HOW TO DEVELOP MORALLY AS A CHRISTIAN
by Wayne S. Walker
It is clear that we live in an immoral world. It is equally clear that God wants us to be a moral people. James 1:21-27 tells us that we should lay aside all filthiness and abundance of wickedness and receive the engrfted word which is able to save our souls. Then once we have been saved, we must, as Christians, keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Many other passages of scripture speak of how we are in the world but not of the world, how we are not to be conformed to the world, and how we must not love the world. It is this attitude toward the world that helps us develop the kind of morality that God expects of His people.
However, again it is clear, even painfully so, that many "members of the church" are not the type of moral people that God wants us to be. It is an unfortunate statistic with which many congregations of God’s people have to deal that large numbers of young people who are "raised in the church" (I speak accomodatively) are growing up to become involved in sexual immorality, alcohol and drug abuse, and other kinds of ungodly activities. Even some who have been in the church for several years are falling away to engage in the same type of behavior. One of the reasons for this is simply the fact that a majority of people in the world feel that "old-fashioned morality" is out of date, and their view is having a definite influence on many of us. Therefore, it is imperative that we learn how to develop morally as a Christian.
I. Our hearts
First, we must keep our hearts, or minds, pure. The Biblical heart is that part of man from which emanates his intellect, emotions, conscience, and will. The Bible emphasizes the importance of guarding the heart. "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). The wise man urges us, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23; cf. Matthew 12:33-35, 15:18-20). The Lord makes His appeal to our minds, telling us, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
In order to submit our hearts to God, we must follow the injunction of Romans 12:9: "Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good." To "abhor" is to "shrink away from in fear, disgust, or hatred." Some have developed such a perverted concept of the love of God that they have completely eliminated the idea of hatred from their minds. But God is also a God of hatred (Proverbs 6:16-19). Since there are some things that God hates, if we intend to be imitators of God, we must also hate those things. "You who love the LORD, hate evil!…" (Psalm 97:10). "Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore, I hate every false way" (Psalm 119:104). The Christian must come to hate anything that God calls evil.
At the same time, we must "cling to what is good." To "cling" (or "cleave," KJV) means to "adhere; hold fast, as by embracing" (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). Christianity is not totally negative. While we must put away from our minds that which is evil, we must, in turn, then occupy our minds with that which is good. "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy–meditate on these things" (Philippians 4:8). In every situation, the Christian must text or examine all things and then set his mind to reject all that is evil and accept only that which is good. This is the only real way that we can "accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative."
II. Our character
Next, we must keep our character holy. "Character" may be defined as, "One’s pattern of behavior or personality." One’s character has to do with what he is and how he acts, based upon the attitude of his heart. Since our hearts are to be submitted to God, our character is based on who God is and what He says. "But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’" (1 Peter 1:15-16). It will be upon the basis of our character and the works which proceed from it that we shall be judged. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). Therefore, we can see how important our character is in the sight of God.
In order to have a character that is pleasing to God, we must pay attention to the instruction of Titus 2:11-12: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age." To "deny" means "to abrogate, forsake, or renounce a thing," in the same way that Job eschewed or "shunned evil" (Job 1:1; fn., "Lit. turned away from"). "Ungodliness" is impiety; an attitude of disregard for or defiance of God’s person, who He is and what He stands for. It is anything that is opposed to God and His will (Romans 1:18ff). "Worldly lusts" are those string desires which pertain to this present world and are, therefore, evil and inconsistent with the will of God. Why should we deny worldly lusts or desires? "Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:15). Surely God’s wrath is revealed against such things.
Again, however, the negative is offset with a positive. We are to "live soberly, righteously, and godly." "Soberly" comes from a word that "denotes of sound mind..; hence, self controlled….It suggests the exercise of that self-restraint that governs all passions and desires, neabling the believer to be confomred to the mind of Christ" (cf. Titus 2:2, "temperate;" v. 5, "discreet;" v. 6, "to be sober-minded"). "Righteously" is derived from a term that "signifies ‘just,’ without prejudice or partiality" and basically means "in keeping with that which is right" (1 Corinthians 15:34). "Godly" is the opposite of "ungodly." It "denotes piety" and is taken from a noun which "denotes that piety which, characterized by a Godward attitude, does that which is well pleasing to Him" (2 Timothy 3:12; cf.1 Timothy 4:7-8). God wants us to have a character that is demonstrated by self-control, right action, and a proper regard for God and His wishes.
III. Our reputation
Finally, we must keep our reputation clean. "Reputation" means "estimation in which a person or thing is commonly held." Your character involves what God knows about you, while your reputation involves what your fellow-men think about you. We need to be concerned with our reputation. "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, Loving favor rather than silver and gold" (Proverbs 22:1). There is a sense in which it matters little what our private character may be, because if we do not live so as to maintain a good reputation we cannot be an influence for good among the people of this world. The commands for us to be "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14-16), "an example of the believers" (1 Timothy 4:12), and "a pattern of good works" (Titus 2:7) make attention to our reputations essential.
The apostle Peter tells us how to make sure that our reputations are what they ought to be in 1 Peter 2:11-12. "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation." We must abstain from fleshly lusts. To "abstain" literally means "to hold one’s self from, to keep oneself from." It is not enough just to hate evil practices in our minds, nor just to renounce them in our private lives. We must openly and publicly turn away and stay from them. The basis upon which this plea is made is that, as Christians, we are sojourners and pilgrims. May we always remember that this world is not our home, as did Abraham and the patriarchs (Hebrews 11:13-16). Rather, our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20-21). The reason why we should abstain from these fleshly lusts is that they war against our souls. If we do not abstain from them, they will defeat us spiritually and cause us to lose the war (cf. 1 Timothy 1:18-20).
Having put away from our lives all fleshly lusts, we must make sure that our conduct or behavior is honorable among the people of this world. "Honorable" is translated from a word which means "good, admirable, becoming; has also the ethical meaning of what is fair, right, honourable, of such conduct as deserves esteem" (cf. Romans 12:17, 2 Corinthians 8:21). The reason for this is that they might see our good works and glorify God. Surely we cannot influence the people of this world to leave the evil of the world if we ourselves participate in it. We must never act so as to give our enemies occasion to blaspheme but that they "may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you" (Titus 2:8). Nothing can drive people away from the truth any faster than their knowledge of someone who claims to be "a Christian" but whose life is not in harmony with God’s laws. More than this, we must strive to have a positive, beneficial effect by our lives. Consider our speech for example: not corrupt communication, but that which is good for edification to impart grace to others (Ephesians 4:29).
It is apparent that many people have a problem developing morally. Of course, some just do not care. Others know what is right and want to do it, but for various reasons do not. Once a lady called a left a message on the Dial-A-Bible-Message answering machine of the church where I was laboring. She did not leave her name or address and said that she did not wish any literature, but did commend us for the service. She went on to say that she wanted to serve the Lord, but simply could not because of temptation. A lot of people feel this way, that they cannot live right because of temptation. However, the truth is that they simply will not live right, because the Bible tells us that we can do so and tells us how to go about it. First, we must guard our minds. Next, we must watch our lives so that our character is pleasing to God. And we must be concerned enough about our reputation to keep it clean so as to be a good influence on others.
Unfortunately, many people are not willing to put forth the time, energy, and effort that is necessary to accomplish this. Certainly it is not easy, but it can be done. And when it is done, the results will be amazing in that we will be enabled to "resist the devil and he will flee from you" as well as to "draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:7-8). When a person truly starts to work on these areas, he will, without doubt, begin to develop morally as God wants him to do. One who is trying to be a Christian can do nothing less to please God. (—taken from Gospel Anchor; May, 1987; Vol. XII, No. 9; pp. 19-21)