Can I Do Anything With Completely Pure Motives?

“To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” —Titus 1:15

Much of what we do in life comes down to our motives. A person with a pure heart does all things—even difficult things—with the motive of glorifying God and loving others. A person with a defiled heart does all things—even seemingly good things—with selfish motives. True goodness, then, is not merely a matter of outward behavior, but inward disposition.

Often the primary difference between the two people contrasted in Titus 1:15 (the pure person and the defiled person) is not what they do, but why they do it. Both may wake up, go to work, interact with coworkers, come home, eat dinner, watch a TV show, and go to bed. Yet for one person, all these activities are pure, while for the other, none are pure. How can this be? More importantly, how can we know which person describes us?

Without faith it is impossible to please God

“To the pure, all things are pure” does not mean that some people never sin or that their sins don’t count. Rather, it means all the efforts and day-to-day activities of the pure-hearted are uniquely pleasing to God.1 The writer of Hebrews tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6; cf. Romans 8:7–8). Yet with faith, every act of obedience is not only acceptable to God, but actually becomes “an ingredient in the divine happiness,” to quote C. S. Lewis.

Because the pure-hearted person seeks to do everything to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 5:9)—even things as seemingly mundane as cooking, paying bills, and folding laundry—each moment of her life brims with eternal significance (Matthew 6:3–4; 1 Cor. 3:11–14; Colossians 3:23–24).

Indeed, the believer’s very life pleases God (Psalm 149:4). Sanctified perfectly by Christ’s blood, day-to-day activities such as eating, drinking, sleeping, working, walking, talking, playing, and breathing all glorify God and delight his heart, as this is what he created his children to do! Like an earthly father smiling watching his newborn sleep, eat, and breathe, God delights in the very lives of his children.2

But is anything I do truly pure?

I have wrestled with this question ever since I became a Christian. The more I perceive the extent of my sinfulness, the more I am convinced I cannot fully overthrow my sinful nature for even a second in this life. I simply cannot do anything without a stray molecule of selfishness or impurity tainting my volition. I relate deeply to Tim Keller’s words: “If you wait until your motives are pure and unselfish before you do something, you will wait forever.”

Here’s the good news: Jesus shed his blood not only for our evil acts, but also for our good (but not perfectly pure) acts, to make them pure and acceptable in God’s sight (Ephesians 5:25–27; Revelation 19:7–8). For the believer, every genuine effort to glorify God is purified by the blood of Christ and presented to God in splendor, truly pleasing to him, as if Christ himself had done it perfectly (cf. John 8:29; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:25–27). This includes our distracted prayers, imperfect obedience, partially selfish service, worship that could’ve been more affectionate, and mundane, everyday tasks.

God is not waiting for you to offer flawless service to him before he is pleased by you. If that were the case, none of us would be able to please God until heaven. God delights in each of his children now—even while they’re still riddled with sin (cf. Romans 5:6–8)—because the blood of Christ purifies their lives and works completely. Yet God doesn’t sanctify his children in order to love them; he sanctifies them because he loves them. God’s love comes before, even initiates, his purification.

We can (and should) pursue growth in holiness with confidence and hope, knowing that God intends to purify our hearts more and more as we walk with him (Titus 2:11–14), and obedience is the path to life (Proverbs 12:28). Yet we can also rest knowing all our acts of faith—though still riddled with imperfect motives—are acceptable and pleasing to God, even now, through the blood of Christ.

Freedom by the blood

As sinners, we are all by nature Person #2 in Titus 1:15 (the one with a defiled and unbelieving heart). Fortunately, Jesus is in the business of purifying hearts and cleansing consciences (Titus 2:11–14). He intends to remake us, right our desires, absolve our guilt, and lead us on paths of righteousness. Through Christ, we become pure in heart (Matthew 5:8; 1 John 3:3). This happens as we live in continual repentance and communion with Christ through the means of grace (Acts 2:42; 1 John 1:9).

So rejoice, believer, in both your repentance and obedience, knowing your entire being—body and soul—is fully submerged in the cleansing blood of Christ. Your evil works are forgiven by the blood, your good works are purified by the blood, and your entire life is sanctified by the blood. Your very existence is an ingredient in God’s happiness, and one day you will be presented to Christ in splendor, without spot or blemish (Ephesians 5:25–27; Revelation 19:7–8).

Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you for the precious blood of Christ, which I need today and every day. Forgive me for my impure thoughts and motives. Sanctify my heart by your Word and Spirit. Help me to embody the purity, love, and obedience of Christ today, for your glory and the good of all. I love you, Lord. Amen.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila ReportMonergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Watch or listen to “With Us in the Wilderness” (sermon) here.

Read “That Decompressing Exhale For Which Our Souls Long” here.

Read “Do You Want to be Healed?” here.

Read “Five Habits That Kill Contentment” here.

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.

Footnotes

Do You Want to be Healed?

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes a man who carried the lizard of lust on his shoulder. The lizard tormented the man night and day, and the man could never seem to escape its tyranny. 

One day, God sent the Holy Spirit to rescue the man from his serpentine tormentor. In order to free the man, the Spirit would have to kill the lizard. The man—having become quite attached to the lizard—was hesitant at the thought of this operation, intuiting that the lizard’s death would require a kind of death to himself. 

Below is an excerpt from the interaction (the Holy Spirit is poetically described as an angel and the man as a ghost):

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?’ said the flaming Spirit—an angel, as I now understood.

‘Of course I would,’ said the Ghost.

Then I will kill him,’ said the Angel, taking a step forward.

Oh—ah—look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,’ said the Ghost, retreating.

‘Don’t you want him killed?’

‘You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.’

‘It’s the only way,’ said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the Lizard. ‘Shall I kill it?’

‘Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here—well, it’s so damned embarrassing.’

‘May I kill it?’

‘Well, there’s time to discuss that later.’

‘There is no time. May I kill it?’

‘Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please—really—don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.’

Don’t you want your sin killed?

The Apostle John records a similar interaction between Jesus and a sick man (see John 5:1-9). The man had been lame for 38 years before he met Jesus. Curiously, instead of immediately healing the man upon meeting him, Jesus first asks him an odd question:

“Do you want to be healed?” (v. 6)

On the surface, this question may seem offensive to us. We picture the man having the same thought as the lizard-tormented ghost in Lewis’s story—Of course I want to be healed! What kind of question is that?

Yet Jesus’s question isn’t quite as strange when we remember that his healings reflect spiritual realities—and that Jesus often asks us the same question as we lie paralyzed with indwelling sin:

Do you want to be healed? Do you want to be freed from this sin you are clinging to?

If we are honest with ourselves, our answer is often no. (Or, at best, a mix of yes and no.) That is, after all, why we continue to sin. Like the ghost in Lewis’s story, we are hesitant to let the Holy Spirit kill the slimy creature which oppresses us—afraid that such an operation would require a kind of death to ourselves.

Wanting to want what God wants

By asking us what we truly want, Jesus exposes the sickness that exists in our hearts. Fortunately, Jesus never exposes us to harm us. He exposes us to heal us. While Jesus isn’t surprised that sinners want to sin, he does grieve when he sees sin’s stranglehold—and he wants to free us from its crippling tyranny (see Romans 7:18-8:11; Revelation 1:5).

So, what can we do if our answer to Jesus’s question is no? What can we do if we—like the ghost in The Great Divorce—don’t fully want to be freed from the sin which oppresses us?

Here’s the good news: While you may not presently want what God wants, if you only want to want what God wants, the Holy Spirit can work with that. God has long been in the business of righting the desires of willing hearts.

Start by making this confession to God: “Lord, right now, it’s clear that my heart doesn’t fully want what you want. Forgive me for this. But I want to want what you want. Will you help me get there?”

That prayer—Lord, help me to want what you want—is one God loves to answer. Commit to praying this daily for a month. Ask him to show you steps you can take toward healing and commit to taking these steps. Then watch how God provides.

Trying to heal ourselves

The lame man’s response to Jesus’s question is noteworthy: “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up—and while I am going, another steps down before me” (v. 7).

In other words, the man says, “Of course I want to be healed—I have been trying to heal myself for 38 years. I’ve even looked to other people to save me. And it hasn’t worked.”

How often is this our response to Jesus? “I have been trying to heal myself for years. And it hasn’t worked.”

And guess what? That’s the point. We can’t heal ourselves. Sure, we may be able to crowbar our way to better behavior. But we can’t crowbar our way to true healing. True, lasting, heart-transforming healing comes through Jesus alone.

Our ultimate hope

This, of course, is not to say that our efforts don’t matter. God commands us to put to death what is earthly in us (Colossians 3:5-17). Beyond that, Jesus almost always uses ordinary means to meet us and heal us—consistent time in God’s word and prayer, regular fellowship and accountability from the body of Christ, an ongoing practice of communion, worship, and service, setting up roadblocks to sin, and yes, good ol’ self-discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

The question is not whether or not we should work hard at sanctification. We should. The question is where our ultimate hope rests.

If we think the gospel is that when we sin, we just need to try harder, we are missing the whole point. Our highest goal in this life—and in sanctification itself—should not be sinning less, but knowing Jesus more (which will, invariably, lead to new obedience).

Which race are you running?

As you run the race of faith, what words are on the banner above the finish line? What are you sprinting toward? Is it “Be better”? “Try harder”? “Sin less”? None of these are the path to true freedom and healing.

The path to true freedom and healing is found beneath the banner which reads “Know Jesus” (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2, also see Philippians 3:7-11). Don’t put your ultimate hope in your own ability to do better. Put your ultimate hope in Jesus—run to him, and let him heal you.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and Crosswalk.com and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila ReportMonergism.com, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Read “Five Habits That Kill Contentment” here.

Read “Three Ways to Glorify God in Worry and Anxiety” here.

Read “An Answer to Prayer Even Better Than Clarity” here.

Repentance That Leads To Death

Note: This article is also published on The Gospel Coalition.

“And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.’” —Acts 11:18

Repentance is the lifeblood of every Christian. Without it we cannot enjoy freedom or fellowship with God—or with one another—in the way God intended. As Thomas Brooks put it, “Repentance is a continual spring, where the waters of godly sorrow are always flowing.” Yet, there is an extremely common misinterpretation (and misapplication) of repentance that does not lead to life and freedom, but actually leads to death and slavery. I know this from firsthand experience.

When we think about repentance, many of us rightly think about the phrase “to turn away.” That is, in fact, the definition of the Hebrew word שׁוּב (pronounced “shoove”). To repent means to turn away (or turn back) from something and to turn to something else.

But where we often go wrong is in what we turn from and what we turn to.

Turn! Turn! Turn!

Fill in the blank: Repentance is turning away from ____________ and turning to ____________ . Which two words did you pick?

For me—up until recently—I probably would’ve said that repentance is turning away from sin and turning to righteousness.

But a brother in Christ reminded me of something a few months ago that has deepened my hope and joy in repentance ever since. He said, “Repentance is not primarily turning away from sin and turning to righteousness; repentance is primarily turning away from sin and turning to Christ (cf. Luke 1:16; 1 Thes. 1:9).

This is a subtle yet incalculably important nuance. One version of repentance leads to death; the other leads to life. One version leads to slavery; the other leads to freedom.

Subtle difference, enormous implications

If we believe that repentance is primarily about turning away from sin and turning to righteousnesswith Christ omitted from the equation—then every time we repent, we actually perpetuate and deepen our commitment to legalism. If we think the chief end of repentance is a behavior—not a Person—then every time we repent, we reinforce an anti-gospel message which says that our hope is in our own ability to “do better” next time.

Consider the vastly different outcomes of these two versions of repentance. If our response after we sin is, “God, I promise I will do better next time!”, then our hope is in ourselves, and we are on a fast track to despair (Romans 7:18-24). But if our response after we sin is, “God, I need you—give me a fresh measure of Christ and all of his benefits!”, then our hope is in our perfectly faithful God, and we are on the path to joy, peace, and yes, sanctification (Romans 7:24-8:6).

But what about holy living?

If you are particularly sensitive to antinomianism, you may be suspicious of this notion of repentance. By making “turning away from sin and turning to Christ” the primary mark of repentance, do we throw out the importance of pursuing new obedience? By no means! (Romans 6:1-4). In fact, just the opposite.

Consider how the Westminster Shorter Catechism defines repentance that leads to life.

Q. 87. What is repentance unto life?

A. 87. Repentance leading to life is a saving grace, by which a sinner having truly realized his sin and grasped the mercy of God in Christ, turns from his sin with grief and hatred and turns to God with full resolve and effort after new obedience.

If we were to nuance my friend’s statement using the language of the Westminster Divines, it might look something like this:

“Repentance is not turning away from sin and turning to righteousness; repentance is turning away from sin [with grief and hatred of it] and turning to Christ [with a resolve and effort after new obedience].”

The difference between these two definitions of repentance is not that one includes a pursuit of righteous living and the other does not. Rather, the difference is that one makes righteous living the primary focus and the other makes knowing Christ the primary focus.

Ironically, when we make “sinning less” our primary goal in repentance, we often overanalyze ourselves to death, get caught up in despair, and fall flat on our faces. Yet when we make “knowing Christ” our primary goal in repentance, we often get caught up in his beauty and find ourselves bearing the fruit of sanctification (John 15:4-5).

Free to fixate on your Savior (not your sin)

Believer, God has fully taken care of your sin in Christ—meaning you are free to take your own performance off the throne of your heart and to allow Christ to have his proper place. As Robert Murray McCheyne memorably put it, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”

May this be our battle cry in every area of our lives—repentance included.

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Blake Glosson is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been published by The Gospel Coalition and republished and/or referred by Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)Challies.com (Tim Challies), Moody Radio (Dawn and Steve Mornings—here and here), The JOY FM (The Morning Cruise with Dave, Bill, and Carmen)ChurchLeaders.comThe Aquila Report, and numerous other sources. Previously, he served as the director of young adults at New Covenant Bible Church in St. Charles, Illinois.

Watch or listen to “Forgiveness” here.

Read “Am I Sinning? Six Questions to Help You Navigate Gray Areas” here.

Read “Three Powerful Lessons From “American Underdog” (Kurt Warner)” here.

Source of modern version of WSC Q&A 87: R S Ward, Learning the Christian Faith : The Shorter Catechism for Today (Wantirna, 5th ed, 1998), cited in The Westminster Shorter Catechism in modern English with Scripture proofs and comments (online), 8 March 2022 <https://matt2819.com/wsc&gt; .

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