Army on London’s Streets.

Everyone who has commented on the looting in London has registered surprise and disbelief at what is happening yet some social commentators, including some religious groups have been predicting this kind of anarchic behaviour for many years.

In the UK we have seen the development of a society with largely material values and no proper accountability. Add to that the depraved nature of humankind and you have a recipe for the sort of behaviour we have seen over the last couple of days.

A young person who has grown up in Britain in the last 20 years will have been taught the following things:

  • Social status is determined by what you own and who you control.
  • Morality is subjective and determined by personal choice and not by any fixed parameters.
  • Right and wrong are not absolute but are always open to interpretation and preference.
  • If you misbehave the likelihood is that there will be no inconvenient or painful consequence.
  • If you are strong enough or rich enough you can do exactly what you want.
  • The human rights of the individual must be protected however much that individual disregards the human rights of others.
  • Being older or in a position of authority, doesn’t automatically demand respect.
  • Sex is about self-gratification and pleasure and has little to do with relationships or love.
  • There is probably no God.

Civilised society is dependent on the safe and fair interaction of disparate individuals within a homogenous group. Such a complex collaboration has to be based upon a set of mutually upheld principles and standards.  When those standards and principles are ignored there have to be suitable penalties for those who chose not to cooperate. The difficulty we face in the UK at present is that both of the aforementioned principles have been significantly undermined.

Post modernism has delivered a paradigm shift in morality; an ethical earthquake has reshaped the moral landscape almost beyond recognition. Common decency has become altogether uncommon and traditional values and virtues are often portrayed as being bigoted and exclusive.

The relationship between society and its young people is akin to the relationship between a dangerous dog and his handler. In truth the dog has the upper hand but the confidence of the handler convinces the dog otherwise – you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.  However, if the dog suddenly realises he is only two barks and a bite away from the contents of the entire fridge you have a problem.

What we desperately need is a mutually acceptable standard of behaviour backed up by an effective disciplinary process which kicks into gear when people act outside those commonly held standards. The possibility of being caught in such cases must be high and the penalty both inconvenient and costly. In addition the possibility of capture and the threat of punishment must always significantly outweigh the perceived benefits of the crime.

Humanity is innately depraved and without proper guidance and control it will always revert to a ‘dog eats dog’ mentality.

There is role here for the church if we have the courage to accept it, but it is not to wade in – the daily Mail in one hand and a collection of selected bible verses in the other, or to stand on the moral high ground and wag a disapproving finger. We must do much more than simply adopt a supercilious attitude which delivers a sarcastic ‘I told you so’ in the direction of liberal social engineers.

One of the significant things that hit me last night as I watched the riots unfold on TV was the familiarity of the place names – I grew up in Croydon, I walked down the London Road to go to school when I was a child and the area we lived in then was in the epicentre of yesterday’s troubles. However that’s not the familiarity I was referring to – Chalk Farm, Enfield, Tottenham, Lewisham, Ealing, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds and Croydon…  All of these locations are close to Salvation Army Corps. Croydon Citadel was actually visible in some of the TV footage last night. God has positioned us in the very heart of these troubled areas and it is now up to us to begin our dangerous yet fulfilling commission to save the people. This morning there are cries for the Army to be called out onto the streets – well actually the Army is already there – the Salvation Army.

The only guaranteed way to save society is to change the individual and the only thing that has a proven track record in that area is Christianity. There is no philosophy, religion or political system that offers selfish and cruel people new hearts and forgiveness other than Christianity.  There is no other name given to men by which they can be saved than the name of Jesus.

We are already in these places, now we need to get alongside the people. In the short term arrest and punishment must be the order of the day but in the long term the sinners of this world need to develop such a curious interest in our faith that they invite us to tea. We need to be reclining at their tables, going to their parties, infiltrating their culture and ultimately introducing them to Christ – only then will we see long term stability return to the streets of London and other UK cities.

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Let’s be friends

Yesterday following a day’s specialling at Strood we took the dog to Hadleigh Castle for a run and then we went on to Old Leigh for an ice cream. Leigh was absolutely packed with people enjoying the sunshine. The pubs and cafes were heaving with bare chested tattooed Essex men accompanied by equally tattooed Essex girls. As we picked our way through the abandoned beer bottles and chip wrappers, walking past the jellied eel stalls and inconsiderately parked cars one couldn’t but help notice that 120 years ago this would have been an ideal spot for an open-air. As I took in the scene I wondered if an open-air meeting would have any positive impact today and quickly came to the conclusion that it wouldn’t. Now don’t get me wrong I’m all for open-air evangelism – indeed in Rayleigh we hold a Saturday morning open-air in the town once a month but here it just wouldn’t have worked.

What made open-air meetings so remarkable 100 years ago wasn’t so much that they were done but the fact that they were absolutely right for the time. With no motor vehicles and streets that belonged almost exclusively to pedestrians, with houses very often built in terraces or around a courtyard open-air meetings were ideal. In addition, Christianity was without doubt the religion of the state and the moral standards and expectations associated with it went almost completely unchallenged.

So what about the eternal destiny of the sunburnt masses of Old Leigh? How will we communicate the gospel with them? How will we do all we can to secure their eternal salvation?

Most of the readers of this blog will be familiar with Mrs Booth’s words taken from ‘Aggressive Christianity’ quoted below:

“People say you must be very careful, very judicious. You must not thrust religion down people’s throats. Then, I say, you will never get it down. Am I to wait till an unconverted, godless man wants to be saved before I try for his salvation? He will never want to be saved till the death-rattle is in his throat. It is for us to go and force the truth upon the attention of those who are indifferent and preoccupied. There is some one soul that you, more than any other person on earth, can influence–some soul or souls. Are you doing all you can for their salvation?”

Now I don’t think that contemporary evangelism should be any less aggressive than that described by Mrs Booth but there is little point to aggression if it isn’t effective. The way to communicate the gospel in a way that is comprehensible to the masses has (ever since Pentecost) been the gift of the Holy Spirit – it isn’t our place to struggle with methodology. When Peter stood up in the temple he didn’t have to try and make his message relevant to his culturally diverse congregation – God took care of that. Peter had fulfilled his responsibility by simply being obedient to the Spirit’s prompting.

So when it comes to contemporary evangelism what is the ‘Spirit of God saying to the churches’? Would anyone argue that incarnational ministry is anything other than God’s chosen method of attack for today? What if hidden among the beer bellies and Ambre Solaire smeared bodies lurked a few Christians? Carefully placed like evangelical fifth columnists stalking the enemy’s prey, genuine friends of the unsaved looking for any and every opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ.

Is this way to go in 2011? If Railton were alive today would he be standing with a megaphone sounding off like some evangelical fog-horn to those about to dash themselves against the rocks of hell? Or would he be sipping from a glass of coke, in a t-shirt (almost certainly from Wardrobe Army Apparel) like some modern-day Christ sitting down to ‘eat with sinners’?

Answers on a post card please, grace and peace, Andrew.

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Sin no more!

Having stressed the importance of obedience and choice I feel compelled to redress the balance and hopefully clarify some of what has gone before. Holiness is only about obedience when that obedience is motivated and sustained by love. Jesus didn’t say to his disciples ‘obey me and thereby prove your love’ he said ‘if you love me you will obey me’. If we approach holiness with a clipboard, ticking off the good things we do and the bad things we refuse to do we will fail miserably.

When we talk about sin we are talking about two different things. There is sin the verb; I sin, he sins, she sins… This is the sin defined by Wesley as ‘a wilful transgression of a known law of God’. If I steal something or look at a woman lustfully then I commit sin as defined by Wesley. Such sin is always prefaced by temptation – ‘go on take it no one is looking’, ‘let your eyes feast on that’. Sin like this and the temptation that accompanies is a recurrent subject within the New Testament.

  • ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.’ Matthew 26:41
  • ‘No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.’ 1 Corinthians 10:12-14
  • ‘Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.’ Hebrews 2:17-18
  • ‘When tempted, no-one should say, God is tempting me. For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.’ James 1:13-14
  • ‘Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God— I say this to your shame.’ 1 Corinthians 15:34

Just as our obedience is born out of love so these sinful acts are symptoms of a deeper disease. In addition to ‘sin’ the verb we are at war with ‘sin’ the noun. Like love, sin the noun is an all pervading power.  It acts like spiritual bindweed, it grows in the soil of our hearts, it saps our spiritual strength, it strangles our feeble growth and prevents both  flower and fruit. This type of sin is also a recurrent theme within the pages of the bible.

  • ‘Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.’ Romans 6:12
  • ‘The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.’ Romans 8:7
  • ‘Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.’ Romans 8:8
  • ‘For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.’ Romans 6:14

We will never ever conquer ‘sin’ the verb unless we first of all defeat sin the noun. This is partly why holiness has such a bad press; on the one hand those who don’t understand it think it is all about works. Such people fail to see the all-important context of divine love. On the other hand there are some who understand the importance of relationship but mistakenly think such knowledge frees them from the responsibility of measuring their experience by their willingness to obey.

By the time Jesus was born the Jewish law had become a national industry. A complicated legal process interpreted by self-proclaimed Doctors, taught by Rabbis, championed by supremacy sects (like the Sadducees and Pharisees). Yet Christ was able to distil the whole process into just one small command – ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart…’ He achieved this by changing the emphasis from ‘thou shalt not’ to ‘thou shalt’.

Holiness isn’t about a list of things we mustn’t do, it is all about the one thing we must do – we must love God. Even then we will still have to fight the tempter and choose to obey but having caused substantial damage to the infrastructure of sin the noun we will find sin the verb much easier to control.

‘He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.No-one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.’ (1 John 3:8-10)

Only as I truly know thee
Can I make thee truly known;
Only bring the power to others
Which in my own life is shown.
Show thy power in me, show thy power in me,
That I may be used for others;
Show thy power in me. (Ruth Tracy)

Grace and Peace, Andrew

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Pornography and covenants

Back in 1976 I read “The Vision” by David Wilkerson I was 15 at the time and was attracted to the book because it had been written by the man behind “The Cross and the switchblade” story.’ As a teenager I had been captivated by “The Cross and the switchblade”. The story spoke of a Christianity I had never encountered I was excited by this pastor who decided to give up watching television in the evening and devote his time to studying his Bible and prayer.

Although it was 35 years ago that I read “the vision” I have a couple of clear recollections of how the book affected me. The book was all to do with prophecy and much of it seemed to go too far, I remember being uncomfortable with some of the suggestions that the author was making. Even as a teenager who wasn’t properly saved there was something about the book that didn’t seem quite right.

Having said all of that, I can clearly remember some of the predictions contained within the book. In 1974 when the book was written censorship of the cinema and television was quite severe. If you lived in the UK you had access to three television channels and they had a heavily enforced watershed – programs with mature themes came on after 9 PM. In America censorship was even tighter. Wilkerson predicted that within a few decades we would have access to hard-core pornography both in the cinema and on television. Of course one development Wilkerson didn’t predict was the advances in technology that make censorship impossible. The arrival of the first of all videos and then DVDs, cable television, satellite channels finally followed by the Internet makes pornography accessible to all. Once upon a time if you wanted to buy pornography you had to visit a specialist shop, a shop you might be seen entering, a shop where you would have to carry out a transaction with a living human being. Not today, anyone with the most basic knowledge of IT and access to the Internet can within seconds of going online start looking at hard-core porn.

Maybe it is this ready access to pornography that has desensitised us and done away with things like ‘watersheds’. Music videos, television adverts, soap operas, situation comedies, and tabloid newspapers – almost every medium you can think of constantly smudges the line between what is acceptable and what is pornography. I’ve noticed recently that television programs that carry a 15 certificate are often broadcast in the middle of the afternoon. In addition Sky television hosts what can only be described as traditional ‘peep-shows’ 24/7 – unless parents have the common sense to block these channels anyone with access to the remote control can watch them. As for the music channels the pop videos they show are very suggestive and the lyrics even more so. Mike Stock (songwriter and record producer) recently commented on this phenomenon:

“The recent final of Britain’s Got Talent was broadcast at 7.30 pm on a Saturday evening, featured two finalists who were 11 and 12 years old, and was watched by millions of children of about the same age or even younger.

Yet the producers still thought it appropriate that the guest-star Nicole Scherzinger, formerly of the raunchy band the Pussycat Dolls, was dressed in a knicker-skimming mini-dress, bumping and grinding her hips suggestively through her latest hit, while singing ‘Come on baby, put your hands on my body . . . right there’.

Her whispering ‘I like it dirty’ seemed as unsurprising as it was superfluous, and was, suffice to say, wholly inappropriate for the programme’s family audience.

Ms Scherzinger’s gyrations prompted me to voice my concerns about the insidious impact the music industry was having on our children — that the lyrics of pop songs had become too sexualised, that music videos had effectively turned into soft-core pornography, and that the combined impact of both is almost certainly having a hugely damaging effect on our children.”

The thing that concerns me more than anything else is that our children and young people are growing up with a wholly inaccurate idea of what sex is. Boys will expect their partners to behave in a certain way and girls will feel pressured into doing things with which they feel comfortable. The idea of gently exploring ways of expressing love in a physical way has all but passed away.

Now I know there are many who will argue with me, there are people in the world today who believe that sex is a means of enjoying ourselves no different from eating food or listening to music. There are some who live in open relationships and are quite willing to share their partner sexually in much the same way they would encourage them to go out for a meal with someone else.

Of course pornography is not new; neither is the link between pornography and immoral sex, look at the following text from Ezekiel 23:

“She saw men portrayed on a wall, figures of Chaldeans portrayed in red, 15 with belts around their waists and flowing turbans on their heads; all of them looked like Babylonian chariot officers, natives of Chaldea. 16 As soon as she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. 17 Then the Babylonians came to her, to the bed of love, and in their lust they defiled her.”

I am of course speaking from a Christian perspective, not only from a Christian perspective but from a Salvationist perspective. My recent posting on covenants in relation to doctrine and Christian ceremony caused something of a stir. How do we feel about our covenants in relation to sex and pornography? The following three paragraphs are taken from the salvation soldiers’ covenant, the “Articles of War”

“I will be responsive to the Holy Spirit’s work and obedient to His leading in my life, growing in grace through worship, prayer, service and the reading of the Bible. I will make the values of the Kingdom of God and not the values of the world the standard for my life.

I will uphold Christian integrity in every area of my life, allowing nothing in thought, word or deed that is unworthy, unclean, untrue, profane, dishonest or immoral.

I will abstain from alcoholic drink, tobacco, the non-medical use of addictive drugs, gambling, pornography, the occult and all else that could enslave the body or spirit.”

As I write this blog I am sitting in my study in an empty house, my vocation provides little accountability other than that which I acknowledge from above and that which I impose upon myself. If I wanted to look at pornography then I am only a few keyboard clicks away from an almost unlimited supply. The devil can tempt me to look but according to Paul in his letter to the Corinthians in chapter 10 of his letter,

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. “

There would be a certain pleasure in giving in to the temptation, if the temptation wasn’t attractive then by definition it would not be a temptation. Holiness allows me to turn my back on temptation and embrace the will of God.

Of course it was not always like this, there was a time when my life was riddled with sin, there was a time when I made Paul’s hapless character in Romans 7 look like a Mother Theresa! However experience has taught me that giving in to temptation leads to misery and ultimately death. Whereas holiness provides us with a life of inexplicable joy in which we are used by God to positively touch the hearts and minds of other people.

Those of us who are Salvation Army Officers and Soldiers let’s make sure that we are being true to the voluntary promises we have made to God. Sadly it is impossible to walk through life today without being confronted by sexual imagery, turning a page of a newspaper or changing the channel on the television can reveal images we would never choose to look at. Let us not confuse temptation with sin.

As James reminds in chapter 1 of his letter the desire to do wrong in itself is not a sin but if it is left unchallenged it will develop into sin which ultimately has the power to destroy our faith.

“each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Let’s not be deceived by the subtle changes in opinion around this, let’s not make excuses for ourselves, let’s not blame nature, and DNA, the weaknesses we inherited from our original parents. Let’s not call it stress relief or relaxation but let’s be completely aware that “any man or woman who looks a member of the opposite sex lustfully has already committed adultery with them in their hearts.

In a world of shifting values,

There are standards that remain,

I believe that holy living

By God’s grace we may attain.

All would hear the Holy Spirit

If they listen to his voice,

Every Christian may be Christlike

And in liberty rejoice.

Grace and peace, Andrew

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We sin because we want to!

On 29 June 1998 Billie Piper became the youngest recording artist to debut at no: 1 when she declared:

“Why you gotta play that song so loud?Because we want to! because we want to!Why d’you always run around in crowds?Because we want to! because we want to!Why d’you always have to dance all night?Because we want to! because we want to!Why d’you always say what’s on your mind?Because we want to! because we want to!”

What the 15-year-old singer probably didn’t realise was that she was actually stating a deep and irrefutable philosophical truth.

Largely speaking human beings do what they want to, they may be partly persuaded by upbringing, nature, peer pressure or indeed by a myriad of other influences but generally they do what they want to do. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, sometimes illness can reduce or even take away our responsibility completely, and in addition drugs like alcohol can cause us to behave in a way that is out of character. However, most of do what we want to.

This truth needs to be at the forefront of our thinking when we consider holiness. Holiness happens when we surrender our free will and embrace God’s will. In the Free Church we are always reluctant to link what we do with what God does. We are terrified of becoming guilty of trying to earn our salvation. Even though all of the promises of God – without exception – are conditional we are still nervous when a particular doctrine suggests that spiritual blessing might be dependent upon our behaviour. I believe that this is largely the reason why holiness is so misunderstood. Holiness is completely dependent upon our obedience.

Because self-denial, as the phrase implies, runs contrary to our desires we are always happy when we can find biblical evidence that seems to suggest that we can never be free from sin. The classic lifebuoy that people have always grabbed hold of is 1 John 1:8-10

8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

I am always amazed when this verse is used to refute the possibility that we might be able to enjoy a “career of uninterrupted victory over sin.” What does this verse actually say; it says if we claim to be without sin we are deceived – I can’t imagine any Christian arguing against that! It also says that if we claim we have not sinned we are calling God a liar – again I can’t imagine any Christian arguing against that! It also says that if we confess our sins he will forgive us – another undeniable truth. Then there are those five words hidden away in the middle in which God promises to “purify us from all unrighteousness.” In other words although we cannot be without sin or claim that we have never sinned we can be utterly clean and set free from its hold. Another reason I have always been amazed that people use John’s first letter to attack the possibility of experiencing victory over sin is because in the same letter John says:

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin” (1 John 2:1)

“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands.” (1 John 2:3)

“Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6)

“If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” (1 John 2:29)

“No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3:6)

Finally John goes on to say,

“Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” (1 John 3:7-10)

If we were to be absolutely honest with ourselves we would have to admit that the reason we don’t want to believe that victory over sin is possible is because such a belief would take away the permission we have to wallow in our weakness.

We do not give in to every temptation that comes our way, indeed we pick and choose very carefully. Top of our list are those sins which have a visible consequence – if we were to give in to those sins then our hypocrisy would be exposed. Most of us manage to avoid those sins which cost us money or have a negative impact on those we love. In fact the sins that Christians struggle with on the whole fall into the category of secret sin. We know that God can give us the power to conquer sin because we have achieved victory over sin in many areas of our life. However, when it comes to our secret sins we have no wish to surrender these. These sins do not have a visible consequence, they don’t break the bank, they don’t noticeably hurt our loved ones, they don’t threaten our social status or our position at church, and indeed we are the only people who know of their existence.

To go back to Ms Billie Piper we commit these sins “because we want to”. Our love for God has not matured sufficiently and that is why we are able to tolerate their existence in our lives. Of course, although these sins may be hidden from human sight we are not able to keep them secret from God. As Paul reminds us in Galatians:

7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:6-8)

John Wesley used to call holiness “perfect love” I wonder if he was inspired by 1 John 2:5 “if anyone obeys his word, love for God
is truly made complete in them.”

I have always been fond of the way in which JB Phillips paraphrases the opening verses of Romans 12.

“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”

Phillips picks up beautifully on the truth that our righteousness, our obedience, our holiness will always be an act of self-denial done in response to God’s love. “With eyes wide open to the mercies of God…” he says “give him your bodies…”

Let there be no further suggestion that the reason we continue to live under the power of sin is because God has yet to rescue us. Another lifebuoy desperately clung to by those who want to justify secret sin is of course Romans chapter 7. Dear friends to read Romans chapter 7 without reading chapter 8 and without reading the preceding chapter 6 is to try and live our Christian life the wrong side of Calvary.

As the old song says we have been saved from “sinning and sin” anyone who argues against the fact does God a great injustice. Let’s stop fooling ourselves we give into temptation “because we want to”.

Grace and peace Andrew

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Is holiness obsolete?

Last summer I visited Stonehenge. I’ve seen it from the road before but never actually stopped and taken the time to look at this remarkable mystery properly. I use the word mystery because nobody knows what Stonehenge is. Lots of archaeologists have come up with interesting theories but the truth is that the purpose behind Stonehenge, the reason it was built has been lost forever in the mists of time.

Stonehenge stood at the very centre of the society that constructed it, whether it was an important meeting place or a place of religious worship, the time and effort that must have gone into its construction proves beyond any doubt that it was of enormous significance. Yet today we know nothing about its construction or why it was built. It’s still there of course, some 4-5 thousand years after it was built but sadly its raison d’être hasn’t proved as durable.

Sometimes I think that we live and serve in a Salvation Army where holiness is at risk of turning into some kind of theological Stonehenge.

How many people in the Salvation Army today understand what holiness is? How many officers actively preach it? How many holiness testimonies do we hear in our meetings?

Do we still believe that it is “the privilege of all believers to be wholly sanctified, and that their whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”?

Do we still believe that “continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ”?

These two doctrines clearly indicate that Salvationists believe that it is possible for Christians to live a life of constant victory over the power of temptation.

Contemporary Christians – even contemporary Salvationists struggle with this concept of victory over sin.

Yet the truth is we experience such a victory in some areas of our lives and we expect other people to exercise the same victory in parts of their lives.

Nobody can be more compelled to behave in a certain way than an alcoholic, drug addict or compulsive gambler – yet when people like this walk into our halls we believe that God can deliver them.

The age of miraculous conversions is not dead and there are many Salvationists who can testify about people who have been set free from habitual sin.

One of the reasons that the concept of consistent victory over sin is difficult for some people to grasp is because we do not emphasise enough the significant link between our will and what our forebears called the blessing of holiness.

In one of the doctrines I quoted above we state that “continuance in a state of salvation depends upon continued obedient faith in Christ” – this doctrine unequivocally states that our salvation is dependent upon our obedience. This powerful and somewhat controversial statement has substantial backing from Scripture. In the New Testament, in both the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, we see a clear link between faith, love, obedience and salvation.

“If you love me, keep my commands.” John 14:15 (NIV)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 7:21 (NIV)

“No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” 1 John 3:6 (NIV)

The reason that we seem to possess an almost innate propensity for sin is not down to our nature but the fact that we choose (in certain areas of our life) to remain disobedient.

Most Christians have managed, by grace through faith, to overcome and defeat at least one habitual weakness in their life. The reason they have decided not to go after the others is a consequence of their will, they may not like to admit it but they have made a decision to hang on to those habits, they enjoy them (or maybe need them) more than they desire to obey Christ.

There is probably no greater requirement cited in the Bible as a condition of Christianity than self-denial. Jesus repeatedly told the disciples that unless they were prepared to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow him they could not be his disciples. In order to make such a complete surrender we will need a powerful motive. That motive of course can only be love. “If you love me” says Jesus “you will obey my commands”.

Holiness happens in our lives when God’s love gives us both the desire and the power to surrender our will and embrace his. The most dramatic example of this in the pages of Scripture is of course Gethsemane. Too many Christians see the outcome of Christ’s struggle in Gethsemane as a done deal. The truth is (and this is made quite clear by the text) that Jesus had plans of his own which were at odds with what God wanted him to do. Our salvation turned upon the willingness of Christ to say (both in word and deed) “not my will but yours be done.”

Becoming holy doesn’t need to be a complicated procedure, as all it takes is a sincere decision to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your body”

As long as we continue to deny ourselves and embrace the will of God then we will be given new hearts and new minds that are naturally inclined towards obedience.

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NIV)

To put it bluntly the reason that holiness is no longer properly taught or experienced is because it requires obedience. Of course God will not force holiness upon us; he will not override our free will and compel us to become good but when we are prepared to cooperate with him the outcome will always be victory. To say that holiness is impossible is a weak and shallow lie and we are fooling no one but ourselves.

John Gowans got it absolutely right (as he usually does) when he said:

If you want it–it’s yours!

If you want it–it’s yours!
Do you want the power to be a better person?
If you want it–it’s yours!

Or to put it another way:

If you want boldness, take part in the fight;
If you want purity, walk in the light;
If you want liberty, shout and be free;
Enjoying a full salvation.

At the end of the day it would be interesting to know what part Stonehenge played in the lives of our ancestors but the fact that we do not doesn’t have any fatal consequences. However, if we forget what holiness is and if we refuse to experience it then the consequences for us as individuals and for the Salvation Army (and the wider church) collectively are dire for “without holiness none shall see the Lord.”

Grace and peace, Andrew

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Holiness possible!

Easter isn’t that long ago and the memory of Christ’s sacrificial death will still be fresh in the minds of many Christians. Indeed the memory of Christ’s death is probably never far from the believer’s mind whatever time in the Christian calendar. Is it not this act of undeserved sacrificial love that drives us on to serve him? Don’t we love because he first loved us?

What an awful tragedy it is therefore that so many people have yet to experience his love in a tangible way. Yet, unbelievably there is an even greater tragedy; one that must grieve Christ in an unimaginable way for this tragedy limits salvation for both the believer and the unsaved alike.

Christ died to take away the sins of the world, to do away with the works of the devil, to deliver us from evil. Yet so many thousands of Christians insist on staying ‘outside the land of promise’.

Do you suffer from the restraints of habitual sin? Is your usefulness to Christ and his mission hindered by a lack of spiritual confidence? When you reach a point of ‘deeper consecration’ are you held back because ‘all the memories of deeds gone by rise within you and his power deny’?

This is not how Christ meant it to be, he dies to save us not only from sin but from sinning.

I came across this great quote some time ago in ‘Orders and Regulations for Field Officers’ (1908 edition):-

“Holiness is not an end of war with outward sin but a career of uninterrupted victory over it.”

Isn’t that a fantastic statement!

In a few weeks the Salvation Army Officer Cadet Session called ‘The ambassadors of holiness’ will be commissioned. Yet how many Salvationists don’t understand what holiness is let alone have experienced the freedom it delivers?

17 years ago when I first got saved I hardly ever heard holiness mentioned but its status has been steadily increasing among Salvationists in the years since then – especially in the last decade.

So what is holiness? Sherlock Holmes used to say “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” So let’s start by eliminating all those things which are often mistaken for holiness.

Holiness is not:

  • Asceticism
  • Puritanism
  • Isolation from the world
  • Discipline
  • Maturity
  • Being like Jesus
  • Sinless perfection
  • Walking the narrow way

All or some of these things may be a consequence of holiness or contribute to it but they are not – either together or separately holiness.

Holiness in its most basic form is supernatural victory over sin.

What is the central ingredient of Christianity?

When you consider the incarnation, the visit of the shepherds, the loyalty of Joseph, the obedience of the Magi, the miracles, the crucifixion, the resurrection, Pentecost, the rapid birth of the earthly church – what is the common denominator? The answer is of course the supernatural power of God.

What makes holiness possible? The answer is the same – the supernatural power of God.

How does it happen? It happens when we, empowered by love and grace, surrender our will and embrace Gods! It happens when we say with Christ ‘not my will be done but yours’. That is holiness and it can only happen when we are in a loving relationship with Christ. Holiness is born out of love, empowered by love, sustained by love and produces even more love.

Some will say they can never be free from sin, they will tell you that human nature will always give into temptation, without ever realising they crown death rather than Christ as their saviour from sin. What they fail to realise is that Christianity demands the surrender of the will. My human nature may want to sin, may even enjoy sin but it is those desires that I give up when I surrender my will. Just like Christ in Gethsemane holiness happens when I give up what I want to do and fully embrace what Christ wants. This is holiness and denying its existence, its power and failing to live within the freedom it gives grieves God and debilitates the church.

  • Let’s preach holiness.
  • Let’s teach holiness.
  • Let’s expect holiness.
  • Let’s experience holiness.

For without it none of us will ever see God!

Grace and peace, A

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