It’s a beautiful sight to see a crystal clear river, lake, or even an ocean. Just look at the water and you can see straight down to the bottom. There is no silt, no debris—just clear, clean water.
Our minds can be like that water. If we pursue what’s good, our minds can be like crystal clear water, with nothing polluting them.
But it can be a struggle for all of us to be consistent Christians—to maintain purity in our minds. What can we do? There are practical things that we can do to sustain godly purity or to attain purity when we’ve fallen short.
You try to attend church services every week. You listen to the sermons. You may read of biblical examples illustrating the kind of person you’re supposed to be.
You know what’s right, but why so often does wrong seem acceptable? Maybe it’s not things that look blatantly evil, but those things we tend to justify, ignore or convince ourselves aren’t really that bad.
How do you think God feels toward those who strive to run from sin and pursue righteousness? “The Lord loves the one who pursues righteousness,” He says.
You might say: I don’t cheat on my spouse. But maybe you look at a little porn. Yet that’s not really cheating, right?
Or you might think: I’m not an alcoholic. But maybe you drink a bit too much at times. It’s not really that big of a sin, is it?
Societal influences around us are powerful. Human nature impacts our choices. And we may end up giving in to thoughts and actions we shouldn’t—and then all too often rationalizing our behavior. The lines blur between right and wrong, between our immediate wants and what God commands for our good.
How can we be more consistent as Christians? “Can right and wrong be partners? Can light have anything in common with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14, God’s Word Translation).
Can we be marginal Christians and still claim to truly be Christian? Is there a happy medium between doing what’s right and sin? God says no. And all of us need to develop clear thinking on this matter and strive with His help to remain pure!
Here’s a paraphrase of God’s instruction in this context:
“‘So leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good,’ says God. ‘Don’t link up with those who will pollute you. I want you all for myself. I’ll be a Father to you; you’ll be sons and daughters to me’” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18, The Message).
We’re told that such compromise is not acceptable to God. We can’t be okay with things that pollute us or simply try to ignore them. A little pollution is still toxic. We’re constantly challenged by impurity that surrounds us.
Impurity comes in so many different forms. You may be someone who views pornography on the Internet. Perhaps you’re a young mom who watches “mildly” scandalous movies while your children sleep. Or maybe you’re a grandmother who reads racy romance novels.
Again, these are all very different activities, but they’re all forms of the same thing—impurity. Even though we may think it’s minor, don’t be fooled. The Word of God describes it as a very serious problem. Notice what the Bible says: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3, New International Version).
We must remove every bit of these things from our lives! What’s more, it’s not enough just to oppose evil—we must also do good. We have to replace these negative activities with the positive ones. We have to change our mind, transform our thinking, so that our actions will be different.
Here’s another way to think of it, returning to our opening analogy of clear water: Our minds can be compared to a river, with thoughts that flow through it like the water in a stream. Have you noticed that waterways have interesting features? They have many different colors.
Take China’s Yellow River, for instance. Why is it called yellow? It crosses a plateau that’s blanketed with almost 1,000 feet of fine, yellowish wind-blown soil that it picks up along the way.
The Rio de la Plata is a brownish color. That’s because of sediment the river has carried from the Parana and Uruguay rivers. It flows into the beautiful blue waters of the South Atlantic Ocean.
The Sava River in Slovenia has a water color that’s always murky gray-green. This color comes from certain minerals in the riverbed.
And then there’s the Black River in Alaska. It gets its namesake dark color partly because of organic material it flows over.
What’s the connection with the way that we think?
Just as these rivers are colored by the substances they pick up as they flow along, so are the streams of our minds. Our thoughts are shaded by the material we channel into our minds. Just as a river is tinted by what it touches, so our minds are affected by what we see, by what we read and by the things we hear.
Evil—pornography, immoral or immodest people, bad language and the like—can taint our thinking, and more so with more exposure. If we’re not careful, as with that tinged river water these things will stain our minds to an off color. Instead of clean, clear thoughts, they’ll turn cloudy, yellow, black or green! It becomes a silty mess that separates us from the kind of person we really want to be.
Flee the ways of this world
We know we should avoid all things that stir up wrong thinking and attack our spirituality. So when an immoral or wicked thought enters our minds, no matter how small, we must wash it out immediately. Yet it’s difficult because we live in a world overflowing with evil!
Like those rivers that run, we have to be Christians who run. What does that mean? Again and again the Bible instructs us that we should run. What are we running from? We’re told to flee sexual sin, flee idolatry, flee the love of money and desire for material things, and flee youthful lusts (1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Corinthians 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22).
So if we are true people of God, we have to keep on fleeing—continually be on the run. We must constantly run from wrong influences and environments and circumstances conducive to sin!
The original Greek word for “flee” in the cited passages is pheugo. In fact, the word “fugitive” derives from that word. So the Bible doesn’t simply compare us to a sprinter running on a track. We have to be like someone who is running to escape a pursuer.
Think of it this way: Sin is chasing us, and we have to run. Like running from an attacking enemy, or running from a dangerous animal—we have to run from the ways of this world. In fact, not just once in a while, not occasionally, not just every so often. Rather, at all times Christians must be runners. We can’t stand still. We must flee those things that would taint us and corrupt us. And of course, it’s possible to succeed!
Overcoming addiction to sin
Being distracted by wayward pleasures around us is a common affliction for many people today. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Let’s not label them simply “pleasures”—they are sin! Being distracted by sin is a common affliction today. All too often, we justify ourselves when we do what’s not right.
Here’s the challenge: We have a tendency to convince ourselves that all is fine. We think: “Well, I’m not as bad as some people. Certainly, I’m not as bad as that guy there. I’m not addicted like he is.” So we kid ourselves and try to minimize the issue—reasoning that some things we do are just “little sins,” not “big sins.”
But Jesus Himself said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34). It’s true that not every sin leads to an automatic addiction. But think of this: We are all addicted—not just to this sin or that, but to sin itself.
We’re told that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, English Standard Version). You see, our normal, natural, everyday heart is extremely sick and addicted to sin. So what can we do?
Even though all Christians should be runners, it’s not enough just to flee from evil. While continually running from wrong, we must also constantly be running toward what’s right. “Turn away from what is sinful. Do what is good. Look for peace and go after it” (1 Peter 3:11, New Life Version).
God gives us the pattern. He tells us again, in other words, “See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
Pursue what is good
Yes, there are things coming after us—sins that are out to get us—that we must avoid. But there’s something ahead of us that we want to catch. Scripture is clear that we must continually be pursuing, constantly chasing, always running after what’s right.
As Christians, we’re not only fleeing from the negative but we’re replacing that negative by pursuing the positive and chasing what’s godly—the good things.
In a nutshell, our life is not just running from what’s wrong, it’s running toward and replacing it with what’s right.
The lesson is: If we stop running from what is evil, it’s going to catch us. If we stop pursuing what is righteous, it will elude us. So it’s not just a lesson for those addicted to drugs, alcohol, porn or anything else. In this life, we as Christians will never be at a point where we’ve run so far that we’ve finally outdistanced what’s wrong. And it’s also true that we’ll never be at the point where we’ve fully captured what’s right.
How do you think God feels toward those who strive to run from sin and pursue righteousness? He “loves the one who pursues righteousness” (Proverbs 15:9, New Revised Standard Version, emphasis added). That’s what Scripture says. He loves those who strive to catch what is good in their lives.
We have to ask ourselves: What do I pursue? Where do I direct my energy? What is it that occupies my mind? Is life simply about success, promotion and possessions? You see, that’s the question: Are we really chasing what’s spiritual?
Paul told Timothy to pursue “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, [and] gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). Said another way, we should pursue “peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
That’s the sign of a Christian—shown both by what they run from and by what they run after. Most importantly, we should realize that God has not called us to fail but to succeed. He is on our side! We can overcome even those so-called “little” sins. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV). That’s a promise! God can and will help us to overcome.
The blessings are worth the effort
When we repent, and commit ourselves and our thinking to God and trust in Him with a faithful heart, He guarantees to help us through the struggles and the obstacles of life. “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
God tells us to be passionate and say “yes!” to the good things—because it’s worth it! Just think of the emotional benefits—freedom from the guilt, freedom from emotional wounds that would scar us for life, freedom from worry, fear and anxiety.
The blessings don’t stop there. When we pursue purity it changes our relationships. It changes our values. It transforms our character and even changes how we view ourselves.
Most importantly, it changes our relationship with God. We no longer have to be marginal Christians. We can have a pure conscience before God. We see His perfect, clear will for our own life, and we’re motivated to have a right, pure, growing relationship with Him in every way. That’s the kind of purity that’s within reach. You don’t have to feel that you’re out there on your own with no help. God is there and ready and willing to help you!
There is no perfect Christian, and none of us can do this ourselves. In fact, Paul said, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).
A sacrifice was killed. So a living sacrifice just means that we dedicate every bit of our lives to learning and growing in becoming Christlike and in doing what’s pleasing to God. Paul goes on: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). The renewing of our mind requires God’s Spirit. We can get discouraged. We’re all addicted to sin in one form or another, but we can overcome sin through the power of God’s Spirit dwelling in us.
There is real hope. You don’t have to kid yourself that wrong choices are not really sins or that somehow “living in the gray area” is okay. We can’t honestly claim to be Christian if we live in constant compromise between wrong desires and purity. “All those who focus their hopes on Him and His coming seek to purify themselves just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3, The Voice).
Let’s be dedicated to stop hurting ourselves and wholeheartedly seek what’s best. We can have clean, clear minds, free of debris and silt, and have crystal-clear waters of a pure heart. God assures us that with His help and guidance, change is possible.
Let’s make it our aim to run from anything and everything that leads to wrong and to instead pursue what is good and godly!