’Tis the season for holiday baking and all things sweet—pumpkin pies and frosted cutouts and the chocolate sugar-dusted crinkle cookie. Each year on holiday baking day, I empty the pantry and line the counter with all the ingredients we’ll need. Nobody taste-tests the flour or oil, but, inevitably, one of my children attempts to sample the baking cocoa.
I’m never quite sure whether I should stop them or let them discover the bitter taste on their own. Accustomed to Hershey bars and Nutella sandwiches, they’re not prepared for the unsweetened, unadulterated taste of pure cocoa. To the maladjusted palate, purity tastes bad.
To the maladjusted palate, purity tastes bad.
I confess that purity often tastes like that in my life as well. Accustomed to the saccharine temptations the world offers, I try to live like Jesus, only to find his high calling for purity off-putting. His commands to remain untainted by the world, to live as a light in darkness—these feel extreme, nearly impossible to swallow.
My attempts at obedience leave only a bitter taste in my mouth. I imagine holiness needs something added, like the sugar I stir into my cookie batter to make the bitterness go down easier and dampen the sharp taste. Surely, I reason, Jesus’s commands with a dollop of the world’s sweetness mixed in would be much more satisfying.
But when God calls you and me to purity, he knows a better recipe than we do. He sees that the false sweetness of worldly thoughts and actions only feeds our gluttony for more. He understands that satisfaction is found in tasting exclusively of his sufficiency. And he longs to help us see that purity actually tastes good when we develop a palate for it.
In his divine patience, God waits as we taste-test the world and still come back craving something deeper. He repeats the recipe—be holy as I am holy, flee from immorality, keep yourself pure—as many times as needed, knowing that we’ll only find satisfaction when we taste and see that his way is best.
He sees that the false sweetness of worldly thoughts and actions only feeds our gluttony for more.
A few years ago, a friend decided for health reasons to give up chocolate candy. He still loved the taste of cocoa, so over time he taught himself to enjoy pure, unsweetened chocolate. He eased his way in—85 percent cacao, 90 percent cacao, and finally a solid bar of baker’s chocolate.
Over time, his palate adjusted. Now, he says, everything else is too sweet. He enjoys the taste of pure cocoa and the knowledge that he isn’t damaging his body with excess sugar. Embracing purity, he discovered, could bring both health and delight.
The apostle Paul exhorts the Philippians, “whatever is pure . . . think about these things.” Before we cringe and think the calling is too high or the requirement too bitter to stomach, may we consider that the Lord always knows best how to satisfy his people. As we train our spiritual palates to obey his commands, we will learn to proclaim with the psalmist, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103).
This article is part of a series on Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”