Lifestyle Issues

We come now to the last of our topics related to people walking away from the faith:  “Lifestyle and perspective, including homosexuality, feminism, secularism, and pluralism.”  Confusion and doubts about these issues often contribute to drawing young people away from the faith.

The downward path might develop through questions like these.  First, how do I maintain a Christian lifestyle among the temptations that accompany leaving home, making new friends, and entering a new work or college environment.  Second, these thoughts may lead to a deeper consideration; why exactly is the Christian lifestyle worth following?  Faced with the rising crush of the world’s opinion, is the Christian lifestyle that I have been taught too narrow?  That seems to be the opinion of a lot of smart people I am getting to know.  Finally, can I broaden my view and adjust my standards on these issues and still be a Christian?  And if not, maybe I will embrace the world’s direction – it does appear to be the modern and enlightened way – and just drop the Christian identity altogether.  Is this what walking away from faith over lifestyle issues looks like?

A timely scripture that speaks to this exact topic is I Timothy 6:20-21.  “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ – which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.”  For a letter written almost 2000 years ago, these verses are incredibly fresh and relevant to today’s discussion.  The world’s view on lifestyle matters is held up as the enlightened and knowledgeable opinion.  But Paul refers to the worldly approach, “knowledge falsely called”.  It is not true knowledge at all; it is better called profane.

Profane is not a word we hear much these days, but it is a powerful description of the world’s approach to lifestyle issues.  In I Timothy 6:20, the Greek word translated “worldly” in “avoiding worldly and empty chatter” is the word bebēlos (βεβηλóς).  It means, “primarily, permitted to be trodden; hence, unhallowed, profane, opposite of sacred.”  According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “it is that which lacks all relationship or affinity to God”.

I love Vine’s description, because as believers we have just the opposite; a definite relationship and affinity to God.  And our lifestyle should reflect this.  The New Testament writers make clear that our lifestyle – which grows out of our relationship and affinity to God – will be in marked contrast to the world.  It is a case of the sacred vs. the profane; a comparison we will explore in upcoming posts.

One Year In

Happy Tuesday.  I would like to say a big thank you to our community of believers here in Northwest Houston.  Your friendship is a great source of encouragement to Rhonda and I.  We’ve finished one year on our blog and want to thank you for your participation with us in this ministry.  Our ministry goal is a balance between investigating the theology behind our New Covenant experience and searching the Scripture to find what this experience looks like in practice.  I believe a great need in today’s church is to understand the incredible resources and provisions that are ours through the New Covenant; the new arrangement between God and man brought by Jesus Christ.

Just this past week, a speaker referred to Jeremiah 17:10, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds,” and warned us that the thought of God rewarding us according to our deeds should give us some fear and trepidation.  I believe the New Testament shows us another way.  A way set free from the consequence model of the Old Testament to experience a life of love, acceptance, and forgiveness; a life set free from sin’s power by the finished work of Christ on the cross.

Does the idea of a “life set free” imply we should continue in sin?  Of course not!  The apostle Paul answered this exact question in Romans 6 with a NO, NO, NO, and NO.  He then goes on to explain the provisions of the New Covenant to live a life set free from the power of sin.  As we continue in this blog, we will be addressing point 5 – lifestyle issues – in our series about walking away from faith.  What we will find is that New Covenant living is a high calling to a holy life, not some lazy approach to the rules or a distorted freedom to live as we please.

Again, thank you for your interest and participation as we move forward.  We are always interested in your thoughts.  We will be taking a short break and return in a week or two with “lifestyle issues”.  See you then.

Love: One Strategy, One Message

I personally believe that one area where Satan has really muddied the waters in the American church is on the topic of love.  I believe Satan is quite content to see our message proclaimed basically without interference here in the States while he busies himself sowing seeds of discontent and strife among the body.  As we learned last time, this disharmony takes the power right out of our message and our witness.  I can think of at least two ways Satan delights in this current situation.

First, we have taken the life out of our message because we have reduced Christianity to an adherence to a moral code (see yesterday’s excellent post on this very thought by Mark Galli at Christianity Today online).  We have failed to emphasize the finished work of Christ for not only our justification, but for our sanctification as well.  We have diminished, in our teaching, the provisions of the New Covenant for living the Christian life.  In short, we have missed the “everything is new” message of the New Testament.

Second, we focus on content over love.  Think about the miracles of Christ, for example.  The message that I have heard over and over – and have myself taught – is that the miracles of Christ are recorded to demonstrate the deity of Christ.  Their main point was to show that Jesus is indeed God and operates in God’s power.  They are a debating point to support the claims of Christ.  And they clearly do serve that purpose.

But could it also be that the miracles of Christ are meant to show the heart of Christ, the love of God as well?  As Jesus went around healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and raising the dead, do we only see the power of a deity or the loving hands of God’s rescue.  When Jesus raised the dead son of the widow of Nain – a woman grieving the death of her only son – do we see only a demonstration of God’s power or do we also see an incredible heart of love that restored this son to his mother.

The apostle Peter summarized the ministry of Jesus in Acts chapter 10 while visiting the house of Cornelius.  “You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him” (Acts 10:38).  Peter puts the power of God in Jesus and the goodness of God in Jesus together.  Because, in His essence, God IS love.  And as His children, love should be our essence as well.

“The early Christians had one strategy, one agenda, one message, one weapon, one force with which to overwhelm the empire of the Caesars:  love.  It was Christlike love that brought the empire to its knees, and erected the symbol of the cross over the ruins of the Roman capitol.  Love was an unstoppable force in the first century AD, and it is just as irresistible today!” (Ray Stedman in Body Life).

Love: The Final Witness

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35).  The world has a God-given right to judge our affiliation with Christ on the basis of our love for each other.

Jesus extends the connection between our love and His mission as One sent by the Father in John, chapter 17.  Listen to Jesus’ prayer for His disciples and His followers who will come after them.  “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.  The glory that You have given Me I give to them, that they may be one even as We are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me” (Jn 17:20-23).

Twice in this passage Christ ties His claim to being sent by the Father to our unity as a community of believers.  In essence, our love is a witness for the claims of Christ to a watching world.  While we need to be clear on our content and teach pure doctrine, the world generally sees our content as just another option in the religion salad bar.  What they can’t explain away is our love.

And our love is not just a witness to an unbelieving world “out there”, but is a strong testimony to our young people at the crossroads of staying or leaving the faith.  You may recall that we started these posts about love as a way to address one particular complaint of those leaving the church; the complaint of “hypocrisy and lack of caring among church leaders.”  Just as the love was the answer to strife, envy, and disharmony in the church at Corinth, love is also the answer to hypocrisy and lack of caring in today’s church.

These charges – hypocrisy and lack of caring – are both answered in Romans 12:9-10, “Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.”  When our love is genuine, when we abhor evil and cling to good, our lifestyle will agree with our words and hypocrisy will be defeated.  When we honor and give preference to one another, we provide a powerful antidote to a perceived lack of caring.

When our young people judge the Christian faith on the basis of our love or lack of love, they are not being shallow, selfish, or overly emotional.  They are merely doing what Jesus said to anticipate.  Our role is to embrace the challenge and respond with a vibrant and relentless love not only toward each other but toward our seeking generations behind us as well.

Love Is…

The New Testament verses about love are nearly inexhaustible and we could probably spend a year just on this topic.  But we will try to take this train of thought to the station in the next few posts.  Here are a few more pictures of what love looks like in a healthy community of believers.  It behooves us to ask ourselves if this is a description of our contribution to our church community.

Love is authentic – “Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Rom 12:9-10).

Love communicates and cares – “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you” (I Cor 2:4).

Love serves – “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13).

Love refreshes – “For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother ” (Philemon 1:7).

Love edifies – “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge.  Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (I Cor 8:1).

Love encourages – “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24).

Love is hospitable – “Let love of the brethren continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:1-2).

Love does not offend – “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love.  Do not destroy with food him for whom Christ died” (Rom 14:15).

Love forgives – “Above all, keep fervent in you love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (I Pet 4:8).

Love keeps the faith – “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith; praying in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life (Jude 1:20-21).

Love obeys – “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15).

A word I have borrowed from pastor Ray Stedman to describe this love is relentless.  It also characterized the early church.  “The early church saw its mission as one of reflecting God’s holiness, revealing God’s glory, and witnessing to the reality of Jesus Christ  – and it did so by demonstrating relentless love, both toward those within the fellowship and those outside” (Ray Stedman in Body Life).