In this episode, Leslie shares how to cultivate a purity that lasts in a world full of shattered promises and broken hearts. Establishing the principle that purity is based not on a concept but a Person, she uncovers the important truth that God first looks upon the purity of our hearts rather than outward symbols or trinkets. Gain practical handles on how to discipline your thought life, how to handle attraction to a godly guy, and how to act honorably in interactions with the opposite to protect the treasure of your heart and glorify God!
Leslie Ludy: Hey, everyone! It’s Leslie Ludy, host of the Set Apart Girl Podcast: Biblical Encouragement for Women of All Ages! Today we’re going to dive into the topic of inner purity. I think in the church today we tend to focus a lot on outward purity, and there are a lot of abstinence commitments and encouragement for young people on the importance of saving physical purity for marriage. But often what is neglected is looking at the inner life and how important it is to cultivate purity in your heart, mind, and soul. And really, one of the biggest problems with purity commitments today is that they often do not start with a commitment to guarding inner purity. They’re simply an outward commitment.
That was certainly my story as a young Christian teen. I used to look at purity as simply a line that I wasn’t supposed to cross. If you’ve heard me speak on this before, you’ve probably heard my story. I looked at purity as the edge of a cliff and I thought, Well, as long as I don’t fall off the cliff, I can inch my way closer and closer to that edge.
It was really interesting because as I lived that way on the outside, I still could say, “Hey! I’ve got my abstinence commitment. I haven’t crossed that line. I can still wear this promise ring.” But inwardly, I knew that I truly wasn’t living in purity with every step closer I took to the edge of that cliff, I was losing something sacred. I was giving something away that was meant to be saved. My conscience began to bother me even though when I went to church I measured myself against the standards that were being presented. I thought, Well, I’m still on this side of the line, so I must be okay.
It wasn’t until I was about 16, and I had gone through several really difficult break ups. I had given my heart, my mind, my emotions, and even pieces of my physical purity to different guys in short-term flings, and I was really devastated. I was confused. I felt like my heart had just been ripped out and broken in pieces. And I remember crying out to God and saying, “Lord, I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong because I haven’t crossed that line. I’m still living in purity.” And that’s when He really began to speak to my heart about what real purity is and where it starts.
Cultivating Inner Purity
Leslie Ludy: Psalm 51:6 says, “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts.” It’s so interesting if you study this in Scripture because God always starts with the heart and works outward from there.
In Matthew 23:26 Jesus tells the Pharisees, “First cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside may also be clean…” That is a really, really profound principle that so many of us miss when it comes to a purity commitment. When we are truly cultivating purity and set-apartness of our heart, of our mind, of our emotions, of our soul; when we’re set apart on the inside – first for Jesus Christ and when we’re single for our future spouse – the reality is that you’re not going to have to over-emphasize outward purity or abstinence commitments when someone is tending to the purity of their inner life.
A lot of people ask the question today, “Why do purity commitments so often fail?” You’ll often hear a lot of cynicism towards the idea of promise rings, abstinence pledges [saying that] “Those things don’t work! They just set people up for failure! We shouldn’t do them anymore.” But really, the problem is not with those things. Those things should be symbols – outward symbols – of an inward reality, an inward decision to cultivate purity within the heart, mind, and soul. When someone tends to the purity of their inner life, naturally the outward life will also be pure. That’s what Jesus is saying here in Matthew 23:26.
If you are a young person, if you’re a single person struggling with how to maintain a commitment to purity that really lasts, this is where I would recommend that you start tending to the purity of your inner life. If you’re a parent or a married woman who has influence over a single girl’s life, these are principles that you can encourage others with for building purity that really goes more than just head knowledge, goes more than just skin-deep.
I want to give you a few practicals of how to cultivate true, lasting inner purity.
1. Guarding Emotional Purity
Leslie Ludy: The first practical is to guard emotional purity. Again this is something that is so overlooked. We so often focus on just the abstinence commitment, but we forget about guarding our emotional purity. I know for me, as I was a young person and Christian teen, I dated Christian guys. We were both committed to abstinence, but we had no concept of what it meant to guard emotional purity. We very quickly would give our heart to one person after the next. We would share intimate thoughts, feelings, and desires. We would be very free with special words that we would say to each other and other forms of expression. I remember writing these long, emotional letters to the different guys I dated and them writing long, emotional letters to me. There was no guard over the emotions that were being shared back and forth. Really what led to my compromise in inching my way closer and closer to the edge of that cliff and physical purity was first and foremost giving away emotional purity in those relationships – not having any guard up, but giving fully and freely of all that I had emotionally to one relationship after the next.
People used to tell me that dating around and giving my heart to different guys actually prepared me for marriage. They said, “It will really help you learn how to relate to guys, and you’ll see what kind of personalities you’re compatible with.” But as I gave my heart to one guy after the next, in one short-term fling after the next, I began to realize that this isn’t preparing me for marriage, this is preparing me for divorce because I so flippantly would give my heart and my emotions in these relationships. And then as soon as things didn’t work out or our head was turned by somebody else – whether it was his head being turned or mine – we would break up and go find the next person. It was setting us up for a short-term fling mentality, rather than a lifelong commitment mentality.
When Eric came into my life, we built a friendship for a really long time without any intent of a romantic relationship. That was extremely healthy because in past relationships, past friendships with guys, I would no sooner meet an attractive, single guy then I would be fantasizing about him, giving my emotions to him, getting emotionally-embroiled in that relationship or the hope of a relationship. By the time Eric came into my life, God had really convicted me about this and said, “You need to guard your emotions. You need to guard your heart. You need to not let your emotions just run away with you when you see a single guy.”
Eric and I just built a very healthy friendship – a brother/sister friendship – that lasted for quite a while. Then, when God began to lead us into a relationship, one of the first things that we both felt strongly about was that we were to guard our emotions, that we were to keep sacred things sacred. And what that meant for us was not being flippant or careless with important words and expressions of affection. Eric decided he wasn’t going to tell me that he loved me until the day that he proposed to me. He didn’t want to play with my heart. He didn’t want to draw my emotions, and when we talked with each other during that time, we spent a lot of time a part during the time that our relationship was being formed because he was in missionary school and on the mission field and I was still living at home. When we did have conversations, we were really guarded about not gushing our feelings to each other. We weren’t focused on how we felt about each other, what our emotions were saying. We really wanted to make our conversations centered upon our mutual love for Christ, what God was doing in our lives, what we were learning in Scripture, and things like that. It was so healthy not to allow emotions to control the relationship.
My dad had said to us, “One of the best ways to build a relationship is to first cultivate a spiritual unity, then later (much later) emotional unity on top of spiritual unity, and then in marriage physical unity.” That was really healthy for us. We focused on our spiritual likemindedness and didn’t bring in the emotional side until that spiritual foundation was really strong. I would say, most of the emotional side of our relationship, we began to allow in once we were engaged and headed towards marriage, but even then we had that strong spiritual foundation and our goal was never to let emotions control the relationship because when we do that, we’re on a roller coaster ride. We’re up one day, we’re down the next day. It’s a big emotional ride! Instead of letting the Spirit of God lead a relationship. You have to be purposeful about not letting emotions take control. There’s that Scripture in Song of Solomon that says, “Don’t awaken love until the right time” (see Song of Solomon 2:7). And I think so often with expressions of emotion, gushing feelings for each other, we awaken love long before the right time and then pretty soon it’s just human emotion leading the relationship.
Another danger that Eric and I did not have back in our day when our relationship was forming was to gush emotions on social media and not being discreet or guarded with what you share on texts, posts, emails, and all these other forms of social media. A lot of times in a relationship you think, Well it doesn’t really matter because it’s digital. But it’s still a way of letting your emotions get out of control. So be discreet, being guarded, let your emotions come under the control of God’s Spirit.
Mary, in Scripture, is such a great example of someone who guarded the sacred things that God had entrusted to her. It says that she, “Kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I love that picture! She probably had a lot of deep feelings, thoughts, and emotions about what was happening in her life. Instead of just gushing about them to all her friends and rushing about telling everyone, she guarded them and she kept them sacred in her heart. God has entrusted things to us – our feminine mystery, our purity, the private, inner feelings and workings within our hearts and souls – and these are gifts of God that we should not just throw around carelessly. They should be carefully protected first for Him (for God), and then – if He’s called us to marriage – for the man that we’re one day going to enter into a lifelong covenant with and only at the right time.
2 Timothy 1:14 says, “Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells within us the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” That’s a great verse when we’re talking about emotional purity.
2. Guard Mental Purity
Leslie Ludy: Another key principle is to guard mental purity. This is something, again, that is so overlooked. We can have our promise ring; we can have our abstinence pledge card, but if we’re not guarding our thought life, Jesus says, “If a man even looks at a woman to lust for her, he’s already committed adultery in his heart.” So obviously that shows that Jesus puts a high value on mental purity, not just outward purity.
For women, I think one of our biggest stumbling blocks is being influenced by the unhealthy version of romance that is in the culture. We read romance novels, we watch chick flicks, we get all of these wrong ideas about fairytale love stories and romance, and we then fantasize about that happening in our own life. And so many girls I know are Christian girls, and they’re wanting to be set apart, and they’re wanting to live in purity, but they’re not guarded against the influences of the culture that are affecting their thought life.
I remember hearing a group of girls talk about their favorite movie. This was at a Christian conference. These were all girls who desired to walk rightly before God, but the movie that they loved so much was a love story movie full of immorality. It glorified a very self-focused lifestyle. It really elevated the idea of following your heart even if it hurts other people, do what feels good to you. This couple in the movie built their relationship completely on the opposite of God’s pattern. It was full rebellion, disregarding authority in their life, following selfish whims, and givenness to immorality. And then the movie portrays them growing old together, loving each other at the end of their lives, and dying in each other’s arms. Well, I agree it’s a very romantic ending, but it’s very deceptive because you can’t lay that kind of a foundation and get that kind of a result.
But as girls begin to meditate and dwell on these things, their thought life is influenced and they begin to think, Oh it’s not so bad to compromise in this area. Or, I think I can get away with doing this because look at that couple in the movie. Now you may not come right out and say that you believe that Hollywood’s version of romance is right, but subtly it will influence the way that you reason and the way that you approach this area of your life.
The Bible says that “Bad company corrupts good character.” And that is certainly true when it comes to movies, novels, and other things that we allow to influence us.
I also knew a young woman once who had decided – even though she was a Christian, even though she knew the Bible, she grew up in a Christian home – but she decided that it was okay for a married person to leave their spouse and go off with somebody else as long as that other person was their soul mate.
Well, where did she get that idea? She got that idea from a bunch of Hollywood movies and a bunch of romance novels probably that portrayed having an affair as right, healthy, good, and romantic. And so even though she knew God’s truth, she was allowing the lies of the culture to shape her thinking and influence her in the wrong direction.
When it comes to guarding your mental purity, another thing that I think single women struggle with a lot is what do they do with thoughts of attraction against a guy. So guarding against those unhealthy influences, those wrong versions of romance that are promoted by the culture is a great first step because that will protect you from fantasizing in the wrong way and lowering your standards in the wrong way in your relationships with members of the opposite sex. But when you’re attracted to a guy – say he’s a strong Christian guy, he’s walking with the Lord, he’s the kind of guy you could see yourself marrying someday, and you’re struggling with the distracting thoughts of being attracted to him. It’s important to remember that being attracted to someone isn’t wrong as a single woman if you notice the qualities in a single man that’s something that is very normal, but what you do with the attraction is what really matters.
First, it’s so important to give it back to God in an attitude of surrender, rather than thinking, Well I see this guy. I like this guy. I’m going to cling to the hope of this relationship and not let go of it. My life is going to be on hold until something finally happens. That’s not having a surrendered attitude toward God. Immediately giving it back to God and saying, “Lord, I thank You for the qualities that I see in this person, but if this is not the one that You have for me, I know that Your plans for me are perfect for my life, and I surrender this back to You.”
Then begin to discipline your mind not to run away with you and start fantasizing about the possibility of a relationship with this guy, but discipline your mind to take every thought captive. If the enemy tries to throw those distracting thoughts into your mind, especially during a prayer time or during worship time, begin meditating on Scripture. Have certain Scriptures that you’ve memorized, that you can immediately turn your mind back to Truth, and pray for people in your life that need Jesus. That’s a great tool to get your mind more focused on things of spiritual and eternal value instead of just running away with dreams and desires for the future.
Don’t buy the lie that the only way that you can be happy is if something happens with that particular guy. Remember, God has something for you that is perfect for your life – even if it’s not what you think it should be. It’s always going to be the very best for you.
3. Guarding Spiritual Purity
Leslie Ludy: The third practical that I want to share is to guard your spiritual purity. Again, something else that is so often overlooked when we’re focusing on outward purity, we so often forget about emotional purity, abut mental purity, and spiritual purity. What I mean by this is that Jesus Christ must remain your First Love.
If you are putting all your hopes, dreams, and desires into the idea of marriage, whether you’re married and you’re saying, “Well, I can’t be truly fulfilled until my spouse becomes the man that I want him to be.” Or you’re single and you’re saying, “Well, I can’t really be happy until I finally meet the guy that God has for me and we ride off into the sunset together.” The reality is that Jesus is enough to fulfill you right here, right now, no matter what season of life you’re in, when you build your life around Him and make Him your first love and learn how to find your fulfillment in Him. If you’re putting your hopes and expectations in marriage, you are always going to be disappointed because you’re going to be looking to a human person to meet needs in your heart that only Jesus Christ can meet.
Now I said earlier that people used to tell me the best way to prepare for marriage was to date around and to get into all of these short-term flings. I learned the hard way that that wasn’t true, but what I did realize in that season of my life was that the best way that I could prepare for marriage truly was to learn how to find my fulfillment in Christ, how to make Him my First Love, how to cultivate that spiritual purity in my life where He was my All in all. And as I did that, I found that I was not pining after a relationship. I wasn’t tempted to go out there and flirt with guys. I wasn’t putting my happiness on hold until a guy finally came into my life and a lot of the temptations toward impurity just began to melt away because I was secure and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. That really only happens by spending time with Him. The Bible says, “Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you.” And that’s what I began to do in that season of my life. I love what Corrie ten Boom says about this that when you are building your life around Jesus Christ then “you can be truly happy with or without a husband because you are secure in Christ alone.” So whether you’re married or single, find your fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Leslie Ludy: If you would like to learn more about how to take the concept of inner purity deeper in your life, I encourage you to participate in our Secrets to an Amazing Love Story online course which is available at our website here only for a limited time only until February 22nd. But this is over ten hours of video teaching from my husband Eric and I about everything that we learned about keeping Christ at the center of a relationship before and after marriage. I hope that you’ll join us for that powerful course. Whether you are single or whether you are wanting to influence a single person, I encourage you to lay this area of your life before God and say, “Lord, build inner purity within me. First cleanse the inside of the cup and dish and naturally outward purity will be the result.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. For more on this, for articles and resources, please visit our website setapart.org or Ellerslie.com. Have a blessed and Christ-centered week!