Purity in the Bible

The need for purity in our lives is a theme running through the Bible. Purity shows love for God and others. How can our actions and thoughts become purer?

There’s nothing quite like the sound of a giggling baby. Cute, infectious, innocent. Those peals of laughter bouncing out like little bubbles can soften even the stiffest spine. Little ones will laugh at a dog chasing its tail, a piece of paper being crumpled or a game of peekaboo.

Babies respond to their world in a spontaneous and pure way that is heartwarming.

Jesus Christ often showed His great affection for children. He also pointed to them as important examples for adults to follow. He taught that we need to develop certain of their qualities in order to enter His Kingdom (Matthew 18:3).

When we look at children, especially babies, we see that they react to the world around them in a pure way. This purity is something we can lose as we move through life.

Yet purity will be one of the defining characteristics of God’s Kingdom. Jesus Christ Himself was the perfect example of purity, and we should purify ourselves to become like Him as we live our lives in preparation for the Kingdom of God (1 John 3:2-3).

Purity in the Bible

Today we use the word purity in the same basic way that the Bible uses it—to refer to something free from pollution or foreign substances.

For example, we all know the importance of having pure drinking water. When water is contaminated with lead or mercury, it becomes hazardous to our health.

In the Bible we see purity first used to describe building materials. Soon after the Israelites were freed from Egypt, God outlined in great detail how the tabernacle was to be constructed. The tabernacle was to be the center of worship for the Israelites as they journeyed to the Promised Land.

God required that the materials used to worship Him be pure in quality. Many objects were made of or overlaid with gold—the lampstand, tools, decorations, the Ark of the Covenant and the mercy seat, for instance—and it was to be pure gold (Exodus 25 and 37). Also, the incense and oil used by the priests were to be pure (Exodus 27:20; 30:34-35).

God wants us to become pure; He wants us to be in His Kingdom. Will we be?Later, during the reign of King Solomon, we again see the importance of pure materials during the temple construction (1 Kings 6-7; 2 Chronicles 3-4).

God used the practical aspect of purity in the construction of the tabernacle and temple to teach an important lesson. It’s a lesson that started small and is growing into something profound.

A pure gold lampstand, pure oil and pure incense pointed the Israelites toward how they should worship God. He had a standard for how the Israelites were to relate to Him.

By considering the outward purity of these physical objects devoted to God, the Israelites would then be in a position to learn the need for inward purity.

“Clean hands and a pure heart”

King David, who helped Solomon prepare the materials for building the temple, highlighted the importance of inward and outward purity in order to worship God properly.

“Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully” (Psalm 24:3-4).

King David noted that having a relationship with God requires purity of thoughts and actions. Purity of heart includes the motives and attitudes we have toward what we say and do, and it guides all of our decisions in life.

Lying, worshipping idols and violence all prevent someone from drawing near to God. King David could speak from personal experience. He learned in a heart-wrenching way the degree to which God takes purity seriously.

David intended to build the temple in Jerusalem. He had planned it and was prepared to move forward, but God prevented him from starting the construction (1 Chronicles 17). God prohibited him from building the temple because he was a bloody man (1 Chronicles 22:8).

David had waged many wars, killed many people and was even guilty of condemning an innocent man (Uriah) to death. David’s life had been tainted by violence. God instead chose David’s son Solomon, whose life was predicted to be one of peace, to build the temple.

God’s standard of purity

Even though David had been stained by violence and sin, he repented and God forgave him. In the end God considered him a man after His own heart (Acts 13:22). This shows that God can cleanse impurity and make it pure.

God’s judgment can be different from ours. This is highlighted in Proverbs 30:12:

“There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, yet is not washed from its filthiness.”

In order to bring us up to His standard, God requires a change in our heart and actions. We cannot rely on our own reasoning to elevate ourselves to God’s pure standard. Even the highest standards of our human philosophies, politics, psychology and technology fall woefully short.

Humans separated from God can never achieve His standards. Only God can show us how to have a right relationship with Him and how to make ourselves ready for His Kingdom.

The process of purifying our lives is essential. We have to be cleansed of whatever hinders our relationship with Him, whether in our thoughts or actions.

We must come to the point where violence, lying, idolatry or anything else that pollutes our life is eliminated, paving the way for His standard of purity to be established in our life.

“To the pure”

God desires for us to successfully come to the magnificent truth found in Titus 1:15: “To the pure all things are pure.”

That’s the goal. Thankfully, God does not overwhelm us by showing us all at once every change we need to make. Nor does He leave us all alone to figure out how to do it. God is very patient with us and understands that we change slowly. He doesn’t look reproachfully at the small changes we make in our lives.

We can have comfort knowing that God promises to support us by never leaving us (Hebrews 13:5) and by giving us both the desire and the capability to make these changes (Philippians 2:13).

One of the greatest encouragements God our Father has given us is the knowledge that He offered His own Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place. We are to respond by repenting, believing and being baptized (John 3:16; Acts 2:38). Then Christ’s blood cleanses us from our sins and provides us access to God’s throne through the blessing of His Spirit.

God the Father and Jesus Christ loved us so much They did all this for us, which should fill us with gratitude for the far better life we can live. We should greatly desire to purify our lives in the ways that God says are pleasing to Him (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

Where do we start to become pure?

Purity is grounded in God’s wisdom, love and laws that are revealed in the Scriptures. Purity is a reflection of His character and holiness.

The psalmist declared in Psalm 119:140, “Your word is very pure; therefore Your servant loves it.”

God’s Word, which is His revealed truth, is the standard for purity. It is unchanging and enduring, and it provides guidance on how to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to Him. As we study the Bible, we will come to understand that what He has written is pure. It will then become the focus in our life, and we will love Him for it.

By giving more and more attention to studying the Bible, we will find that it is the supreme and final authority for faith and life. It is the perfect and infallible written revelation of how God intends for us to live. It will open our eyes to how we can live a better life by applying His commandments to how we think and act.

Psalm 19:8 expresses the positive results of God’s laws for us: “The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.”

Being enlightened is like clearing away impurities that block our vision, allowing light to properly shine through. What’s there? Things we hadn’t seen before that will bring true joy to our lives. We’ll want to clear away more and more of the impurities in order to reveal even better things.

God’s truth will show us the need to obey the more visible aspects of His laws, like not cheating on our taxes, not gossiping and not lying. Then we can begin to see things more deeply. Lodged down in the heart are our patterns and ways of thinking that can be hard to confront. They can be entrenched and stubborn to root out.

“Create in me a clean heart”

God’s high standard calls for purifying everything in our life, no matter how ingrained. David asked God to purify his heart so that he could be obedient on this deeper level:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

God will show us what we need to do. He’ll give us the strength to rid our lives of deceit, hypocrisy, illicit sex and hatefulness.

This will bring us to a state of readiness to take a further step. By removing what corrupts our thoughts and pollutes our motives, we will allow God to show us what should motivate us and be the basis for our thinking.

We should desire and endeavor to have God fill our hearts with the good aspects of His character. Purity is not just about removing what’s bad, but about what should be clean and good in our heart.

A purified heart will allow us to approach life in a positive way. Think back to babies again. Have you ever met a hypocritical baby?

Christ used children as an example of how we should approach life with genuineness and sincerity. Having a pure heart means we are not hiding behind shades of sinfulness. Instead, we will be aligned with the true purpose for which God created us—to have an enduring relationship with Him.

Jesus’ teaching on purity

Jesus Christ taught His disciples about the importance of a pure heart in order to have a relationship with Him. In Matthew 5:8 He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Those words are recorded for us to learn from as well.

The apostle Peter’s teaching on purity

In his first letter, Peter called on members of God’s Church to love each other fervently with a pure heart (1 Peter 1:22). He explained that their hearts had been renewed based on the incorruptible Word of God. Thus, from their hearts they could freely express love in a way that could bring enduring benefits to all those who receive it.

Later, in his second letter, Peter warned the members to be steadfast in their relationship with God and patiently wait for His Kingdom. He exhorted them to remember what they had been taught from the Scriptures as a way to stir up their minds (2 Peter 3:1) to remain purely devoted to that glorious future.

James’ teaching about pure religion

In his letter, James encouraged his readers to be doers of the word and not just hearers. He told them to purify their lives from their old filthy works and instead act on the holy truth planted in them. He listed a few actions that having the truth in them should prompt them to do.

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

James equated purity in worshipping God with a requirement to give special attention to those who needed extra love and support. This thoughtfulness needed to be added to their notion of religion, replacing the corruption that had been removed.

James also highlighted the purity of the “wisdom that is from above” (James 3:17; see “What Is Wisdom From Above?”).

The apostle Paul’s teaching about purity

Paul, serving as a mentor for the younger pastor Timothy, advised him to “be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). As a pastor, Timothy would need to lead others by his example. Everything he would think, do and say would matter to the members. Purity would be essential to the success of his pastoral role and the health of the congregation.

Writing to the Church members at Philippi, Paul said they should meditate on “whatever things are pure” (Philippians 4:8; see “Meditate on These Things: ‘Whatever Things Are Pure’”). Paul affirmed that God would be there to help them think and do these things (verse 9).

And again, in his pastoral letter to Titus, Paul showed the fulfillment of a purified life in contrast to one that is not enlightened by God’s truth.

“To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled” (Titus 1:15).

For those who have devoted themselves to purifying their lives with God’s help, everything will be based on the truth that brought them to that purified state. They will actively avoid breaking God’s commandments or having any evil intentions, hatred or deceit.

Purifying our lives is a positive and sincere approach to life where we want to love God, care for others and remain hopeful, no matter the circumstances.

Purity in the future

After the coming of the new heaven and new earth, God Almighty and Jesus Christ will replace the temple with the fullness of Their glory (Revelation 21:22). They will be the light of New Jerusalem, a city of everlasting peace.

Nothing that defiles—nothing that is impure—will be allowed in the city, only those who are written in the Book of Life (verse 27).

The unjust and filthy will not be there, but the righteous and holy will.

God wants us to become pure; He wants us to be in His Kingdom. Will we be?

To study further, see our articles “Blessed Are the Pure in Heart,” “Be Holy, for I Am Holy” and “How to Be Righteous.”

About the Author

C.D. Demarest

C.D. Demarest is a member of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, who lives in France.

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