“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure…” ~James 3:17
“Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” ~2 Tim 2:22
Most people (including me) tend to have a specific stream of thought when they hear the word “pure”. For most, purity suggests guarding one’s heart against the temptations of the flesh. But is this really what purity is? In the Bible, the definition of “pure” is “clean, innocent, modest, perfect”. Modest seems to fit with the common idea of purity. So do clean and innocent. But what about perfect? Does perfect simply refer to freedom from fleshly lusts? Not completely. Being perfect means not sinning. So when Scripture says, “purify your heart”, it is in essence saying, “be perfect.”
Unfortunately, because purity is so often thought of too simply as not letting your heart get out of control, the true meaning is often missed. Look at what Ps 119:9-10 says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to Your word. With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from Your commandments!” “With my whole heart”, it says. Purity is not just keeping one’s heart from going in the wrong direction. If that were true, we could just put up walls in front of our hearts and then just sit there, because according to definition, we wouldn’t be going anywhere and therefore, wouldn’t be going in the wrong direction. But the passage says, “I seek You.” We are not to just sit and do nothing. We are to be actively seeking God with the whole heart. What does this leave? If we are seeking the Lord with our entire being, can we be distracted by the temptations of the world? Can we give in to anger or take joy in arguments or love frivolity and laziness? If the mind and heart have a single-minded purpose of seeking the Lord, can foolish passion, any weakness, any sin exist in them? No; if you seek after the Lord with your whole heart, your way is pure. If your way is pure, you are perfect. If you are perfect, you are without sin. Now, has anyone ever been completely pure? No one except Jesus Christ. However, does that mean that we are not to “purify our hearts”? Not in the least. Matt 5:48 says, “Therefore be perfect, just as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Despite our past failings or what we think is possible, because of Christ in us, we can seek diligently and completely after our God.
In the past, I’ve wondered what then is acceptable. If my heart is wholly seeking after the Lord, does that mean that I can’t read Classical literature or watch movies or get married or play games or live in an ungodly city or be a friend to a sinner, a modern-day tax-collector? After all, if my whole being is seeking after the Lord, obviously my attention is going to be directed towards Him. But then I think of how in the Old Testament the Lord institutes feast days, how He gives directions about marriage, what He tells the Israelites to do while they are in captivity in Babylon, and what Jesus does during His ministry: eat with tax-collectors, befriend prostitutes, touch the unclean. None of the things I listed are wrong as long as they are done in a pure manner and as long as they teach us something about the Lord. We can still be seeking the Lord as we read a Classical masterpiece that portrays the victory of good over evil or that warns of the vanity of life. Think of the Book of Esther: good conquers evil. Think of Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Be careful, though. A book or movie or action may have something good in it, but it may have something bad, too. It is up to your judgment as you use Scripture to determine whether you should read, watch, or do it. All that I’m getting at here is that seeking God with our whole heart does not mean we ignore everything on earth. Jesus obviously ate and drank and talked and went to feasts and worked as a carpenter. Yet He was always focused on bringing God glory in all that He did. May the same be true of us.
Your brother in Christ,