Living Out Our Faith

Life_in_Tension_web“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul
to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” (Psalm 24:1-4 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Reducing tension with a holy God sometimes increases our tension with an unholy world.

In his book, UnChristian, Davide Kinnaman (2007, 29-30) cites 6 themes in non-Christian skepticism about Christians:

1. Hypocritical. We say one thing and do another.
2. Christians are: “too focused on getting converts.”
3. Homophobic. “Christians are bigoted and show distain for gays and lesbians.”
4. Sheltered. Christians are: ”old-fashioned, boring, and out of touch with reality”.
5. Too political. Christians: “promote and represent politically conservative interests and issues.”
6. Judgmental. People doubt that “we really love people as we say we do.”

Thinly veiled behind each of these criticisms is a concern about Christian holiness. For example, if we are say that we are Christian and act like everyone else, especially when it comes to matters of sexuality, we are seen to be hypocritical, not holy. Or, if we live out our faith, then our live style is taken as judgment on those that do not. People know who we are.

When one discusses holiness issues within the church, one is frequently jabbed with the question—where is the grace in your worldview? In view here is the passage from the Gospel of John:

“For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16-17 ESV)

Here grace and law are seen as opposing each other. Two points can be made about this passage.

  1. Grace is a divine attribute and often used as a synonym most of the time for divine forgiveness, as in the forgiveness conferred on us by God through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  In its concreteness, the law aids in holiness being helpful in educating in righteousness, in law enforcement, and in outlining holiness in daily living, according to John Calvin (Haas 2006, 100).
  2. Grace and truth (law is a kind of prescriptive truth) go together. Almost no one in this context brings up the second part—truth. The idea of objective truth—God’s truth—is not a popular idea these days, but it is a precondition for any kind of serious scientific inquiry [1].

The Apostle Paul also provides interesting comments on this question. He writes:

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means![2] How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 ESV)

Grace is not an excuse for a libertine lifestyle. We are accountable for our actions and non-actions [3].  Law helps maintain our accountability.

The Law of Moses is often divided into two parts: the holiness code and ceremonial law. Because the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70, the ceremonial law could no longer be fulfilled. Consequently, when Jesus said:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matt 5:17 ESV)

Jesus’ fulfillment is, in part, a replacement of the ceremonial law that could no longer to fulfilled in the absence of the temple. But the holiness code itself—especially the prohibitions against sexual immorality—was never abolished or abrogated.  For example, the Council of Jerusalem in AD 50 removed the requirement that a person become a Jew before becoming a Christian, but reaffirmed the prohibition of sexual immorality for gentile Christians, the primary complaint today against the holiness code (Acts 15:19-20).

If you think that the holiness code is obsolete, consider the clean up in New York City that occurred in the 1980s. Two criminologists, James O. Wilson and George Kelling, started the clean up with what they called the “broken windows” theory. They argued:

“Crime is inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and a sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street if faces, sending the signal that anything goes. The idea is that crime is contagious.”

So New York City waged a war on broken windows and graffiti in the neighborhoods and subway. Minor infractions of law were not tolerated. And crime throughout the city began to fall precipitously to everyone’s surprise (White, 2004, 158).

The broken windows theory is to cities what the holiness code is to individuals.  King Solomon famously wrote of the “little” sins:  “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.” (Song 2:15 ESV)  Make your bed; brush your teeth; sweat the details. Little things matter—they form and reflect your attitude.

What we do and how we conduct ourselves matters. As Christians, we need to be a good example to our families and those around us—especially when it hurts. Who is going to honor God and our marriages if we do not?

We need to live into the faith that we have in Christ.

[1] The existence of one set of physical laws in the universe offers interesting insight into the question of God’s existence.

[2] Wallace (1969, 482) writes: ”Obviously Paul’s usage of μὴ γένοιτο [by no means] is not the same as Luke’s. Here it indicates, as it usually does, his repulsion at the thought that someone might infer an erroneous conclusion from the previous argument.” Greek instructors love this phrase (μὴ γένοιτο) because it is an example of the rare optative mood not readily found in English.

[3] The “we” here makes an important point. Christians are to pursue holiness; holiness is not a requirement that we impose on others. Requiring others to pursue holiness leaves us open to the charge of being judgmental cited earlier.

REFERENCES

Haas, Guenther H. 2004. “Calvin’s Ethics.” In The Cambridge Companion to John Calvin, 93–105. Edited by Donald K. McKim. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Kinnaman, David with Gabe Lyons. 2007. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Wallace, Daniel B. 1996. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

White, James Emery. 2004. Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

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