Wednesday, October 05, 2005

the worldly christian

A new type of professing Christian has emerged over recent decades; one whose lifestyle is in no way different from that of an unbeliever except that they make a profession. In many evangelical churches the worldly Christian is now the norm. "Try to fit it in with the world" says the worldly Christian, "it is wrong to put up barriers and not be accepted". They have been told that godly living is really a kind of legalism that makes God into a killjoy. They have been misled to believe that what the gospel does is to make lives that are only partially fulfilled by the world, to be completely fulfilled by Jesus who is a type of missing add-on extra. Worldly Christians are assured by the equally materialistic lifestyle of other professing Christians: they take their standard from each other primarily rather than the Word of God. What does the New Testament say, however? Can we simply live as pagans: going to the same places and enjoying the same pleasures?

These are days in which we need to hear the clear, uncompromising teaching of the apostles. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 13: 13-14: "Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof". That whole passage in Romans 13 is indeed powerful, especially beginning at verse 11. Paul is picking up a previous theme stated at the beginning of Romans 12 (one of the major turning points of the epistle to the Romans). In Romans 12:2 there is a clear command: "Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind".

No time for it

In the latter part of Romans 13 this command is given added urgency by the consideration that time is so short. We must have an eye on the clock, as it were, "knowing the time". There is significance in each moment, any life is so short that each moment is vitally important (Psalm 90:9-11). Eternity is always at hand. "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light". The apostle Paul is making it clear that time is shorter than we think. The present age is temporary like one single night (Psalm 90:4). The day of the appearing of our Lord and Saviour will soon come. We must live our lives in recognition of this fact rather than quibble or speculate about whether the second coming will take place before we die (John 21:22). We can be aware of the light of that "day" afar off just as Abraham saw Christ's day centuries before, and was glad (John 8:54).

Living honestly

It is a question of attitude and response to these facts - if we think it will always and forever be only dark and night then we will do the works of darkness. But if we know that a new era, a new world, a new heavens and new earth must come about as sure as day follows night, if there is a horizon as certain as every days dawn - we will prepare for that morning by dressing and acting appropriately. "Live as though the day has already dawned" he is saying, "let us walk honestly as in the day". The word "honestly" has the sense of properly or becomingly and therefore the type of behaviour that is suitable and respectable for the daytime.

Behind the apostle's imagery is the assumption that even pagans have a limited sense of decency and conscience. They would never engage in some of their shameful deeds except at night when they can have the cloak of darkness rather than do what they do in full view. Paul is implying that we ought to and must live open lives and do nothing, of which we might be ashamed, especially if the Second Coming of Christ interrupted it.

Giving an account of our stewardship

Perhaps the apostle Paul has in mind the picture of a large household, the management of which has been left to various servants by the rich home owner. Some of the servants take advantage of his goods and wine cellar and leave aside their duties and responsibility for a wild time. One servant, however, has kept his affairs in order, and rises early to go about his business, knowing that some day perhaps in the early morning (who knows?) his master will arrive. "Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall being to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of. And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 24:44-51). "And that servant, which knew his lords will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:47-48).

What if having been given gifts, talents, and resources and having been instructed to trade with them to make them useful and profitable in extending our Masters estate ("occupy till I come" Luke 19:13) we should be asked suddenly to "give an account of stewardship"? (Luke 16:2) The call is to wake up and to get our house in order. It is "high time" - the crisis time of the crucial moments before the deadline of the judgement. The candle of night is burning very low, it is far-gone like a burning match that is very nearly spent, hardly anything is left. Paul is the watchman, calling out the last watch of the night. It is now the hour to be roused out of sleep.

The apostle Peter makes the same point about remaining time in one of this letters. "He that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: Wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you: who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead". I Peter 4:1-5

The reasons and arguments that Peter uses are exactly the same as Paul's: the (sinful) past and the future (God's judgement day) must dominate our view of the present. Our past is a goad behind us; the shame and pain of it prodding us forward, the future is bright but with a holy brightness that shines on all of our life, exposing every area however private and undisclosed. Our consciences are quickened as we realise that we have already filled up our lives with so much that will shame us profoundly on that Day. As the parables indicate, the day of judgement will be a time of reward, (Rev. 22:12) what can we expect?

Casting off the works of darkness

Wake up to these facts, says Paul, wake up to these towering shadows of past and future that influence the present so totally. Compare the present with the past and the future, see how short the present is, you don't in fact know how long it will be and that is why each moment of it is precious. Too much time has been lost already. "All the time we spend in a sinful state is all lost time. O look to this you young ones. All the time you spend in the vanity of your youth is lost time, and you who have lived until you are old and have been a long time in a sinful state, you have lost all your time. O the time upon which eternity depends is all lost for you have spent it in the ways of sin which has no good in it at all". (Jeremiah Burroughs)

"Are you living like a pagan?" asks Paul, "Are you doing the works of darkness, hoping to get away with it unnoticed because none has found out?" "Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame" (I Corinthians 15:34). Are you flirting with the gross sins that Peter lists? Surely you know that God sees and won't ignore it? (Psalm 90:8). Have you lost your spiritual and moral alertness, drowsing away in apathy? You need a sudden recollection of forgotten duty. The ultimate mark of our generation is of course apathy: the tuned out, dropped out careless sloth of many a young person: the sleep of unconcern about their destiny, their existence and their lifestyle. There is a deadly apathy that is ignorant of coming judgement and will not listen to any warnings. "Seek him that...turneth the shadow of death into the morning...The LORD is his name" (Amos 5:8). "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the masters use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart". (I Timothy 2:19-22).

Sinful practice and the works of darkness must be cast off and thrown away, these three vile pairs that Paul mentions in particular: rioting and drunkenness, chambering and wantonness, strife and envying.

Night life

The word translated "rioting" is rendered "revellings" in I Pet. 4:3 and Gal. 5:21. It means boisterous merrymaking, we might call it partying or clubbing in our day. In some evangelical churches up and down the land the youth fellowship after church consists of heading to the pub. Many university Christian unions find that their meetings must not be organised at a time that would prevent members from going to pubs and clubs. Is it right for a Christian to do these things? Are we free to if we want to? Our age and many Christians sadly say, "Yes, it's not forbidden really" or "its up to you to decide". As though the Scriptures had not said 'be not among winebibbers'.

Neither Paul nor Peter, however, is not afraid to draw the line and be seen to dictate how Christians ought to live, they are not at all vague and non committal. The word connected with "rioting" "drunkenness" means excess or "drinking bouts" (having alcoholic drink after alcoholic drink) and is generally translated as 'drunkenness'. "Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares" (Luke 21:34).

Lustful actions
"Chambering" might be translated as cohabitation, but probably has more a meaning of promiscuous sex (the word is related to conception in Rom. 9:10).
"Wantonness" is a word sometimes translated "lasciviousness" (Mark 7:22, 2 Cor 12:21, Gal. 5:19, Eph 4:19) or lustfulness (I Peter 4:3). Paul would have used the Greek word for fornication if he meant that alone, but this would repeat the sense of "chambering". Paul is surely covering all actions, attitudes, words, and motives. We would do well to return to the Westminster catechisms. The Larger Catechism teaches us that the duties required in the seventh commandment: "chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behaviour; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance; keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel...diligent labour in our callings, shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto". The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment "besides the neglect of the duties required, are "all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behaviour, immodest apparel...idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others". There are Scripture proofs for all these statements too.

All in all, it deals with lustfulness as the fuel and force of a wide range of sins, an excess of lust that totally dominates, possesses and controls. The way of guarding against this sin is to be strict in controlling what our eyes and ears take in.


Each pair of sins in Paul's list appears to deal firstly with shared sins and secondly with personal sins, he deals with the root as well as the outward manifestation. When he goes on to speak of strife and dissension, or fighting, he is dealing with the root of envy. Verbal strife comes from built up envy and frustrated selfishness (which is what envy is). The apostle James describes this sullen, selfish covetousness accurately. It is a spirit that seems to characterise the youth and youth culture of our day.
"From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts" James 4:1-3.

However, fashionable all these pairs of sinful practices are (and they are supremely fashionable since selfishness and serving one's own lusts are the only thing that apathy does not touch) they are clothes that we cannot wear. Instead we should prove our identity as children of God by putting on the armour or weapons of light. We cannot put on night-clothes in preparation for a battle and self-defence. The flimsiness of night-clothes could not be more different from battle-wear: wearing night-clothes on military duty or in battle is about as absurd as wearing armour in bed. We must be prepared at all times therefore, ready for action, ready either to be on the defensive or the offensive.

Put on Christ

In the Bible the metaphor of clothing generally represents character, ability, and commitment. To put on Christ - is to put on the armour of light, to draw upon our resources in union with him, to live out the new man in Christ Jesus. Union with Christ is the crucial fact of the Christian life: think of how much the New Testament uses the words "in Christ". Paul urges us to be what we really are; to live properly dressed wearing the new garments of holiness that speak of our new status as sons of God. We are to enjoy and to display what is ours. "Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breast plate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation." (I Thess. 5:5-8). We are given the practical help of this last phrase "make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof". Paul is telling us how to avoid these sins of excess, these works of darkness. The crucial point concerns the mind, the command "make not provision" means "don't plan or think about such things beforehand", don't think about anything that would put you in a dangerous situation, and don't plan to put yourself there. Before you do things and enter into situations think about consequences and where it will lead. A thought sows an action. The answer is to make the things of God a conscious priority, to set your mind on things above and then there will not be room for sinfulness and even dubious things, we can only die more and more to sin as we live more and more to righteousness. This passage tells us that as Christians we can have no other lifestyle. "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and will some forth and serve them. And if he come in the second watch, or come in the third watch and find them so, blessed are those servants." (Luke 12:35-37, read also Matt 25:1-13).