|Book: Becoming a Secure Christian|
Part 1 : Setting the Scene
Part 2 : A Biblical Security
Part 3 : Personal Security
(Practice and Theory)
Chapter 12: Rules & Regulations
There's yet a further area that we need to think about in the whole consideration of personal security. It's another one of those things that goes to the very root of our belief system. It's yet another facet of the wonderful subject of grace. Let's examine it first of all by a number of imaginary case studies.
12.1 Case Studies
a) The Holiness Church
Greg is a member of Bethany Holiness Congregation. You could find a congregation like this in most countries in the world. It is filled with good Christians who sing powerfully every Sunday morning and evening, and who listen attentively to the pastor's preaching. Greg's been a Christian a long time and has lost count the number of sermons he's heard. Greg's pastor is a holiness preacher, who concentrates not so much on who they are but what sort of lives they should live, so week by week he carefully explains to his flock the do's and don'ts of Christian life.
The rules are very clear and Greg knows exactly what is expected of him, so that's how he lives - on the outside! On the inside Greg is not quite so clear. Greg has a feeling that he's never quite good enough, never quite hitting the mark of perfection that his pastor is demanding. There always seems one more demand to be met. It's not that he's disastrously failing on keeping the rules, it just that he's not quite sure where the rules end and so he's never sure if he's where he ought to be. Greg has this nagging uneasiness that he's not what his pastor expects; in fact he feels guilty. The pastor seems a godly and righteous man, perfect on his pedestal, remote, distant and obviously quite unlike Greg.
b) The Prayer Ministry
Alison is an inspired prayer warrior. She faithfully prays and her heart's desire is to be used more and more in prayer. She was at a prayer conference recently and as the strident motivating preacher marched backwards and forwards across the platform she felt here was someone who knew all about prayer, here was someone who practised it, here was someone who understood the dynamics. She opened her heart as the preacher paused dramatically. A drummer on the back of the platform, at a sign from the preacher, started a slow single drumbeat. Dramatically the preacher almost whispered to the audience, “On every beat of the drum, somebody in the world dies without knowing Jesus. You need to be praying for the lost.” There were many excellent things said in that conference but that one phrase stayed with Alison.
When she returned home after the conference she determined to pray more and more for the lost. She set aside another half an hour both morning and evening to pray. One morning she awoke feeling thoroughly ill. When it came to her special morning half hour for the lost she had nothing left. She returned to bed, a failure. Guilt hung heavily upon her. What about the lost? She must pray, yet prayer was beyond her at that point because she felt so terrible. Five days later when she recovered, and was up and around again, she determined she must increase her prayer load to make up for the hours lost during her illness. Alison's husband found the meal wasn't ready when he arrived home in the evening. Practical matters had to give way for “the Lord's work”. Alison's husband didn't see it like that. As guilt and failure drove Alison on, so their relationship deteriorated.
c) The TV Button
Cliff had a problem. Yes, he acknowledged it to himself, but there was no way he could tell anyone else about it. Cliff liked sex, or to be more precise, Cliff liked watching sex on late night TV. Cliff was a deacon at a local Baptist church. He was a good churchgoer, well liked, and always at the midweek prayer meeting. Yet Cliff liked watching sex. He knew it wasn't right. He's heard his pastor talk about such things, yet every evening he scoured the TV papers to see what was showing. Mary his wife liked going to bed early which was both a problem and a blessing all in one. It was a problem because their physical relationship had died, but it was a blessing because Cliff could happily watch whatever he wanted without anyone questioning him. His two girls were always in bed much earlier, so he had the house to himself.
Cliff had tried stopping watching the stuff, but again and again he found himself rationalising why it was all right. Time and time again during the day he reasoned how he would overcome that night and not watch, yet when the evening hours alone arrived, before he knew where he was, the TV was on and the forbidden fruit was being eagerly devoured. Just recently Cliff's mind had been wandering. The films didn't seem enough, it needed working out somehow. Should he wake Mary? No, she wouldn't be pleased. Go and find a prostitute? Suppose somebody from the church saw him and found out? Well there were the two girls upstairs who slept so soundly. Perhaps if….
d) Summer Nightmare
For Jerry the Summer was a nightmare. Jerry was a pillar of the church, the church treasurer in fact. Jerry didn't have a problem with pornography, he was above that, but he did have a problem with flesh, large expanses of flesh! That's where the Summer came in. Every Summer women seemed to be wearing less and less, and Jerry struggled with that. He struggled with a speculating mind. He saw them without any clothes at all - in his mind. He found himself speculating how they would respond to his overtures, after all in the modern world everybody was doing it. He found himself dreaming of what could be, and then he pulled himself up with a jolt. “I'm a Christian! I shouldn't be having these thoughts. What's the matter with me?” Yet try as hard as he could, Jerry couldn't stop the thoughts. When he was out with his wife he wondered if she could read his face, read his mind, as he struggled on the inside with the conflict raging there.
Jerry decided some drastic action need to be taken. He would not look at half dressed women. He would avoid the beach, he would avoid the High Street on a Saturday afternoon when all the young, scantily dressed girls seemed to be out with their boyfriends. If he saw a lightly dressed woman coming towards him down the street, he would look the other way. He prayed. He fasted. He repented. He asked God's forgiveness again and again. Yet life remained a misery for Jerry.
e) Food is Nice
For Maggie food was a problem. Well no, food was nice - but that was the problem. Maggie's shape was not what it once was and when even her husband commented, she knew it was time to take action. Without saying anything to anyone she put herself on a diet. Three days in and she was utterly miserable. She decided to go to aerobics. The intention was good but the effort left her drained for the rest of the day. Maggie felt bad. She knew she wasn't what her husband wanted, she knew that eating too much wasn't good for you, and the preacher said it was gluttony. Maggie found a new diet on the Internet. Perhaps that might help…..
f) Plastic Unlimited
Darren is eighteen. He's been at University for three months. He's also got a credit card, four accounts, five debit cards, a college loan, an overdraft and too much money to pay off on his cards. Darren knows how to play the system. He's a young man of his culture and everyone is offering him money - and he's been taking it. Half of his mind has been flashing a warning to him, but the lure of goods from the shops or from the Internet has kept on pushing his debt up more and more. He knew what he was doing and, as a Christian from a good traditional church, he new it was unwise, yet he couldn't stop himself.
To start with he felt guilty, and rationalised that it would only be for a short while, and that he would quickly be able to pay off any debts. But then it became a lifestyle and he reasoned that everyone lived with debt today, so who cares, make the most of it. Yet underneath it all was nagging guilt, but he couldn't stop, buying more and more. He's got so much now that he's had to take out a new insurance policy to cover all he's got. But the policy has done nothing to alleviate the worry.
12.2 The Problem of Rule-Keeping
Following Rules doesn't work
We could fill this chapter with such stories but, hopefully, the point has been made. Trying to live by rules doesn't work! Whether it is the person striving to read the Bible on a daily basis, trying to control a flaring temper, trying to control suppressed anger, trying to be caring, trying to give up smoking, trying to…… well as I said, the list is endless, and failures to keep the rules come in many guises.
Please don't get me wrong. I come from that part of the Christian world where I DO believe it is good to read the Bible daily, good to pray regularly, good to have self control, good not to over eat, good not to smoke, good not to get drunk, good not to be involved in illicit sex of any kind. Oh yes, please understand I DO believe and follow each of these things, but establishing them as a set of rules to be observed is not the way to build control and discipline into our lives. When we do have these things as ‘rules to be observed' we find we simply extend the horizons of worry.
Common factors that contribute to failure
In each of the above illustrations there are a number of common factors, components that help contribute to failure and worry. Each person:
If you identify with things, you're not alone! We all do! They are things common to all Christians, we'll soon see, but there is help available.
12.3 Do-it-Yourself Righteousness
Self Help is the name of Today's Game
Recently I was browsing in a well known book shop and was amazed at the incredible number of self-help or “this is how you do it” books that there are on sale today. Go into a Christian bookshop and the same is true there. Self-help is the name of the game! And that is the root of the problem: SELF help! We all do it, we all have this tendency. It is a component of the Sin thing. In one of the earliest prophecies in Jeremiah, the Lord made this complaint:
The two sins were first to turn away from God and second to “do it yourself”. This verse encapsulates the truth about Sin better than most. It is that tendency to forget (turn away, or reject) God and then make your own provision by providing some (inadequate) substitute. It's just another aspect of the same thing we looked at in the last chapter, that tendency, left to ourselves, to get it wrong!
We've already referred to it once but we need to look again at Paul's words to the Colossians. In the earliest days of the church they were struggling with understanding the basics of what the Christian faith was all about, and also fighting to ward off the ideas of people from the world around them, ideas that were contrary to the Gospel. Each of the following is, in one sense, part of self-help religion:
a) Requirements for Outward Signs of Relationship?
On the one hand there were that group of Jews who saw Christianity as an add-on to their rule-keeping religion. These were a group of people who believed that circumcision was a sign for males, of a relationship with God, i.e. something external to bolster up a relationship with God . Wrong, says Paul in Col 2:11, the only ‘cutting off' that is meaningful is of your old sinful nature. He spoke similarly about circumcision in Gal 5. It was a practice from an earlier era that now no longer applied. The earlier era had simply been a picture of the reality that was eventually to come.
In parts of the church today the outward is still very important. For some it is still very important to ‘dress smartly' when ‘going to church'. Apart from the fact that we ARE church and don't ‘go' to church, what this group forget is that “dressing smartly” is purely what a particular group in a particular culture decides is smart. For traditional bankers, a dark suit is likely to be considered ‘smart' and their wives have the equivalent in the most expensive of dresses. For a completely different strata of society ‘smart' may be a washed pair of jeans! If how we dress is vital to the way we feel, as Christians before God, then we are indeed a very insecure bunch!
Akin to this are the worries about length of hair and the general appearance, especially of young people. Many of us have had a tendency to measure spirituality by appearance. That was what the Pharisees did! In fact it simply reveals how insecure and how weak our own personal faith is. I'll illustrate this more later on.
For others this ‘externalism' is the importance placed on the building. Some of us would find it difficult to worship without a stone building with stained glass but that says more about our Western upbringing than about our spirituality. If a requirement for being a Christian were that we would have to take a pilgrimage to other parts of the world to see other parts of the church, we might have a much healthier church. To see some Africans or Asians, say, worshipping in very basic buildings would help us see that God isn't concerned about buildings. If we can only know the presence of God in a ‘fine architectural structure', we are a very insecure bunch!
b) Do's and Don'ts
Then there are those who have created a security wall around the church by a list of forbidden things (Col 2:16a). Back in the middle of the twentieth century among many evangelicals it was no smoking, drinking, no drugs, no sex, no cinema, no lipstick, no reading worldly novels, nothing that could in any way be construed “of the world”. Now in that list, illicit sex (anything outside of marriage) is the only clear Biblical prohibition. Excessive drinking causing drunkenness is also prohibited. ‘Good' Christians remembered that their body was ‘a temple of the Holy Spirit' and therefore anything that could harm it should be avoided. Watching films that imparted unclean or unhealthy images or which tended to weaken moral resolve, were also wisely avoided. The backlash in some quarters against this type of Christianity has meant that many have perhaps gone too far the other way.
The point about this sort of Christianity was that it took good safeguards and made them into foundational essentials, and as a foundation they were inadequate! Paul said God had taken “ the written code with its regulations ” and “ took it away, nailing it to the cross ” (Col 2:14. He knew that the Law (rule keeping) just brought death instead of life (Rom 7:9-13), because rule keeping produces failure which simply shows us how sinful we really are (Rom 7:7). We aren't set free by rule keeping, we are set free by Jesus Christ (Rom 7:24,25, 8:3), we are set free as we are led by the Spirit (Rom 8:9-11), we are set free as we realise our position as sons of God (Rom 8:14).
If we seek to get our security from rule keeping, we simply find we are very insecure. Many rule-keeping Christians feel quite insecure in the presence of non-Christians because they don't have a depth of relationship with Jesus, they aren't secure in knowing just who they are, and are not feeling good about it. Therefore they feel very defensive and have a siege mentality, feeling they are under attack and their defences might be breached. If they were secure in knowing just who they were, sons of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, they would be at rest in whatever the situation and would know that they were the ones with the answers and the non-Christians were the ones on the defence.
c) Special Day Christians
Then there were those Jews who were concerned about key religious festivals (Col 2:16b). These were special days throughout the year, prescribed under the Law to be times for special remembrance of the Lord and what He had done. Why did they need that? Because they did not have the Holy Spirit within them, they needed external reminders. The prophet Jeremiah received the promise of a new covenant from the Lord, whereby He promised His people that He would put his law in their minds and hearts (Jer 31:31-33). How would He actually accomplish that? By putting His own Holy Spirit within us and, of course, that is exactly what He has now done.
So if today we are constantly having to have ‘special days', it is in fact a sign of our insecurity, our lack of relationship with Jesus by his Spirit. If we are ‘Sunday Christians' we are to be much pitied. We are seven day a week Christians, who have the presence of God with us wherever we go. If we only fill our minds with the things of the world (Rom 8:5, Col 3:1,2) then it is no wonder that our relationship with Him is so tenuous; it is no wonder that we feel so insecure that we have to put up a defence wall of rules to protect us.
d) Special Experiences
I've already touched on this in an earlier chapter but it bears looking at more fully. There were those in the church that Paul was writing to who had obviously had mystical experiences , possibly seeing angels ( Col 2:18 ). Such people went on about what had happened to them and Paul described them as unspiritual. Those of us on the charismatic edge of Christianity are prone to this problem. As I said earlier, when the so-called Toronto Blessing was happening, all the talk was upon the various ‘manifestations', and many seemed to get a new sense of self worth through the thing that happened to them. But when the manifestation ceased, were they stronger in Christ? For some yes, but for many, no.
Those of us with particular gifts of the Spirit can also have the tendency to place our reliance on those gifts for our self worth. The exercise of the gifts seem to give us credibility in the Christian congregation and that panders to the self and pride in us. We feel secure in the gift. Then suddenly without warning it goes wrong. Either the gift seems to have been withdrawn, or we get it wrong and disastrous consequences follow. Suddenly we feel very insecure.
For some of us, we've received a prophecy or a vision from God. When we received it our hearts burned with anticipation. Faith rose within us. Yes, this was God speaking, how wonderful. We then focused on the vision and our value came from being a person with a vision. But then the vision seemed to be delayed. We, like Moses, like Abram and Sarai, had tried to bring it into being, but it hadn't worked out. We trusted God for it, but it still hasn't come yet. We doubted God, we doubted the vehicle of the vision, we doubt ourselves. We trusted in a vision for our security, and suddenly we feel very insecure!
12.4 The only true security
Why do all these things fail us? Why is it that for a while (and often a long while) they seem to hold us, only to collapse beneath the pressure of circumstances? The answer is that we've been trusting things and not HIM.
It's not doing something to try to ensure you're accepted, not doing something to create a good appearance. It's simply accepting that you ARE accepted and ARE loved, and living in the joy of that. It's not living by rules, it's living in the joyful experience of His presence, the presence of His Spirit in you, coming upon you or rising up within you, yet not even making those things the arbiter of your spirituality. It is cultivating a relationship with Him - and that varies from day to day for a variety of reasons. On a good day it is rejoicing in the wonder of it and on a bad day it's rejoicing in the wonder of the good days!
It's not bolstering your faith with special days to remember Jesus; it's allowing Him to remind you that He's with you every moment of every day, wherever you are, secure in whatever circumstance, because He's there and He's there FOR you, because He loves you!
It's not relying on the special experiences, but simply rejoicing in the goodness of His love that has allowed you to have those experiences. It's using those experiences, that gift, or whatever, to act as a sign post back to Him, to the One who IS love and who expresses love to you always, whether in silence or in blatant blessing!
12.5 And So?
So as we come to the end of this chapter
12.6 But what if…?
What if you find yourself answering ‘yes' to part a) of each question? It's no difference from any other sin - oh yes it is a sin, you've been in unbelief - and the way out is exactly the same:
You may need to read and declare the truth out loud again and again. You may need to resist the lies and the doubts of the enemy, but you WILL let Jesus work this out in you!