Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel~ Philippians 1:27 NASB
I recently reached a milestone I was not expecting to reach for at least another couple of decades. I have officially lived long enough to be astounded by the changes I have seen in my lifetime.
Just a few short years ago blackberries and apples were fruit. Green was a color not a movement. Crocs were reptiles. Living together prior to marriage was considered way out of the mainstream. People used payphones in emergencies. Restaurants had smoking sections and watches had a practical rather than simply decorative purpose.
Tweeting was something birds did. Microwave ovens were for rich people. No one had ever heard of social media, reality television, iPods, helicopter parenting, DVDs, online dating or life coaches.
Changes have not been exclusively reserved for the technological and secular spheres of life. The Church has seen more than its fair share of radical shifts in the years since I became a Christian.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when no one in the Church had ever heard of coffee bars, the emergent church movement or the purpose-driven ministry model. Worship teams, small groups, overhead projectors for music and padded chairs (as opposed to pews) were considered cutting edge ministry innovations.
I don’t have a problem with tweaking the way we do Church. There is nothing heretical about changing how we reach a relentlessly changing culture. I do have a problem with change for the sake of change. Change for change’s sake is a silly waste of time, spiritual energy and fiscal resources
One change I find particularly troubling is the tendency to shy away from holding anyone to a higher standard of behavior. Back in the day, Pastors and Bible teachers spent a great deal of time highlighting the importance of Christians being different and living their lives at a higher level of morality than the rest of the culture.
Today I want to make a case for living life at a higher standard. I am not advocating high moral values for non-Christians. Non-Christians should not be expected to behave like Christians. Neither am I advocating eccentricity (being different for the sake of being different) or legalism (doing things or adopting behaviors in an effort to earn salvation). I am advocating a return to a pursuit of holiness and Christian distinctiveness (1st Peter 2:9). Higher standards of behavior benefit believers in at least three ways:
Higher standards cause non-Christians to self-evaluate- 1st Peter 3:1
When Christians make the effort of living their lives according to God’s standards, marriages tend to be stronger and families more loving. Folks tend to be more content with what they have and suffer from fewer life-controlling addictions and behaviors. Non-Christians observe the differences and sometimes the disparities trigger self-evaluation of their priorities and lifestyle choices. Assessments of lifestyle choices often lead to repentance and a relationship with Jesus.
Higher standards act as a safeguard- Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 119:45
God’s decrees aren’t magic bullets but sometimes they look and feel like it. Families are happier and healthier when parents follow biblical principles for family life. Managing money according to biblical principles shelters folks from many financial disasters. God’s rules for sex have protected generations from heartbreak, disease and unintended pregnancy. Doing life God’s way inevitably produces superior outcomes and happier human beings.
Higher standards deepen our relationship with God- Psalm 62:7, 2nd Corinthians 12:9
Living life by biblical standards is not easy, and it is not something we accomplish without God’s help. The commitment to live at a level we are not really capable of forces us to seek a deeper dependency on God. If you don’t feel you need God’s help to live up the moral standards you’ve set for yourself, your standards are not high enough.
Christians have confused moral standards with legalism and rigidity for far too long. It is not legalistic to be vigilant about what we allow into their minds via books, television, music or other forms of media (Proverbs 4:23). It may be antiquated, but it’s not legalistic to be cautious about the words we use (Ephesians 4:29). It is not puritanical to believe that Christians should not divorce without biblical grounds or that God’s views on sexuality (1st Thessalonians 4:3-8) are still relevant today.
A return to higher standards of morality will empower individual Christians to reach a world that urgently needs to witness the power of holiness in action.