We are here to know God and make him known. Making him known properly requires a few things of us; the first and most important is that we be godly followers of Christ.
It's been a month since my last post on the topic. Are you godly yet? No? Not like you want to be? What's wrong with you?
Seriously, though, it's hard. And there are lots of things that get in the way.
What are some impediments to godliness? We may have some habits that are not helpful. They don’t have to be sinful to be an impediment. We may have people in our lives who aren't very edifying. We might spend too much time with the television – it is impossible to have the mind of Christ while filling our minds with the gunk on TV. We may read things that aren't helpful – for example, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition or trashy romance novels. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” The things that hinder in that verse are not sins – but they don’t lead to greater godliness. We all need to sift through our lives and find the things that hinder our growth in Christ. Those things have to be ruthlessly cut from our lives.
Kent Hughes points out in Disciplines of a Godly Man that when we sin, it is usually because we are forgetful of God, not because we are rebellious. Who says, “I think I’ll lie and cheese off God?” We lie because we let it become about us instead of Him.
TV: So what can we do about these things? We need to examine our habits, the people we spend time with, the media influences we allow in our lives, and whatever we may find that hinders us and make the necessary changes. If I may make a suggestion regarding TV watching, if you think you need to reduce your TV viewing – and most American Christians do – a relatively painless way to start is, when a show you watch is canceled as many are every year, don’t replace it. Also, if you can pick out a show or two that you watch just out of habit – maybe they’re not that good or aren't as good anymore – cut them out. A few years ago I watched a couple of hours of TV a night – mostly out of habit. Now, after slashing a few shows and not replacing those that were canceled, there is only a few hours of TV a week that I really watch.
Hedges: Something else we can do to counter those things that hinder and entangle us is to create hedges in our lives. What I mean is that we can create our own rules that, if kept, keep us from breaking God’s rules. As an example, men generally don’t wake up one day and say, “I think I’ll commit adultery today.” It is usually a slow, gradual thing where a man grows too close to a woman who is not his wife, they end up in a compromising situation – going to dinner alone after work maybe – and then one thing leads to another. A hedge that could prevent this would be for the man to intentionally keep other women a certain emotional distance from him. He can also make it his policy not to be alone with another woman – that means if at lunch the only two who want to go out together are him and another woman, they don’t go. A hedge is keeping yourself from putting yourself in a situation where you might be tempted to sin. Some other ideas about hedges might be an internet filter, cutting off certain cable channels, letting your spouse keep the credit card if you have trouble there, or setting rules on when and where you and your mate will have emotionally charged conversations so that they are less likely to get out of hand.
A word of warning about hedges, though. They are a fine, useful tool, but they can be taken too far. Remember that your hedges are your hedges and not binding on anyone else. The Pharisees were really big on making hedges around the Law to keep from accidentally sinning; the problem was that they eventually gave their hedges the force of law, and looked down on those who didn't keep their hedges. Another thing to remember is that the commands of God supersede your hedges; for example, if you have a rule that you don’t travel alone with a woman you’re not married to, and you come across a woman whose car is broken down and needs a ride, do you obey your hedge or do you love your neighbor as yourself?
Prayer: To help yourself to not forget about God, get in the habit of praying every chance you get. 1 Thes 5:17 tells us to “pray without ceasing;” I believe that is truly possible, but it’s not something done overnight. But we can pray more – lots more.
Jeff Foxworthy says he gives this advice to expectant parents: Sleep! Sleep between meetings, sleep at stop lights, sleep between naps – just sleep! We can adapt that advice to our purpose – pray between meetings, pray at stop lights, pray in line at the store, pray in traffic. Keep your mind focused on God and His kingdom, and it will be harder to forget about God when faced with the opportunity to sin.
Why am I going on so much about godly living? Let me tell you a story. A certain man went up from Jerusalem to Jericho, and on the way he was attacked by thieves, beaten, stripped, and left for dead on the side of the road. A Christian walking along the road saw him, said “Jesus saves” and walked on. Another Christian passed by, saw him, said “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” and went on his way. A Muslim traveler saw him, had compassion on him and said, “Allah forgives.” The he cleaned his wounds, gave him some food, and carried him to a hospital.
Whose gospel will that man believe?
How well we live our lives, how well we live out Christ’s love, will in large part determine whether or not people are interested in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So godliness is the most important part of making Christ known; it is also the hardest. I mean, if it were easy, we would all be doing, right? It is only possible to be more Christ-like through the power of His Spirit. We have to choose to do it, but we have to lean on Him for the strength.
If Jesus worked where you work, how would He be different from the people you work with?
We need to think about how Jesus would be holy at our workplaces, our homes, our neighborhoods, and our church, and we need to emulate that. This is the big application time. What needs to change in my life?
A word about application: We tend to come out of church saying things to ourselves like “I ought to be nicer,” but nothing ever changes. That is because we stop at the warm fuzzy stage of application – the recognition of the fact that we need to improve. To really change, though, we each have to come up with a plan. A good application always includes a plan.
A plan has certain characteristics: It is first person. It is specific. It is measurable. And it has a time limit. “We ought to be more loving” is not a plan – it’s a warm fuzzy. “This week I will mow the lawn for my elderly neighbor” is a plan. It’s first person – I. It’s specific and measurable – you can easily tell whether you mowed the lawn or not. And it has a time limit – this week.
From now until you stand before the Lord, I want you to think of application in these terms. Whether you're reading on the internet, in church, or listening to a preacher on the radio, if you can come away with an idea of something that you need to stop, change, or do then you need to make a plan. Anything less is simply disobedience that makes you feel good.
So for today, think about how Jesus would be if He was living your life and then make a plan.
You've probably heard this quote from Brennan Manning: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” They are watching us. They are watching you. Their acceptance of the gospel depends in large part on how we live out the gospel in front of them. Let’s not let them down.
I don’t anyone to think that I’m looking down on them and telling them to be holy like me. We’re all in this boat together – struggling toward the goal of being more like Jesus. But because we’re all in the same place, we can understand, support, and encourage each other in this Christian life. That is what the Church is all about. If we lean on each other and follow Christ, we will make it.