(All verse references are from the CSB.)
The apostle Paul makes a statement in 2 Corinthians 7:1 that surprises me:
“So then, dear friends, since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from every impurity of the flesh and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
Did you catch that he says you can have impurity in your spirit? I glanced right over it the first time I read it, but I now realize this is a very important point.
Some people today still subscribe to the very pagan notion that somehow our bodies (and matter in general), are inherently bad, but our minds or spirits are inherently good. Even if you wouldn’t say you believed this, such thinking still often creeps in subconsciously. It typically shows up in how people separate activities into categories of “spiritual” vs. “secular” in an artificial way. Some examples:
– Doing devotionals is a “spiritual activity,” doing the dishes isn’t.
– Attending church is “spiritual”; going to a baseball game isn’t.
Another example of this false distinction is when people think that something isn’t a sin if you just think it but don’t actually do it.
But this way of thinking isn’t biblical at all. It actually has its roots in Greek philosophy and Gnosticism (an ancient heresy). It fails to understand that because humans are both physical AND spiritual beings at all times, every activity has spiritual aspects involved. Our minds don’t necessarily have an advantage over matter, so to speak.
Even when performing the activities we’d consider the most “spiritual,” we can still have impure minds. Think about it: Have you ever studied the Bible just to mark it off your checklist? Ever been standing in a church worship service pondering how angry you are at that person who ticked you off that week (or that morning)? Anytime you’ve had a selfish attitude or impure motive, you’ve experienced impurity of spirit.
Everything you do physically affects your mind/spirit, and everything about your mind/spirit affects your physical life. This is because the two aspects are powerfully interconnected. And because our bodies and souls are so fully integrated, both our physical bodies AND our spiritual/mental/emotional aspects have been corrupted by sin.
Apart from the Holy Spirit cleansing and renewing them, people are broken inside and out. We’re like cars that have had bad oil poured through our engines, leaving residue that hinders our progress.
Therefore, as believers, we must put to death the sinful tendencies that remain in our bodies and minds. We need God to renew our minds so that those residues of sin and those bad habits can be removed. As Jesus says, you must first cleanse the inside before the outside can become clean (Matthew 23:26).
The Sickness Within
Consider these verses about spiritual impurity:
1) “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Guess all that advice to “just follow your heart” is not so great after all, huh?
Now I should point out that when the Bible talks about the “heart,” it’s not just talking about emotions. In biblical Hebrew, the term for “heart” also refers to all of a person’s inner character – their thoughts, emotions, will, and dispositions. We could just as faithfully translate it as “mind” or “will.”
2) “We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4b-5)
Believers are to take thoughts and ideas prisoner and force them to obey Christ. That implies that many of our thoughts are naturally quite rebellious and need to be brought in line.
This can actually give comfort to those of us who sometimes struggle with intrusive, angry or selfish thoughts. The kind of thoughts that you quickly regret, or that catch you off-guard with how extreme they are. The mind is rebellious. It needs to be disciplined. Our thoughts must be taken captive.
3) “For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, self-indulgence, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a person.” (Mark 7:21-23)
With these words Jesus affirms that the heart/mind is the source of evil actions. The only cure for an impure life is a cleansing of the heart.
A Prayer for Purity of Mind
All of that to say that the pursuit of purity must begin in the mind/heart. It’s not enough to stay away from bad physical habits (although that’s also part of the equation here). We must pray for God to renew our minds so that we can practice purity in our thought lives.
It’s something we have to pray for because it is something we are powerless to do on our own. Stains in the heart do not scrub off easily – it’s a process that requires supernatural power.
And it is a lifelong pursuit. I don’t know of anyone who has arrived at perfect purity in all their thoughts this side of heaven. I know I sure haven’t.
To that end, I really appreciate this earnest prayer of David:
“Teach me your way, LORD, and I will live by your truth. Give me an undivided mind to fear your name.” (Psalm 86:11)
If you were to translate the Hebrew of this verse more literally, the last part says something like, “Bind my mind to the fearing of your name.”
In other words, this prayer is a cry for God to tie our thoughts down until they only serve and honor Him. It’s a prayer that God would help prevent our thoughts from swerving to seek impure ways. It reminds me of a rancher roping a cow that got loose. Because our thoughts can so easily go astray, we need God to “lasso them down,” so to speak.
Pursuing purity is a journey, not a destination. But progress is possible as we ask God to wrangle our wayward minds.
I invite you to join me in praying David’s prayer. Ask God to tie your thoughts down until they only honor him. “Lord, bind our minds to the fearing of your name.”
See you down the path.