“How do I restore my purity? I know that you’re supposed to pray for God to restore it, but that doesn’t seem to be a permanent solution. It’ll keep me pure for a couple of weeks, but I slip back into impurity. I don’t want to keep hurting people. How do I make a permanent change?”
I love, feel, and understand your question. It seems that you’re really struggling to move forward, but you keep getting knocked backward. And, sometimes, it feels like we’re taking one step forward and two steps backward, as the saying goes. You want your purity to be restored and you know that you can’t restore it yourself. You’re on the right track, as that’s essential for us to understand. There is nothing that we can do to restore our own purity. You also say that you’re praying to God and depending on God to restore your purity. Again, bravo. Nonetheless, this doesn’t seem to be working, nor does it seem to be a permanent solution. You’ll be pure for a little while, but then you’ll slip back into impurity. Do you know why? It’s not a permanent solution! You’re exactly right!
God never meant us to set our hopes on being pure as a way to achieve purity. Purity is not our goal—you need to hear that. Let me ask you this, If you only climb to the third rung on a ladder, how far up will you go? That’s right, to the third rung! If you only set your hopes on the third rung, you’ll only get that high. You’ll never make it to the top of the ladder, past the third rung. You’ve got a misguided goal, which is keeping you down.
You need to learn what true repentance is; you also need to repent of your false repentance. To repent is to turn away from the direction you were headed, toward God. To repent is to pursue God, turning away from all other pursuits. It doesn’t mean that you have no other goals in life, but that God is your ultimate pursuit, the main objective in your life, the hill you’re willing to die on. You want God so badly, that, when push comes to shove, you’ll drop other good goals in order to have him. You won’t settle until you have him.
When it comes to regaining our purity, regaining our purity must not be our goal. Purity is like the third rung on the ladder. “But,” you say, “I want to repent of my sin and regain my purity! What’s wrong with that?” Just listen to what you’re saying: you’re saying that purity is your goal. You’re repenting of sin and turning toward purity. You’ve set your eyes on only the third rung. True repentance is not turning from sin and turning toward purity; true repentance is turning from sin and turning toward God. God is the goal, not purity. God is the top rung of the ladder, where our eyes should be focused.
This is a lesson that we all must learn. So much of the time, I want a clear conscience more than I want God. I want to be pure more than I want God. I act like the bratty kid who only wants his father’s gifts, but he doesn’t really want his father. So what happens after a couple of weeks? He wants more gifts! Because the kid’s heart is set only on the gifts, he is never satisfied. If only he set his heart on his father, then he would be free from this lethal cycle.
Setting your eyes only on the gift of purity is not a permanent solution. If you or I are doing that, we need to repent of our dysfunctional repentance. Listen to what Thomas Boston wrote in the early 1700’s:
Men may have a repentance for their sin, gnawing their consciences, and tormenting their hearts, which they will carry on in hell through eternity: being only the first movings of the worm in the soul that never dies: as Judas’s repentance seems to have been, Simon Magnus’s and Pharaoh’s. They may bitterly rue their sin, as Esau (Gen. 27:34), who never truly repent of it (Heb. 12:17); and the stony heart may be broken in a thousand pieces, while yet every piece remains a stone. They may have superficial sorrow for sin, and a light joy succeeding it, whose hearts were never pierced to the quick; and therefore the joy goes, as the effects of a send of rain on the parched ground (Matt. 13:20-21). But true repentance is a repentance never repented of, kindly working in the soul (italics mine).
Do you see what he is saying? When we fall into sin, we’ll no doubt experience great emotional pain. We will feel awful about ourselves and what we did. We’ll feel dirty. In an effort to get rid of the guilt that is “gnawing our consciences,” we’ll repent. But, we’ll only repent to the third rung of the ladder, just enough to get rid of our sorrow. Just enough to get us out of the mud beneath the ladder. So our hearts will be broken for our sins, even “broken in a thousand pieces” as Boston says. But “every piece remains a stone.” We still have hard hearts because we never climbed high enough on the ladder to be close to God so that he could melt them.
In other words, we only wanted the gift of joy, the gift of purity, the gift of the removal of guilt. We never actually wanted God, we never actually turned to God, we never actually made God the goal of our repentance. After reaching the third rung, gathering all of the goodies in our hands like a greedy boy, we jumped off the ladder, back into the mud. There we stand at the bottom of the ladder, getting dirty, knowing we only have to climb so high to feel good again. This is no permanent solution.
Or as Boston said, “true repentance is a repentance never repented of.” The process of repentance is not our goal, neither is purity. Our goal is not to go part way up and down the ladder, over and over, but to fight for the top. We set our shoulder to the gale and march into the storm of sin, until we make it home to God. God is our goal, our aim, our pursuit, our destiny. We need to stop setting our sites on just joy or just the feeling of forgiveness. As C. S. Lewis wrote in The Joyful Christian, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.” We could say, “Aim at God and you will get purity ‘thrown in’: aim at purity and you will get neither.”
How do we make a permanent change? Beg God for him to give you more of him; ask God to help you pursue him. Soak yourself in God’s word and prayer, growing in your knowledge of the gospel, until you can feel it in every part of your being. Understand that God is pursuing you, chasing you, cherishing you. Allow his grace to melt your heart. Our goal must neither be perfection nor purity, but God.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4).
© Samuel Kee, 2012