What Is “Emotional Purity”? – Purity Part 2

So before we can say whether or not emotional purity is good or bad, we first have to know what we’re talking about. What is emotional purity? Where did it come from?

I did a lot of research on the origins of the term “emotional purity,” and my research suggested that the term is actually fairly new. The vast majority of articles I found discussing emotional purity portrayed it in a negative light. It seems there are very few people who think emotional purity is a good thing.

After reading so many negative articles, it has caused me to rethink the whole issue quite a bit, and it has led me to conclude two things.

“Emotional Purity” is an unfortunate term. “Spiritual Purity” would be a better term to use.
Spiritual Purity is—in fact—Biblical.
Before I get to how I arrived at those conclusions, what is “emotional purity”? Most people just assume everyone already knows what it is, but based on how I’ve seen some people talk about emotional purity, it is clear they are talking about something completely different than what I have come to understand as “emotional purity.”
Some have the idea that emotional purity means suppressing any feelings of attraction for someone. Shutting down emotions.
Others describe emotional purity as “saving your heart” for the person you eventually marry.
And still others believe that emotional purity is rooted in fear, and simply a means to cope with the fear of getting hurt, a fear of “loving and losing.”
I think the easiest way to define emotional purity is to compare it to physical purity (though they certainly are distinct from one another).  Most Christians seem to believe at least some form of physical boundaries should exist before marriage.  We refer to physical purity as abstaining from intimate physical acts with someone outside of marriage. I’m going to define emotional purity within this same terminology.

Emotional Purity Defined:
Emotional purity is abstaining from intimate emotional acts with someone outside of marriage. In other words, saving the most intimate non-physical parts of yourself for your future spouse. 
Well, just what is an emotionally intimate act? Are emotionally intimate acts outside of marriage really wrong? I would say yes. Just as there are physical acts designed by God only for marriage, there are deep emotional experiences which are only meant to be for marriage.
In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus raised the bar of moral standards to an all new—impossible—height. Some Christians like to say Jesus abolished the law and now we don’t have to live under such morally high standards. Actually, it’s just the opposite. Jesus fulfilled the law (Matt. 5:17) and actually made righteousness even harder to obtain. Yes, He made the old law even harder.
Here is a relevant example, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28
Whoa! Seriously, Jesus? Before I just had to make sure not to actually commit the act of adultery, but now I’m guilty if I simply allow my thoughts to dwell there? Surely this is too much to ask. Jesus made it clear that perfection is much harder than we had previously thought to obtain. Of course, it is only impossible if we seek to attain righteousness on our own. With the Holy Spirit and working alongside God, this is actually very doable. One very wise man once said something along the lines of, “Being a disciple of Christ is either impossible, or it is easy.” This is a topic for another blog post, however.
How is this relevant to emotional purity? Well, what exactly is Jesus saying in Matthew 5:27-28? I think He is—in part—talking about emotional purity (although I think spiritual purity would be a better description). Why is it so wrong to lust after someone if it’s all in your head? You’re not actually doing anything wrong. No physical action, that is.
The reason looking with lust is wrong is because you are desiring something—someone—who doesn’t belong to you. Physical adultery is often referred to as being “unfaithful” to your spouse. Looking with lust is the same as committing emotional/mental unfaithfulness. Certainly, it’s not as bad as actually going out and committing the sinful act. In the same way, don’t go ahead and murder your brother just because hating him is akin to being a murderer. Jesus was a fan of hyperbole, and used the rhetorical device to great effect.
Therefore, lusting after someone is essentially tantamount to committing adultery. That’s the point Jesus was making.
Well, what is lust? Generally, lust is considered to be illicit sexual desire. Certainly, that can be a part of lust, but that’s not all lust is. As dictionary.com defines, lust is also “a yearning or desire; have a strong or excessive craving (often followed by for or after).” This why we have expressions like “blood lust,” to describe someone who has an insatiable desire to kill or harm.
Lust can therefore be either emotional or physical. Having a strong desire to “be in a relationship” with a particular person, or to be held by them, or to have them treat you as special, or to want to treat them as special, or have deep intimate conversations with them…these are all unhealthy desires because they are actions which would not be honoring to your future spouse. You would not do these activities with another member of the opposite gender when you are married. I know a lot of people won’t like me saying this, but often, what people call “innocent crushes” are actually a form of lust. Yearning for something or someone who isn’t for you, and forgetting to remain faithful to your future spouse, that is lust.

So just how committing a physical act of adultery displays unfaithfulness to our spouses, so too can we spiritually be unfaithful. And if we can be guilty of physical fornication, so too is there a form of spiritual fornication. True, actually going and committing a physical act is worse, but like Jesus said, it is still adultery if we lust after someone in our hearts.

What emotional purity is not:
This is not to say that attraction is bad, nor are emotions themselves bad. It’s perfectly good and fine to desire intimacy, or to want to experience the sensation of “being in love.” However, what makes those great gifts from God so meaningful and extraordinary is that they were designed for one special context: marriage. If you are accustomed to being emotionally and/or physically intimate with many different people before marriage, then when you get married, you will not associate those good things as only coming from marriage or your spouse. There will be a baggage that comes along with a lifestyle of impurity.
To some extent, attraction cannot be controlled. But we can control how we handle that attraction. Do we indulge in that natural attraction? Or do we instead seek to see the other person as a brother or sister in Christ? (1 Timothy 5:2).
Emotional purity is also not about seeking to repress or control emotions. Emotions are merely side-effects of what we allow ourselves to think about. Trying to control or shut down emotions usually only leads to harm. It’s like trying to keep your eyes open when you sneeze, it’s impossible, though if someone finds a way, supposedly their eyeballs would pop out (I’m pretty sure that’s myth, but it works as an illustration). You can only control emotions indirectly, by controlling your thoughts. Taking every thought captive IS something we are very capable of, especially with the help of God (2 Corinthians 10:5).
This is why I believe “spiritual purity” is a better term. From my experience and what I’ve read, “emotional purity” seems to be used more often as a term to bludgeon those who seek to present themselves to their future spouses as pure in more than just the physical.  There IS a form of purity that we are called to that goes beyond the physical, and the parts of human nature that are not physical are spiritual. This spiritual purity is really found in our minds. Our emotions will follow our thoughts, but let us never allow our emotions to direct our thoughts. Emotions make wonderful servants, but terrible masters.
Emotions are merely signals. They can help make us aware of things that we wouldn’t notice otherwise. If you find yourself starting to develop some strong emotions for someone, that is a signal that maybe your thoughts need to change, or maybe the way you interact with that person needs to change. Or, perhaps you should pursue marriage with that person. If the other person is godly and you find yourself ready to pursue marriage, then don’t mess around. Trying to shut down the emotions doesn’t do any good. That’s treating the symptoms, and not the problem. Don’t shoot the messengers, the emotions.
And yet, once the emotions hit, most people usually do one of two things. They try to shut them down and feel guilty, or they pour gasoline on the spark of emotions, and let their feelings blindly lead them into starting a romantic relationship, which only feeds the emotions more and more. True, we should not repress emotions, and God doesn’t lay guilt trips on us, but it is also very unwise to let emotions lead us.1

To summarize, spiritual purity isn’t about rejecting attraction for someone, or not ever having any emotion. Spiritual purity is about guarding your heart, protecting your mind, and loving your future spouse. These are all very Biblical values. What do you do with that attraction? Do you fuel it? Do you indulge in lustful thoughts (they don’t have to be sexual to be lustful), or do you steer your thoughts into a healthy direction? Do you seek to save your most intimate non-physical parts only for your future spouse?
Like physical purity, spiritual purity comes down to self-control and love. Again, both are deep Biblical virtues. “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls,” – Proverbs 25:28
Do you have the self-control not to indulge in the pleasant sensations and emotions that come with having a crush? Do you love the person you are attracted to enough not to defraud them with your thoughts? Do you love your future spouse enough to save your intimate thoughts and feelings only for them?
Even while we were in rebellion to Christ, even before we knew that we the church are to be His bride, He loved us, and sacrificed for us. Just as we are to remain true and pure to Christ even though He has yet to return for His bride, we should do the same for our future spouses. “…for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2)
“‘Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Rev. 19:7-8)

Upcoming posts in this series!

Monday: The Struggle for Emotional Purity: a guest post by Emily Long
Wednesday: Is Emotional Purity Harmful?

1This is not to be confused with the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Conviction is different from guilt. 

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  1. Hi Reagan!

    This was a well thought out, well presented post. I was most especially struck by your eloquence in how you stated that it is not the shutting down of emotions that will stop the garbage from coming, but it is the actual way we are thinking about a certain person that leads us to these emotions. I have never been confronted with this truth, and I wish I had known this since the beginning of my teen years! It would have helped me out of a lot of problems for sure!

    Thank you for this gold nugget of wisdom!

    In Christ alone,

    The eldest sister & singer

  2. Yes, that is how I once thought, but I've since learned that emotions aren't the source, and can't be controlled. Rather, it's what we allow ourselves to dwell on and actively think about.

    Plus, it is rather hopeless to try and shut down emotions. If you don't change your way of thinking about the person, or how you are interacting with them, the emotions are going to just keep coming.

    I'm glad I could shed some light on this rather complicated subject. 🙂

    Thanks for the comment!


  3. Emotions are natural. We all have them. It is how we decide to deal with them that gets so many people into trouble; many times this is when sin enters the picture. Acting on emotion, instead of on wisdom and Truth is not a good thing. Stopping in from Mama Moments.

  4. I looked up the word “lust” in Matthew 5:28 in the Greek and found that the word “epithymēsai” means either covetousness or a desire for something that is forbidden. So I believe that if we're in love with someone in such a way that we want them to be our future spouse (within in the will of God), and we naturally get pleasure out of thinking about them, that is perfectly fine (but let me finish). However, if we allow gush, romantic dreams to flood our minds, that is inappropriate. True love will not use itself for pleasure unless that pleasure is God-glorifying and honoring to the love's object! Of course, if your feelings are covetous–eg., you'd be bitter if you didn't marry them; you're concerned about your feelings but not theirs, etc.–then you're not in love; you have a crush. I like to say “When a man is in love, he must control that love, not let that love control him.” Here's an article I wrote on the subject of love before marriage: http://justpaste.it/whichcamefirstloveorrelationship.

  5. The more I think about these, the more things I think of! 😀 I believe that in Matthew 5:28, Jesus is referring to sexual attraction, or perhaps even just a craving for physical contact. The reason is because Jesus said whoever LOOKS at a woman that way has committed adultery. If He had been talking about the unique affection, He would have used the Greek word eros.

  6. =O Wowwwwwww. I just did a bunch of research on this subject, and I found out that the Greek word used for woman in that verse refers to a matron. So Jesus was pointing out that if you violate the first statement in the 10th commandment (no coveting your neighbor's wife), you are also violating the 7th commandment.

    (I still think that having sexual desire for someone you're not married to–whether they're married or not–is wrong, because the Bible forbids fornication–so you shouldn't desire to fornicate; because desire to sin is in itself sin. The Bible does not forbid being in love before marriage, so long as that love is pure.)

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