In a few weeks we will meet with for the EMC for a convention in Winnipeg. The speaker who will teach us on Friday, Saturday and Sunday is Ron Sider. The conference has offered the book he has written to church leaders and I have just finished reading it. It is a very disturbing book.
The title of the book is, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.” The subtitle is, “Why are Christians living just like the rest of the world?”
In the first chapter of the book, Sider says, “Whether the issue is divorce, materialism, sexual promiscuity, racism, physical abuse in marriage, or neglect of a Biblical worldview, the polling data point to widespread, blatant disobedience of clear Biblical moral demands on the part of people who allegedly are evangelical, born-again Christians. The statistics are devastating.”
What are those statistics? Regarding divorce he says, “the percentage of born-again Christians who had experienced divorce was slightly higher (26%) than that of non-Christians(22%).” Regarding materialism he reports that “American Christians live in the richest nation on earth and enjoy an average household income of 42,000. The World Bank reports that 1.2 billion of the world’s poorest people try to survive on just $1.00 per day. At least one billion people have never heard the gospel…if American Christians just tithed, they would have another $143 billion available to empower the poor and spread the gospel.” In regards to sexual promiscuity he indicates, “Nationally, 33% of all adults have lived with a member of the opposite sex without being married. The rate is 25% for born again folk.” It is shocking to discover, as statistics reveal, that in regards to domestic abuse, “Theologically conservative Christians…commit domestic abuse at least as often as the general public.” And in regards to devotional practice, “…born-again Christians spend seven times more hours each week in front of their televisions than they spend in Bible reading, prayer and worship.”
These are disturbing statistics! Brothers and sisters, we need to talk about these things. I don’t think we can dismiss them by saying – that is the other guys or those are American statistics. These things impact us and we ought to be concerned!
I. God Wants Us To Live Holy Lives.
As I read this book I was challenged again to realize that we need to reinforce in our hearts and lives that God wants us to live holy lives!
Why is holy living so important for those who claim to be Christians?
A. It Fits Who We Are
Every once in a while, someone mentions that they have been to see a doctor and that he was very insensitive to them. This is not what we expect. The nature of the medical profession and the sensitive stuff that doctors deal with causes us to expect not only scientific competence, but also human compassion. It fits with what seems to be a reasonable expectation.
In a similar way, holiness is a reasonable expectation for those who are Christians. It fits with who we are. This is stated in Scripture in I Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
That suitability of holiness for Christians is reinforced when we realize that the price to make us holy was bought at a huge cost. Paul says it well in I Corinthians 6:19, 20, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” It is the blood of Christ that has made us holy and it is fitting for us to continue to walk in that holiness.
Therefore we need to be holy because it fits with who we are.
B. It Is The Way To Life
When we lived up north, I sometimes did some moose hunting. One day a friend and I had been driving in the bush looking for good places for hunting. It was near the end of the day and time to head back home when we came to a fork in the bush trail. We did not know where the two trails went and so chose one. As we drove along, the trail got worse, leading us through soft areas where we almost got stuck. We eventually realized that we would have to turn around and go back because the trail was dwindling out. We came back to the fork and chose the other path and within a short distance were on the main road once again. Had we been able to have a satellite view of the two paths before we embarked on them, we would have saved ourselves a lot of time and trouble because we would have known that the first path did not lead where we wanted to go.
In our life we stand in a fork on the road. One path leads to death, the other to life. But, unlike the bush trail, there is no mystery about which one leads where! We know that holy living leads to life and sin leads to death. Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death and the gift of God is eternal life.” If we walk down the path of sin, we end up in trouble, in fact we end up dead. If, on the other hand, we walk in holiness, we will end up on the path that is life giving. Why would we knowingly choose the path that leads to destruction. Holy living is important because it leads to life.
C. Without It We Will Not See Him
There are many different types of keys which can be used to open doors. Years ago, many doors had skeleton keys which unlocked the door mechanically. Today, when we go to a hotel, we often get a key that looks like a credit card, which uses a digital code to open a door electronically. In the future, we may open doors with voice recognition software, or iris or fingerprint detection. I suspect that there are already places which are using this method.
What is the key to heaven? The Bible tells us that holiness is the key to heaven because those who are not holy will not be able to get in. I Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:21 has a similar list and concludes, “those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” In fact, Revelation 21:8 warns that “…the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
So for these reasons – because it fits with who Christ has bought us to be, because it is the way to life and because if we are not holy we will not see God - there is powerful motivation for holy living.
II. Holy Lives
So what does it mean to live holy lives? What are the specifics of holy living? There are many passages in Scripture that speak about this.
I mentioned the list in Galatians 5:19-21 where we read, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”
I invite you to look at some other Scripture that mentions some of the specifics.
We live holy lives when we honour God with our bodies. I Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality.” I have actually heard about a couple claiming to be Christian who were living together and thinking that there was nothing wrong with it. When we read Jesus words we know that not only sex outside of marriage, but also lustful thoughts are inappropriate behavior for someone claiming to be in Christ.
We also live holy lives when our money honours God. Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Materialism is such a prevalent temptation for people today that we have to guard against it in a special way.
We will be living holy lives when our relationships honour God. John 13:34 says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” This excludes all racism, prejudice, hatred, un-forgiveness and so on.
Holy living also happens when our values honour God. Matthew 6:33 puts it in perspective when it says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
The Bible has much to say about how we live holy lives when our mouths honour God. James 3:9, 10 raises the difficult challenge, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.” Then he warns, “My brothers, this should not be.” In other words, if we want to be holy people, we need to learn to control our tongue.
Although we could speak about many other lifestyle issues that give evidence of holy living, let one more suffice for now. Holy living happens when our self is surrendered to God. James 4:7 is simple and direct when it says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God.”
III. Holy Living
The Bible is not mysterious about the requirement to be holy people and it is not mysterious about what constitutes holy living. The only real question is, “are we doing it?”
A. The Temptation
As we recognize the serious requirement for holy living and understand the duties of holy living, we may be moved to do all we can to live holy lives. The temptation when we understand the requirement and our failure is to develop regulations about what is appropriate behaviour and impose them on ourselves and others.
When I know that something I am doing is not holy behaviour, I am tempted to make a rule for myself that I will not do that thing any more. As a church leader, it is tempting for me to seek to impose rules on others. Churches have done that many times. Because of a sincere desire to follow God’s way, churches have defined what holy living is and required those who are members to live in that way. Colossians speaks about this temptation in Colossians 2:21 where it describes the demands of some people who say, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.” The term we have used to define this temptation is legalism.
B. It’s Failure
The problem with yielding to this temptation is that it doesn’t work and can, in fact, be a serious detriment to living in a relationship with God. I mentioned earlier that I have been reading the book by Ron Sider. I have also been reading another book with the title, “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals” by John Piper who is a pastor in a church in Minneapolis. Many of the thoughts I want to share with you about how to live holy lives comes from this book, especially one chapter of the book.
1. It Is Deceptive
First of all legalism is very deceptive as a way to live a holy life. Piper says “It is deceptive because it is so moral.”
Colossians 2:23 speaks about this problem when it speaks about regulations which “have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body…”
II Corinthians 11:14 indicates that Satan disguises himself as “an angel of light.” Legalism is one of the ways in which he disguises himself. Legalism looks like a good thing. It is moral, it promotes what is righteous. Piper goes on to say that Satan “keeps his deadliest diseases most sanitary.”
What is the deception of legalism? It is actually a form of unbelief. Philippians 2:13 says that it is “God who is in us ‘to will and to work for His good pleasure.’” If we depend on legalism, on our ability to pull ourselves up by our boot straps and to walk in holiness by our will and choice, we are in fact denying the power of God which is what really sanctifies us. In legalism, we “use our own power to make ourselves moral” and we “fail to rely on the power of God for the sanctification of others.”
Piper actually goes so far as to say that “Legalism has brought more people to eternal ruin than alcohol has.”
2. It Promotes Self
What becomes evident as we understand this deception is that what legalism and making rules for ourselves really does is to promote self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Legalism helps people succeed in the world, it makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one.
In Colossians 2:18 which speaks about legalism, Paul indicates that those who want to follow this path have “lost connection with the Head.” In other words, they are no longer depending on God, no longer following Christ as their head, but rather they are depending on self and relying on their own resources. This is a serious and devastating revelation. It effectively says that people who seem very moral and are doing a lot of good things may in fact be as far from God as can be because they do not rely on God, but on themselves. Does this describe you and me?
John Piper has a rather shocking quote which I think is an explanation of what Paul says in Colossians 2:18. He says, “For the legalist, morality serves the same function that immorality does for the antinomian or the progressive – namely, as the expression of self-reliance and self-assertion. The reason some Pharisees tithed and fasted was the same reason some university students take off their clothes and lie around naked in the parks in Munich and Amsterdam.” “The moral legalist is the elder brother of the immoral prodigal.(Luke 15:11-32). They are blood brothers in God’s sight because both reject the mercy of God in Christ as a means to righteousness and use either morality or immorality as a means of expressing their independence and self-sufficiency and self determination. And it is clear from the New Testament that both will result in a tragic loss of eternal life, if there is no repentance.”
3. It Leads To Spiritual Pride
What happens if we try to live obedient lives in our own power and by our self sufficiency. What happens when we are successful at doing all the right things in our power? Colossians 2:18 says, “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.” Do you notice some of the things in this passage? Do you notice the mention of “false humility” and the phrase “puffs him up?” What happens if we rely on our own selves to live obediently and if we are successful at it? We become proud of what we have accomplished. The glory goes to us instead of to God.
4. It Makes People Judgemental
The next step after spiritual pride is that we become judgemental of others. If we have been successful at not being an alcoholic, we wonder why someone else can’t do it. If we have succeeded in being faithful to our wife, then surely the other person can do it too. Such attitudes deteriorate to thinking more of ourselves and less of others. This is the point at which the passage in Colossians 2:16 begins when it says, “do not let anyone judge you.” Being judgemental is a natural consequence of legalistic self righteousness and is in fact a sinful and destructive deviation from holiness.
5. It Fails To Bring Holiness
This is clear evidence that making and keeping rules by our own power is deceptive. It looks good, but it is in fact a path to self righteousness and being judgemental. Legalism is also deceptive because, quite frankly, it doesn’t work. It fails to bring holiness. Colossians 2:23 reveals very clearly that regulations “lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
In Piper’s book he has one chapter with the title, “Don’t Fight Flesh Tanks With Peashooter Regulations.” He explains, “The enemy is sending against us every day the Sherman tank of the flesh with its cannons of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. If we try to defend ourselves or our church with peashooter regulations, we will be defeated even in our apparent success.”
C. God’s Answer
Why, as individuals and as churches we have constantly reverted back to the law when the Bible is so crystal clear about the way in which to live a holy life is something that boggles my mind. At least it would if I was not just as caught up in such a weak response as everyone else.
If we ask “what must I do to live a holy life?” we are asking the wrong question. The question is not “what must I do” but rather, “how can I live a holy life?” The answer to that question is given loudly and clearly in the entire Bible. The Old Testament promises in Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.” In other words, God does it in us.
Throughout the New Testament letters, we are told repeatedly how we can live a holy life. God causes the growth by the power of His Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:16-26 speaks about how to live a holy life. The way is summarized in 5:16, which says, “So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Romans 8:1-17 is another amazing passage which speaks about the way to live a holy life. The whole chapter gives us a powerful presentation of the failure of the law and the power of the Spirit who gives life. Romans 8:13 says, “if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
Is there a sin in your life that bothers you? The fact that it bothers you is an evidence of God at work in you. How will you get rid of it? Confess it! Admit to God that you do this sin and you like doing it, but you really don’t want it in your life. Then submit it to God and tell Him that you have no power to win over this sin. Acknowledge before God that it is bigger than you and you need His powerful help.
Furthermore, live in a relationship with God. Acknowledge God in every aspect of your life. Recognize that you are loved and spend time in the presence of God praising Him and learning to know Him.
Then see what God will do. If you are a believer, then you have every reason to believe that God will begin to do things that will give you victory. Not necessarily all at once, but in time, God will give you victory because He has promised that He is creating a holy people.
You see this is the point. I don’t want to give you a list of things that you can do so that you can once again point with pride to what you have accomplished. I want to point you to God and invite you to go to Him to see what He will do. If we are able to trust Him in that way, then we will be made holy and the glory will indeed go to Him.
One writer says, “the conduct which conforms to the standard of the Kingdom is not produced by any demand, not even God’s, but it is the fruit of that divine nature which God gives as a result of what he has done in and by Christ.”
I want to acknowledge that I have been wrestling with sin for years. I have tried everything – discipline, mentors, guardians – and none of it has been successful. I want to win and I can’t. I give up. I have accepted God’s forgiveness for all my sin and am thankful for it. Now I want to recognize that I need God’s Spirit to change me and God’s power to renew me.
Guess what. The good news is that God will renew me. He will bring me to holiness by His Spirit because that is what the Spirit does. I am so thankful that holiness will come and I will not be disqualified from the presence of God because of my un-holiness. Glory be to God!
In the last chapter of Ron Sider’s book he writes, “The good news is that a small circle of people with a biblical worldview demonstrate genuinely different behaviour. They are nine times more likely than all others to avoid ‘adult only’ material on the Internet. They are four times more likely than other Christians to boycott objectionable companies and products and twice as likely to choose intentionally not to watch a movie specifically because of its bad content. They are three times more likely than other adults not to use tobacco products and twice as likely to volunteer time to help needy people.”
What this tells us is that God does make a difference in a life. Does He make a difference in your life? I appeal to each one of us to live a holy life by the power of the Holy Spirit.