Consistency is probably my biggest struggle as a Christian, husband, father, and as a person in general. I’m talking about consistency in emotion, character, conduct, attitude and relationships. Anyone else know what I’m talking about? I feel like a sprinter who excels in bursts with sometimes unpredictable fits and starts rather than a marathon runner who maintains a steady, deliberate pace. It can be the Jekyll and Hyde of my anger (mostly when driving) or the regularity of time with the Lord in prayer and Bible reading. In some cases, it’s more related to convictions and to what extent I apply them to life. But, before I go any further with this last thought…
The Bible is the very word of the Creator God who made us, the world and all that’s in it. God’s word contains everything we need to know for life and salvation, and it is the standard of objective truth regardless of what anyone thinks or wishes. When we deviate from God’s word, as Adam and Eve did, the results are sin, separation and death. We have been given a glimpse into the character of God in the pages of this book, and we are given one command that’s both an absolute necessity and absolute impossibility to obey on our own: “Be holy as I am holy.” However, those who know the Gospel of Jesus Christ revel in the fact that we can be declared holy not because of our own good works or self-righteousness, but because of the perfection of Christ imputed to us through the act of justification. God justifies us, or declares us righteous, not because we are actually holy in thought, deed or word, but because Christ, fully man yet fully God, lived the sinless life we could not and bore the punishment for our sin on the cross so we don’t have to. That’s the glorious message of the Gospel, without which, the Bible teaches, we are destined for eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire – which we all deserve for our rebellion against the Holy God.
So, if we are not saved because of our good works, and we have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, why should we be worried about striving to live holy lives? Is there not abundant grace to cover our sins? Paul the Apostle addresses this very question in Romans chapter six. He says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” There is clearly a tension then between faith and works (as we see in Romans and James) that Christians must find. There is a call to holiness that we ignore to our peril, and a yoke and burden that are “easy” and “light” that Jesus calls us to bear. Our works, even the “work” of exercising faith, is not that which saves us. Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end. If it depended on us even a little, there would be no hope for us.
With that in mind, let’s get back to my original thoughts about consistency. Let me warn you before you read any farther that I’m getting into some areas where there’s much divergence and levels of conviction among many Christians, and I am not trying to come across “judgy” or preachy. I’m not the Holy Spirit. Ok, that said, I have been contemplating some verses lately that I see as relating to what I watch and listen to – essentially entertainment – as it pertains to my obedience to the command to be holy. Here are some of the key verses:
“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” Psalm 119:37
“I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.” Psalm 101:3
“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.” Proverbs 12:11
“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.” Proverbs 28:19
“Thus says the LORD: ‘What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?’” Jeremiah 2:5
What am I to do with these verses? Does this mean I need to purge my movie and music collections? Does this mean I should only consume faith-based entertainment and stop playing games on my phone? Are Jason Bourne (violence and language), Lord of the Rings and Disney (sorcery and magic), Country music (drunkenness and immorality) and most cartoon movies (crude humor) out? Am I relegated to Kirk Cameron movies, the God’s Not Dead anthology and Newsboys? Does this mean I need to forget all the guitar licks and song lyrics to all secular music I’ve learned over the years? How far do I take this? What would it look like if I took it beyond just what media I consume? If I really live my convictions to their fullest extent, would that mean boycotting all kinds of companies such as Amazon, Apple, Disney and Toyota because they support things I don’t? Should I toss my Apple devices, sell my stock, stuff my savings in my mattress and stop driving? How do I avoid becoming “worthless,” and how do I live “unspotted from the world”?
I wish I had this all figured out. The truth is, I have a lot to learn and I’m still unsettled on most of these questions. I’ve run the gamut over the years in my attempts to do what I believe(d) to be right from not celebrating Christmas like most people to multiple purges (and then some reacquisitions) of certain movies and music. Regardless of what the “worthless” flavor of the week may be, the question I need to reckon with is this: why am I doing/not doing X or Y? Is it because I am falling into the trap of trying to earn God’s favor through attempted self-righteousness or piety, or is it because something is truly “sin that so easily ensnares” me that needs to be shed and left for dead so I can run the race of faith better and “be holy” as God is holy?
I truly want to have a better conclusion for you. I would like to say, “And now, here are the answers to all the questions above…” but I cannot. I think there are two key factors at play here. The first is that there is intentional ambiguity in the Christian walk that’s meant to drive us to prayer and seeking God’s wisdom in the Bible. The second is that there are things we find in the Bible in those times of seeking that we don’t want to confess mean what we find them to mean. In other words, we lack the faith to act on convictions to rid our lives of certain things. We love the world and things in it and resist the call to be separated from those things. We justify them, we try to ignore the call to change, and when we do that, we become numb and callous to the Holy Spirit. This has happened to me more times than I’d like to admit. What’s the solution? Trust and obey. Trust that God has something far better for us in the life to come, and obey the Holy Spirit’s leading no matter how big or small the matter. When we do this, we can join Paul the Apostle in setting our minds on things above and counting all the things below as rubbish in order to gain the joy of Christ.