Raising the Bar
1Pet. 1:22 ¶ Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.
There was an expectation that followers of Jesus Christ would continue to grow in their faith and that they would live in obedience to him. Barnes noted, "The apostles were never afraid of referring to human agency as having an important part in saving the soul." In other words, you didn't just wait around for God to save you, but you became an active participant in the life of faith, and by living in obedience moved on to higher heights of your spiritual life. The result of moving into a deeper relationship through obedience is participating in the very nature of Christ and thereby discovering his love. This is why the law can be summed up in love of God and love of neighbor. Paul said that we were to be imitators of Christ. Christ lived a life of obedience to the Father and if he lived a life of obedience, then we are to live a life of obedience. This life is truly a reflection of Christ himself. The longer we live in obedience and imitation of Christ the harder it will be to tell whether I am imitating Christ, or whether it is Christ being reflected in me. This is the moment of genuineness and from this flows the mutual love for God and for one another. And ultimately this is holiness!
For much of last century of Christendom we have attempted to relate to and to become more like the world. We have made worship services as much like the world as we possibly can so that people will feel comfortable in attending. We struggled through our period of legalism and are now at a place where we want to be out in the world and relate to the world so much that I'm afraid, at times, there's not much difference between us and the world. Maybe it's time to raise the bar again! Not in a legalistic fashion, but in a way that truly helps us to understand that holiness is about becoming like Christ, and that our participation in that process is necessary.
Several things I've read lately are coming to mind. One is that young people are turning away from our casual protestant worship services because they find nothing different or unique in them. Going to church feels like going to a concert of some kind. Young people who have been raised in casual evangelicalism are wanting to go somewhere that they are raising the bar. They don't want an "easy" Christianity but want to be challenged to worship the transcendent God who is not like the world they encounter on a daily basis. Suddenly they are inspired by more mystical and liturgical services and want to participate in seasons of prayer and fasting. Why? Because all of this raises the bar above where they have been living and helps them to see that God is not the same as the world.
Another interesting article I read was regarding drinking alcohol and peer pressure among Christians. Basically this article stated that it's become cool to be okay with Christians drinking so therefore when young Christians get together there is a sense of peer pressure to participate in drinking -- almost as if saying, "I can do this - -it's not a problem for me." This young person who wrote the article said that the pressure has become so great that to simply order a soft drink means that the other Christians look down on you. "What's your problem -- you too weak to handle the stuff?" There should NEVER be peer pressure among Christians TO drink alcohol. But again, we've lowered the bar and are working hard to become as much like the world that we possibly can and therefore we become uncomfortable with the Christian around us who may choose to not drink.
This walk with Jesus Christ is serious stuff and it was never supposed to be about a set of rules -- but it was supposed to be about actively participating in a relationship with Jesus Christ that brings us into ever more conformity with his likeness. Maybe it's time to raise the bar again and realize that we are to be living lives in imitation of Christ. If I want to be like him, why wouldn't I want to practice being like him! That means that every day in all the things we do, on a conscious level we choose whether to be obedient to his likeness or not. It means that we do nothing out of selfish ambition -- but we do all to the glory of God. Raising the bar is a personal thing -- it is not a standard that the Church creates. The standard has already been set -- and the standard is Christ. Live in imitation of Christ and his love will overwhelm you. Let's raise the bar!
Lord, please help me live in faithful imitation of you today. Amen.