Stop preaching on purity.
I mean it.
At least, consider with me that our approach to preaching on purity needs to change.
For far too long, the last place you would expect to go and hear about sex in America was the church. But many pastors and leaders are waking up to the reality of sexual brokenness, pain, and addiction in our culture. No matter what stats or data you look at today, men and women are becoming trapped in sexually compulsive behavior like never before.
In light of this, many churches are becoming proactive in addressing the topic of purity during their weekend services. We recognize a need for truth and the Word of God to shed light on the darkness people are encountering. But too often, this attempt at preaching purity—though rooted in good intentions—can leave people carrying home a greater burden of guilt and shame than when they walked in the door.
For 10 years as a pastor, I struggled with my own sexual purity. I know in those days, it was incredibly uncommon for me to even mention this topic, let alone preach a whole sermon on it! But as God so graciously brought healing into my life, preaching on purity and addressing this topic became a regular part of my communication. As I look back on this, and as I draw from conversations with pastors from all over the country, I have observed several patterns that could easily help us communicate better in this area.
So what are the most common issues a communicator faces when preaching on purity?
The first problem we face in preaching on purity is communicating purity as a place where we arrive. We have a “destination mindset” when it comes to purity which leads people to believe that one day they will be entirely free of lust or any kind of sexual temptation. While this is a noble intention, it can have devastating results.
The reality for all of us, even though we are redeemed and being restored by Christ, is that we are flawed, sinful human beings. As we look through the pages of Scripture, it's evident that personal transformation and Christ-likeness is a lifelong journey. Perfection won't be achieved until we reach the other side of Eternity.
The truth is that purity is not a destination we reach but a journey we're on. We are moving away from our brokenness, darkness, and our past, and moving toward healthy thinking, community with others, and redeemed patterns of behavior. A person making progress needs to be encouraged that they are walking in purity.
The second problem we face in preaching on purity is inadvertently communicating that purity is something we achieve. The emphasis is placed on our personal effort and the choices we are making. This thought pattern says, “If I will only divert my eyes continually enough, fill my mind with all the right things, and practice healthy boundaries, I will be pure.” In this scenario, my effort is the key. But the problem is, as we already discussed, that we are not perfect!
What if, instead, we helped men and women understand that purity is something they have been given? Through faith in Christ, we become pure because of His righteousness that has been placed over us. This is exactly what Paul describes in Philippians 3:9,
I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.
Now this might seem like semantics or a simple word game, but I want to encourage you that it is far more than this. Brain research suggests that we can't help but become more like the person we already believe we are. So if purity is something we must achieve, most people will continually feel like they are not yet pure, and subconsciously may continue to act in ways that are impure because they're simply agreeing with who they think they are!
Conversely, if we believe and know deep in our hearts that through Christ we are pure, we will move in this direction. We will become more like the person Christ has made us to be. Purity is a process of cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit already present in our lives, not a self-driven effort to leap over a bar that seems to always get higher and higher.
The third problem we face when preaching on purity is we tend to put the focus on behavior. Purity is a byproduct of making the right decisions and acting the right way. While this is true—our behaviors and actions do matter—purity is much deeper than our behaviors. Our behaviors are the outcomes we see based on the thoughts and motives of our hearts.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus invited people to see that the attitudes and motives of the heart are what drives our behavior. We can spend a lifetime focusing on our behaviors like the pharisaic washing of the cup, but miss the need for a transformed heart.
When we preach on purity, we want to direct people to look past their behaviors and into the motives that are driving their hearts. Otherwise, we may be inadvertently engaging people in a process of behavior modification while leaving the deeper matters untouched.
My personal transformation went to a new level when I recognized what was driving my behaviors. My need for success and my pattern of finding my value in performance reinforced a system of sexual brokenness as a cheap, flawed solution to dealing with pain and disillusionment. So when I saw that this core issue was truly leading me into my behaviors, I began to focus on changing the heart which ultimately led to changed behaviors.
The focus on the heart, incidentally, also underscores how important it is that purity not be a place we arrive. If purity is about the inner motives and desires of the heart, we can recognize that this is a lifelong process accomplished only through the grace and work of Christ in us.
The final problem we face when preaching on purity is communicating that it's a message for those who struggle. What happens in so many churches is that people subconsciously divide the audience into “those who need this sermon” (it’s FOR them) and “those who don't” (it’s not FOR me).
What I have found to be true, though, is that the audience we think needs help is whoever has a level of behavior one layer more extreme than wherever I am.
Our level of struggle becomes the standard and we believe those who are “worse off” than us are the ones who need this message.
When we embrace the ideas above—purity as a process, not a destination; purity about the heart, not behaviors—then we see the need for everyone to be engaged. When we began to preach messages of purity to the whole church and not just “those who need help,” we'll see our messages go to a whole new level of effectiveness.
I hope the title of this blog intrigued you enough to read this far.
As you can see, it's my heart that you will preach on purity. My hope is that you will stop preaching on purity in a way that leaves people feeling worse than when we started.
I hope we will preach on purity in a way the provides true avenues of hope, healing, and change. Men and women need to hear this message preached over and over again!