Purity and Graciousness

“You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
I Peter 1:16 (ESV)

I was asked recently if a person can smoke and still be a Christian.  My answer was rooted in Paul’s response to the Corinthians, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful to me, but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Cor 6:12).  Yes, it is possible to be a Christian and smoke, but does it help your Christian walk?  Are you a slave to smoking and not to Christ?

I grew up under the teaching of Ephesians 2, that we as Christians are being built together as the temple of the Lord, the dwelling place of God in the Spirit.  Therefore, I ought to keep myself pure, so that the dwelling place of God will be clean.

Now there is nothing wrong with this teaching, but it does have its trappings:

Righteousness by Cleanliness
The unfortunate side of the teaching of Christian purity is that for many it becomes the heart of their religion.  The quest for goodness and clean living replaces a faith in the grace of God and a dependence on the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  “I am a good person.  I don’t smoke, drink, or chew, and I don’t date girls who do.”  This becomes the creed of the pure.  We keep ourselves from the socially unacceptable sins, but give a wink and a nod to those little things that no one else knows about.  At a person’s death, we may know nothing of their faith in God, but if they were a “good person,” then surely God owes them entrance into heaven.

The problem is, scripture teaches us that no one is righteous, no not one.  All our righteousness acts are like filthy rags in the sight of God.  Francis Chan, in his book, Crazy Love, says that “the literal interpretation of “filthy rags” in this verse is “menstrual garments” (think used tampons… and if you’re disgusted by the idea, you get Isaiah’s point).”  Our goodness can never be good enough.

Another unfortunate aspect of the teaching of Christian purity is that too often it results in an air of self-righteousness.  We’ve learned to do what is right, to control our desires, and if and when we do sin, we know to ask forgiveness and make things right.  We’ve learned to deal with our sins, unlike those wretches who still struggle and can’t get their act together.  In short, we become the “Elder Brother” of the story of the Prodigal Son.  Rather than doing all we can to reach the lost, we complain about how lost the world around us has become.  Rather than rejoicing when the lost are found, we worry about what it cost to find them and bring them home. 

We forget that we were once the wretch, that we were once lost, and that we were once welcomed home.  We must remember that it was the same grace that claimed us, the same cross that saved us, the same Spirit that gave us life.  There is no difference in the fare.

So should we still teach our children to be pure, should we still strive for godliness in our lives?  Absolutely.  This is, I think, the purpose behind Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Paul says that “for freedom Christ has set us free…” and then teaches that we are not slaves to the law, and neither should we be slaves to sin.  “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”  Instead, we are to bear one another’s burdens in a spirit of gentleness.

Simply because our sinfulness corrupts even our best efforts to live a life worthy of our calling does not mean that we should abandon all hope.  Rather we should still press onward, but we should do so with an abundance of grace.

A spirit of graciousness reminds us that we all in need of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. 

A spirit of graciousness reminds us that we all will stumble and need to be picked up now and again.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch over yourself, let you too be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1-2).

Grace and peace be with you!

Benefits to believing in a Creator God

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”   Genesis 1:1 (ESV)

As my mind wandered the other day while I attended a very important business meeting I began to list the reasons why I believe in a Creator God.  (Yes, I admit my mind wanders during meetings, and Yes, I think in lists.)

Because the Bible says God created the heavens and the earth…
This is probably the most important reason.  God says it, that settles it.  It is often difficult to balance faith and reason, the weight of scientific evidence and the Word of God, but I must remember that this is the Word of God, and it is the rule of faith and life.  All of my thoughts and actions must be brought into submission to the Word of God.  In the end, all truth is God’s truth, so faith and science must lead us to their author.  For the time being, both my understanding of science and of God’s word are imperfect, so I must default to an inherent trust in the infallible Word of God.

Someone other than me is in control
What a relief to know that I am not at the center of the universe, that I am not the one responsible for causing the stars to shine and the worlds to turn.  Now sometimes I may think that I am, but believing in the God of Creation helps to bring me back to reality.
Francis Chan, in his book, Crazy Love, (chapter 2), puts it this way.  When we are stressed, we are saying that “the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace toward others, or our tight grip of control…How is it possible that we live as though [this life] is about us?… Frankly, you need to get over yourself.  The point of your life is to point to him.”

The God who created me, cares for me
This week I was reminded of the tornado that struck Wichita and Andover back in 1990.  I see on the news today that the volcano in Iceland continues to spew ash into the air, causing worries of water pollution, more volcano and earthquake activity, and financial crisis in Europe.  There are continued reports of war around the world and violence in our own communities.  If I did not know that the God of all creation called me His child, I would easily lose hope.  But God does know me, and in Jesus Christ, He saves me, He calls me by name, and He seals me with His Spirit that I may be assured of my salvation for eternity.  As Brad Stine says, “my self-esteem comes from the fact that the God of all creation loves me and esteems me.”

I have a purpose in life
I heard Cal Thomas say something along the lines of, “If you believe you came from slime, then to slime you will return.  But if you believe that God created you, you will live your life for Him.”  If God created us, it must have been for a reason (Jer 29:11 “I know the plans I have for you…”).  God has given us a purpose, and this is more than just a sense of calling or vocation.  Our purpose in life, to quote the Westminster Divines, is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  Better yet, to quote scripture, is to be “conformed to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29).  We will find different ways of doing this; but our ultimate song will be “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).

May your faith in the Creator God bring you strength and comfort today.