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Lately, I’ve been ruminating on certain matters that are, or should be, in my opinion at least, of concern to professing evangelical Christians, but that seem to have gotten lost amidst the current climate of socio-political animus that exists, particularly within American evangelicalism. Among those divers concerns is what appears, to me anyway, to be an increasing disregard and apathy for purity within the church, under the guise that it is somehow obligated to offer to the world around it a kind of “big tent”, unoffensive, non-convicting gospel that is inclusive, not merely in terms of ethnicity or sex, mind you, but also of certain sinful behaviors and practices.
My disquiet is based largely in the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 11:2-3, and the weighty burden he carried for the purity of the believers in the church at Corinth, to whom he confessed, “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” Notice that three times in the aforementioned passage, Paul uses the personal pronoun “I” (“I am jealous…”, “I betrothed you…”, “that to Christ I might present you…”). In other words, the pureness and cleanliness of the Corinthian church was something in which Paul took personal interest and ownership.
That said, however, I am not naive to the reality that, undoubtedly, there will be those who will argue that Paul’s concern for those beloved Corinthian believers was borne of a desire to fulfill his pastoral responsibilities to the church there (though Paul never identifies himself as a “pastor” in any of his epistles). But notwithstanding the question of whether Paul actually was or was not a pastor – the debating of which is neither the purpose nor objective of this commentary – what is of interest to me, however, is the extent to which the 21st-century evangelical church truly cares about walking in purity before the One who is the Lord of the church.
In 1 Cor. 12:27, Paul declares to the faithful in Corinth, “Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.” Paul’s words are just as applicable to every believer today as they were when they were initially uttered more than 2,000 years ago. I say that in the context that the church, to which Paul refers metaphorically as a “body” (σῶμα), is comprised of individuals. This is because salvation, the supernatural method by which a person becomes a member of Christ’s body, occurs at the level of the individual (Rom. 10:9-10).
Conversely, sanctification, the equally supernatural means by which every believer in Christ (Jn. 1:12-13) is progressively conformed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29a), likewise occurs at the individual level. Consequently, as followers of Christ commit themselves individually to living lives of holiness (Rom. 12:1-2), the church collectively is made pure. As pastor and teacher John MacArthur states, “This matter of holiness not only is God’s individual activity between himself and a believer, but it becomes a collective responsibility to the church.“
It was the Welsh minister and Bible commentator Matthew Henry who asserted that, “The way to preserve the peace of the church is to preserve its purity.” One of the more convicting exhortations in Scripture toward that end is found in Jas. 1:27, where the apostle James writes that, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained (ἄσπιλος) by the world.” The apostle John says it another way in 1 Jn. 2:15a, where he enjoins believers to “not love the world nor the things in the world.”
God takes the purity of His church very seriously. Extremely seriously, in fact. So much so that He forthrightly provides in His Word prescriptions for how the church is to deal with those within the body who fail to treat with equal gravity the matter of personal holiness (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13).
It is personal purity within the believer, that is, within the heart of the person, that produces corporate purity within the body entire (Mk. 7:17-23). The purity of Christ’s church is both an individual and collective proposition in that it is predicated on each member of the body of Christ being obedient to God and His Word (Ps. 119:9). To again quote John MacArthur, “A person who is not being purified from sin, has no claim on being saved from it.” MacArthur’s statement is underscored by the apostle Peter who, in 1 Pet. 4:2, states that those who would claim the name of Christ should “live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.”
The church remains pure only as you and I, by the divine power that works within each of us (Eph. 3:20), resolve to keep ourselves “unstained” by a world that seeks to so draw us away from the One to whom we have been betrothed, that we begin to conduct ourselves in accordance with the world and, consequently, become wholly indistinguishable from it. The purity God demands of His people is a standard that is achieved only as we, as individual believers, humbly submit ourselves daily to the commands, principles, and precepts that are found in Holy Scripture (Lk. 9:23). As Jesus Himself asks in Lk. 6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I say?”
Nevertheless, there is encouragement and hope for us in the gospel. As Christian author and biblical counselor Edward T. Welch reminds us in Caring For One Another, “When we see our sin, we are more grateful for forgiveness of sins because we understand that we have been forgiven for much, whereas “he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Lk. 7:47). When we see sin, we are close to the light. Only when we don’t see our sin should we be suspicious of our hearts.”
If you are struggling today to live a life of purity before God, whether it be in the area of sexual immorality (e.g. fornication, adultery, pornography), habitual lying, willful rebellion against an authority figure, or some other sin that, as the writer of Hebrews says, has “so easily entangled” you (Heb. 12:1), I humbly ask that you prayerfully consider this loving admonition from theologian and biblical counselor Dr. Heath Lambert who, in the book Finally Free: Fighting For Purity With the Power of Grace, writes that:
“In the end, you can’t get to Jesus without the power that Jesus gives. When Jesus calls you to a relationship with himself, he knows he is calling you to do something you can’t do on your own. That’s why he gives his forgiving and transforming grace. If your heart is cold toward Christ, ask him for forgiveness. Ask him for his power to change. Ask him to fill you with a burning desire to know him and to love him more than anything or anyone else. The Christ who calls you to relationship with him will be pleased with your dependence and will grant your request made in faith.”
Humbly in Christ,