As we seek to live our lives as faithful Christians, informed by the Word of God, we soon discover that it is not a simple process. It is not as though the Spirit gave us a rule book, in outline form, fully indexed. Rather, He gave us laws, histories, principles, stories, poems, and parables, strewn across various ages and cultures of men. What are we to do with it all?
“Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times . . . ” (Lev. 19:27-29). “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world . . . ” (1 John 2:15-17). For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe . . .” (Heb. 5:13-14).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXTS
These texts before us provide us with a good snapshot of the difficulty. First, consider this. The ancient nation of Israel was told to keep themselves distinct from the pagan nations round about. There were many aspects of this. They were not to eat blood (Acts 15:20), use enchantments (Gal. 5:20), or observe times (Gal. 4:10). They were not to round the corners of their heads (huh?), or trim their beards (what?). They were not to mutilate their flesh, or get tattoos (see?). Because the Lord was their God, they were not to prostitute their daughters (1 Cor. 6:9), which would defile the land. The question is which things in this list should we obey now, today, and why? Christians obey some things on this list, ignore others, and have arguments about a third category.
The apostle John tells us that root of sin is an attitude, that of loving the world. If we are wise, we don’t work from a list of prohibited items to the attitude, but rather we deal with the attitude, knowing that it will necessarily entail a list. He breaks out what this love of the world looks like—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. These three things, as it happens, were part of the temptation in the Garden. The forbidden fruit was good for food, delightful to the eyes, and able to make one wise (Gen. 3:6). None of this is of the Father, but is rather of the world. And the problem with the world is that it is transient, while the one who lives out the will of God lives forever.
As these are difficult issues, they should not be sorted out by those who have been Christians for a year or so. These are not problems to be handed over to the nineteen-year-olds. Those not yet weaned are unskillful in the Word. But those who are mature understand the Word, and through long practice in sorting out these kinds of issues, know how to distinguish good from evil when a judgment call is needed. All Christians know some things, but not all are mature.
SOME PRACTICE EXERCISES
In this current climate, it is not possible for Christians to go more than fifteen yards without encountering some new practice commended, urged, or demanded by the world, and it is necessary to deal with the resultant questions from your teenagers. “Can I, can I, huh? Why not?” You can keep life simple (for a time) by always saying no, for no particular reason, but that is actually not a worldview. What about temporary tattoos? What about getting permanent tattoos? What about metal music that sounds like a troop of cavalry going over a tin bridge? What about those fetching lip rings and tongue studs? What could possibly be problematic about that? As G.K. Chesterton once put it, art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.
QUESTIONS TO WORK THROUGH
Begin by distinguishing the basic question—always an easy one—from the more complicated ones. Is this an expression of love for God and His Word or is it being filed under the category of, “Well, God never said I couldn’t”? This basic question is another form of asking whether you are being worldly or not.
There is another question right next to this basic question. Think of all the people you know who are saintly and are at least twenty-five years older than you are. Do you want to ask them their advice on this or not so much? Is it because you already know what they will think and you don’t want to do it? An honest motive check would fix about 90 percent of our problems, and enable us to talk intelligently about the remaining 10 percent.
Once you have resolved to not be worldly, you still can’t go through life saying, “just because.” You should have reasons for what you say and do. Why are tattoos not in the same category as temple locks? The answer is because of the flow of the whole story. Look at all the piercings and cuttings, and what they mean. Even the one required cutting in the Old Testament is replaced with baptism in the New. What is wrong with vampire fiction? The question should be answered by Christians who know the history of European literature, not to mention sexual diseases. The whole thing is a metaphor for immorality and syphilis. So what could be problematic about sweet Christian girls being taught to be drawn to a dangerous lover? Is this a trick question? What is wrong with music that celebrates rebellion? Why do we even have to ask?
REFUGEES AND APOSTLES
But as we are interacting with the world (which we must do), we have to make a distinction between refugees and apostles. The twin businesses of the church are birth and growth. Evangelism must not exclude discipleship, and discipleship must not be allowed to exclude evangelism. So in this culture, robust evangelism means welcoming refugees from the world. That means, in the current culture, that we should want our churches filling up with tattooed people, along with their memorials of who and where they used to be. But this should not be used as cover for receiving apostles of the world. We must not receive them, or give them the time of day.
God takes us all where we are, and not from where we should have been. If He only took those who were where they should have been, we would all of us be lost. Evangelism means that nonbelievers will be brought into the church. And they will track things in. So? Didn’t you track things in? Did God kick you to the curb?
This sermon was originally preached in 2009.