THE WORLD’S PROGRESS OR HEAVEN’S HOLINESS?
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved. And to be steady on all the battle fields besides is merely flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.” - Martin Luther
I believe that one of the great battles in the hearts of God’s people right now is between the call to holiness, or “progressivism”, a word that is hugely in vogue in the world right now. As with all deception, the serpent comes with great cunning, the counterfeit is highly palatable and not easy to spot. Allow me to unpack this a little.
God says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” But what does that mean? To be holy means to come out from the world, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, set apart unto God and to be sanctified by the truth of God’s word (John 17:17). The truth sets us free! God is holy and we are made in His image. Holiness is our home of true happiness, unquenchable freedom, abundant life and unsurpassing joy. In the redemptive grace of Jesus Christ, holiness is the church’s true inheritance, holiness is that which our truest self desires most.
Counterfeit ‘holiness’ is rife and zealous in both the world and church today and, notwithstanding some good intention and important social reform, uses seductive words like “progressive” and “tolerance” to lure its prey into works of self-righteousness and deception apart from the word of God. This is as opposed to Christrighteousness and obedience to truth, working through love.
The devil is the great deceiver. Perhaps his greatest tool is to twist words, particularly God’s (Genesis 3, Matthew 4). The one who comes disguised as an angel of light “hijacks people’s moral compass in order to condemn that which is righteous and celebrate what is shameful” (ibid. Joshua Jones, “Elijah Men Eat Meat”). We are all looking to grow and make progress in life. This is a noble aspiration! Indeed, in Christ we are called from one level of glory to another, supernatural “progress” that will continue into eternity by the grace of God. As followers of Jesus, we are also called to love all people even as we love ourselves, which will involve vast measures of “tolerance” for all, perhaps better words, love, patience and forbearance. Biblical love goes way deeper than tolerance.
Much of what the world calls “tolerance” today is actually license and indifference – license to sin mixed with an indifference to ultimate consequence. The church of Jesus is called to hate sin and never to “tolerate” it. Why? Because sin destroys and brings death to those we love. What you tolerate, dominates. (Genesis 4:7). Love says you are going to hell over my dead body (John 15:13). There’s nothing tolerant about the cross. So, we can see that ‘progressivism’ sounds noble, loving and “tolerant” but, in reality, it has become a movement that tolerates, even champions sin and unrighteousness in the name of love. This is counterfeit love, unsanctified mercy – a mercy which God is not offering. It is a movement fuelled by the spirit of the world and is leading many into gross bondage, addiction and darkness (John 8:34). Progressivism is rooted in the fear of man, conformed to the patterns of the world and focussed on the shifting sands of temporal values. Whereas a life of holiness is rooted in the fear of the Lord, conformed to the unchanging word of God and set apart unto eternity. Progressivism leads people into bondage and hell, holiness leads people to everlasting freedom starting on this earth and into heaven.
“The greatest danger to the Christian church today is that of pitching its message too low.” - Dallas Willard
Progressivism is in the world and has crept into parts of the church. Relevance has become a counterfeit holiness. Increasingly fearful of our reputation, unbelieving of scripture and spiritually proud of our church growth techniques, many of us have made relevance an idol. Today, we have world-famous church leaders unable to publicly call out basic biblical sin whilst multiple millions around the world watch on and conclude a vain Calvary.
David Sladden writes that there is, however, “a relevance that Jesus demonstrated – getting out there, knowing where people are at, feeling their pain, talking their language, and meeting their needs – the very opposite of religion, of course. And this has to be on the unnegotiable basis of biblical truth. Part of what cripples much of the church is its sheer irrelevance. Part is departure from biblical truth.”
May we become truly relevant via holiness – set apart unto God first and then sent into the marketplace next, and thus able to deliver a lost people out of darkness and into His glorious light. A holiness that is (always) “non-religious”, practical and born into the dirty mangers of our broken world. Jesus was so holy that religious leaders called him a glutton, drunkard and friend of sinners (Luke 7:34). Try camping out there for a while. Holiness means that we are set apart to God first and then sent into the thick of it as a friend. Full of grace, full of truth.
The falsely relevant church sacrifices the absolute truths of God, and with those the anointing of the Spirit, on the altar of human reasoning and the praise and acceptance of man. The church without mixture will move in the Spirit without measure. Holy, set apart, and sent in.