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The clock was showing 2 a.m. when my phone began to ring. As I rolled out of bed, I looked at the caller ID: it was my best friend. At first I was tempted to ignore his call, but for him to be calling this late at night had to mean it was an emergency.

When I picked up the phone, immediately he confessed to having sex with one of his classmates the day before. By the disheartening tone of his voice, I could tell that he had been crying before he called.

“I can’t believe that I had sex again, man,” he said. “I am so sick and tired of falling into sexual sin. What’s wrong with me and why do I keep doing this to myself?” My friend is not a new Christian. He is the leader of his campus ministry at his college, and on many occasions has led Bible studies on the topic of sexual purity. He participates in a weekly accountability group disciples a group of young men in his community. He reads his Bible regularly and is deeply involved with his local church. Even though he has done everything right on the proverbial Christian checklist, he still fell into sexual sin. He is not a hypocrite; he is a sinner who needs the grace of Jesus Christ to make him pure.

Yes to Godliness

When most of us hear the word purity our minds automatically think of abstinence or virginity, but purity is far greater than the two. A person can be a virgin and still not be pure. A person can be married and never have an affair but still not be pure. On the other hand, a person can be pure even with a sexually promiscuous past. Purity is not just saying no to sex before marriage. Purity is not just saying yes to sex in marriage. Purity is saying yes to godliness.

The Greek word for purity used in the New Testament is hagneia, which can also be translated as “sinlessness of life.” While we look at the word sinlessness and automatically exclude ourselves from being pure because of sins in our past, we are forgetting that as Christians our identity rests in what Christ has done for us. When God looks at us he doesn’t see wicked, evil, sinners he is forced to love because he couldn’t find anyone better. He views us as blameless, righteous saints he willingly died for on the cross out of overwhelming love.

Notice that whenever Paul writes his letters to the New Testament churches, he always addresses the recipients as as saints, not sinners. Even the Corinthian church—one of the most immoral, rebellious, and sexually promiscuous—Paul addresses as saints because their identity rests in Christ: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

As blameless saints, purity is possibile for all of us. As 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we submit our sexuality to Christ, confess to God and others when we sin, and proactively fight against sin every day, we are pure regardless of what we have done in our past. So purity isn’t merely defined with regard to sexual actions but also how we faithfully pursue God with our intentions and the thoughts of our hearts.

Purity Is Possible

To all who have fallen into sexual sin in the past or currently wrestle with it, don’t ever forget that your identity in Christ is based upon what God has done for you. I know that I can easily begin to condemn myself for my past sexual experiences. I start to think that God may be holding out any joy from me because of the sins I’ve committed. Instead of trusting in his Word and promises I begin to believe the lies of my mind, and these thoughts begin to negatively affect my relationship with God and others.

Only by God’s grace can imperfect people, who fall short on a daily basis, stand forever pure before a holy and perfect God. And only through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit can we proactively fight sin and overcome struggles.