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Consistent Christianity

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Archives / 1982 / November

 

 

Consistent Christianity

G. Arthur Keough
G. Arthur Keough is chairman of the religion department, Columbia Union College, Takoma Park, Maryland.

 

We believe that consistent Christianity requires that faith and works must go hand in hand! Such a concept is not unique to us, but it has been convincingly articulated by M. C. Griffiths in his book Consistent Christianity (published by InterVarsity Fellowship). The Christian is one who, by the grace of God, has been convicted " 'of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment' " (John 16:8). * Looking at himself and his condition, he cries out, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Rom. 7:24). Then the answer comes to him, as it came to the apostle Paul, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (verse 25).

Looking at Jesus in His life, His death, and His resurrection, the consistent Christian sees the infinite love of God, and this leads him to repentance. In faith he accepts the provisions God has made for his salvation. New life surges into his veins. "He is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). He is born again into the family of God (see John 3:3). Having followed his Master's footsteps into baptism, he is raised from the water to live a new life (Rom. 6:4).

Being reconciled to God, the consistent Christian loves God with all his heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37). He also loves his neighbor as himself (verse 39). This means that the Christian does not want to do anything that will displease God, but, on the contrary, he wants to do only those things that please Him. He is anxious not to do anything that will hurt his neighbor, because God indeed loves that neighbor. On the contrary, he always keeps his neighbor's good in mind. The Christian has entered a world of new relationships.

The Christian adopts the same attitude to the world that God has (see John 3:16). On the one hand, he loves the world that is, he desires its best interests. But on the other hand, he is careful not to love the world in the sense of giving it highest priority. To love the world in terms of desiring its pleasures, accepting its values, and engaging in its activities is to be at enmity with God (James 4:4).

Because the Christian has placed him self on God's side in the controversy against evil, he turns away from the evils in the world. Whatever he may have done in the past before becoming a Christian, now that he is a Christian he has nothing to do with "debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry" (1 Peter 4:3). Because he is looking forward to Christ's second coming, he wants "to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him" (2 Peter 3:14).

There is a high standard of conduct set before the Christian. He is called "to live a holy life" (1 Thess. 4:7) and to be holy in all that he does (1 Peter 1:15). Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says: "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God" (2 Cor. 7:1). The statement is strong, excluding nothing from the process of purification!

Jesus Himself insisted on a high standard of righteousness for His disciples; it had to surpass that of the religious leaders of His day (Matt. 5:20). He does not require a mere outward conformity to the law, but an inward wholeness of spirit that finds itself in harmony with God and enters into the very recesses of the heart and mind (see chaps. 5-7).

Such a high standard of conduct is an impossibility unless it is accompanied by resources to match the demands. And here is where the gospel is desperately needed. While the Christian has to " 'make every effort to enter through the narrow door'" (Luke 13:24), he is not alone in his efforts. He can say with the apostle Paul: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:13). Jesus pointed out the close connection that must exist between Himself and His disciples in terms of the vine and branches; if the branch remains in the vine it bears fruit (John 15:4, 5). Outside of Christ there is no power to do anything worthwhile.

The secret, therefore, of proper Christian behavior is abiding in Christ. When the Christian is in constant touch with the Source of life and power, he lives "a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way" (Col. 1:10). He is eternally grateful to the One who has rescued him from the dominion of darkness and brought him "into the kingdom of the Son he loves" (verse 13). The book of Hebrews says it this way: "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name"(Heb. 13:15).

One matter needs to be made perfectly clear: The Christian does everything to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). He is a full-time Christian and never goes "off duty" when it comes to his various activities. When he works he works for the Lord, rather than for men (Col. 3:23, 24). When he plays he plays as one who represents Jesus in his play. There is a modem tendency to divide activities into sacred and secular. For instance, some would think a person is more of a Christian when praying than when playing golf. Thus it is easy for some to become one-day-a-week Christians. The truly consistent Christian is wholly immersed in doing God's will in every activity of life, living as Jesus lived.

The Christian and his food

Since God is interested in every aspect of the Christian's life, it is not surprising to discover that God is concerned about man's diet and has made provision for it (Gen. 1:29). Seed-bearing plants and fruits are apparently the ideal diet in ideal circumstances. It was in the area of eating that man was to be tested; the fruit of one tree was forbidden him, although Eve noted that it "was good for food" (chap. 3:6). The question seems to be, Will man be guided by what God has indicated is right and proper, or will he follow the dictates of his own taste and reason?

After the Fall, the Creator made changes in man's diet. The ground was cursed (verse 17), and man was to share with the animals "the plants of the field" (verse 18). After the Flood his diet was extended to include the flesh of animals (chap. 9:3). Yet there was this restriction: He was not to "'eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it'" (verse 4)

Does the provision to eat flesh meat include every type of animal? A cursory reading of Genesis 9:3 would indicate that this is the case. However, the account of the animals entering the ark refers to "clean" and "unclean" (chap. 7:2, 8). More of the clean were preserved than the unclean. The next reference to clean and unclean animals is found in Leviticus 11, and this has to do with what was fit and what was unfit for food.

Scholars differ as to what is meant by the terms dean and unclean. The most common suggestion is that clean creatures were those that could be used for sacrifices; they were ritually clean. But the list of clean creatures in Leviticus 11 includes those that were never used in temple services. Therefore, it seems reasonable to infer that the distinction between the clean and the unclean animals is more than ceremonial; it also is used to indicate what man may or may not eat.

A significant question now comes to our mind: If God decided that certain animals were clean or unclean even at the time of the Flood, if He gave some clear distinctions to the children of Israel, do these distinctions still hold today? Or have they been abrogated? Do the regulations of an Old Testament period carry over to a New Testament situation?

Seventh-day Adventists believe that the Bible must be taken as a whole. What is recorded in the Old Testament is there for our learning (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11). Is God arbitrary when He says that some animals are clean and some are unclean? Has the nature of animals changed so that there are now no distinctions? Seventh-day Adventists feel that God has good reason for doing what He did in Old Testament times, that the world of nature has not necessarily changed for the better down through the centuries. Regulations for our health should be studied with care and applied with consistency.

Some New Testament texts are interpreted as abrogating Old Testament restrictions. For instance, Mark 7:19 records a comment by the author: "In saying this, Jesus declared all foods 'clean.'" But is this really an abrogation of the distinction between clean and unclean? The point of contention between Jesus and the Pharisees was the matter of whether they must "'live according to the tradition of the elders'" or whether they could eat their food with ceremonially unwashed hands according to popular custom (read verses 1-5). The Pharisees contended that to eat food without a ceremonial washing rendered a person unclean. But Jesus insisted that it was not what went into the body, but what came out of him as a result of immoral and other evil thinking, that made him unclean (verses 15, 20-23).

Another text that is quoted by many Christians as abrogating the Old Testament distinction between clean and unclean meats is Romans 14:20. Paul says, "All food is clean." Definitely Paul is writing to the Romans about the Christian attitude to food. He says that "one man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables" (verse 2). Does the Christian eat "everything"? Is all food clean? Looking at the context, we find that Paul is not laying down any rules for health. Rather, he is suggesting how Christians ought to relate to one another in matters of differences relating to con science. We should not impose our private inclinations on others, nor should we permit our freedoms to cause another to stumble. We must be considerate of one another, recognizing individual differences and remembering at all times that "the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (verse 17).

Seventh-day Adventists do not find here an abrogation on Paul's part of any Old Testament dietary principles, but they feel that the Christian, while doing what he is convinced is right according to the teaching of the Bible, is not to boast of any superiority of action. He is what he is and he does what he does only by the grace of God, and only to God's honor and glory.

In matters of diet, therefore, the Christian must value the Scriptures for the guidance he receives. He recognizes that his diet may vary according to time and place. He should always pick the best available to him, because it is his responsibility to preserve health and strength in order to be a blessing to himself and to others. Whatever God has provided he accepts with grace and thankfulness, knowing that even in his eating he lives to the glory of God.

The Christian and his drink

Does Scripture make allowance for the Christian to drink wine? If he could have it provided by a miracle as was done at the marriage at Cana, that would be fine, for whatever Christ does is always perfect. The master of ceremonies agreed that it was the best (John 2:10). It would be interesting to know the criterion by which he judged it best. We are not told.

There is a type of wine that the Christian is clearly warned against "it sparkles in the cup, ... it goes down smoothly" (Prov. 23:31). Those who indulge in drinking this add to their woes (verse 29). The results of intoxication are vividly described in verses 32-35. The wise man concludes that "wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise" (chap. 20:1).

Does the Bible make allowance for drinking in moderation? F. S. Fitzsimmonds concludes his article on wine in The New Bible Dictionary as follows: "It may be said that while wine is not condemned as being without usefulness, it brings in the hands of sinful men such dangers of becoming uncontrolled that even those who count themselves to be strong would be wise to abstain, if not for their own sake, yet for the sake of weaker brethren" (Rom. 14:21). The Christian knows that he is better off without it. He needs to preserve his dignity, to provide wisely for his family, and to maintain his health; and the drinking of intoxicating liquors, even in moderation, can only undermine these objectives.

Is the Christian free to drink coffee, tea, and cola drinks? Of course, the Bible is silent in this regard. However, modem science is clearly indicting caffeine as the cause of "a wide range of health problems" (Leo R. Van Dolson, "Is Your 'Pick-me-up' Letting You Down?" Ministry, July, 1981). Brian MacMahon, in the New England Journal of Medicine, March 12, 1981, page 630, says that there is "a strong association between coffee consumption and pancreatic cancer." Since tea and the cola soft drinks also contain caffeine, the Christian finds it wise to avoid their use.

The Christian and drugs, tobacco

The use of drugs is as old as mankind itself (see Gen. 3:1-7; 30:14-16), but this especially is an age of drugs. Drug abuse is prevalent in an unprecedented degree, and the law seems to be helpless to prevent it. Drugs have a medicinal use, and few will object to the use of a potent drug to relieve pain or reverse the course of disease. But, based on scriptural principles, drugs are not to be used for trips or highs or for any mind-altering experiences (see Rom. 1:28). The mind is the only medium by which the Creator communicates with man, and by which man responds in belief . (see chap. 10:9, 10). Through the mind he experiences joy in God's salvation, and through the mind he communes with his Maker. Therefore, he will not attempt to relieve moments of depression by self-medication, or seek highs by taking pills.

Tobacco is one type of drug; it is addictive. The Christian refuses to be hooked into any kind of bondage that enslaves his will. Paul says, "I will not be mastered by anything" (1 Cor. 6:12). The Christian takes seriously the Surgeon General's report of 1982: "Cigarette smoking is clearly identified as the chief preventable cause of death in our society and the most important public health issue of our time"; and he does not see why he should be involved as a victim. Anything that shortens his life cuts short his service to God and to his fellow man on earth.

The Christian and his recreation and entertainment

The Christian recognizes that he cannot take part in one type of activity continuously, even though good in itself. He must live a balanced life. The fourth commandment of the Decalogue points out that, although he is to work six days in the week, he must rest the seventh.

The ideal kind of recreation is that kind of activity that allows the body to have a change of pace. Has a man been working under stress? Let-him now relax. Has he been using his muscles in physical work? Let him now rest and read or discuss or meditate or socialize. Has he been studying hard, using the powers of his mind? Let him turn to physical exercise.

Recreation, true to its name, enables a person to renew, or re-create, his energies. After a period of change in pace and type of activity, he is ready to go back to his work or occupation with greater zeal and power.

The Christian takes his work and his recreation seriously because for him life is serious. Life has a purpose and a goal. Therefore he will not engage in any activity that will hinder him from dis charging his responsibilities in life. But this does not mean that the Christian cannot enjoy a good time and pleasant activities. The fact that he is a Christian means that he gets maximum happiness out of life. But he differentiates between recreation and mere amusement or entertainment for entertainment's sake.

There is a tendency on the part of some to ask the question What is wrong with going to the movie theater? What is wrong with attending the dance hall? The question is being put in the wrong way. The question to ask is What is right with this or that activity? The question of the Tightness or wrongness of a particular movie or any other activity can be best settled by Philippians 4:8: "Whatever is true, what ever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things." Are you, as a Christian, really comfortable engaging in an activity that is popular among non-Christians, where all kinds of non-Christian attitudes, emotions, and desires are expressed?

Although the Bible does mention a legitimate form of dancing (Ex. 15:20, 21; 2 Sam. 6:14), there is a form and type of dancing that is far from acceptable. When the children of Israel danced before the golden calf, their conduct was reprehensible, and Moses was rightly indignant (Ex. 32:19). Such dancing was accompanied by orgies, with eating and drinking (verse 6).

With dancing, too often the movements are sensual and suggestive, arousing impure thoughts. It is of no avail to accuse the beholder of wrong doing because it is often the dancer who intentionally creates an atmosphere in which the passions can be aroused. The New Testament gives an example of this type of dancing (Mark 6:21, 22).

Music, like dancing, can be perverted into wrong uses. If music is used to attract people away from the path of rectitude, obviously it is wrong. If it is unbalanced, so that there is melody without harmony, or rhythm without musical substance, then it cannot be wholesome. If it is out of place, out of tune, it cannot please the ear. If it is too loud, too insistent, it is harmful or just annoying.

On the other hand, music is a gift of the Creator, and as such needs to be appreciated. It is an effective mode of expression for joy, as when "the morning stars sang together" (Job 38:7), and sorrow, as in the case of dirges (2 Sam. 1:17-27). It is used on sacred occasions, as in the Temple services (1 Chron, 15:16-24), and at feasts and celebrations (see Gen. 31:27). It can be relaxing, even therapeutic, as in the case of Saul (1 Sam. 16:23); but it can also be exciting—a call to march and to war, and also to bring people together to worship (Num. 10:1-10; Dan. 3:5).

Christians must decide for themselves what kind of entertainment they may or may not do in good conscience, while other Christians must refrain from judging. But all must recognize that no man can serve two masters. We are either for Christ or for the world in everything that we do.

The Christian and his dress

There is no question about the importance of proper clothing. It serves a useful purpose, as well as being a means of adornment. The bride is expected to be beautifully dressed for her wedding (see Rev. 21:2). The man who dared attend a wedding feast without wearing suitable clothes was thrown out in disgrace (Matt. 22:12, 13).

The Christian recognizes that true beauty is not what is put on from the outside, but what shines out from inside. Outer adorning without inner beauty is a sham. And when one has "a gentle and quiet spirit" (1 Peter 3:4), a truly beautiful character, the plainest of clothes can look attractive. For this reason the Christian avoids costly array. The world may value jewelry and expensive clothes, but the Christian prefers not to draw attention to himself, but to his Lord. This does not mean that the Christian is not appropriately dressed for every occasion. On the contrary, he adopts the mode of his society and culture, but he makes it clear that he is not attempting to outdo anyone with flashy attire.

The Christian differs from the non- Christian not so much in what he does or in what he wears, but in how and why he does it. His understanding of the world around him, of the God who created it, of himself as a child of God, all color his outlook, determine his choices, and pat tern his behavior. He appreciates the challenges of life, but he knows that his stay in this world is brief. He lives positively in the world today, but he is looking forward to that time when sin and sorrow will pass away and God establishes His eternal kingdom of peace and righteousness. His goal is the establishment of God's kingdom, and his trust is in the God who is saving him.

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* All Scripture quotations used in this article are
from The Holy Bible: New International Version.
Copyright 1978 by the New York International
Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan
Bible Publishers.

 

 

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