I tend to look at the shape of our world and the morals of people who aren’t following Jesus and think that I am a pretty good guy. I look around at how blatantly sinful other people are, and my “respectable” and “quiet” sins don’t seem as severe, and gradually I just get complacent.
I look at other people’s standard of holiness, and think I am doing pretty good, but when I go against the holiness prescribed in God’s Word and seen in God’s character, I see how horrible I am.
When I pit myself against the holiness of God, I see how much further I still have to go.
Even if you are “better” than others around you, are you holy when you compare yourself to God’s standards?
When you pit yourself against a holy, righteous God, do you still find yourself holy? When Isaiah the prophet came into contact with God, his proper response was devastation. In the midst of God’s immense holiness, Isaiah rightly responded that he didn’t deserve to be there because he was sinful and he lived among a culture of people who were sinful (Isa. 6:5).
His scenario is similar to ours. We acknowledge the fact that we live in a godless culture. You might attend a university that mocks God and mocks godly living. Maybe you are surrounded by people who only call upon God when life’s worries have overwhelmed them.
What about you? Could you say, like Isaiah, that you are ruined in the presence of a holy God due to your unrighteous waywardness? Our standard is not other students. Our standard is God. For his word says to be holy because he is holy (1 Pet. 1:16).
Beware of Worldliness
In order to give Jesus weight in the area of those influencers in your life, you must beware of worldliness. No matter how much I try to deny it, the culture around me impacts me. Sociology can dilute my theology. I find myself tolerating certain things that at one time I knew weren’t edifying. The more and more I allow certain influencers closer to me, the more I find myself being shaped by the values of my culture.
In John 17, Jesus is teaching his disciples a pretty intense lesson. Aware that his crucifixion is near, he reminds his disciples that he is about to depart from them. To prepare them for life without the physical presence of Jesus near them, he shares these words:
“I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:15-16).
Some Christians over the years have gotten this idea messed up. They think that to steer clear from worldliness, they need to detach themselves from the world. By building isolated communities or removing any possible influential mediums from homes or joining a monastery, many people have attempted to live detached from the world.
Actually, Christ didn’t call us to detach from the world. How can we impact a world if we are detached from it? Jesus asked his Father to keep the disciples in the world, but he asked for protection from the evil of the world. His statement led to a popular coined phrase today that Christians are to be in the world but not of the world.
Calluses are hardened parts on your skin that develop on your fingertips when frequent friction is applied. If I could develop calluses, I wouldn’t feel the pain anymore associated with guitar practice. I can remember a time when playing the guitar finally stopped hurting. One day, my practice wasn’t laborious anymore because I could no longer feel the pain. The friction was still there, but I had gotten desensitized to its painful reality.
In Ephesians, Paul warned those Christians about developing callused hearts which leads to ungodly living. He stated that the way that they lived started as a matter of the heart. Paul worried that these Christians would turn from Christ “due to their hardness of heart. They have become callus and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Eph. 4:18-20).
In the same way that calluses on my fingers removed the sting from guitar strings, calluses on our hearts can remove the sting associated when a Christian sins. The more I am around unhealthy influencers, the more callus my heart becomes.
When once I could spot the vileness of sin a mile off, overtime I become desensitized to its destructive ploys.
I start viewing certain sinful media presentations as funny or cute. I begin to accept certain unhealthy cultural phenomenon as natural, and before I know it, my heart is desensitized and my attempts at holiness wane in the process.
I have formulated a couple of tests to determine if I have gotten callused.
- You know you have become callused when a friend asks you how a movie was, and you have to reply, “It wasn’t that bad. It only had a few cuss words in it.” Busted. If you have to qualify a movie or music based upon the minimal amount of unedifying material, you have become callused. What I have found is that normally there was actually more inappropriate stuff in there than I admitted or even recognized; I just have gotten so desensitized to it that I didn’t acknowledge its presence. In an attempt to find the lesser of the evils, we can easily put our stamp of approval on things that honestly are not Christ-honoring.
- Would you watch that movie, listen to that song, or post on that site if your pastor was in the room with you? If you would feel uncomfortable with that scenario, you may have become callused. I was talking with a couple of students once at our church who started to sing a particular song, and then all of a sudden, they started blushing and said they couldn’t finish the song. When I inquired why, they said they would feel awkward to utter the upcoming words around me. I asked, “Are you uncomfortable to acknowledge that around one of your pastors or because its something you are embarrassed that you are listening to as a Christian?” The point is that if you feel awkward being influenced by some media medium around a minister, then you probably shouldn’t be engaging with it anyway.
After you become callused to the culture, the next step is that you start compromising your own standards. While you once held to a certain desired level of holiness, you have now met somewhere in the middle between God’s standards and the standards of the culture. This compromise is anything less than God’s ideal.
The prophet Jeremiah told his culture that the people were in trouble because they were no longer ashamed when they sinned. He even states that the people around him had forgotten how to blush (Jer. 6:15). His culture was so immersed in sinful practices that they no longer felt a bit of shame for acting contrary to their spiritual heritage. These were the people of God, and they had begun to engage in things that should have been anything but characteristic of God’s family.
Concerning worldliness, I still want to be uncomfortable with the things that make Jesus uncomfortable.
I don’t want to lose my ability to blush. I want to know that questionable things still show up on my radar, and I have enough unction to confront those gray areas. If friendship with this world means hostility towards God (James 4:4), then I want to make sure I don’t compromise in my personal holiness or integrity.
Without a doubt, compromise comes in the form of our sin and our approval of others’ sins. Christians don’t openly condone sin, but when we make light of sinful actions in our world, we are not only accepting its reality but also we are celebrating its presence. Paul blasted those who not only sinned, but those who also gave approval to sinners (Rom. 1:32). In a compromised state, Christians enjoy the entertainment provided by transgression. If I enjoy a media piece that mocks biblical teaching, my morals have been compromised. If I find humor in the things that Christ died for, I am in a dangerous spot.
After someone is callused and compromised, the final step is to be conformed. In a very familiar passage, Paul instructs believers that their entire lives are to be an offering of worship to God. He then instructs believers to refrain from being “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). If you desire to live a life of worship offered to Jesus, you must realize that forces in this world exist to combat that reality from happening. This world is attempting to conform you to its standards rather than God’s standards. A battle exists even if you aren’t aware of its reality (Eph. 6:10-12). As the forces opposing God attempt to get you callused to the morals of this culture and compromising your own standards, the ultimate goal is to have you conform to the way of this world.
The test to see if you have been conformed is simple: are you being more conformed to the world, or is the world being more transformed by you?
Is the world’s standards chipping away at your resolve, or are you making advancements in this world for the Kingdom of God? If you seem to be losing ground in your stance to live godly, you are on the path to being conformed.
Make no mistake: it’s hard to impact a world that is influencing you.
We were called to change this world not conform to it. Christ calls us to bring about his reign in the hearts of all people, but what happens when his own children reject his lordship over their own lives? When you have stopped seeking to see how you can be a change agent in this world because you have begun to love the things and the state of this world so much, you have already conformed, and its impossible to transform a world that’s conforming you.
Paul says that we should think on the things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and those things that are worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). I found that there is a lot in this world that glorifies God, and I didn’t have to be some ascetic weirdo to enjoy it. I just tried to get wiser with what I let influence me. Garbage in, garbage out. Good stuff in, good stuff out.
If we truly believe that we are at war in this world, we have to learn how to begin to take every thought that we have captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5). Practically, that means that you can start filtering everything that influences you and determining whether or not that thing helps you grow in Christ or not. It is hard to impact a world that is influencing you. It is extremely difficult to transform a world that is conforming you. In order to give God glory in this area of your life, maybe you need to perform some serious self-evaluation to see what the things are that are truly influencing you.