And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually] by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you].
Romans 12:2 AMP
My thoughts this month are very much about being one thing or another. Christianity is, at it’s core, a black-and-white issue Faith. There’s God’s Way – redemption through Jesus and only through Jesus – or Hell. No in betweens.
Star Wars has only the Sith believing in absolutes, which is something portrayed as being a bad thing. The “Dark Side”. Evil. It’s the realm of Darth Sidious, Darth Vader and Darth Maul. Look to Obi-Wan Kenobi and you see, especially in the original movies, “truth” is portrayed as being based on your perspective. The World is big on this concept.
Or look at the Narnia and Lord of the Rings movies. When CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein wrote the books the films are based on, the central characters undergo a transformation, but certain characters know beyond doubt their call from the start. Through “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”, Peter goes through transformation from uncertain boy to High King in both the book and the movie. In “Prince Caspian” he retains that sense of destiny in the book, but in the movie he is portrayed as doubtful and hesitant. Similarly, Aragorn – although he has lived the life of a Ranger in Tolkein’s books, is mindful of his destiny. In the movies he seems to be reluctant and the elves have to pressure him to take up the re-forged sword and claim the crown. The hobbits go through a major transformational journey in the books that leads them back to the Shire where they encounter the remnants of the evil they have fought in Mordor, and easily defeat it. In the movie, they travel, become warriors and battle hardened, then go back to hiding in the corner of the inn when they get back to Hobbiton, and the greatest act of “bravery” demonstrated is Sam asking Rosie out for a drink.
Quite a difference.
The movies reflect the attitude of the day. Even in the Marvel movies we see heroes riddled with doubt about themselves being hailed as the greater ones, while the confident and certain are portrayed as arrogant and dangerous.
That’s where we need to begin to focus.
Is declaring Truth arrogant? To the World it’s certainly dangerous. Imagine if Donald Trump were to suddenly be stood up to by a group who actually knew the whole Gospel. Or Hillary Clinton had to face the consequences of lying about her actions before the election campaign. What if there were real consequences for the rampant hate speech most of the candidates have engaged in?
But a Christian who dares to say what both old and new Testament alike say about certain sins like greed, hate, envy, lust and homosexuality – yes, I went there – is decried as being “out of touch”, “extremist” or “phobic” about whatever the issue is. The buzzwords are “homophobia” and “islamophobia” these days. Anyone who dares criticise the almighty Republican or Democrat stance is branded un-American at best, even a traitor in some cases. Beating up people who disagree with your political view has become something celebrated at Trump’s rallies and rendered the Republican front-runner into a demagogue drunk with power, his rallies beginning to resemble those of the Nazis in pre-war Germany in their hatred for those who they perceive as “different”.
And we are stuck as Christians trying to take a stand for clear definitions of right and wrong when all anyone wants to do is make everything grey. The shade they like, buy grey nevertheless.
And so it was for Paul as he wrote to the Roman church. He saw the pressure they were experiencing, pressure very similar to what Christians face today in the West, to water-down the Gospel and make it more “socially acceptable” and less disruptive.
But consider the life of Jesus. Everywhere He went and spoke there was one of two reactions: they loved Him and flocked to see Him and hear His message or they tried to kill Him. There was nothing in between. The broken, the disenfranchised, the marginalised and the outcast and foreigners flocked to Him. The establishment sought to discredit and murder Him.
Compare it to today. Evangelicals who have called out candidates on certain stances have been held out with contempt by the ones who want to be the Boss of the USA.
And I do mean “Boss” not “Leader. Consider the true leaders of the last few decades. JFK, Jimmy Carter spring to mind in politics. Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates in business. Dr King and Billy Graham in the Ministry of the Gospel.
These men preferred others over themselves. They put principles first and yes, they may have become wealthy, but their wealth was not at the expense of others.
Consider the bosses of our time. Trump, Clinton, Reagan, both Bush’s in the US and Thatcher, Blair and their ilk in UK politics (and business in Trump’s case). We are not called to judge men, but we are called to look at the fruit they bear in their lives. Self, greed, envy, fear, hate and doubt are the politics of today. Shades of grey, as I’ve had on my heart recently, have become the norm. Nobody dares to speak in terms of moral absolutes any more.
And we are called to make a choice as Christians.
There is only one choice.
I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore, you shall choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding closely to Him; for He is your life [your good life, your abundant life, your fulfillment] and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord promised (swore) to give to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
[Deuteronomy 30:19,20 AMP]
Life or death. That’s the choice. As Romans puts it, conform to this world or let God transform us into His likeness through Faith in Jesus.
God sets out, thousands of years ago, the prescription for today’s great problem by boiling it down to one choice. Live or die. All in Adam die, and all in Christ are made alive.
We become bogged down on semantics about single issues. Certainly sexual sin is important – Paul writes that it is the only sin that a man commits against his own flesh – but we need to look at all the fruit we bear and prune away the dead wood, or rather let Him prune it away so we can bear good fruit. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Temperance. The fruit of the Spirit. People are so focussed in on the individual sin that they, that we are missing the big picture. We run around trying to convince everyone that they are sinners and they need God by telling them about their sin. It’s like running to a depressed person and telling them their problem is they’re depressed or to a hungry person and telling them they have no food.
In their core, in our heart of hearts, every man, woman and child knows they are far short of God’s standards. False religions thrive on this as they set out how mankind can make themselves right with God. Pray five times a day, don’t eat bacon, it only counts if you’re facing East or West, standing, kneeling or prostrate, if you wear a specific outfit or cut your hair and beard in a precise way or not at all, if you deny anything invented after a certain date. Do this and you’ll be safe from God’s wrath is what the false doctrine screams. It’s a salvation by works.
What Christ offers is so completely different. Yes, Works save us. But it is the Works of Christ on the Cross, not our own. And on top of that, God Himself gives us freely the Faith to receive Him. Eat what you like. Pray constantly or once a week. What’s emphasised is regeneration through Salvation received as a Gift from God, not because we earned it.
All fall short of God’s standards. That’s why He needed to be the one to restore us Himself, to take on our infirmities of flesh and bone, stand up to the temptation as a human man where Adam had failed and gift to us His own inheritance by transforming us into His own image.
So we have a choice.
Truth is very unpopular right now. People look to politics and science, rejecting faith as quackery. But God makes it clear that in the eyes of Mankind, His wisdom appears foolish. The New Testament asks we be fools for Christ. Transformed. Renewed.
So choose today to conform to this World’s standards, as low as they are. Look to a dictator to order you how to live.
Or be Transformed by the renewing of your minds. Let God make you over in His image. (repeat as necessary). Be a Living Sacrifice and allow the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth Jesus spoke of, to guide you in your heart. Leave the facts of this age behind and return to the unchanging Truth of God.
Yesterday, Today and For Ever, God is the same. That means if it was opposed by Him 4000 years ago, it’s still opposed by Him today.
Choose Life. Don’t follow the crowd.