Confessing Church: A Holy Life
A Holy Life
Look with me at what happened on the Monday before the crucifixion of Jesus…
Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem, and what He saw there caused Him to explode in anger. He was angered by the whole business of the money-changing. You see, every Jew had to pay a temple tax at the time of the Passover, but that tax could not be paid with the currency normally in use because those coins had on them engravings of the Roman Caesar.
Therefore,the money-changers were there to exchange this unsuitable currency for coins which bore engravings of the temple. The problem was that they charged an exorbitant fee to make the exchange, and thus were exploiting the people who had come to the temple to worship. Furthermore, according to the temple rules, any animal offered as an atoning sacrifice for sin had to be without blemish and the temple authorities made it clear that only animals purchased through the temple itself were acceptable. Needless to say, the temple merchants charged a king’s ransom for the purchase of their animals. More abuse. More exploitation.
As a result, and this angered Jesus all the more, the temple had become a place of such bickering and dickering, such bargaining and arguing, such immorality and unrighteousness, that the people who genuinely wanted to meet God found it impossible to do so. When Jesus saw that, His passion for purity exploded within Him. Then armed with nothing more than a cracking whip and a blazing tongue, Jesus proceeded to turn over the money tables, set the animals free, and send the temple hucksters scattering like a flushed covey of quail. He cleansed the temple in order to restore it to its original purpose. It was a costly thing to do. It cost Him first His popularity and then His life. But He was so committed to God’s Word and God’s will and God’s way, that when He saw what was wrong, He could not stand idly by. He had to hit it, and hit it hard.
I suggest that we must do the same. The greatest danger we face as Christians today is not that we shall become fanatical, but that we shall become lukewarm, insipid, indifferent. The danger is that we shall be spectators, rather than participants in the fight against sin and evil in this world. The danger is that we shall be silent when we ought to speak up. Quite clearly, the story of the cleansing of the temple warns us against that danger. Like Jesus, we must possess a passion for purity. And by the power of Jesus, we must strive to live lives of holiness and righteousness. Let us follow the logic of that theme for a few minutes now…
When we, by the power of Jesus Christ, strive to live lives of holiness and purity and righteousness, then we are commending our Christian faith to the world.
You see, by the lives we live, we are continually commending or condemning the Christian faith to other people. To be sure, there are many today who would accuse the church of being filled with hypocrites. And of course, that is true. We admit it. We are under no illusion about ourselves. We in the church make no false claims as to who and what we are. We know that we are imperfect. But we believe that imperfect people ought not to be encouraged to be more imperfect. Instead, we who are imperfect ought to be challenged to constantly strive toward attaining the ideals of Jesus Christ—for it is in the striving that we are made better and stronger people.
All too often these days, even in the church, we hear people say: “I can’t change. I was born this way, and because I was born this way you have to accept whatever I do.” How absurd! The fact is, my beloved, all of us were “born this way”. All of us were born with the propensity to do things which God regards as wrong. That is precisely why Jesus came into the world in the first place. No human being, no human thought, no human belief, no human behavior is beyond the reach of the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Jesus accepts us just as we are, yes, but Jesus does not leave us just as we are. Jesus changes us. Jesus enables us to strive to live with purity and holiness and righteousness.
Throughout our history as Presbyterians, our Confessions of Faith have made that belief crystal clear. Just a sampling to make the point:
- The Scots Confession: For as soon as the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, whom God’s chosen children receive by true faith, takes possession of the heart of any man, so soon does He regenerate and renew him, so that he begins to hate what before he loved, and to love what he hated before. The sons of God fight against sin; sob and mourn when they find themselves tempted to do evil; and if they fall, rise again with earnest and unfeigned repentance. They do these things, not by their own power, but by the power of the Lord Jesus, apart from Whom they can do nothing.
- The Heidelberg Catechism: What does the seventh commandment teach us? That all unchastity is condemned by God, and that we should therefore detest it from the heart, and live chaste and disciplined lives, whether in holy wedlock or in single life. Since both our body and soul are a temple of the Holy Spirit, it is His will that we keep both pure and holy.
- The Westminster Confession of Faith: They who are effectually called and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by His Word and Spirit dwelling in them, the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are made more and more weakened and mortified, and they are more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.
- The Confession of 1967: The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which He created mankind. Anarchy in sexual relationships is a symptom of man’s alienation from God, his neighbor, and himself. The church, as the household of God, is called to lead men out of this alienation into the responsible freedom of the new life in Christ.
Dear friends, that is what we as Presbyterians have always believed and taught. Therefore, in a world gripped by moral confusion, we who claim to live for Christ must strive to live like Christ. In our lives the authority of Christ must be absolute or it will become obsolete. In his autobiography, the Duke of Windsor told of his early life as the Prince of Wales and his subsequent abdication of the throne of England. He said during the years of his childhood, his father, the king, would draw the young prince aside and say to him: “Remember your position and who you are.” In other words, his behavior was to be consistent with his identity as the child of the king. The same should be true of us. We cannot commend the Christian faith to others unless we are striving to make our behavior consistent with our identity as children of the Heavenly Father, unless we are striving constantly to live lives of purity, holiness and righteousness through the power of Jesus Christ.
But also, when we, by the power of Christ, strive to live lives of holiness, purity and righteousness, then we are defending our Christian faith from the world.
The burning passion of Jesus was to defend God’s house against the intrusion of the sinful and secular world. He was determined to keep the temple for God’s intended purpose- a place of purity and righteousness; a place where people could encounter the reality of God. I think it is no accident that the only time Jesus ever used force in His ministry was not to drive sinful people into the temple, but to drive profane people out of it. Therefore, we must ever give ourselves to defending the Christian faith and the Christian church from the creeping intrusion of the secular culture and world around us. We must strive to keep the church and the faith pure and holy. The dustbin of history is littered with denominations which have ceased to call people to holy, noble and righteous living. The same, I fear, could happen to us.
Let me speak straight from my heart. There are those within the Presbyterian Church today who seem bent on denying our heritage and destroying our beliefs. There is right now in our denomination a strong move to remove from our standards of ordination for pastors, elders, and deacons the requirement of fidelity in marriage or chastity in singleness. In other words, unrepentant sexual sin, be it heterosexual or homosexual, will no longer be a bar to ordination to the leadership offices of the church. (Sidebar: Let me make this plain. In the Presbyterian Church we have always welcomed all people into our church and our congregation, but at the same time, we have always demanded from our ordained leaders a higher standard of both faith and behavior. It is those higher standards which are now under attack.) Just a couple of months ago, Horizons, the women’s magazine of our denomination, devoted a whole issue to the subject of sex. It was more of a statement of cultural values about sex than Biblical values. And in the midst of that issue was an article by a woman, claiming to be a Presbyterian, declaring that sex outside of marriage is perfectly permissible and sex under any circumstances ought to be encouraged. She writes: “I wonder that the church bemoans a clergy shortage, while at the same time promoting such a legalistic view of sexuality for its clergy. I shall continue to affirm that sex outside marriage can be good.” Frankly, I find it hard to believe that women all over this denomination are not up in arms over the publication of such an article. Let me say that in what is happening in our denomination right now, 2000 years of Biblical witness and 400 years of Presbyterian belief may be tossed out the window in favor of the cultural values of our time. We are being pushed to adapt to the realities which exist in the society around us, rather than calling that society to adjust to the realities which come from God. If that pattern of logic prevails, then the Presbyterian branch of the body of Christ will cease to exist. But I declare to you that the powerful and faithful witness of the Presbyterian Church, so clear in history, is worth preserving now.
You see, I love the Presbyterian Church. For four generations, members of my family have been ministers in the Presbyterian Church. I was born, not in a hospital, but in a Presbyterian manse. I was brought up by Presbyterian parents. I was taught the stories of Scripture and the songs of faith in a Presbyterian Sunday school. I was educated in a Presbyterian college. I was trained in a Presbyterian seminary. The Presbyterian Church introduced me to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I have given my entire life to the service of Jesus Christ through the Presbyterian Church. And God willing, it will be from a Presbyterian Church that my body shall be taken when the last trump shall sound and I am called to my heavenly home. To those on the other side in our denomination, I dare you to question my Presbyterian heritage, my Presbyterian commitment, my Presbyterian belief. I cannot stand idly by. I cannot remain silent, when the purity of the Presbyterian Church is being diminished and when Christ’s call to holy and righteous living is being devalued. As long as God gives me breath, I will continue to proclaim what we as Presbyterians have always cherished, upheld and believed.
And so, in the name of Jesus Christ, I plead with you now to join me in defending this church which we so dearly love.