Welcome to Christ’s Community Church. Today we’re on week two of Forgotten Virtues. If you remember, last week, we talked about honor, and today we’re going to talk about purity. Now if you happen to browse at a Christian bookstore from time to time, skim through an advertisement for Christian Book Distributors, or maybe even walk through the spiritual section at Walmart from time to time, you’ve probably noticed that purity is not the subject of many best-selling books. It’s not a topic that’s likely to become trendy anytime soon, because the subject is too controversial and uncomfortable for many people. It’s just so much less convicting and easier to read the biography of a sports hero, a great leader, or a Christian novel.
To tell you the truth, it seems to me as if the church in America is more concerned with others getting right with God than we are about ourselves living right. And maybe that’s just because holiness seems so far out of reach for most of us. You know, the apostle Paul warned us in Romans chapter 12, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought” (12:3) and most of us don’t! In fact most of us go to the other extreme, because we’re much more comfortable saying, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace” then we are saying, “I’m a holy saint of God.” And yet the fact is the Bible tells us that both are true or at least they both can be, if we’re willing to take the steps that God calls us to.
You see, just as we can claim forgiveness, and mercy, and healing from God, we can also claim purity and holiness because it’s who we are in Christ. But when the Bible says in first Peter, “Be holy in all you do” it’s often interpreted as a threat, when in reality it’s a promise that, “Just as he who called you is holy” you also “be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1:15). And in the same way, the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians addresses “The church of God in Corinth, (as) those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Meaning that they’d been set apart from sin, they’d been sanctified, and made holy in Christ Jesus. This is the believer’s position in Christ. Paul said again in the book of Philippians, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion…” (Philippians 1:6).
So for us as Christians, the problem is not so much a matter of wanting to be pure, or of wanting to be holy, as it is winning the battle to be holy. For that matter, it seems that most of us aren’t effective warriors, because we’re in the battle, but we’re not really sure why. We’re trying to be holy, but many of us don’t really know what it means to be holy; we’re trying to be pure, but many of us don’t know how to be pure. And the bottom line is that you become holy not as much in what you do, but as in what Christ has done for you. Here’s what 1 John tells us, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Therefore the moment you decide to trust in Christ for your salvation, the instant you choose to be set apart for his service, you begin the process of living a pure and holy life. The Bible says it this way, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Let’s look together at 2 Corinthians chapter 6 at verse 14 and following: the apostle Paul invites us to purify ourselves and says, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."
"Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God” (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).
As I reflected on this, considering those things that contaminate body and spirit, I wondered how many of you really want to be contaminated, how many would purposely put yourself in a position to be contaminated, you know, kind of like going to the doctor’s office for a checkup and purposely sitting with the sick people. But then again, how much do we as Christians believe God and go about avoiding the pollutants and the contamination of sin in our daily lives? How willing are you to avoid every form of evil, every form of sin that might defile and contaminate you, destroying your intimacy with God? You see, the problem is that sin always has the initial thrill, the satisfaction, and so we make excuses, and I can tell you because I’ve been there and done that. I’ve been impure, I’ve lived the life, and I’ve been in that place where I wasn’t protecting myself from the filth that contaminated me. And yet the Bible tells us there’s no excuse and even worse there are serious consequences to sinful, impure, self-destructive behavior.
The apostle Paul said it this way in Romans chapter 6, “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you’re now ashamed of? Those things result in death” (Romans 6:21). And yet here we are in our American culture of Christianity looking to the world as its standard, comparing ourselves to the world, and we think that we’re looking pretty good. But God tells us, “Don’t be yoked, don’t be bound to unbelievers. Don’t have anything in common.” He says, “What fellowship can there be, what harmony is there, what agreement can you come to?” So therefore he says, “Come out from them and be separate; be holy out of reverence for God.”
You see, God’s standard is a totally different level of purity from the world’s standard. The Bible tells us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Even the prophet Isaiah, a great man of God, when he saw the Lord high and lifted up, when he saw him in all of his glory, Isaiah said, “Woe to me" and he was a righteous man. But he realized his impurity the instant he was confronted with holiness, when he saw the Lord Almighty he said; "I'm a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).
And so as we consider the topic of purity we need to recognize and be purposeful in avoiding the contaminants, the pollutants of spiritual impurity, just as we would avoid becoming infected by any serious disease. But why does it seem as if the church has become increasingly careless in the way that it handles itself? Why is it that our lives over here and God’s standard is way over here? Why the gap? I think we could say honestly that it’s because we’ve forgotten positionally who we are. Number one, we’ve forgotten our identity as followers of Christ.
You see, if you know who you are, you're going to know what to do. For those of you who are mothers, when the baby's crying, you know what to do because you are the mother. So maybe you check on the baby and feed it, if they get hurt you go and get the Band-Aid, if you’re 16-year-old is starting to drive you start praying. When you know who you are you know what to do.
My question to you is, “Do you know who you are today?” I mean do you really know it? I believe the Church of Jesus Christ needs a revelation, a wake-up call of who we are, because we’ve forgotten who we are positionally in Christ. We’ve forgotten our identity. You see, we know in our heads the Christian answers of who we are, but that head knowledge needs to become heart knowledge. We need new eyes, spiritual eyes, to see who we are in Christ, because your identity in Christ is a game changer.
Look with me at Ephesians 1:3, it says: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:3-5).
We’ve been adopted by God the Father as his sons and daughters, and what that means in a very real and very powerful way is that we’re given a new identity and a new name as we begin our new life with our new family. This is the relationship that God has chosen for you, he’s adopted you as his own, you’re his child, his son or his daughter, and the life that you had before you became a follower of Jesus Christ is done, it’s gone, it’s over. And the Bible tells us in second Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
And so you and I as believers are new creations. Now I don't know about you, but when I get something new I really want to protect it and keep it clean. I want it to last. And you and I are God’s new creations, the old is gone and verse four tells us, “He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless…” And so God makes it very clear that his plan for his people is that they would be holy and blameless, that they would do good, and that they would become more and more like Jesus.
Romans chapter 8 tells us, “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…” (Romans 8:29).
Now this is the part that so many of us find intimidating, because we think, “I could never be holy. I could never be that good. I could never be like Jesus. You know, there’s just too much in my past, I’ve failed too many times, I know what I’m really like and I just don’t qualify.” And you know, if God’s strategy in preparing his people and building his Church was the same as the credit card companies then you might have a point. You know how they offer to refinance your house when you don’t even own your home. They send you an offer for a low interest credit card with the intention to decide later if you’re really qualified, and so their promise of preapproval really means nothing. But that’s not what God does. He doesn’t ask you to do anything that’s beyond your potential to do. He doesn’t call you and then reject you in the next moment. And so the reason God chose you to become holy and blameless in his sight is because it is possible.
Regardless of what you’ve done or who you’ve been in the past, regardless of what you see in yourself today, God sees the person you can become. He’s not here in the Scriptures tempting you with some junk mail offer only to tell you later that you don’t measure up. What he’s telling you today is that this is who you can become “Holy and blameless in his sight.” This is your destiny if you’ll accept it, but there are many of us that number two, have forgotten their calling in Christ.
You see, you and I as believers are not our own. If you’re a devoted follower of Christ, your life is not your own, because you’ve been purchased by the blood of Christ (Revelation 5:9). And so now you have a call on your life that’s not your own, it’s for Christ and for his glory; and this is where it really gets down to what purity is because your calling is to be like him.
The apostle John tells us in chapter 3, verse 29, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom” (John 3:29). Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, because if you’re a believer and you’re in the Church, you’re the bride and Jesus Christ is the groom. And so as the bride, our eyes are to be on Christ, our call is to become like him and to be one with him.
Today I’ve got to ask you, “Are you becoming more like what the world looks like or are you looking more and more like your bridegroom? Are you looking more like Christ?”
You see, Jesus Christ is the standard of purity, and if we’re in him, we’re called to be like him; and so it doesn’t matter what your neighbors living next door look like, it doesn’t matter what they’re doing, our eyes are to be focused on Christ.
Hebrews chapter 12 says it this way, “Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). You see, he’s the author, he’s the perfecter of our faith, he’s the sanctifier and purifier, and so we need to get our eyes off ourselves, off our neighbors, and onto Jesus Christ. We need to raise the bar!
Now how many of you are familiar with the nutrition labels on packages of food? You know what I’m talking about? That little chart listing the minimum daily requirements for every vitamin and nutrient. These are guidelines that the government has given us saying that if you want to be healthy you need to meet the USDA approved minimums. And here’s what I’ve noticed, many of us observe minimum daily requirements in our lives without even thinking about it. Subconsciously we set a standard saying this is the least I’m willing to accept from myself. And different people set the bar at different levels.
You may have heard someone say, “I’m not a bad person, because I’ve never killed anybody or done anything like that.” And I know that’s an interesting place to set the bar, but nonetheless they’re convinced that they must be okay. Others set the bar a little higher and they’ll say, “I’m a good person, because I help people, and sometimes I even go to church.” And everybody has their own minimum daily requirement, the least that they’re willing to accept from themselves, but the Bible challenges us to raise the bar, to increase the minimum you’ll accept from yourself and to set a new standard.
Look with me at what Peter says in his first letter, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1:14-15). And so God is saying that we need to set the bar at holiness, to stop chasing after the things you used to chase, living to satisfy your own desires, but instead striving to be holy and obedient in all you do.
Maybe today you’d say, “I’m raising the bar in my spiritual life. From now on I am going to spend more time reading my Bible, more time alone with God, and I won’t settle for less, because this is my new minimum daily requirement.”
Or maybe you’re like me and you see an all-you-can-eat buffet as a personal challenge. Of course, this isn’t a very good nutritional strategy and I ended up paying the price for it with high cholesterol and high blood pressure. But when I got serious about my health and began raising the bar I created some new standards and it’s made a difference. It’s helped me to raise the bar even more, but in so many other ways, number three we’ve forgotten to cooperate with what the Holy Spirit is trying to do in our lives.
This is what Peter’s challenging you and I to do; to raise the bar, to stop living like you did in the past, satisfying your desires, and start living as God’s obedient children. That’s the standard we strive to achieve, because it’s not good enough to say, “I’m not as bad as some of the other people I know.” That’s not the standard anymore, the standard is recorded in verse 16, “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). And so there’s a new standard and the standard is to be like Jesus in all you do. It’s our calling to be holy, but we don’t have to do it by ourselves, because Jesus is in us, he’s with us, and he’ll empower us to do things that we could never do ourselves.
You see, as we fix our eyes on Jesus, when we look to him as our source of strength, our faithfulness, and our help, we’ll find him to be not just holiness for us, but he’s our righteousness and in him we can be what we’re called to be. It’s a matter of you and I determining in our hearts to change and that change begins in our minds. Romans chapter 12 tells us, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Romans 12:2). And so to renew your mind is a command, and as you renew your mind, you won’t want to go and start contaminating it with all of the filth again, but you’ll want to guard it and protect your purity.
Today we live in a culture that bombards us with immorality, we live among people of unclean lips, there’s wickedness, impurity and temptations everywhere. Renewing your mind means that you need to train yourself to be godly, to build yourself up in faith and to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. You see, when you take God at His Word, you trust him, and you cooperate, he’ll make you holy. He’ll take you to that level of purity that you would never have imagined possible. If you cooperate, if you renew, if you protect, you will become more like Christ.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I haven't arrived yet and none of us have, but that doesn't matter. The Bible says that we’re to aim for perfection. That’s our goal, that’s our standard, that's our mission, and so I encourage you as Hebrews chapter 12 says:
“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
As we close today, as Larry the Cable Guy says, let’s "Git R done." Commit with me to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let’s run the race to win. That's what we've got to do, because there’s always a price with sin. The Bible tells us that not everything is beneficial. 1 Corinthians chapter 10:23 says, "Everything is permissible" but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible" but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23). So, the things that are not beneficial can actually impair us. So, it's important that you cooperate with the Spirit of God so that the righteousness of Christ can be seen in your life. And I know deep down that’s what we all want as believers, but it’s not going to happen if we don't cooperate. Our eyes must be on the bridegroom, on Jesus Christ, and our hearts must be looking to Him and not to the world.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
October 09, 2016
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.