Most people want to fit in, to be accepted by the larger group, to be thought well of. Whether by conforming to current dress codes, or thinking and speaking along “party” lines, many do what the group currently requires – which has a nasty way of changing week to week. It is certainly true that we need the support and care of one another. However, our Scriptures calls us to be different. We are to live by a higher standard than the culture around us. Our desire is to please our Lord, and grow in His grace. That doesn’t mean we present ourselves as better than everyone else, but we do believe that we are following a better way of life, and we desire to share that better way with others. Our desire is to truly be in fellowship with all people, but we must not do that by conforming to the lowest common standard. Being different can be costly in worldly terms. Yet, it is a life that is pleasing to our Lord, the only one we really need to please, and it has a way of bringing us into bonds of friendship that are deeper and richer than anything conforming to society’s values can offer.
Throughout the history of ancient Israel God called them to be a different people. God is concerned for all people, and wants all to understand His nature and life. But this had to happen through a people who were set apart, and not just a mixture with all the world’s values and idolatries. The New Testament continues this same idea. Paul writing to the Roman church said “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”(12:2) God has given us a way of life that is for our best good. We are to grow in an understand of that life, and desire to follow it in all we do. The problem is that the society hates anything that is different. Christians who seek to live by Godly values in business, in renting property, in life in general are said to be judgmental, and are called bigots. It is not for us to condemn anyone. In fact, just the opposite. We are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. But loving doesn’t mean approving everyone’s values. It means living life in such a way that we help others find the best life God has for them. If that means we are called bigots, then so be it, but the best life anyone can live is in helping others see and want the best life God has for them.
Just north of Washington, D.C., off of Route 270, is the U.S. Bureau of Standards and Technology. Everything done there involves exacting values. From maintaining the precise values for measurement, inches, feet, meters, kilograms and so forth, to the testing and research they do on high tech devices. Everything is precise. Most everything we come in contact with in daily life, from the way our home is constructed, to the car that gets us around town, to the smart phones that are now everywhere, can only be useful because of the exact standards to which they have been made. And we honor their makers by using them that way. But when it comes to people, the most complex of all beings, somehow we feel that values don’t apply. We say, all values, all standards, all faiths are equally valid. We fail to honor the One who brought us into being. Something seems amiss. Ancient Israel had this same problem when Moses asked, “Is this the way you repay the LORD, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?”(Deuteronomy 32:6) Maybe it is past time we take a serious look at our world, and compare it again to the values God has given us in His Word.
I mentioned yesterday the truth that society changes over time, but that God does not change. The Prophet Malachi recorded the Lord’s words, “I the LORD do not change.(3:6) and the New Testament writer of Hebrews said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”(13:8) Orthodox Christianity holds to the truth that, from the beginning of creation, God has given certain absolute values for the good of all mankind. Those values do not change with the changes in society. This is the very thing that most today deny. They live by a variable standard that conforms to human will, rather than seeking to live by our Lord’s absolute standards given for our good. Certainly, none of us lives perfectly according to God’s values. It is why our gracious Lord sent us a Redeemer in Jesus Christ. We have God’s forgiving grace when we turn to Him in repentance, but we do not try to change the standards God has given. Modern man finds it far easier to change the standards than follow God’s revealed will, but then we also ultimately suffer the consequences of our choices. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.”(Galatians 6:7)
What is the standard by which we guide our lives? This question is both personal and extends into the larger sphere of governments and nations. While most of the Founding Fathers of our country were not Christian in the strictest sense, they did acknowledge a natural law established by God. That became the standard by which they chose to establish a government. Unfortunately, that standard is no longer recognized. Today we find ourselves in the place of ancient Israel when they did not acknowledge the sovereignty of God over their whole people. Twelve time in one context or another the statement is repeated, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.”(Judges 17:6) The writer of Proverbs follows this with an important comment. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.”(12:15) The only true and sure counsel is the revealed Word of God which, until recent centuries, had been the acknowledged standard for life. What we see today are people and nations living as fools by doing only what is right in their own eyes. I don’t believe this is going to change, but can only say, as individual believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, it must not be so for us.
I am not a political person, and I’m not for or against any candidate when I write about what is going on in the current election cycle. I see where Governor Perry has endorsed Newt Gingrich, but he had to say something about all the accusations that surround him. He remarked, “Newt is not perfect but who among us is.” I get sick of hearing that kind of junk! No, none of us is perfect, but we use that as a complete cop out to excuse ourselves, and keep doing what we want. We lower the bar of God’s standard, saying we’re all bad, so it is OK to be bad. God never lowers the standard for us. He is always calling us to understand the best way of life He has set out for us, and encourages us to strive for it. Yes, He graciously forgives when we sin, but he picks us up so that we can do better. He doesn’t excuse lying, stealing, adultery or anything else. They are always wrong, and as God’s created beings in His image, we can do better.
A plumb line was always an important builder’s tool. It is simply a piece of string with a weight attached to one end. When you hold the loose end up at the top of a wall, the string hangs perfectly vertical. One can tell accurately if the wall is straight or not. The Lord used that image through the prophet Amos. “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel…”(7:8) God was judging Israel by His exact standards. In our modern day, we would say that plumb lines are fine for building, but don’t apply them to us. We don’t believe there are any exact standards today. Everything is relative. A standard that is right for you is not always right for me. But that is like saying, gravity (which make the plumb line work) doesn’t really apply everywhere on earth. We have just celebrated the Good Friday/Easter event declaring God’s saving grace, and our freedom from sin and death. That is our wonderful Gospel proclamation, but that, in no way, negates the standards God has provided for our life with Him.