In our first article in this series, we discussed the problem so many Christians have of compartmentalizing. While we say believe the whole, and even while we believe that we believe the whole Bible, we are masters at selectively regarding the parts that are convenient, not too demanding, or that suit our tastes. Not only did we look at examples of compartmentalization, but we also looked at some of its root causes. In this article, we will begin to think about ways we can address this problem in ourselves.
The Right Side of History
To be sure, some compartmentalization in life is good and necessary. For example, when you go to work (for those of us that still “go to work”) you are expected to set aside, to the degree reasonably possible, your personal issues once the workday begins. And rightly so. You are, at least theoretically, part of a team that is working towards a common goal (I fully recognize that “setting aside your personal issues” is rather old-fashioned these days, but hopefully you get the point). The same is true with many other areas of life, such as sports or going to your friend’s daughter’s birthday party. However, this is not so with our faith. Scripture everywhere speaks of this:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:14-16)
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col. 4:5-6)
But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:20-24)
The true membership of the church, like the membership of heaven, is made up of born-again, repentant believers. Yet at best in churches today all we see is (perhaps) some form of regret. Repentance is rare, indeed, as real repentance results, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, in a change of life. And the world wants none of that.
As Reformed, Bible-believing Christians, we are often accused of being on “the wrong side of history.” Yet if there is something we ought to be afraid of, it is being on the wrong side of a Holy and Majestic God, who is the very author of history.
To be sure, all of this is not easy. It is hard. However, due to the devastating effects of the Fall and Man’s propensity for self-deception, we must base our ethical decisions on something other than the subjective sense of what feels right. But that is why we have the Holy Spirit, and that is what He is especially good at. The interesting thing is, in calling Him “Holy,” scripture does not just provide His name. It also provides His job description. That is, He is constantly about the business of sanctifying us, of conforming us to the image of the Son, of making us more holy, called out and separated to Himself and His glory.
“As Christians, we are often accused of being on “the wrong side of history.” Yet if there is something we ought to be afraid of, it is being on the wrong side of a Holy and Majestic God, who is the very author of history.
Suggested Steps to Whole-Minded Obedience
So then, the first step is to recognize this: God wants to transform us. If we do not begin with this basic fact, this command, we will remain frustrated with ourselves and all but useless to God.
The second step starts with a question: how can we be transformed when we don’t know what we are called to be? Have you ever tried to put together a bar-b-que grill without instructions? How about an automobile? How about your soul? Of course, I am speaking metaphorically, as we know that it is God, and God alone that does the building and causes the growth. But we are called to know God’s Word, His Instruction Book, his manual for life that gives us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). So then, we must know His Word to the highest degree that we are able. We must sit under Godly teaching; we must read God-honoring books; we must engage in God-reflecting studies and discussions. In this troubled world where the internet and social media seem to be the arbiter of many lives, there is one consolation: Godly teaching and excellent Christian books reflecting the wisdom of the ages are both readily accessible with very little effort.
The third step, which is congruent with the second, is simply asking God to do what he tells us He wants to do.
Let us say we acknowledge that God calls us to be different people than we were and even are, to be more like His Son, to be worthy ambassadors of His in a hostile land. Further, we recognize our weaknesses, our stammerings, and our unworthiness for such a task. Then, recognizing all this, we ask Him to help us in this noble endeavor. Do you really think He would deny such a request? The granting of this request does not occur overnight (usually), but over time, as we lay our concerns, worries, and weaknesses at His feet, then we find that our hearts, our desires, and our passions, have slowly, almost imperceptibly, changed. Like taking a trip by car and suddenly realizing that you have traveled 100 miles and are nowhere near your starting point. And that which used to matter so much to us in our flesh no longer matters quite so much. And the cares of this world begin to grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.
“We must know God’s Word to the highest degree that we are able. We must sit under Godly teaching; we must read God-honoring books; we must engage in God-reflecting studies and discussions.
And then what? When we have taken these steps and done all these noble things and then have to face the world, then what? Let me provide an imperfect illustration.
In the Royal Navy, during the age of sail, they had a simple phrase that would be passed from man to man as they were about to engage the enemy. It held true for the highest-ranking officers to the lowest-ranking gunners. It summed up all that was expected of them when facing a situation that was truly frightening and nearly impossible for us to comprehend today. For once the battle started and the cacophony and fog of war began, when one cannon ball against the side of your ship would send massive shards of wooden splinters tearing through your station and impaling anyone in the way, this simple encouragement held them together as a team: HOLD FAST.
We see similar encouragements in our Bibles, to stand firm, to be immovable, to HOLD FAST.
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. (Eph. 6:14-18)
The Nature of Our Struggle
These are difficult times, but remember that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).
In other words, at its very core, this is a spiritual battle. We desperately need spiritual weapons to wage it.
Yet note that there are many other times when a cannonball is not exactly the best response. Rather, a kind word or action, especially when we are mistreated, can be more effective than any broadside. This is where wisdom comes in. And guess what? The Holy Spirit stands ready to provide that, too!
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matt. 5:44-46)
To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:20-21)
Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matt. 10:16)
Conclusion: Being Who We Are in Christ
Doubtless many have heard the admonition that, “Church is not just something you do on Sunday.” Although well-meaning in its exhortation (i.e., we are not to act one way on Sunday and another during the week), the statement is based on an incorrect premise. It hinges, I believe, on the word “do” (look at the statement again). Why is that? The reason is this: the Church is not something you “do,” it is something you are.
And as the church, we are called to see ourselves as we really are, which helps us see the Lord as he truly is and understand the depth and height and breadth of the grace that has been given to us. And yes, we then see the world as it truly is. There is much to be angry about, to be sure, but though we may be downcast we should not be surprised when the world acts just like the world. To the degree possible, then, we are to have the eyes of Christ, seeing the true reality of ourselves, the world, and our role in it.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph. 1:3-10)
May God, in His infinite mercy, cause us to be transformed through the renewing of our minds.