by Jonathan Daugherty
I have been reading through the book of Nehemiah again. I get charged up every time I read this book. It paints a great picture of what rebuilding a broken down life should look like. I want to point out 6 key principles that are fundamental to building a life of purity, even in the midst of growing cultural and spiritual opposition.
When Nehemiah heard that his countrymen were scattered and the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and the gates burned, he wept. He mourned for days the condition of God's people and the holy temple. In his sorrow, he prayed to God and confessed on behalf of all his people for the great sins of disobedience and rebellion they had sinned against God. His heart was broken and his response was one of confession and surrender before the only One who could effect true change.
In order to rebuild a life broken by the sin of lust, one must come to a place of sorrow and brokenness. This requires an honest look into the soul, seeing how the walls around the heart have been broken down and the gates meant for staving off the attacks of the enemy lie in burned piles of rubble. Upon realizing the true condition of your life, the only appropriate response that affords the possibility of recovery and purity is brokenness, a falling down before God in humble confession, acknowledging that He alone is the source of strength that can rebuild your shattered life.
Brokenness is the first, and most critical, step to building a life of purity.
Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king of Persia, Artaxerxes. After hearing the news of his people, Nehemiah was called out by the king who wanted to know why he looked so sad. This was not something a servant of the king would want, as it wasn't uncommon in those days for a subject to be killed simply for the king being in a bad mood. When the king noticed Nehemiah's downcast face, this caused quite a bit of fear to stir in Nehemiah.
But Nehemiah displayed great courage by not covering up his sadness, or succumbing to his fears, but rather speaking honestly with the king about his broken heart over the state of his people's city. The king's response to this courageous confession was to ask Nehemiah what he wanted. Nehemiah's courage earned him the support of the king and all his resources.
Courage is essential to building a life of sexual purity. It can be scary to look at the brokenness and shame of your sexual sins. You might feel very small and inadequate, not even knowing where to begin or how you could possibly leave you old patterns of thinking and behaving. This is where courage comes in. Courage is not the absence of fear. Rather, it is resolve to pursue what is right despite fear.
The good news for the Christian is that when we face our sin and brokenness in the light of God's grace, we are able (even encouraged), to approach God for help. So, instead of trying to figure out all the answers on your own, why not take a courageous step toward the One who has all the resources necessary to help you overcome your lust - for good.
Vision & A Plan
Nehemiah's sadness over Jerusalem's pitiful state didn't end with him throwing a colossal pity party and then doing nothing about it. He had pondered the state of his people, seeking God's comfort and guidance for what he must do in response to his broken heart. So, when the king called him out to tell of his sadness, he wasn't unprepared when he received a supportive response from the king. He had a vision and he had a plan.
His response to the king was very specific and very detailed. His vision was to see the name of God exalted by rebuilding the ruins of Jerusalem. His focus was intense. He did not hesitate to lay out his plans before the king. He would travel to Jerusalem for a specific amount of time to rebuild it. He even had planned on what to do concerning surrounding regions that might not take kindly to his project. He was prepared for the possibility of help and success.
"If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."
The vision we must capture comes from the heart of God. He desires us to be people of purity, faithfully following him in everything. But what are you doing about the plan? It's easy to understand and even "catch" the vision, but there is work involved in fulfilling that vision. Planning requires time, thinking, counsel, drafts, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Don't be deceived into thinking that a life of purity comes with little or no effort. While all the tools and resources are provided by God, we are given the task of taking them up and using them. He doesn't swing the hammer for us. Get your plan in place and then get to work.
Jerusalem was surrounded by regions that had governors that were not pleased with Nehemiah's plans. They viewed this rebuilding project as a political, and possibly even a military, threat. They also thought it was a silly idea that the Jews wouldn't be able to accomplish, as they viewed them as inferior and weak (just like the rubble of their broken city walls). Shortly after Nehemiah rallied the people to begin working on rebuilding, the project came under attack by the surrounding governors. This, however, did not deter Nehemiah.
Instead of calling off the rebuilding project because of mounting opposition, Nehemiah encouraged the people to simply guard what they were building. Gatekeepers were posted, guards were on watch day and night, and even the workers carried a tool in one hand and weapon in the other. Their vision was right, their plan was solid, and their focus was steely. They were willing to fight to accomplish the great task God called them to.
You will face resistance in your pursuit of purity. If you don't adopt a fighters spirit, you will fall and drift back to the darkness of your lust. Satan hates the work of those seeking to fulfill God's vision of purity and godliness. But rather than giving up or running away, simply carry a tool in one hand a pick up a weapon in the other. Don't run. Stand and fight!
Intolerance for impurity
When the work of rebuilding Jerusalem was completed, the people gathered and renewed their vows to God and read from the book of the Law. They consecrated themselves to purity, removing anything from their homes or the temple that would be offensive to God. They acknowledged that the work they completed was done so by the mercy of God, and they committed themselves to once again turn to God in humble obedience.
But people have a tendency to drift, right? It wasn't too long until their vows weren't fulfilled and they began to even intermarry with some foreigners. But Nehemiah didn't forget the vision, the call of sanctification God had for his people. So, he "rebuked them and called curses down on them. [He] beat some of the men and pulled out their hair." (Neh. 13:25) He was unwilling to compromise before God and therefore defile the name of the Lord of glory.
If you embark on the difficult task of building a life of purity, embracing the vision, forming a plan, fighting against the attacks, you engage in a good thing. But be careful of growing complacent, thinking that because you have lived in the new "city" for a while that you don't have to keep watch against the subtle drift that comes with being human. Instead, grow increasingly intolerant of any sort of impurity of any kind from infiltrating your new life. And surround yourself with trusted friends who are unafraid to rebuke you (hopefully, you won't drift so far that a beating and hair-pulling is in order).
Nehemiah was given a vision for God's people. He carried out the plan of God in a remarkable fashion. The work was accomplished, God's name was exalted, the people rejoiced. But Nehemiah, in all the work, was looking beyond simply building walls and restoring a city. He was focused on eternity. His desire to do God's will was not simply for the present satisfaction of seeing God's people restored, but also that he would be found before God as a faithful follower. Faithfulness is a hallmark of being a servant of God.
Nehemiah prayed, "Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services." Nehemiah's desire was that God would remember him, observing his obedience and finding pleasure in it. This is what a faithful servant's attitude looks like, praying that God will see the heart behind what we do, that it is consumed and devoted to the glory of the Holy One.
Building a life of purity requires faithfulness. But this faithfulness is not primarily to the vision or the tools or the weapons to fight resistance. This faithfulness must be to Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. With our eyes and hearts fixed on Him, we will fulfill the vision, complete the task, and rejoice in the smile of our King.