All of us have standards. We don’t always live up to them, but we at least try. For Christians, the Bible sets the standard, even with the variations in interpretation. Others set the standard according to their individual ideas or “inner compass.” For all of us, federal and local governments set certain standards by which we’re all expected to live. We call these “laws.”
So what happens – or should happen – when we miss the standard? How should individuals and society as a whole respond to those who repeatedly violate the standards set by others? Is it ever right to impose one’s standards upon another, especially when he or she may not accept the same standard? These are all important questions that must be explored in order for us to live together in a peaceful society.
So let’s start with the purpose of standards. In the case of civil laws, these are, in theory, designed to help us live in harmony with others by protecting individual rights, punishing evil, and pursuing justice for all. Take a clear case such as murder. Our standard is that murder is wrong and, in some states, punishable by death. When someone commits murder, our nation’s commitment to upholding the standard demands that the accused person be held for trial and, if found guilty, punished appropriately. The terms are decided by a jury of his or her peers, yet within predetermined boundaries.
What would happen if a jury suddenly decided that the predetermined boundaries didn’t apply to them? If they said that it was clearly first-degree murder, but declared themselves no longer bound by law and instead of convicting the murderer appointed him as the local sheriff, the appropriate reaction would be one of outrage. The public outcry would not only justified, but entirely righteous. The very foundations of a civilized society would require that jury to conform to the standard. Yet many people live their lives as if standards should be adjusted to conform to their practices or preferences.
Granted, some of man’s standards need to be refined or even corrected. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a proper refinement of our nation’s standards. But as a society, we must uphold standards and insist that individuals conform to them. We must never adjust standards to accommodate anyone’s moral failures or personal preferences.
Spiritually, the same is true. Often, those who profess Christianity can be guilty of attempting to adjust or change the standards. Some do not wish to live by certain things in the Bible, so they ignore them or redefine them, often twisting the obvious meaning of Scripture to fit their ungodly desires. Two of the clearest references of altering the standard to the demise of the people is Isaiah’s passage where he says you “call evil good and good evil”…“put darkness for light and light for darkness”…and “put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Is. 5:20) and Romans 1, where the people “changed the truth of God into a lie” in order to accommodate their rebellion. They not only lived out of control, but they lived under the control of unbridled appetites. Such is the case far too often today. As Christians, we must all hold fast to kingdom principles and point all others to reliable standards.
Old Testament prophets consistently held up godly standards, calling the nation back to the solid foundation of truth. Jesus himself proclaimed that He was the way, the truth, and the life – the ultimate standard for meaningful life. We must remember that we don’t set the reliable standards –God does. If we confess Him as our God and Father, we must live as clay in the hands of the potter, allowing Him to shape us in Christlikeness.
Of course, Jesus is the ultimate standard. He is the sum of all law. He told us, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Of course, none of us are perfect on our own. That’s why Paul said that “through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Because of Christ’s work on the cross, we can be considered “righteous” in Him. It is then up to us to uphold His standard.
In this world of clashing standards, we can only persuade people to consider our view when we learn to dialogue with as much grace as we have conviction. Most people can’t have a healthy conversation because they are controlled by a prevailing spirit of destruction and arrogance. As Christians we know the spirit of destruction is the same as the spirit of deception. It’s the enemy—the father of lies, the powers and principalities in the realm of darkness seeking to destroy the essence of life by pitting us against each other and God’s truth.
In this political season, we witness candidates who don’t simply attempt to persuade voters through reason or even out-debate the other candidate; they try to destroy their opponent while manipulating and even bullying the electorate. The same is often true in theological circles. There is not only an attempt to expose a bad belief system but also to destroy those who have been influenced by it rather than trying to help people see more clearly. Remember, it is God who gives us the spirit of understanding and revelation.
For the Christian, we have to understand that we can enter into heated debates and discussions with the desire to prove a point, but never at the expense of destroying the other person. We must maintain a spirit of redemption in an attempt to help others see more clearly. A redemptive spirit helps others see more clearly. This often takes time, but that’s what love does. It gives us graciousness and patience, even when we are determined to effectively explain our position. Love is not cruel, mean, or hateful. There is a place for strong rebukes, but there is still an important line between the spirit of redemption and the spirit of destruction.
We know in the last days, evil will intensify—but the church and those who profess to know Christ should become more committed to righteous, biblical principles by first living them and then proclaiming them. We so desperately need a spirit of redemption in our country to preserve everything valuable and restore everything important while rebuilding walls of security and protection. May God help us in these serious times. We must have candid discussions concerning important issues—life and death, freedom and bondage, prosperity and poverty, opportunity and responsibility. As believers, we must be controlled by the Spirit of God as we seek to share His truth and raise His standards, all in the spirit of redemptive love.