Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A God-Shaped Envelope

We often read stories about people who are praised for “pushing the envelope”. Usually, the term is used to describe someone who is breaking new ground in culture, art, or in a profession. That new ground is often something that was considered to be unacceptable in the past, but is now presented as an “enlightened” viewpoint. And typically, this activity is described as a positive thing. Think of all the movies, TV shows and art forms in the last ten years that have been praised for “expanding our cultural horizons”, even though they promote ideas and practices clearly disapproved of in God’s Word.

Curiously, why does the envelope always seem to stretch in a more liberal direction? Would praise be given to someone who moves the boundary to a more conservative location? Imagine a new television show that refused to use bad language or make inappropriate sexual references, and which had a positive theme? Would there be any viewers? And would it receive plaudits for going into new territory?

I contend that an art form which applied these godly principles would be the one that is breaking new ground. A TV show or movie that offers an increase in explicit or bawdy content is just more of the same. There is nothing new there, except more ways to dishonor God. And do we buy into the false principle that this behavior is somehow admirable?

We must realize, that while man has a constant desire to stretch the limits of what is acceptable, there is by definition only one boundary for which we should strive. Think of God’s laws, desires for man, and purpose for each one of us as a “God-shaped envelope”. God has already drawn the marker for where and how we should live and has revealed His envelope through the Bible. Anything else is a distortion of what God desires.

Praise should not be given to those who would stretch this boundary beyond what God has defined. It is easy to see how the godless will pay no heed to this. But how can those of us who are professing Christians ignore this desire? Do we see glimpses of God’s envelope on Sunday morning, but then stretch the boundaries when Monday comes, only to repeat the cycle each week? It’s one thing to struggle with this idea because of the pressures that the world places on us when the work-week comes around. But it’s another thing to give in to this lifestyle and so deceive ourselves into believing that it’s an acceptable and right way to live.

Matthew 5:20 says, “But I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” It is required of us as Christians to be set apart, and to not conform to the pattern of this world. There are many who say that we need to become somewhat like the world in order to draw people in to our lives, and once there we can show them the deeper truths. But I believe that Christ would have us live constantly as lights in the darkness, showing the world a difference with every act that we demonstrate. People who are lost and hurting should see our “envelope” from the very beginning, and should recognize that this life and hope is vastly different from anything else they may witness.

Should we compromise even a little in order to gain some slight attention from those who are lost? Titus 2:11-12 says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” Though this was written almost 2000 years ago, it still applies, even to “this present age” that we live in today. Our challenge is to be ever-watchful for ungodliness in every situation, and then to say “No”. This may change what we do with our free time, and what culture and arts we enjoy, but it is surely worth putting those things aside in order to experience God’s grace.

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