God calls us to holiness because He is holy, but what does this realistically look like in our lives? Where is the line?
Is it okay to have a beer? How far is too far physically when you are in a dating relationship? Is it okay to go to an R-rated movie or to listen to secular music? How should we, as Christians, live in a culture where standards have been blurred, changed and even completely erased in many areas? Despite the ever-changing culture of our world, God's standards have not changed nor are they outdated or "old school" as some people might think.
In addition to the constantly changing cultural values, there is also the hyper-grace movement to contend with that says everything is okay, that because of grace we don't need to worry about standards but this is simply not true either. Don't get me wrong, there is no one more thankful for grace than me—I am who I am because of Jesus and the grace that He continually gives me. It is only by His grace that I went from being a drunken fraternity guy at FSU to the pastor of a church. And just as a side note: I think many of us would be able to minister to others a lot more effectively if we remembered who we were and where we were before Jesus saved us!
But the grace of Jesus Christ is not a get out of jail free card! Grace does not give us a free pass to ignore the guidelines and standards set for us as followers of Jesus. It does however cover our mistakes when we all fall miserably short of them despite our best efforts.
So, what are these standards? In a world that says "acceptable" is relative to the culture we live in or subjective to the individual person's beliefs, how do we find anything absolute to live by? The only standards that do not change based on culture, time or the hearer are the ones that are found in the Bible.
But the Bible is not just a really old book of rules. It is the inspired, infallible Word of God. It is full of story after story from generation after generation of jacked up, imperfect people and the patience, redemptive love and grace of a perfect God. The Bible does give us rules, guidelines and standards to live by but it also gives us at look at the lessons, struggles, and lives of so many that have gone before us attempting to live by these standards. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we read that "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip His people to do every good work.
So how do we do it? How do we find the place between legalism, hyper-grace, and the anything-goes, live-and-let-live culture we find ourselves in? How do we live our lives in a way that even comes close to the standards of holiness God has set for us?
First and foremost, you need to know what these standards are. You cannot adhere to God's Word if you do not know God's Word. Find a Bible reading plan, a good Bible-based devotional, a biblical commentary, something that works for you. We need to learn from, read and study God's Word daily because you cannot adhere to something that you don't know. In addition to knowing God's Word, I believe there are four practical things that we can all do to challenge ourselves to live according to God's Word.
The first thing we must do is to make a commitment to God's standards. Psalm 119:9 says "How shall a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your Word." If we want to stay pure and live by the standards that God has laid out for us we have got to live according to the Word of God. We need to know the Word of God and be obedient to the entire Word of God, not just the parts of the Bible that we enjoy reading or that make us feel better about ourselves.
Knowing the Word of God not only helps us to stay pure by being obedient but it also gives us the wisdom to be able to better discern the voice of God because the voice of God will never contradict the Word of God. This is something I have been asked many times as a pastor; what should I do when I feel like God has provided an opportunity, given me a feeling, or maybe even spoken something to me but it doesn't exactly line up with the Bible?
Just for the record if you feel like God spoke something to you and it contradicts what the Bible says, you heard incorrectly; no matter how "right" something feels, our feelings do not trump the Word of God.
Another thing we must do to help us live according to God's Word is to manage our minds. The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:5 that, "Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." How many of us if we are honest with ourselves would say that sometimes our imaginations are in need of being "cast down."
I mean, I love Jesus with all of my heart, but it is easy for my imagination to get away from me. When we have to deal with stress, bad news or a difficult situation oftentimes our imagination can be miles ahead of us, in the wrong direction, before we even realize it. It is in those moments that we have to take those thoughts and make them obedient to Christ.
Another way that you can help manage your mind is by monitoring what it is that you allow in through your eyes and ears. Our thought life is greatly affected by what we see and hear. Managing our minds starts with managing what we allow to influence our minds. The key to this, however, is not attempting to monitor it in the moment but setting up some guidelines or standards in your own life about what you will watch, listen or expose yourself to.
The third thing we must all do, and this is huge, is to magnify the consequences. It is so easy to romanticize things, to think that the grass is always greener, or to choose the easier option. We all naturally tend to consider the immediate satisfaction a decision might bring rather than considering the repercussions or consequences that it might bring in the future.
I will never forget something that my pastor, Pastor Stovall Weems, said to me once: "If you ever think about doing anything in your life that could possibly hurt your family, I want you to picture sitting down and having to tell your children what you have done face to face." That thought has stuck with me (and terrified me!) over the years. We must always consider the consequences of "what if" instead of romancing the thoughts "if only."
Magnifying the truth about how your life could be negatively affected in the long run will help to defuse false assumptions of gains in the short run from bad decisions. One of the things that I personally have done in my own life is to put together a wall in my office of pictures of all the people I would let down if I made a big mistake.
There are pictures of my children, my wife, my parents, my grandparents, people I pastor and also great men and women that have gone before me. I want to magnify the consequences in a way that keeps me focused on the standards God has called me to.
What consequences can you magnify in your own life? What are those things that you could never imagine having to do or go through if you made a major mistake? Magnify them! Keep them in front of you and don't forget how much you have to lose.
Another thing we must all do to help us live according to God's Word is to maintain proper relationships. There are some relationships that you need to have and some that you simply do not need to have. Proverbs 13:20 says "He who walks with wise men will be wise, but a companion of fools will be destroyed."
Of course, we all want to be characterized as a person who is wise, but we cannot achieve that without surrounding ourselves with people who are wise to speak into our lives. We should always seek out people that will sharpen us, help us be better and more like Jesus. We do not need people in our lives that only tell us only what we want to hear; instead, we need people that tell us what we need to hear. The flip side of this coin is that all of us will have relationships that, if we are not careful, can harm us and pull us away from God's standards.
For example, if you are married there is really no reason for you to have a close relationship with someone of the opposite sex. You must be intentional in all your relationships, maintaining proper boundaries with some people as well as seeking out wisdom and the healthy influence of others.
So, let me ask you: How are you doing with these areas? Have you made commitments to God's standards? Do you manage your mind in a way that brings glory and honor to Jesus? Are you magnifying the consequences and are you maintaining proper relationships? My prayer is that you answered yes to a lot of these questions, but if you didn't, remember it is never too late to make adjustments in your life that will move you closer to standards God has called you to live by.
Josh Turner and his wife, Becca, are the lead pastors of Celebration Orlando. Under the leadership of Pastor Stovall and Kerri Weems, Josh spent the last nine years leading the Student Ministries of Celebration Church. Both Josh and Becca believe wholeheartedly in innovating creative and cutting edge ways to reach people for the cause of Christ. They have a passion to see people understand their unique purpose and fulfill the call of God on their life.
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