Developing a Passion for Purity
In our pursuit of intimacy with the Lord, we have been tackling the necessary subjects of sin and purity in recent weeks, as well as the cultivation of wisdom. The very reason the Lord places emphasis on these issues in scripture, is to ultimately draw us closer to His heart.
True wisdom is always consummated in love for God. And true wisdom is always marked by purity.
:: become the fire ::
“But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when he appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. …” (Mal.3:2-3).
God is making for Himself worshippers in this hour whose lives are enflamed with purity, who are unattached to the things of the world. They desire only their Lover. We must move beyond acceptance of this cleansing fire. Let us even move beyond submission to the fire. Let us become the fire. Hebrews 1:7 says the Lord makes “His servants a flame of fire.”
This fire is synonymous with purging, and it is also synonymous with passion. It is burning desire. The great revivalist John Wesley said “I set myself on fire and people came to watch me burn.” In fact, our God Himself is a “consuming fire,” and to become one with Him is to take on His fiery nature.
Take note that the cleansing flame of the Lord has little to do with exterior form and ritual. Most of us realize that the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, for example, spoke of the cleansing and purification process that would later occur in the heart of the New Testament believer. The water, incense and burning sacrifices were shadows of Christ’s work in us. Once we have the substance, why return to the shadow? If we focus on having our hearts purified, our outward actions will match up accordingly.
:: below the whitewash ::
As a newspaper journalist, many people asked me over the years why we chose to cover certain stories. While the stories themselves may be fair and accurate, the fact that certain newspapers tend to cover certain stories can often reflect a particular bias. What gets the front cover? Why does it get the front cover?
The same is true for believers, and the message we choose to preach. Many believers rightly point out the value of certain practices and religious concepts, but what do they put on the front cover? What gets the most focus? When we look at the ministry of Jesus, our ultimate example, he preached an uncompromising message on moral law, but his main focus was on the state of our hearts. He never majored on minor legal statutes.
It is important to understand what purity is not. God is not so interested in a process of purging external forms and negligible actions in our lives – petty cultural differences, our opinions on tattoos, mini-skirts and chewing gum in church. This fire burns much deeper within. However, without maturity, we are quick to return to form and practice, calling that holiness. Major on the minors. We may focus too heavily on rules, while neglecting relationship.
Jesus pointed out that the religious leaders of His day were whitewashed tombs, whose external practices looked impeccable, yet within, their hearts were full of dead men’s bones.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matt. 23:23-24).
Jesus specifically addresses teachers and religious leaders here. Often the state of the church is an immediate reflection of its leaders. Why is the standard for teachers so high in the body of Christ? There are the obvious reasons. But for one, they are literally God’s agent of fire on the earth to cleanse His temple. If there is no fire in the hearts of the leaders, there will be impurities in the church. Jesus knew it was a common temptation for leaders to cleanse the outside of the cup, and get their outward practices perfect to the tee – yet miss altogether the weightier matters of the law: purging the heart of its wickedness.
:: purging to maturity ::
Obviously, we seek balance and maturity in leadership. Growing in wisdom brings countless benefits to our lives, not the least of which is peace and stability. “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14).
We can burn out quickly and lose our zeal after being tossed around by every wave of teaching. Notice that Paul did not just specify “bad” teaching here. We can be tossed around by good doctrines just as easily. That is why it is always important to keep the main thing the main thing. Even focusing on getting our own hearts clean can distract us from Jesus Himself! I know plenty of over-repentant folks who can never get their eyes off themselves long enough to enjoy the Lord. Setting our gaze on Jesus is the primary way we will ever develop a clean heart. We can’t wash up on our own. As we fix our eyes on Jesus and lift Him up, He will draw all men to Himself.
Some entire ministries are built around a particular set of doctrines while, though not bad, can still distract us from the simplicity of loving Christ. We must keep Him on the front cover.
When ministries get built around minor or abstract doctrines, there comes a lack of balance which, in the end, can cause serious divisiveness and even apostasy. This is why every stream of ministry – even “specialist” groups and parachurch organizations – should remain in a state of mutual submission to the rest of the body of Christ. There is always the temptation to isolate or think we are on the cutting edge.
It is no coincidence that Paul speaks of the full, fivefold ministry of apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists and pastors in this chapter as being necessary for bringing about the fullness of maturity mentioned here in Ephesians 4. We need a universal balance of ministry styles and giftings – all functions of the body working in cohesion – to protect us from the “cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Unity and accountability are important.
Sheep are very impressionable, and they are, by nature, followers. “Craftiness” is a deliberate, though sometimes unintentional effort to mislead them – perhaps for personal gain, or some other reason. It is an attribute first given to satan himself in Genesis 3:1. I think we will be surprised one day to find out how much craftiness has actually taken place from behind our pulpits – how many manipulative tactics have been used to prod people toward seemingly good ideas, doctrines or projects. But manipulation is equal to the sin of witchcraft. Prophetic teacher Rick Joyner defines witchcraft as “using any spirit other than the Holy Spirit to manipulate or control others with. This can be done to accomplish our own purpose, or even a noble purpose, and even something we feel called to do for the Lord. … Tacking the Lord’s name onto a project does not mean that the Lord is behind it.”
This may sound severe to some, and my intent is not to criticize the church. But James is very clear regarding the high caliber of accountability in ministry.
“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).
James points out here in this chapter that the tongue is lit with the flames of hell and can steer the entire body off course. So are the words of the teacher in the body of Christ who lacks wisdom and understanding. James next points out that there are two types of wisdom at work in the world.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual of the devil.
“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:13-16)
Here we see the fruits of ungodly wisdom: envy and selfish ambition. These are the things Jesus wants purged from our midst, long before we start tithing our spices. It is interesting that James tells us neither to deny, nor to boast about selfish ambition in our hearts. Instead, we need to get on our faces and deal with it. But the fruits of true wisdom are not unlike the fruits of love in many ways. The chief among them is purity:
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).
:: cleansing the heart ::
What is purity? Is it “almost” pure … pure most of the time? Is it, “I’ve come along way towards purity?” Is it 98 percent pure?
Consider this: Would you drink a bottle of clean, fresh spring water that was 98 percent pure, and only 2 percent sewage? A little yeast – a little bit of selfish ambition – works through the whole loaf. What if you were faithful to your spouse most of the time? Even 98 percent of the time wouldn’t cut it! Our motives in ministry, or any service to the Lord, need to be purified completely. Does that mean we cease to serve the Lord until we have pure motives? By no means. We serve Him now, in the capacity we can afford right now. But we should do so in humility and the fear of the Lord, rightly acknowledging our own shortcomings. His strength is made perfect in our weakness.
God loves me unconditionally. In fact, God loved me too much to leave me the way that I was. And so, He was faithful to crush me. Ultimately, we discover that the Lord is not trying to fix us. He decided to kill us! Galations 2:20 says that we have been "co-crucified" with Jesus. The old man was irreparable, he had to go. God wants to wreck us with such recklessly abandoned love that we can’t help but to pour our lives out before Him. I had to be emptied of everything – good and bad – to make room for more of Him in my life. Understanding that this purification process was completed as a work of the cross, is a liberating concept. The spirit of religion draws men to kill themselves with deeds, the end of which actually strengthens the flesh all the more. But the Spirit of God brings liberty and the blood of Christ brings freedom from the sinful nature. For “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).
Of course this freedom is not license for sin or complacency, but it literally enables us to willingly desire the flame of the Lord to burn within us. By it, we develop a passion for purity, and we learn to embrace the fire for what it does to us. We learn that whenever our lives are tossed into the furnace of suffering or affliction, we will always find Jesus there in the midst of the flames with us.
Our sanctification came as a result of His work, and not our own. As we embrace the reality of a heart with clean motives, we are free to ask anything else that we wish. James said, “You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (ch. 4:2-3).
How much is available to the pure in heart? All things are possible. Embrace the reality that Christ has washed our hands and purify our hearts. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, and spend ourselves on the eternal pleasures at His right hand.