I didn’t grow up in church. I was seven or so the first time I remember visiting one—it was a little Vietnamese church in my neighborhood. Michelle Nguyen invited me, and even though I’m pretty sure she swiped my Aladdin VHS, her sister was always nice to me and her mom made the best egg rolls I’ve ever had. Sometimes the gospel reaches you through deep-fried pork.
God and Vietnamese were both foreign to me. But the name “Jesus” drew me in.
This article was curated by the Purity issue's guest editor, Rachel Joy Welcher.
The room was rainbow bright, exactly like you’d expect a Sunday school class to be, and the teachers seemed kind. They smiled a lot and sent me home with a souvenir: a little bookmark with a cartoon old man—okay so that must be . . . Noah? He’s an old Bible guy—and the ten commandments—yes, that sounds right, Noah and The Ten Commandments. To me, it was a treasure.
I’ve since lost the bookmark, and I’ve since grown in my Bible knowledge (it wasn’t Noah), but I never lost those two things: Jesus’s name still holds that captivating power and God’s word is still precious to me.
After years of “just visiting,” I unpacked my suitcase full of other assorted bookmarks, memory verses, and t-shirts, and made church my home. Once I settled in, I discovered that what I missed in felt board Bible stories and youth group bonfires I made up for in my understanding of God’s grace.
Avoiding the Purity Talk
No one taught me “purity” (code for virginity) was supposed to be the banner of the believer.
Turns out for a lot of people who grew up in church, or rather, in the casual, cool Christianity of the Bible Belt, the treasure was not the word made flesh who dwelt among us, but words about you according to the people you dwelt among. Reputation was god, virginity the sacrifice. And if your sacrifice was gone—whether someone took it from you, or you, as they say, “lost it,” well, then, that was it.
This would’ve been really, really bad news for me.
I knew I was defiled. I scrubbed my body red and raw under scalding water and burning tears to wash away what was done to me.
I knew I was unclean. I perpetuated hurt and pain because there was murder in my heart.
I didn’t need a “purity talk” to tell me these things. And I’m glad I missed the early aughts’ edition anyway.
The way people tell it, I imagine the experience was something like this: You have a broken ankle. Maybe you were doing something you shouldn’t have been doing or maybe someone outright tackled you. The point is, you know you’re in pain. When you’re finally seen at the clinic, they roughly jostle your leg and huff over you like they’re annoyed you need help. Then with an air of indifference they say, “yeah, there seems to be a fracture here; you’ll be crippled for the rest of your life.” You never even got to see the surgeon.
Too many women and men who share similar experiences to mine, have hobbled away from the church saying, “I guess purity just isn’t for me.”
By his grace, I didn’t learn about purity that way.
I came into the family of God like a foreigner. Like Rahab, I offered him space in my sullied chambers because I recognized his name; I wanted to tether myself to him; I needed a refuge. Like Ruth, I laid myself down at his feet, vulnerable and acutely aware of my need for redemption.
Refuge. Redeemer. Jesus.
God Brought it About
Purity came to me by way of my Bible. Specifically, my first Bible.
There was some fold or defect in the binding, because every time I opened it, I landed in 2 Chronicles 29. As you could probably guess, I wasn’t much of a Chronicles reader in the early years of my faith. I had a lot of catching up to do. John. Psalms. Scanning through those stories you might’ve heard from Veggie Tales. So, I kept flipping.
Until one day I went to one of my favorite spots on the edge of the town lake and a light, but insistent breeze kept putting me back there. I was desperate for God to meet with me.
Okay, today’s the day.
Here’s all I knew at the time of my first reading of Chronicles: God’s temple was supposed to be the place where he dwelt among his people. It was supposed to be clean (you might say pure). It wasn’t. There were those who defiled his temple from within, and there were enemies that ransacked and ravaged the temple of God from without.
I started with the chapter heading to get my bearings, “Hezekiah Purifies the Temple.” The wind picked up and I caught my breath.
After a long line of wicked kings, Hezekiah begins to reign and immediately sets to work. He opens the doors of the temple, repairs them, and assembles the priests and Levites to remove all defilement from the Holy Place. They purify the temple completely and worship God with singing and trumpets. They bring offerings and sacrifices in such abundance it’s almost too much to process, but they don’t stop until the work is finished. And then we come to my favorite part:
“all the people rejoiced because God had provided for the people, for the thing came about suddenly” (2 Chronicles 29:36 ESV).
The temple was purified. God brought it about. And it was done suddenly.
Truth literally fell into my lap. This was my introduction to purity. Those persistent pages beckoned me into his bigger story. It was the gospel in a language I could finally understand. And it was the best news I’d ever heard.
I was shown a purity much bigger than my virginity (or lack thereof), it was meant for more than my body, it was about all of me.
All the neglect, violation, and abuse, every lie that had ever been directed at me. My exhausting life of duplicity, manipulation, anger, roughness, and fear. Here was this ancient king showing me a tangible picture of how I, like the temple—indeed as a temple of the Holy Spirit—could be cleansed.
God purified me in an instant—body, mind, heart, and soul.
I looked out over the water moving gently with the breeze. It was clear and brimming with life. And so was I. I had tried to rinse and rid myself of all defilement, but I couldn’t do it. The purification God wrought felt like more than being washed—it felt like being stripped of what was dirty to be filled with what was clean.
In the story of the temple in 2 Chronicles 29 it wasn’t a power wash that cleansed the temple; it was the profusion of wholehearted sacrifices and offerings. Purity has always been a bloodbath. And in Jesus, God provided one perfect sacrifice that could purify us all.
He absorbed my defilement like the sour sponge, and then poured his perfectly pure self out.
And he filled me to overflowing, because purity isn’t just for me.
Not only is my body a temple, but our bodies are members of Christ. We are the temple.
The priests of 2 Chronicles didn’t purify themselves and the temple so it could stand there as a pristine monument. They reestablished it for sanctified service.
The Root of Joy
With the temple purified, 2 Chronicles 30 tells us that Hezekiah sent messengers far and wide proclaiming the grace and mercy of God and calling the divided kingdom together to celebrate Passover—a feast acknowledging the innocent blood that spared their people when God rescued their forefathers from bondage in Egypt. The purification of the house of the Lord culminated in a meal at his table. It prompted worship, generosity, service, reconciliation, hospitality, rejoicing, prayer, and the destruction of idols in the land. “There was great joy in Jerusalem,” verse 26 tells us.
The joy experienced by all of Jerusalem in 1 Chronicles 30 is offered to us as well. Not because of a purity rooted in performance but because of a purity rooted in his sacrifice. One that responds to God’s grace and mercy not our own works. One that sees no purpose in estranging other believers but that gathers our estranged brothers and sisters and even foreigners—like I once was—to celebrate and worship.
My children will “grow up in the church” as it were, and I hope they don’t limp away saying, “this whole purity thing just isn’t for me.” I hope they’ll eat the bread, drink the cup, and be so full of his goodness that they’ll say, “purity isn’t just for me,” and maybe invite a friend to church.
Cover image by Ron Whitaker.