Friday, February 15, 2019

Legalism or Holiness?

(Winter in Monroe)

(Over the past year I have had this discussion with some good friends. In this post I am putting together some of my thoughts about this. And, we are preaching on revival and spiritual awakening at Redeemer; thus, an emphasis on holiness. That's good, right? This is for all of you, as we all are desiring - more than anything - to be "living sacrifices that are holy to the Lord"; to be holy, as Jesus is holy.)

"Now that I am a Christian, can I still swear?"

"Can I still tell sexual jokes?" 

"How about racist jokes?"

"How about ethnic jokes?"

"Am I now free, by God's grace, to use my words any way I want, if I and others find them funny?"

Wrong questions. The correct question is: 

"As a follower of Jesus, 
what does it mean to be holy, 
as he is holy?"

The first set of questions is about what behaviors I can get away with. The second question is about what behaviors imitate Christ. The first set of questions is about freedom to do, say, and think about anything I desire to do, say, and think. The second question is about the burning desire to do what Jesus did, said, and thought. The first questions center on the word "I," the second question centers on the word "Him." There is a kingdom-world of difference between the two.

When I went to Singapore to teach, I learned that Singaporeans could be offended if you sat with your one leg over the other, with the sole of your shoe pointing at them. This is a cultural wrong, for them. Knowing this, I did not sit like that. I would not do something that I knew would offend them. 

When I became a follower of Jesus I stopped saying the f-word. I don't remember anyone telling me to do this. I do remember feeling I should not say this word. I thought it was derogatory. And, in our culture, it was offensive to many. I felt (and still feel) that the f-word was of the language of the world culture I was rescued out of. I began to discover there were new ways of speaking, thinking, and acting. I was experiencing freedom-power to speak, think, and act in holy ways, as Christ spoke, thought, and acted. Freedom was not something that gave me license to do whatever I desired. Freedom was to be transformed into someone who was desiring Jesus.

I have participated in too many Christian conferences to count. I've listened to dynamic teen preachers, ex-drug preachers, wise elderly preachers, women and men, famous and unknown. I cannot remember one time one of these many, diverse preachers dropped an f-bomb. I can't remember one time when one of these preachers shared a crude, sexual joke. And, I've been friends with some of those preachers, had dinner with them, sipped coffee together, and cannot remember one time one of them leaned in to me and said, "Did you hear the joke about....?", and proceeded to laugh at their sexual humor.

Why not? Why isn't my friend Robby Dawkins f-bombing when he preaches? When I spent three days with him two summers ago filming "Adventures with God," why wasn't he f-bombing off camera? Why weren't we sitting around laughing about sexual jokes, now that we were off-stage? (BTW - I find Robby the same off-camera as he is on-camera. That's called integrity.)

I think, for reasons like this. 

Don’t let anyone look down on you 
because you are young, 
but set an example for the believers 
in conduct, 
in love, 
in faith 
and in purity.

1 Timothy 4:12

If anyone speaks, 
they should do so as one who speaks 
the very words of God.

1 Peter 4:11

For they mouth empty, boastful words and, 
by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, 
they entice people who are just escaping 
from those who live in error.

2 Peter 2:18

Let your conversation be always full of grace, 
seasoned with salt.

Colossians 4:6

Swearing, and telling and listening to crude sexual humor, and degrading humor, was part of the culture I got rescued out of. The language of the Kingdom was different. I found many things not so funny any more. And, I found joy.

This is not legalism. It is about the pursuit of holiness. It is about formation into Christlikeness. (Gal. 4:9) It is about having the mind of Christ. It is about desire. Legalism does not exist where there is desire. Legalism is about "I have to"; desire is about "I am compelled to."

As someone who has spent a lifetime studying words (my doctoral dissertation was on metaphor theory), I am convinced that words have power. Words have power to build up and tear down, to honor and to shame, to love and to hate, to create and destroy, to esteem and demean. We can use our words in holy ways. We can use our words in worldly, secular ways. 

The real questions are:

"Do my words set an example for others?"

"Do my words bring glory to God?"

"Do my words represent the words of God?"

"Are my words "seasoned with salt"?" That is, do my words influence others towards Jesus?"

"Or, do my words sexually entice people?"

"Do my words, thoughts, and deeds form a pathway into the Kingdom of God, or into the kingdom of darkness?

One more question, for me at least, if not for you.

"Do my words always represent Jesus and bring glory to him?"

The answer to that question is, no.

The difference is this. When a follower of Jesus fails to represent Christ, they never see this as getting away with something. They see it as failure in holiness. Which causes them to pursue Christ even more, until the day when our thoughts, words, and deeds are fully like him.

My two books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.