What is the Point of Purity? Less of a Mess

For nearly three years we have been a dog-owning household. Our dog Boxer (not a Boxer breed, strangely) is a great fit for our family. His previous owner trained him well in the first fifteen months of his life, and they knew his habits well enough to teach us. He came to us with the disclaimer that he would chew shoes and plastic. He did, and he added library books to his repertoire. Overall, he is a solid dog full of loyalty.
There is one piece concerning Boxer that still frustrates me, but I’m working on that. Boxer, a labrador and shepherd mix, has a long and powerful tail. He becomes very excited when we arrive home, and there are times when you can hear his tail clanging off the dining table legs or the wall or the door – or our legs. I don’t mind his tail specifically, I mind the blood. In the winter, despite our best efforts to help him, his skin grows dry. And, at times, he chews at the very end of his tail which then leaves an exposed area. Because of the force by which he wags his tail, it will leave splatters of blood on the wall. On the doorway. On the curtain. On the trash can. On the side of the kitchen counters. Sometimes, out of a loss of options, we try to encourage him to just sit when we arrive home. I have noticed my sons mimicking me and yelling out, “Boxer! Your tail!”
But Boxer loves to see us, and there is little that would stop his tail. My son Joshua has some designs on a contraption that would hold Boxer’s tail under him, but I am skeptical. So we tolerate Boxer’s tail, especially since it is not all the time, and especially because we understand. At one point as I sprayed down and scrubbed the wall, I thought of the thankless work God does to clean me up. Even my best efforts are a mess. The prophet Isaiah tells us that “all our righteous acts are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) I am, you are, we are – a mess.
Despite my best efforts to be pure, to be holy, I will fall remarkably short on my own. Even when I operate in joy, as Boxer does, and I run about to love and serve and see God, I leave a mess everywhere. Can I teach Boxer to stop chewing his tail in the winter? Perhaps. Can I teach him to stop wagging his tail in excitement when he sees us? Doubtful. Would it help me to shame him for the mess he leaves behind? No. So I simply spray and scrub.
Boxer is smart enough to know when he has does something wrong. He does not, however, seem to be smart enough to stop doing all of those things. Huh. Sounds like somebody I know – me. It seemed to me that the more I focused my thoughts and writing on purity the more difficult purity became for me. Part of my silence in writing came from losing my rhythm. I made sacrifices in the work of feeding my roots to attend to the fruit. In other words, I became so preoccupied with the busyness of ministry work that I neglected the work of a minister – to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.
We will not achieve complete purity on this side. If we could, we would be able to earn our salvation by becoming spotless and blameless ourselves. We are saved by grace through faith. But we should not continue sinning so that grace may abound. No! We are to clothe ourselves in righteousness – not ours, but that of Christ Jesus. Clothing ourselves in his righteousness is a slow work. It requires a different pace than what most of our world expects. We put together 30-day plans, 6 month plans, five year plans, and run.
I recently began a new position and started to think about it in terms of how I would like to leave it for the next person in five years. Then I started to laugh as I wondered, “Did Jesus have a five year plan?” Just imagine what Jesus would have, could have done, with five years of ministry! No, Jesus did not operate with a five-year plan. He knew the end goal, but he achieved the end goal – the will of his Father in heaven – by walking out a life of obedience and purity every day. We would do well to do the same.
About a month ago, we became a two-dog household. Well, a dog and a half. We added a puppy to the mix. I grew up with dogs throughout my childhood, but I do not remember that a puppy was this much work. Boxer has adapted extremely well to the new addition, and the puppy looks up to him for his cues. Sometimes I talk to Boxer about being an example (I wish I were joking about that, but I’m not), and then I think, “What about me? Am I the example that I would want my sons to follow?”
When I was a young parent, someone once shared these words: “Lead the type of life you would want your children to live.” Those are good words, but difficult words.
I have taught my children well, I believe that. They know what is right and what is wrong. They often are commended for their behavior. But have I truly become their example? More importantly, has Christ truly become my example so that when my sons see me they don’t see me? Can they see Christ?
Our puppy is full of mistakes, but he is a joy to have around. And he is already learning at his young age what is right and what is wrong. But will he live that out when it counts? The shredded pieces of various objects I find when I come home would suggest: not yet. The same is true for my sons – not yet. There is much to teach them, but I am reminded how much they learn from what I don’t say. They watch. My father is not a talker, unless you are outside of the family and call his house, then he turns on the conversational charm. Yet, even still, I have learned so much from watching him. I have, in many regards, become more like my father with each passing year. But how am I doing at becoming the Son?
Romans 8 tells us that we are adopted as children into the family of God. We are. Present and current tense. This then, would suggest a new standard. When a child is adopted, they do not live by the rules of their previous home and family. They live according to the adopted family’s rules. That is what we must do, brothers and sisters. We are called to live a life that is pure and holy. You might be a pup in your faith, not knowing all of the right and wrong and how to live. You might be a Boxer in your faith, still messing up in spite of your best efforts. You might be an old dog (which I still hope to see) who has learned how to walk out a life of obedience quite well. No matter where you find yourself, let God wash you clean.
The blood of the spotless Lamb was poured out for you and me. The apostle Peter gives us these words:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply from the heart.

-I Peter 1:18, 19, 22
The price God paid for you is one that no one else could afford. He did it to clean us up, to make us worthy of being called his daughter or his son. So now what? We love. We love God; we love one another. We love God enough to give our best. We love one another enough to forgive. We make mistakes, we fall short, we get cleaned up, and try again. All of us face the same question as Boxer does, as our puppy does, as my children do: what will you do when no one is looking? Before you answer that, let me remind you: there is never a time when no one is looking. Learn to live not in fear of doing wrong, not in fear of punishment, but with love and sincerity that offers your best to God.
Amen.

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