From the LYWB.com Team: We’re giving away a copy of Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together every Friday in March. We love how this book encourages you to lean heavily on your relationships with other women as you live out your faith. This week, we’ve pulled an excerpt from the book that asks “Is purity really possible?” Check it out.
Ours is obviously not the first period in history to experience the intense battle involved in maintaining a pure heart and walk. Extended portions of the book of Proverbs, in fact, focus on this battle and warn about the damaging, deadly consequences of sexual sin (see chapters 5–7).
Or listen to Paul, in the first century, urging the believers in Thessalonica to take these matters to heart, to walk in God-pleasing, Spirit-empowered purity “more and more” for the health of their bodies and spirits, of their families and worship (1 Thess. 4:1). And in Ephesians 5:3 (NIV) he urges, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity . . .”
Not even a hint? Not “any kind of impurity”? To modern ears, that may sound antiquated, extreme—just not realistic in today’s world. But consider the upside of pursuing a lifestyle of purity:
- the joy that comes from being fully surrendered to God, satisfied in Him alone
- the freedom that comes from living inside His loving borders of protection
- the depth of relationship with others that is possible when the barriers of impurity and impropriety are removed
- the unity that takes place within marriages when honesty and transparency replace secrets
- the impact in the lives of sons and daughters who witness their parents actually living what they claim to believe
- the opportunity to point others to Christ and the purity that is available through Him
Surely it’s worth any price to obtain and maintain a life that is pure and above reproach. But is it really possible?
Purity can indeed feel like an unattainable standard. And in fact, it is—apart from the indwelling, enabling power of the Holy Spirit. But the very fact that Paul urges older women to teach younger women to be pure suggests that purity can be learned—by watching the example of these mentors and by listening to what they have learned in their pursuit of purity.
In that spirit, let me share with you several practical day-to-day strategies I have found to be helpful in my own life as well as the lives of others when it comes to sexual purity. Hopefully you’ll find these ideas helpful and can use them as a springboard for discussion in your Titus 2 relationships with other women.
I think of these practices and commitments as “hedges.” Picture the rows of manicured shrubbery a person might place around his or her property, establishing a ring of privacy, a barrier to unwanted intruders. Hedges help keep things out, and they help keep things in. That’s what these habits can do in your life. And while these practices don’t make us holy in themselves or render us less dependent on the Lord for the desire and the power to be pure, they can help us as we wage war against the lure of the world and the cravings of our flesh. They contribute to our sanctification as the Holy Spirit motivates and animates our practical purity.
Hedge #1: Choose discretion.
We don’t hear much about discretion any more. This important quality has to do with being discerning and prudent in our interactions—our speech and our behavior—with others.
A lack of discretion is evident in many settings and environments—particularly, it seems, in the workplace—where men and women often freely discuss crude, off-color, and private details of their lives in the form of office banter. Aside from being coarse and suggestive, this kind of talk simply exposes too much to those who should not be invited into these inner places of our hearts and relationships.
Discretion is what restrains a woman from confiding personal marriage problems to a male friend or colleague or from having deep, private, spiritual conversations with another woman’s husband. It makes her careful about how she meets a man’s gaze or responds to flirtation or inappropriate words or behavior on his part. It helps her avoid settings and situations where the natural thing would be to do something wrong.
Hedge #2: Value modesty.
I don’t want to minimize a man’s responsibility to maintain his own purity of thought and eye control. But the dress and demeanor of many women and teenage girls today leaves so little to the imagination, it can cause a man’s temptation meter to spike.
Godly men who desire to have pure thoughts and behavior toward women have implored me to help women understand the power they wield and how much they need our support and assistance in their battle for purity.
As Christians, one of our chief commitments should be not only preserving our own purity, but also protecting and honoring the purity and morals of others. And when we behave or dress in a fashion that competes with a man’s affections for his (present or future) wife, we work against the purity of his heart as well as our own.
Hedge #3: Check your emotional attachments.
It never fails to undo me when I hear of another woman (married or single) whose heart and emotions have been drawn into relationship with a man who is another woman’s husband. It happens in the workplace. It happens at the fitness center. It happens in the stands at their kids’ ball games. Sometimes it even happens in the church and with men in spiritual leadership.
In many cases, the woman is as surprised as anyone. She didn’t intend to go there. But she arrived at that point one careless step—one incremental compromise—at a time. One thought at a time that she nursed and gave free rein to rather than taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Before she knows it, she is in emotional and moral quicksand.
The fallout and unintended consequences of tasting forbidden fruit are always messy and painful. In the end, sin—alluring as it may be—never pays what it promises. Never.
So this needs to be zero-tolerance territory. When the first of these thoughts comes in, it needs to be the next one going out. No flirting with it, no toying with it, not even for a second.
Here’s what you need to do, instead: If you’re married, determine to put that emotional energy into lavishing your own husband with love and interest—even if you feel your marriage is dead. You belong to a God who raises the dead.
If you’re not married, invest your mental and emotional focus into cultivating a more intimate relationship with the Lord. The moment you sense the smallest flickering desire drawing you into an intimate, imaginary circle with another man—desire that cannot be righteously fulfilled or acted on—redirect your attention and your affection toward an object you can rightly desire. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for disaster—and the longer you give it to build up, the harder it will be to deal with it.
Hedge #4: Guard your electronic communications.
Texts, emails, and social media provide a fertile context for developing inappropriate relationships. Even though you may be miles apart and your interaction can feel completely harmless, it’s amazing how quickly an “innocent” exchange on our electronic devices can pick up steam.
Carelessness on this front is a huge contributing factor to the break-up of marriages today. I heard it once again recently as a woman poured out her heart to me about how her husband is mired in an emotional (at least) affair with an old girlfriend he connected with on Facebook.
Secrets and clandestine communications have no business passing between married men and women (who are not married to each other) in electronic or any other form. Scripture doesn’t lay down specific ground rules for our digital communication, of course. But it does provide foundational principles we can apply to help us make wise choices and guard our hearts.
I want to honor the Lord and have a pure heart and walk. And I know I am no less vulnerable than anyone else to be deceived or led astray. So when it comes to electronic communications I have chosen to err on the side of caution.
For example, when it comes to personal text or email exchanges with a married man, I generally copy his wife or a mutual friend. And now, as a married woman, I am purposeful about not having exchanges with other men that I would not want my husband to see. I want to be vigilant to protect the marriages of my friends and colleagues as well as my own heart and marriage.
Hedge #5: Don’t forget to lean on your trusted female relationships.
This is at the heart of the message of Titus 2. It’s worth mentioning again because it’s such an important hedge against impurity. The power of sexual sin is often found in secrecy. When we get honest about our secret temptations and failures—whether sexual or in other areas—and bring them into the light, they lose their power. And when we get in the habit of sharing them with a caring older woman who has a track record of faithfulness and obedience, God can use her to steer us back in the direction of purity.
And here’s another benefit of these woman-to-woman friendships. Many women, whether single or married, are drawn into inappropriate relationships because they are lonely and lack fulfilling, caring relationships. Healthy, caring relationships among women can be a means of grace to help meet those needs in legitimate ways.
And don’t forget that mentoring can go both ways. As an older woman, I have found that developing these kinds of relationships with younger women can serve as a hedge in itself—providing reminders and an incentive to persevere in the pathway of purity.
It’s Your Turn
Do you have these “hedges” in place in your own life? Specifically, do you have an older woman in your life who champions you in your fight for purity? Log on to the giveaway widget below and tell us about her. We’ll choose one of you to win a copy of Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. Check out the promo video below.