Failing is an inescapable reality to the Christian; failure is our constant companion and falling short a function of our daily lives. “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus commanded (Matthew 5v48) and who among us could claim to even come close to obedience such as this?
Immediately, it is necessary to backtrack and say that success should also be part and parcel of the Christian life. We should be growing, maturing, being oh-so-slowly transformed into the image of Christ. It is good to look back over the years and see the areas we have had success in, the sins conquered, the increase in affections for God, the increase in love for his people, the increase in giving, the greater faith, love and hope we have and the trials and afflictions that have been overcome. Praise be to God, for the Holy Spirit is in the business of making us more holy.
This talk of failure is not meant to be discouraging or to conjure up abject pessimism. It is meant to highlight two important truths: the grace of God and the sinfulness of our hearts.
Never are Christians more guilty of doublethink than when it comes to the issue of the Ten Commandments. In fact, the place of God's law in the life of a Christian is a source of much debate, confusion and error. Yesterday Mr. Driscoll posted a blog post on this very topic and it certainly provides food for thought. In many respects it is a perfect example of reformed charismatic teaching: a strong root of reformed thinking which is then corrupted to something less.
Case in point: Driscoll refers to the Westminster Confession of Faith on understanding the law of God and proceeds with an excellent very short summary of reformed thinking. For the purposes of a fuller explanation I'm going to write my own longer summary.
Old Testament law is spilt into three types: ceremonial, civil and moral. The ceremonial law refers to all the laws about the sacrificial system: the priesthood, the laws of being clean, the tabernacle, and so on. The book of Hebrews is all about how these laws are fulfilled in Jesus, he is the sacrifice that all the animal sacrifices pointed to. He lived the pure life all the laws on cleanliness pointed to. The Old Testament system wasn't good enough to save; only Jesus could bring salvation.
A few months ago the Girl Guides changed the oath that girls are expected to make upon joining. Rather than promising to serve God and country instead the girl guides now promise to be “true to myself and develop my beliefs”. It probably wasn't the intent of the girl guide organisation but they have unwittingly provided a devastating critique of Western secular society.
We live in the age of Me, an age where morality is determined, not by any objective standard, but by the fickle reason of our egos. All that matter is being true to "myself". We see this in the issue of transgender individuals insisting that biological gender is second place to the decision of Me to be the gender Me wants. We see this in the issue of abortion where Me chooses to rid Myself of an unnecessary inconvenience rather than valuing the life of Another. We see this in society's attitude to sex where the only moral consideration is the consent of two Mes. We see this in the consumer society where Me has to appear better, richer, cooler than anyone else. And we see this in the greed and selfishness which typifies so much of human existence – Me gets what Me wants over the opinions and actions of any other.
When did narcissism become such a sure decider of right and wrong? Yet listening to the moral debates that are had by our society reveals that the only factor under consideration seem to be doing what Me wants as long as it doesn't harm another. But we are deluding ourselves if we think that such a compromise is possible. The wants of Me will inevitably conflict with the wants of another Me. The desires of Me will eventually only be fulfilled at the expense of another.
As the normalisation of homosexuality becomes increasingly prevalent within the United Kingdom then the evangelical church finds itself increasingly at odds with the moral views of society. And over recent months this conflict between 'secular' morality and Christian morality has become more intense and has even led to more than a few churches leaving, or committing to leave, the Church of Scotland. The most frustrating thing about the debate is the amount of false accusations levelled at Christianity. It comes as no surprise, for in any battle it makes sense to portray the opponents in the worst possible light. So there is a great deal of confusion out there on what Christianity teaches and why we object so strongly to gay marriage and homosexuality. This is an attempt to clear up some of the myths.
Myth: Christianity is all about hating gays
This is, I think, the most understandable myth in the sense that usually the only time Christianity makes the news is in relation to the issue of homosexuality. But it's still a myth. To illustrate this point then I'd like you to guess how many sermons I've heard on the issue of homosexuality. Bear in mind that I've been going to church all my life and heard an awful lot of sermons... The answer is zero, while it's been mentioned in passing if it was relevant to the Bible passage we were looking at then I can't recall a single sermon that was centred on this issue. I'm not saying ministers never preach on homosexuality, they do, or that they shouldn't, but I am saying that there are a lot of other things in Christianity which are, frankly, more important.
My second objection to this myth is the use of the word hate. For while, as a Christian, I object to the practise of homosexuality it does not extend to hating people who are gay. The command of Jesus is to "love your neighbour as yourself" and that means that though I do think homosexuality and gay marriage are both wrong then behind all my actions must be a love for all my fellow human beings.
Not so long ago, in a place not too far away, there lived a boy who would only eat Frubes. In his defence, he was four years old and Frubes are very nice. For those who have never had the delight of eating a Frube, they are long thin packets of yogurt that can be peeled open and sucked out. The particularly adventurous can even try to suck all the yogurt out in one go. Despite these considerations, the Boy's parents were not best impressed with their son's eating habit. "It's a phase; he'll grow out of it." They said to one another, the classic excuse for unusual behaviour in children, an excuse that is generally used until their twentieth birthday.
For six months they did nothing about it and the boy seemed to suffer no ill effects. He asked as many questions as usual, ran about with the same vigour and threw things in the toilet with the same regularity. As his fifth birthday approached his parents decided that enough was enough and they were going to cure him of his attachment to Frubes. Well, they tried everything: chips, cakes, chocolates, waffles, three course dinners, lobster, quail eggs, burgers, in desperation they even tried healthy foods! But it was all to no avail, he shook his young head at it all and went back to happily sucking on Frubes. When they took away his Frubes he stopped eating completely and threw tantrum after tantrum.
With all options exhausted, they took him to the doctors who after much prodding, poking, question answering and no less than three blood tests, pronounced him perfectly able to consume other foodstuffs. His parents shared a horror filled glance and asked what the problem was. Their doctor scratched the back of his head, uncertain whether his conclusion would satisfy them: "Your son is simply too lazy to do anything else. He doesn't want to chew, he doesn't want to lift up a knife and fork, it's all just too much effort."
This question does come with an admittedly large number of assumptions behind it. It assumes, for instance, that you will die this very night which is a hopefully unlikely event. But considering that death will one day take you then it is not so much an assumption as a jump ahead in time to that day when death will come. Another assumption the question makes is the existence of God and the need to defend yourself before him. We'll get to these momentarily. Suffice to say, this question is of no small significance and deserves sober reflection for the matters it touches upon are of eternal importance.
There can be nothing more important that our standing before our Creator. So many people think about God the wrong way round. They ask themselves: "What do I think of God?" when a far more vital question is: "What does God think of me?" It may be that you are perfectly happy with the idea that God exists. But what does God think of your existence and life before him?
The question above helps to get us to consider these issues. It is, I hope, a useful question to ponder. For death has a way of stripping us of all illusions and delusions and focusing our minds away from trivial matters and onto weightier ones. Naked we enter the world and naked we depart. Wealth, talent and success just isn't going to be of any use in death for we take nothing with us.
Considering all the major moral issues that demand an informed biblical viewpoint then piracy might seem minor in comparison. But life is, for the most part, made up with a series of small scale decisions for holiness and while many of us are unlikely to find ourselves tempted to murder someone then the temptation to pirate stuff is a much more ready threat.
In many respects I could clear this issue up in just three points:
1) Proposition 1: We should obey the government in everything except that which contradicts God: “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” (Romans 13 v 5)
2) Proposition 2: Piracy is illegal.
3) Conclusion: Christians shouldn’t pirate.
There we go, job done. But while this does present a sufficient case for Christians not pirating stuff it’s worthwhile engaging in an extended ethical discussion over the issue. The first matter is to define piracy; I would say it is two things. The first is copying a piece of work you have no right to copy. The second is watching something online you have no right to watch. Going on the internet and downloading a copy of a music track, film or book without paying for it and without the owner’s permission is piracy. So is watching stuff online on dodgy Asian websites where it is obviously being replicated without the owner’s permission.
Let’s face it, we all know what piracy is! We know when we do it – anytime that we get something for free when it is not officially being given away from free. There are many things wrong with this. And we have an equal number of excuses in doing it.
“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
1 John 3 v 18
This verse has been on my mind a lot recently for I think it does a good job of summing up one of the failures of my own walk with God and, if I can be so bold as to generalise, the church as a whole. We know that the essence of Christianity is love: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13v13) and we know the summary of all of God’s commandments: “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22 v 37 – 39). And yet when push comes to shove then we are not very good at loving others.
Oh, we are very good with loving with words and speech! It is easy to say “I’ll pray for you”, it is also pretty easy to actually pray, but if that’s all we ever do for our friends then we’ve missed the glaring point of Christian love. Don’t get me wrong, there is always room for encouraging words, promises to pray, a cheerful word, a reminder of a bible verse, these are good and we should overflow with them. But if that’s the extent of our love then we have a problem. And that problem is that we are not truly loving.
Take the Lord Jesus Christ, he doesn’t just say he loves us, he doesn’t just pray for us, he doesn’t just give many encouraging promises to us (though he does all these things), Jesus also died for us. You can’t get more nitty gritty practical than that. As John writes a few verses earlier: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3v16). In fact, if you follow John’s argument the reason why he calls us to love with actions is this is exactly what Jesus did!
If you pop over to my church's website right here then you'll find three great sermons to listen to.
The first is on Satanic Oppression and the reality of the unseen powers we fight against but how God limits them and Christ is victorious over them!
The next is on God's Fatherly discipline of his people for their holiness and how we should not grow weary under the difficulties of life. Based on Hebrews 12.
And the third is on Repentance - it's a two part-er on Psalm 51 and David's repentance over his adultery and murder.
These sermons, in my biased opinion, perfectly illustrate the reason why Reformed theology is so needed and that the evangelical church misses so much by straying from its doctrines.
The reason I say this is because these sermons deal with the hard reality of Christian living. Behind each sermon is a recognition that we are, even as those saved, still extremely sinful! More, that Satan is a very real and present danger and that God's love for us compels him to take action against the sin in our lives.
I've felt the need of being encouraged recently and these sermons have been a real meeting place of the soul with Christ, by his grace we feasted together and I have gone away refreshed!
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a Christian is assuming that holiness is an automatic process. It is an easy mistake to make; we know that Jesus has saved us and "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion." (Philippians 1v5) And it fits our natural laziness, our want of the Christian life to be easy, we want holiness to just happen.
Holiness never just happens. The natural route we follow, even as Christians, is decline. If holiness is not our main priority then we will swiftly find that we begin to slip back into old ways and old habits. We have to strive for holiness; we cannot sit and wait for it to find us. I speak from personal experience when I say that holiness is not a progressive linear function - it is entirely possible to become less holy in your Christian walk.
Yet, because of the work of the Lord Jesus and because we have the Holy Spirit within us then it is possible to become more holy. And it should be the aim of every Christian to become increasing holy as the years go by for as Jesus said: "Be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5v48). This deals with the latter part of the title: increasing holiness.