Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries


Streams of Grace: Purity  audio

Rom 6: 1-14,  Matt 4:1-11

You may have read the report, a week or so ago, of the trial, at a music festival in Canberra, of testing pills that festival-goers were planning to take. Apart from the ethical issue of appearing to condone illicit drug-taking, the trial was hailed as a success, as they discovered all sorts of impurities in the pills they tested, from pills with ingredients like lactose, paint and condensed milk to two that contained a deadly substance linked to mass overdoses overseas. It did put several people off taking drugs! But of course it’s not just drugs that need to be pure. We’re very careful about the purity of a whole range of consumer goods. When I go to buy a pot of honey I always check the label to make sure it’s 100% pure Australian honey. Water retailers make a lot of saying their bottles are filled with pure mountain spring water. The same goes for milk, cosmetics and soaps, even petrol and engine oil. As Sol said: “Oils ain’t oils”! We know if we don’t check the purity of the things we eat or use in our daily life we’ll end up with problems. 

In our series on the Streams of Grace we come today to Purity. And here too we discover that if we don’t maintain purity in our relationship with God we’ll end up with problems.

The theme begins in the Garden of Eden. In the first two chapters of Genesis we see that the man and the woman are made in the image of God. They’re put in the garden and there they’re able to meet with God face to face. There’s nothing separating them from God. But it doesn’t stay that way does it? There’s a tree in the garden that causes them a problem in the end.

Have you ever asked yourself “Why did God put that tree there?” If the tree hadn’t been there they wouldn’t have had a problem. It’s an interesting question isn’t it? It’s one that’s exercised theologians’ minds for centuries. What was the point of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? There are lots of suggestions that have been made, but the one I want us to focus on today is that the tree was there as a marker of their relationship with God. The existence of that tree highlighted the fact that they were to be both obedient to God and trusting in his goodness. They didn’t need to know the difference between good and evil because there were only good things in what God had provided for them. When Satan told them they could be just like God they should have answered that they didn’t need to be like God because God had already given them all the blessings they needed everything necessary for happiness and completeness. They should have thought about the importance of the relationship they had with God already. They should have pointed out that God had said not to eat it and that was all they needed to know. But sadly they didn’t.

They chose to eat and the result was immediate. They immediately felt guilt and shame. They knew they were naked. When God came to walk in the garden with them they hid, because their purity, the thing that allowed them to be with God, had gone.

In that moment they discovered the inconvenient truth that a loss of purity means that they could no longer stand before God the way they had before. So they were excluded from the garden, destined to work hard for survival, to struggle with childbirth and to find personal relationships difficult. And of course in very next chapters we see brother killing brother, strong men killing and using their power to control others, evil taking over the world. Steve pointed this out last week. From Gen 4 to 11 things go from bad to worse, until God decides to act: first by sending a great flood to wipe away the evil from the earth, but without success, then by choosing one man to become the agent of blessing. 

As we read through the account of the calling of Abraham we find that God doesn’t just bless Abraham, he also sets him apart. We see two incidents in Abraham’s story where God begins to act to reverse the error of Adam and Eve.

The first is the institution of the rite of circumcision: a cutting off from his old life, symbolised by a literal cutting off. The second is the instruction to kill his only son, Isaac: an act that required both obedience and faith in God, as I said, reversing the error of Adam and Eve.

Notice by the way that the cutting off here is not moralistic or negative. Circumcision doesn’t remove sin. It’s actually about a new relationship. It symbolises the person now belonging to God, not the world; dedicated to God forever and therefore separated from the impurity of the world.  

As we progress through the Old Testament we see this insistence on purity, on separation from the corruption of the world around them, repeated over and over again. The tabernacle where only the high priest can enter, the Ark of the Covenant that no-one but priests can carry, the various food laws, even the instruction to drive out the Canaanites from the land so they don’t corrupt the people’s worship, are all about maintaining a purity of relationship with God. As they prepared to enter the Promised Land, Moses warned them that the blessings of this wonderful land would continue only for as long as they remained faithful to God, as long as they maintained a purity of worship and of action, of righteousness and justice.

We see this again after the return from exile, when Ezra discovers the book of the Law and institutes a renewal of the national life, especially the separation from the surrounding nations. That of course led to the practices of the Pharisees that Jesus criticised not because maintaining a purity of life was bad but because they’d forgotten the reason behind it.

And that brings us to Jesus.

The first thing that happens as Jesus begins his public ministry following his baptism, is that the Spirit leads him into the wilderness where he fasts for forty days and nights then is tempted by the devil. And what form do the temptations take? First he’s tempted to change a rock into a loaf of bread, to use his own supernatural gifts to satisfy his hunger, to look after himself. And how does he respond? "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" Now notice the similarity here with the temptation of Eve where she’s tempted by a fruit that she can see is good to eat, even though God’s provided every good thing to eat in the rest of the garden. You may notice the similarity too, between this temptation and that of the People of Israel during the exodus where they complained about the lack of food and then about the lack of variety of food. In both cases the issue isn’t the desire for food, but the lack of faith in God. There’s a breakdown in their relationship with God. But by comparison, Jesus immediately turns to what God has said in the Scriptures. What he quotes is a reminder that God can be trusted to provide what we need. And what do we need, most of all? What God has told us in his word.

So Satan tries a different tack. He takes him to the top of the Temple and quotes the Psalms: 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.' What’s wrong with taking God at his word? Jump and see what happens. But of course this wouldn’t be taking God at his word; it’d be taking a short cut to fame. So Jesus replies: "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" If you truly trust God you don’t need to try him out, to see if his promises are true, nor, for that matter, does Jesus need any extra help fulfilling his role as the Messiah. The success of that mission will entail not fame and glory but humiliation and death.

So Satan tries one more ploy. He offers him a shortcut. He’ll give him what he’s come for without any of the suffering that God’s plan involves. Just bow down to me, he says, and I’ll give all the kingdoms of the world to you. How easy! This of course was the path taken by kings like Ahab, who married foreign princesses because of the alliances it created but then began to worship their idols instead of the God of Israel.

But Jesus isn’t Ahab. He knows the True and Living God. So he replies: ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’

In all these temptations Jesus remains faithful to God. For Jesus the relationship with God is primary.

That threefold temptation sums up much of what we face doesn’t it: the temptation to greed and lust; the temptation to find an easy way out, to seek a miracle or a quick fix rather than trusting God to help us work through our problems; and the temptation to idolatry, to worship something or someone other than God, these days expressed especially in the perhaps subconscious belief that I am God, that I rule my world. 

But what about us? I don’t know about you but I find it hard to maintain purity in all I do. I so often find myself with mixed motives, with impure thoughts, feeling covetous or greedy or selfish, wanting a quick fix, an easy way out.

But here’s the good news of the gospel. Jesus offers to give us his purity. God tells us “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Jesus is our great High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, … who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. (Heb 4:14)

In the book of Revelation John sees a great multitude gathered around the throne and he’s told: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14) And Revelation ends with these words: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.” (Rev 22:14) Our purity before God is guaranteed by Jesus death on our behalf, our rising to life in God’s presence is guaranteed by Jesus resurrection.

But does that mean we don’t need to worry about living a life of purity before God, because Jesus will wash away all our sins in the end? Does it matter how we live now?

Well, yes! You see God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us. The work of the Holy Spirit is to change us, to renew God’s image within us, to show us how to live in ways that are pleasing to God. Jesus described the Holy Spirit as a counsellor, someone who goes with us advising us on how to proceed, how to speak, how to relate to one another, which path to take.

But not only that: because he lives within us our bodies are now Temples of the Holy Spirit. Remember how I said the Tabernacle was one of those places set apart, kept pure, because God dwelt there? Well that now applies to your body, to my body. God dwells here. So we’re called to purity of life in everything we do in our bodies. Again, I don’t know about you but for me that means everything I do.

And in case you’re still wondering, the fact that God will forgive me because of Jesus’ death on the cross doesn’t mean I can just go on sinning.

Someone must have raised this question with Paul because he mentions it in his letter to the Romans, in ch6. He says “1What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” You see, purity isn’t just about obeying a set of laws. It’s about our relationship with God. We’ve been buried with Christ by baptism into his death, he says, so we might be raised with him to walk in newness of life. The whole point of being buried with Christ is so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. We’ve been raised to a new life with God. So we’re to present our bodies to God as instruments of righteousness.

Can you feel what a great contrast there is between some moralistic obligation to follow God’s laws, the way the Pharisees lived, and the freedom expressed by Paul there of a life devoted to acting as instruments of righteousness for God? The former makes you feel weighed down with guilt and shame because you’ve failed over and over again; the latter makes you feel alive, useful, productive. God has things for you to do that will bring righteousness and justice into this impure world.

In case that doesn’t inspire you, John gives us a slightly different perspective in his first letter. He says “2Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3) Not only are we meant to be instruments of righteousness, we’re also meant to live as God’s children, preparing ourselves for the day when we’ll gather around him with the rest of his family, greeting him face to face, the way Adam and Eve did before the fall.

So we’re called to practice purity in all we do: in our words, in our thoughts and in our actions. As I said, this isn’t an easy task. It’s hard to resist the influences of the world around us that wants to pull us away from following God.  But the Holy Spirit will help us to resist those influences, he’ll help us to grow in purity as we practice godliness – that is, if we let him.


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