“Beloved, we are already God’s children. And it has not appeared as yet what we shall become. But we do know that we shall be like Him, because we will see Him as He truly is. And everyone who has this hope is already engaged in the process of becoming more like Him — pure and undefiled” (1Jn.3:3).

Most of us get what it means to be “pure” but we aren’t quite sure why John tacked on the word “undefiled.” We don’t use that word very much, and tend to think of it as something an orthodox Jew might be concerned about — not eating unclean foods and such. What does it mean to be undefiled?

In my youth (1960’s) I was told that we could be defiled by walking into a bar or going to a Hollywood movie or smoking a cigarette. But I’m not so sure that is what John was worried about. Jesus said that it is not what comes into our body (or “at” us from the outside world) that defiles us, but that which comes out of our own heart. That means when we hold someone in contempt, we are defiling our soul. Or when we indulge ourselves in our rage or lust or hate; when we deliberately hurt someone or take revenge. Perhaps even when we withhold something good that we know we should offer another person.

Defilement is to our soul, what contamination is to our body. If we are exposed to a contagious disease, or walk into a radio-active environment, our body is contaminated (defiled). So also, when we harbor resentment or unforgiveness, or express any form of evil in our speech or behavior, our soul becomes contaminated, infected, defiled. That is why Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, as a picture of our need for continual cleansing. And that is why John looks forward with great anticipation to a day when we will be “like Him” totally cleansed and pure in heart, so nothing can come out of us that would contaminate our soul.

And for John that was such a compelling image that he could only envision his present life as one of pursuing that purity today — to satisfy that longing for pure thoughts and pure motives and pure love for one another, no longer to be defiled by his own heart and mind.

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