Dannah Gresh: I have to tell you that when Nancy asked me to talk to you about the subject of purity, I got really overwhelmed. I love this topic. I have studied it for about twenty years, and I have this much content [huge], and she gave me this much time [tiny]! (laughter)
So we are not going to be doing “Purity 101 for Dummies” today. We are going to go to the barrier, the boundaries that God gave me were to find the topics and the truths that He wants us to embrace about purity right from the chapter we’re in, in Titus 2. When I dug in, there are some really neat things.
But since I have just such a little bit of time, I kind of need to get right to the point on one thing, and that’s this: I am not the poster child for purity. Can you identify? Maybe some of you in this room, like me, have spent some of your life not adorned in the gospel, but “adorned” in a cloak of shame and pain and secrets.
So many times, the bondages that women experience in their lives are related to the topic of purity, which isn’t only about sexuality. But so much of our pain is about sexual impurity. It’s not just the world that’s broken . . . it’s us! Let me share with you some statistics.
One thing that just breaks my heart is that, in recent years, erotica—a form of pornography that uses story lines and narrative rather than photos and videos to arouse—has nearly cannibalized the publishing industry. Here’s what’s sad:
- There is virtually no statistical difference in the percentage of churched versus unchurched women who read the best-selling title Shades of Grey.
- Sixty-four percent of men attending our churches say that they use pornography once a month, causing widespread pain to women in the church.
- About forty percent of the women who have abortions each year have it while they’re attending our churches.
We are broken! We are wounded! Adultery, divorce—sadly—not as uncommon as they should be in our church.
Ladies, here’s the problem: We cannot display and adorn ourselves with the gospel when we look as addicted, as broken, as impure and as ashamed as the rest of the world! They’re not going to want what we have if they don’t see it working.
Today, I want us to dig into Titus. We’re going to read verses 11–14 in chapter 2. I found three things in here that challenge us for this day and age—the condition and the state that we are in with impurity.
It reads: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age . . . waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11–14).
There are three things that God put on my heart as I looked at these few verses—that don’t seem to be that packed with truth about purity—but, oh, they truly are! And the first one is this: Purity is a process, not a condition.
When I wrote my first book, in the year 2000, on the topic of purity, you were a hero in the Christian community if you were talking about purity. Not so much anymore. I get letters all the time, people asking me, “Could you just not use the word ‘purity?’”
Sometimes it’s their moms, who deeply want their daughters to sit under my teaching or read my books, but they just think the word “purity” is so irrelevant. I use the word “purity” because this Book uses the word “purity.”
Sometimes they say, “Purity is so outdated!” Listen, God’s standards about sexuality were never in style! (laughter) But here’s the thing that breaks my heart: Many of the women that write to me say, “When you use the word purity, it just makes me feel so impure. It hurts me.”
So I want to take just a moment to address those hearing my voice this very moment who feel very impure. There’s good news for us! The word purity is not synonymous with virginity or abstinence or never having seen pornography.
The word purity is not where we begin. Psalm 51 tells us you were born sinful. You may have never been pure. Purity is not something you can lose; it might be something you never had. The Greek word used here in this passage in Titus means, “pure, clean, without fault, chaste, exciting reverence, sacred.” It is a word that came from a word that means “holy.”
Do you know what that means? It’s not just those of us that have been stained by the pain of sexual sin, but every single one of us that should feel overwhelmed at this word when it appears in the pages of Scripture . . . falling on our faces before God crying, “Mercy!” We should feel a little uncomfortable.
But the good news is this: The way that the word purity is used in verses 13 and 14, where it says Jesus Christ purifies for Himself a people” . . . I see two things in that. First, I see that it is a process. Jesus purifies us. It’s something that’s a work that’s happening, an ongoing motion, a movement, a direction, a pursuit. It’s not a beginning place—it’s a process. You might call it “sanctification.” We have a word for it.
But here’s the beautiful thing I see, the second thing: It’s not something that we ourselves can do. So maybe you just need to stop white-knuckling it, friend. You are never going to stop that thing. You are never going to say “no” to that person aside from setting yourself in the presence of Jesus.
Jesus purifies us. It’s His work in our lives! You must put your sweet, broken heart in His hands to do His work. You cannot do it yourself.
And that brings me to the second point; I feel really, really strongly about this. If we are to succeed in training ourselves and others to live in purity, we must foster communities dominated by God’s grace—not the rules about sex.
Impurity grows in an environment dominated by rules. Let me share with you some startling realities. While most church-going men who are regular in attendance are slightly less likely to look at porn than the unchurched, men who self-identify as (and this survey used a specific word, a specific sect, of our evangelical churches that—if I said it today—many of you would equate with legalism) men who attended those churches are ninety-one percent more likely to look at porn than unchurched men. There’s a traceable link between legalism and isolation that feeds sexual secrets.
Women, we’re not off the hook! Only seven percent of women who had an abortion while attending church felt there was one person that they could talk to, in their churches, about their dilemma. Only seven percent of the women in our churches . . .
I can only imagine, what would happen if we would foster a community of grace so that these women felt like, when they found themselves in a crisis pregnancy, they could come to just one of us? Ladies, how many of those babies could we have saved!?
A commitment to life mandates that we foster an environment of grace for women found in crisis pregnancies.
And here is something that our world is really struggling with, and we really need to deal with in the church. According to recent research, seventy-three percent of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals felt the Christian church was unfriendly to them.
What would happen if we started creating a safe place for our brothers and sisters struggling in this area by admitting that the ground at the foot of the cross is level. There is no “worse” sin. None!
Paul instructs in verses 11 and 12 that, “. . . the grace of God . . . [trains] us to renounce ungodliness and . . . live self-controlled, upright . . . godly lives.” Now, I’m not talking about “cheap grace.” He’s not talking about cheap grace. He’s talking about grace that’s strong enough to carry the truth, but gentle enough to hear a confession.
Do we have that in our churches? I think we’re very quick to instruct; the “thou-shalt-not’s” flow quickly off of our lips. But are we quick to confess our own struggles, so that we can create an environment of grace, declaring that the ground at the foot of the cross truly is level?
The word here for “grace”—it’s not that it’s spoken without solid access to truth, but Paul cannot think of Christian truth and conduct outside of God’s grace. They were tightly woven together!
Ladies, I want to tell you how Bob and I have attempted to create an environment of grace for own children in our home. We tell them about our past. We told them about our sin. I remember when I took my oldest son, Robbie—in eighth grade—out for ice cream to tell him about my past.
Girls in his class had begun reading my book on purity, and I knew that he might hear my story before I could tell him. I just simply said, “Robbie I want to tell you why I love talking and teaching on the subject of purity. It’s because when I was a teenager, I did not walk in purity. I know how much it hurts, and I don’t want other people to know that hurt. But if they do, I want them to find the healing of Jesus much faster than I did!”
And my sweet Robbie—oh, he’s a teddy bear. But he sat there in all of his eighth-grade awkwardness, not knowing what to say. And I said, “Robbie, I kind of need to know what’s going through your head right now.” He looked at me, and he just simply said, “Mom, that’s why Jesus died for you!” Hmm. Create an environment of grace in your home.
I truly believe that creating an environment of grace in our home is what has given our children permission to come to us before they’re too deep in. When you have grace, it trains you for godliness, it trains you for purity. I want to tell you how that kind of has unfolded in my life.
You see, when I was several years into marriage, I finally realized that I had to stop waking up in the morning with that terrible ache in my heart of thinking, The world is okay, the world is good. Maybe there was sun shining through my bedroom, maybe I heard birds singing, but I felt like everything was good . . . and yet, “Maybe, there’s something not right. Oh yeah, that!” It was always on my mind.
It feels really bad to save a shameful secret and keep it from the one you are supposed to be one with. And so, in a dark bedroom, it took me three hours . . . (It was dark because I would not let Bob turn the light on. I was still so ashamed. I couldn’t let him see my face!).
But I finally got the words out, and when I did, my husband held me. Not at all what I expected, by the way. And for the first time in ten years of confessing my sin to God, I felt Christ’s forgiveness. I felt it!
He said, “I don’t think I need to say this, honey, but I think you need to hear this: I forgive you.” It felt like the voice of God in my ears, ladies! You see, forgiveness comes from confession to God and God alone. But healing . . .
.God’s Word tells us, James 5:16, “Confess your sins [one] to . . . another and . . . [then] you [will] be healed.” The work of healing and the work of working out the grace in our lives, that’s what happens in the community of our Christian fellowship. And I felt it in a big way.
A few weeks later I confessed to my mom, and I remember the grace just pouring out in my heart as she encouraged me and loved me. It didn’t turn into less of ministry in my life, but more! I didn’t attend a school to start a ministry on sexual purity. No one said, “You should write a book on sexual purity!”
God’s grace trained me and made me so enthusiastic and so excited! And when His grace poured into my heart, suddenly—as if the blinders had been taken off—I could see the shame in the eyes of other women. I could see that invisible cloak of hiding and grief and pain.
When I walked up to them, it was as if they could see the grace of God all over me. Their tears would flow, and their stories would come out. I never asked for that, but God’s grace trained me for it.
I have a ministry on the frontlines of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Zambia, that Bob and I had the privilege of starting several years ago. God’s opened up my heart to a little tiny valley in the Dominican Republic called Jarabacoa, that the United Nations says has the highest rate of teen pregnancy for girls age thirteen to fifteen.
I’m a believing—myself and seventy-two Dominicans (I don’t know how I got invited to the party!)—that we, through God’s grace, can turn one of the devil’s playgrounds into a story of God’s grace! I was trained by grace. That’s the “seminary” I went to.
Which brings me to my final point: The most important thing we teach about purity is the purpose of it, which is to showcase the gospel. Verse 14, look at it, tells us why Jesus takes us through the process of purifying us. It is to, “to [redeem] . . . a people for his . . . possession who are zealous for good works.”
If you’re not zealous for good works, I may suggest you have not fully tasted of the grace that He has for your life. If it sounds like pride when I talk about the work we’re doing in Zambia and the Dominican Republic and all the wonderful books God’s entrusted to me to write, you do not understand what it’s like to live in the pits!
I’m not bragging on myself. I am saying, “God’s grace is so big!” When it shows up in your life, it pops out of your life, and you just can’t help but do good things!
Ladies, here’s why we have to understand the purpose: When our lives are marred by scandal and sin, that’s what people talk about. They can’t see the adornment of the gospel in our lives. And, ladies, some of you are hiding in your silence and your shame, and you think, Well, I can’t let my sin be known because then it would be a scandal.
I am telling you that you are believing a lie from the enemy, because God wants you to have the full redemption, the full healing—so that your life is a testimony. “I once was . . . but now I am . . .!” It’s not just after your healing that good works pop out of you, but the very purpose of sex in marriage is so integral to the gospel story.
Paul said it most concisely in Ephesians 5:31 and 32, which reads, “Therefore a man [will] leave his father and mother and [be united] to his wife, and the two [will] become one flesh.” And then, it’s almost as if the apostle Paul has A.D.D. or something, because he’s talking about the marriage relationship, the one-flesh relationship, and then the next verse says, “This is a mystery, but I’m really talking about Christ and the church.”
From Genesis through Revelation we are told again and again that this world is going to get so lost in its sin that it’s not going to understand God’s love!
And so, in Genesis, at the point of creation, God said, “I’m going to paint a picture so they don’t forget.” And that picture is one man and one woman in shameless oneness in a pure and holy marriage relationship. This is the picture that God says, “When they forget, they will turn to this, and they will mysteriously see the love and the passion that Jesus has for His Bride, the Church.”
Ladies, if that is true—and I know that it is—how motivated do you think Satan is to see this picture destroyed in your life? I beg you, run—don’t walk, don’t say, “I’ll do it tomorrow,”—run to your nearest Christian sister, confess your sins, be completely needy of Jesus. Let Him pour His comfort into you so that you can be trained in the school of grace—because this matters!
Father God, train us. We place ourselves in Your presence, with broken hearts and broken lives—children and husbands who are broken by the enemy’s plan for sexuality. We beg you to bring us to Your school of grace by first making us courageous to confess our sins one to another in an environment of grace. We ask this in the precious name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, amen.