Friday, February 9, 2018
Yes, a Life of Holiness is Possible
The Old Life and the New
Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
While it may sound that the Apostle is picking on the Gentiles here, he really is not. He is referring to the pagans within the world who have had no exposure to God. The Jews had been raised to worship God and had a moral framework from which they lived their lives. The pagans were just that, pagan, and worshipped numerous gods, and engaged in sexual practices as a part of that worship. They were encouraged to satisfy every longing and desire without boundaries.
Knowing Christ was completely counter-cultural to the pagan practices of the day, and about this, Paul was emphatic. Knowing Christ was not to be some sort of intellectual practice, but Jesus was to be the object of “knowing.” Putting on Christ changed everything and that included a complete renunciation of the previous way of life. This meant self-discipline and no longer engaging in the sexual practices and gratifications of the world. Yes, being a follower of Jesus Christ meant a radically different lifestyle, one in which a believer was clothed in Christ. Now, the life lived was one of righteousness and holiness, for this was a reflection of the character of God.
There have been times when society has mirrored the culture of the church because morals of society and government have, at times in history, been influenced by the church. At the same time there have been cultures that have chosen to distance themselves from any type of Judeo-Christian ethic. Instead, we find an embracing of the pagan culture, and the encouragement to normalize first-century culture. How often does the world tell us that the barometer for our lives is to do what feels good? It sounds like the world into which Paul was speaking. And together with Paul, the church needs to say, “this is not how you came to know Christ!”
There is an expectation for there to be a change of lifestyle when one puts on Christ. The old is gone, and behold everything becomes new. I don’t think that Paul was saying that this was easy, but it was an expectation. But we shouldn’t miss the good news here. No one says that we are to do this all on our own. There are two factors to consider. The first is that we are empowered by putting on Christ. We become partakers of the divine nature, and in doing so, we put on Christ’s holiness. This is not our own holiness, but Christ living in us, who empowers us to live a new life. Also, we must remember that Paul is addressing all of this to the church. The church is to be a community of faith that is counter-cultural, and becomes an incubator for those who are growing in righteousness and holiness. In other words, we are to encourage one another in this new life.
I’m afraid that sometimes we set the bar pretty low for being a follower of Christ. There are times when you can’t tell the difference between a Christian and the secular world. It’s as if Christians have moved in a direction that takes them as close to the world as possible. Paul was calling out Christ-followers to live a life that was radically different. Yes, a life of holiness is possible when we are completely sold-out to Jesus Christ and when we allow ourselves to be shaped by a community of faith that continually leads us into the direction of Christ.
Lord, this challenge isn’t easy, and yet, I know you provide the strength needed. Please, help me to be a faithful member of the church who lives for you, and encourages others along the way. Amen.