Online Articles

Online Articles

What is the Standard?


What is the Standard?

Christians are called out of this world.  We are called to be different.  We are called to live by a higher standard.  Romans 12:1-2 says,

“I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, in order to prove by you what is that good and pleasing and perfect will of God.

Similarly, Ephesians 5:1 says,

“Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love even as Christ also loved you and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell.  But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not even be named among you as becometh saints;  no filthiness, nor foolish talking, or jesting, which are not fitting: but rather giving of thanks.”

Titus 2:11 says,

“For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world.”

This is no surprise to Christians.  We are called to be God’s own special people (1 Peter 2:9).  We are called to separate ourselves from the defiling influences and practices of this world.  We are his children so we must seek those things that are above (Colossians 3) and shun the evil works of darkness (Ephesians 5). 

In this increasingly wicked and godless world, our behavior stands out in greater and greater contrast to those around us.  This presents a surprising challenge.  In his book Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up, David Bercot makes an insightful and thought-provoking observation about many of those professing faith in Christ in our society.

“Christians today frequently pride themselves on being different from the world, but in reality they are usually only different from a particular segment of the world.

Liberal Christians think they are different from the world because they do not share the bigotry, provincialism, and narrow-mindedness that [they believe] characterizes the conservative bloc of our society.  But in truth the attitudes and lifestyle of liberal Christians are little different from that of liberal non-Christians.

The same principle is true of evangelicals.  Because [they] cling to conservative American values, [they] tell [themselves] that [they’re] acting independently of our culture.  But conservative attitudes can be just as much a part of the world as liberal ones.  Haven’t [evangelical] attitudes on divorce, entertainment, and other issues changed in response to changes in our culture?”

Bercot’s observation is undeniably true.  In the last 100 years attitudes and teachings in the religious world have changed with regard to such things as divorce, social drinking, dancing, modest dress, the proper roles of women in the church, entertainment, and materialism.  Attitudes in the denominational world have changed dramatically.  What about us?  Is this happening within the church?

How can this happen?  The problem creeps in when we start comparing ourselves to the wrong standards.  Sometimes we feel comfortable if we aren’t as ungodly as the worst attitudes we see in the world.  We can become comfortable being “just above” the world around us.  We can reason, “Well, I’m not dressed like that,” or, “I don’t talk like most of my co-workers.”  We can become comfortable being “relatively” righteous compared with the world around us.

We can also fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with other Christians.  We can become comfortable because we fit in with the norms of the congregation or the norms of our friends.  We can reason, “Well so-and-so thinks it is ok, and he is strong in the faith.”  Whether we are comparing ourselves with sinful neighbors or with our imperfect brethren, we are looking at the wrong standard.  Our standards will drift with the currents of our society.  Over time we will move far from where we ought to be.

The right standard is the unchanging word of God.  Instead of asking, “What do my brethren think about this?” we should ask, “What do the scriptures have to say about this?”  Our attitudes and actions need to be deeply rooted in the principles taught in scripture.  Through honest and diligent study I need to learn God’s standard for holy living.  I need to come to a deeper understanding of the character of Christ.  I need to understand what God expects of those who would serve Him.

Once I have a handle on God’s standard, I need to honestly apply it.  Is my life consistent with my profession of faith?  Is the entertainment I enjoy consistent with faith in Christ?  Is it pure?  Is it wholesome?  Is it consistent with or at war with the spirit of Christ?  How about my dress?  Is it modest and respectful?  Is it appropriate, or is it on the edge of what might be considered acceptable?  Is my speech measuring up to God’s standard?  Are my words expressive of a quiet and humble spirit, demonstrating grace and consideration for others?  Do I use corrupt, arrogant, inconsiderate, or disrespectful speech?  How about my general attitude toward life?  Is it evident that I am a stranger and pilgrim on the earth?  Is it clear to all that my treasure is in heaven?  Am I a joyous, thankful person, or do I complain about everything?

Wisdom and judgment are necessary to apply God’s principles to specific situations, but the standard does not change.

Patrick Gaughan