Holiness


Many people, both Christian and non-Christian alike, define God in terms of just one attribute – love – to the neglect of all other attributes. And even then, they misunderstand love to mean unqualified acceptance and approval of our behaviors rather than God’s unqualified desire for our good as a person. As a result of this misunderstanding of God’s nature and His love, people question the existence of hell, the legitimacy of moral judgments, etc. Yes, God is love, but He is so much more. He is also just and holy.

Would you still be a Christian if there was a heaven, but no hell?

Imagine for a moment that God set up reality differently, such that people could be as bad as they wanted without any risk of eternal punishment.  When you die, you simply cease to exist.  However, if you follow Jesus, heaven still awaits you.  Would you still follow Jesus?  Be honest.  I encourage you to take five minutes to reflect on this question before reading on below.

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Evangelism is scary for many people, including myself.  Many Christians find it difficult to start a discussion on spiritual things.  Others fear that they’ll be pummeled with objections to the faith that they don’t know how to answer.  Many fear rejection.  As a result, we’ve invented new methods of “evangelism” that don’t require us to actually talk to anyone.  I’m thinking of “friendship evangelism” and “love evangelism” in particular.

The premise of friendship evangelism (also known as relationship evangelism or lifestyle evangelism) is that people will be attracted to your way of living (your holy behavior, your happiness, how you treat others, etc.), prompting them to ask you what your secret is, and predisposing them to become a Christian.  At that point, you share the gospel with them.

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smoking-nuns11Most American Christians have identified smoking or chewing tobacco as sinful, but what is the Biblical basis for this conclusion?  There is no verse that says “Thou shalt not smoke.”  So why should we think it’s morally wrong?

The two reasons I typically hear are related to (1) health and (2) addiction.  Regarding health, the verse appealed to is often 1 Corinthians 3:17 in which Paul says God will destroy those who defile the temple of God.  The temple is understood to be the human body, so anything that destroys the human body is sinful.  I’m not convinced this is the right interpretation of the verse, but let’s run with it for the sake of argument.  There’s no question that smoking cigarettes is not good for the body.  It’s unhealthy and thus unwise, but is this enough to warrant considering it sinful?  How many other things do we consume that are unhealthy for us?  Are we prepared to call too much consumption of chocolate, ice cream, soda, red meat, and the like sinful as well?  These are also unhealthy when consumed too much.  One may object that while these things are unhealthy, they do not typically kill the person who consumes them.  That may be true of each item individually, but not necessarily as a whole.  A person who consumes too much sugar, fat, etc. often develops diseases such as diabetes or cancer, and some die as a result.  If we’re not prepared to consider it a sin to eat too much ice cream  or drink too much soda, then why are we so quick to consider smoking a sin?  Perhaps we should consider both to be sin, but I doubt most would see it that way (you can pry my ice cream container away from my cold, dead hands!!).

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john-piperJohn Piper writes:

[T]here are two kinds of approaches to questionable practices in life. One I would call a minimalist approach to holiness and godliness. The other maximalist.

In the first case, your typical question is, “Well, what is wrong with it?” It would apply to movies and music, and kids often ask their parents, “What is wrong with it?” And the other approach is not to ask, “What is wrong with it?” mainly, but, “Will it make me more Christ like? Will it make me more devoted to Jesus? … Will it make me more bold in witness or weaken me? Will it help me be spiritually discerning of the ways of Satan in the world and will it help me lay up treasures in heaven?” …

You can see that there are these two kinds of approaches to life. I want to maximize my godliness and my holiness by drawing nearer and nearer to God, and the other one is just trying to do as many things as you can do without being tripped up explicitly by sin.

How true!

Cohabit - Not MarriageThe American College of Pediatricians explains why cohabitation is bad for society in just about every way imaginable.  And yet cohabitation continues to rise as the folk wisdom says it will increase one’s chances of marital success.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The most happiness does not come from receiving the benefits of marriage (sex, playing house) without actual marriage, but from marriage itself.

 

See also: The sociology of cohabitation: “Shacking up” isn’t such a good idea after all

YuckTrying to make Christian morality palatable to those in moral rebellion against God is like trying to make civil law palpable to criminals. They will never like God’s laws no matter how reasonable we demonstrate those laws to be. Defiant children do not care that eating too much candy will make them throw up or give them diabetes. They simply want candy. Likewise, those who want their sexual sin, their abortion, and a myriad of other sins do not care about the wisdom in God’s laws. They want what they want, and they will ridicule and deride those who say otherwise. This is not to say that we should not attempt to explain the reason for and benefits of God’s law. It’s just to say that we shouldn’t be surprised when this fails to change their behavior.

CohabitationCohabitation – the politically correct term for what used to be called “shacking up” – has become very common in our day.  Nearly 8 million opposite-sex couples live together today, compared to less than 1 million 30 years ago.  Nearly 10% of all opposite-sex couples are cohabiting, and over half of all first marriages are preceded by a period of cohabitation.

How did we get here?

How did cohabitation go from being illegal in all states prior to 1970 and held in moral contempt by society at large to being so ubiquitous and accepted today?  There are several reasons:

  • The sexual revolution removed the moral stigma of premarital sex.
  • Our culture has moved from a culture of traditions and social conformity to a culture of individualism and personal gratification.
  • We shifted from a deontological view of morality to a pragmatic and relativistic view of morality in which any activity that does not cause harm to others is morally permissible.
  • The recognition of the fragility of marriage, and a corresponding fear of divorce.
  • The rise of feminism which rejected the traditional roles played by married women. Cohabitation promised personal autonomy and more relationship equity.
  • The increasing economic independence of women made marriage less necessary for them. And men, who are generally more fearful of commitment, supported the arrangement since it still provided for their needs of sexual gratification and domestic support.[1]

Cohabitation is not what it seems

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SinMany Christians wonder whether God will forgive them for intentional sin – particularly premeditated and habitual sins.  It’s easy to believe God will forgive us for accidental sins, but not for sins that we plan out in advance or choose to do over and over again.

So, will God forgive such sins?  Before we answer that question we should be clear about what God thinks of these sins.  He hates them because He hates all sin.  Sin is contrary to His holy nature.  Sin ruptures God’s relationship with us, and this grieves Him.  He has given us the power to choose righteousness (Romans 6; 8:1-4), and yet we choose unrighteousness instead. (more…)

Cannabis leaf on grunge background, shallow DOF.Now that Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, more Christians are asking whether smoking marijuana is truly immoral. After all, it’s legal.[1] Joe Carter has a thoughtful article on this issue that I found extremely helpful.[2] He argues that smoking marijuana is immoral. Here is Carter’s argument in a nutshell (with some ad-lib on my part at certain points): (more…)

people-without-beards-are-womenHoliness churches are concerned with preserving the God-given distinction between men and women, and rightly so.  That’s why many holiness churches teach that women should wear skirts/dresses and grow their hair long while men should wear pants and cut their hair short.  It is ironic, then, that a number of holiness churches do not allow their male members to grow facial hair or view it as unfavorable when facial hair is the only natural, publically visible, God-given distinction between the sexes.  While men can grow their hair long and women can cut their hair short, and while men can dress effeminate and women can dress masculine, only men can grow facial hair.  Raymond Crownover noted this inconsistency in his response to a paper presented at the first Urshan Graduate School of Theology symposium in May 2002, writing: (more…)

best-beardMen and women were created differently.  The God-given distinction between the two genders should be not be blurred, but preserved and celebrated.  That’s why I am opposed to men shaving their facial hair.  Facial hair is the only natural, publically visible, God-given distinction between the sexes.  While men can grow their hair long and women can cut their hair short, and while men can dress effeminate and women can dress masculine, only men can grow facial hair.  It is the unique differentiator between men and women, and thus should be preserved.

Facial hair is part of God’s creative design.  And since the ability to grow facial hair is unique to the male gender, it seems obvious that God provided facial hair to men as a distinguishing feature of their gender.  If God did not want men to have facial hair, why would He have included it in our design?  What makes us think that have the liberty to artificially remove this God-given gender distinction?  For a man to shave his face is to say to the Creator, “You did not make me right.  This hair on my face was a mistake.”  When a man shaves his face, He is violating God’s creative intent and attempting to erase a unique stamp of his masculinity afforded to him by God.  (more…)

ModestyThere is a difference between a woman making herself attractive and making herself seductive.  The former enhances her natural beauty to increase a man’s desire for her, whereas the latter enhances her sexual appeal and increases a man’s desire to use her to satisfy his sexual lusts.  In other words, the former enhances her value as a person, whereas the latter devalues her to a mere object of lust.

Modesty cannot be legislated by prescribing certain forms of clothing, certain lengths, or a certain fit.  Women must be responsible for their own modesty.  With every outfit they put on they should be asking themselves, “Does this outfit enhance my natural beauty, or does it enhance my sex appeal to men?  Will this cause men to objectify me, or value me as a woman?”  If women asked these questions of themselves each morning, and if they asked it of other men, no church would have to have standards of modesty.

Christians often disagree regarding matters of personal holiness.  Those defending themselves against the charge of sin for some X will often respond by saying, “It’s not that bad.”  Of course, to say something is “not that bad” is tantamount to saying it’s “not that good” either.  In such cases, we should be honest with ourselves and others and just admit that X is not spiritually advantageous for us, even if it is morally tolerable.  Would we be better off if we abstained?  Perhaps.  Are we sinning if we don’t?  No.

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IFWe should not confuse permissiveness for grace. Grace says, “I love you and forgive you, so you need to stop this sin,” not “I love you and forgive you, so it doesn’t matter what you do.”  We are living in a culture that thinks love and forgiveness mean we should permit people to continue in their sin while we continue in our silence.  This is not grace, and this is not love.  Grace and love will always confront sin, because grace and love are the remedy for sin, not the license to continue in it.

Sam Storms has written an insightful analysis of the idea that we can or should “forgive God.”  While a few snippets cannot do it justice, the heart of his argument is as follows: 

First of all, let me say that I understand where this sort of question comes from. I understand how people quite often are confused by what God does or doesn’t do. … But my struggle is with the language of “forgiving God.” For one thing, I don’t find it ever used in Scripture. That alone ought to give us pause before we incorporate such language into our Christian vocabulary or allow it to shape our theology or our understanding of spiritual formation.

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That was the headline of the Daily Mail.  While I am fully aware that not all conservative Christian teens practice abstinence, I was stunned at the idea that there is virtually no difference in the rates of premarital sex between Christians and non-Christians.  According to Relevant magazine, a 2009 study revealed that 80% of evangelicals between 18-29 years of age had sex, compared to 88% of their peers.

Do you find this statistic shocking?  Do you have reason to doubt the validity of these findings?  Assuming the stats are accurate, I’m not too surprised myself.  In a sex-crazed culture like our own, it takes a lot of moral fortitude to abstain from sex before marriage.  And when you couple that with a culture that discourages young adults from marriage until their late 20s or early 30s, it’s no wonder so many young Evangelicals are succumbing to this sin.

UPDATE: Kevin DeYoung provides some good reasons to trust the accuracy of this report.

“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15, ESV)

When I was a young boy I spoke to my mother of hating some particular thing.  While I no longer remember what it was I expressed my hatred toward, I vividly remember the dialogue that ensued.  My mother told me I should not hate anything, to which I responded, “Well then, I dislike it completely.”

While my mom found my wordsmithing humorous, it raises an interesting question: What is the difference between a mere dislike and hatred?  How does one know when they have crossed the line from disliking someone or something to actually hating that thing or person?

How the article ends gives you a good sense of it: “We wouldn’t dream of dropping our daughters off at college and saying: ‘Study hard and floss every night, honey—and for heaven’s sake, get laid!’ But that’s essentially what we’re saying by allowing them to dress the way they do while they’re still living under our own roofs.”—Jennifer Moses.

 

HT: Justin Taylor

 

Believe it or not, Oneness churches are not the only Christians concerned about modesty! Reformed charismatic (yes, those two words can actually go together), C.J. Mahaney, has written a chapter titled “God, My Heart, and Clothes” for the soon-to-be released book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World. The chapter has been released in advance.

Mahaney’s approach is both Biblical and practical. I particularly liked how he emphasized the fact that modesty of attitude must accompany modesty of dress. Indeed, they are logically ordered that way. As he says, any discussion of modesty must begin with the heart rather than the hemline.

In describing what modesty is, he writes, “Modesty means propriety. It means avoiding clothes and adornment that are extravagant or sexually enticing. Modesty is humility expressed in dress. It’s a desire to serve others, particularly men, by not promoting or provoking sensuality.” Immodesty, on the other hand, “is much more than wearing a short skirt or low-cut top; it’s the act of drawing undue attention to yourself. It’s pride, on display by what you wear.”

But eventually we do come to the hemline. To women Mahaney asks, “What inspires your attire? Who are you identifying with through your appearance? Who are you trying to imitate or be like in your dress? Does your hairstyle, clothing, or any aspect of your appearance reveal an excessive fascination with sinful cultural values? Are you preoccupied with looking like the latest American Idol winner, or the actresses on magazine covers, or the immodest woman next door? Are your role models the godly women of Scripture of the worldly women of our culture?”

I am glad to see this issue is receiving attention outside holiness churches. It is a Biblical issue, and a Christian concern. And it is needed more than ever in today’s bare-all society. I know some churches have become quite legalistic over the matter, but that is no reason to dispense with modesty. It is reason to rescue true modesty from the shackles of legalism.