the best fall into the first two categories. They either deny it’s happening, or they yield to temptation. That is because our bodies respond to sexually alluring stimuli and unless we have prepared ourselves to pursue purity, we will naturally fall prey to sexual temptation.
Many Christians fall into category 1. We simply pretend that it’s not happening. Or we downplay our response. Fine, fine, we say, so I looked. So what? I didn’t lust, I promise. I didn’t! Or perhaps we admit that we took a second look, or kept looking, but we then deny the seriousness of the act. So I looked for a while, so what? It’s really not that bad.
For those who fall into category 2, there is an endless round of falling, repenting and repeated falling—a vicious circle of guilt that never stops. Which leaves category 3. The pursuit of purity.
Let’s return to the three steps.
Step one – I am seeing. I am noticing. There is no sin in seeing. There is no sin in noticing. We are not called to walk around wearing blindfolds or looking up into the sky, whistling.
Step two – I am taking a second look or I am paying attention/lingering. This follows automatically from step one UNLESS one pursues purity. For many people, it will follow almost without a break in thought.
Yet in reality it is not inevitable. Nor is it acceptable.
Not if we desire purity. Not if we value purity. Not if purity is a specific goal. So we must pursue it. If we don’t, we will quickly end up in step three—mired in sexual fantasy, tugged into lustful thoughts. If we have arrived there, we have demonstrated that purity isn’t that important to us.
This brings me to Romans 12.1
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
The choice of words here is fascinating. Offer your bodies. Why bodies? Why not souls or spirits? How interesting that for Paul, bodies matter. He doesn’t neglect the body. Indeed, the body is to be offered as a sacrifice. The body is used for worship. However, Paul isn’t teaching here that we worship ONLY with the body. The very next verse contains the famous phrase ‘the renewing of the mind’ to ‘test the will of God.’ (12.2) Body and mind—both are essential to God. We worship with the whole person.
This is why sexual purity is important.
When we lust, our bodies and our minds become contaminated. Indeed, they seem to be corrupted in the same moment. Our eyes see the tempting image, and if permitted a second or lingering look (or more), our minds are led inevitably to sinful thoughts. It happens very quickly, and stains the whole person, for our wills also become corrupted.
So we cannot simply wait for purity to settle on us. We must pursue it. What does that involve?
First, we must act with self-control. Intentionally. It’s not a surprise when we go out on a summer’s day, walk along the promenade and pass scantily clad people. Hello! We’re at the beach. It’s a place where swimwear is worn. So we must intentionally act to remain pure. That doesn’t mean we can’t go to the beach. It means we must consciously guard our minds, our thoughts, and our actions. Temptation cannot be avoided, but it can be overcome, when we determine to remain pure.
But we do need help. We need protection, which is why we should put on the whole armour of God (Eph. 6). The moment we notice the half-naked person on the billboard or the person in revealing clothing, we must determine to look away. Immediately. Many people in our culture would just laugh out loud at that. They think we’re prudish. They think we’re sexually repressed and unhealthy.
We are a people called to holiness. We are offering our bodies as living sacrifices, and those bodies, along with our souls, are being protected by the simple act of looking away. In that moment, we are worshiping, because we are being obedient.
But we will only do this if it matters to us.
It must matter to us.
And this is especially true if we’re leaders. It is precisely because no one in your congregation will know how you respond to sexual temptation that it is so important. The easier it is to hide your sin, the more likely you are to fall. Lust is one of those sins that hides in the dark crevices of your soul. It lies to you, telling you it isn’t that important, when at the same time it destroys you inside.
Offer your bodies as living sacrifices.
It doesn’t get more important than that. Worship, the very purpose of life, is at stake. Purity isn’t just an add-on, an after-thought. It is central to our worship. For we desire to please the one who made us and gave us a body with which to worship him. We are washed clean by the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, and so we offer him our bodies in worship.
During the summer, many of you will face sexual temptation. I urge you to think ahead, prepare your heart, guard your mind, and offer your body to God in worship. Every day.
For he has made you clean. He has redeemed you. He is worthy of your worship.