Monday, May 5, 2014

The Shrinking Standard of Righteousness

Much has been made lately about Noah because of the movie which stars Russell Crowe.  The movie itself is far from being Biblically accurate, but the account of Noah is definitely pertinent for our day.  A quick reading of Genesis 6-9 shows that God considered the people of Noah's day as wicked and evil.  But it is evident from this account that the people didn't think they were evil or wicked.  By God's standard they were violent and perverse, but their standards they were moral and good.  They had developed a shrinking standard of righteousness and have even applied that standard to God.  So when destruction came, it was obvious that they were caught unaware that God would hold them accountable or that they even had anything God would consider wicked or evil.  The account of Noah is a reminder that in a culture filled with a shrinking standard of righteousness, God still holds mankind accountable by HIS standard.

The same thing happened in Sodom and Gomorrah:  The city was evil with grievous sin, but the residents thought they were fine.  It was normal for them to injure, molest and abuse anyone who was out after the sun went down.  It was normal for men to lust for men and even rape the men for which they lusted.  They had an incredible shrinking standard of righteousness.  We know this is true because we see it with Lot.  Though Lot knew God's standard of righteousness, as he spent more time with the residents of Sodom, he adopted their standards.  His wife had become so much a part of the culture that she didn't want to leave and couldn't help but longingly look back as they fled the city.  The account of Sodom and Gomorrah is a reminder that in a culture filled with a shrinking standard of righteousness, God still holds mankind accountable by HIS standard.

We see it in the lives of the Old Testament prophets.  They live in a culture with a shrinking standard of righteousness, people who should know better.  And yet, they worship idols, chase after pagan women, elevate divorce, indulge in drunkenness and a multitude of other compromises.  Each compromise is justified by the culture until it becomes the cultural norm.  They have a shrinking standard of righteousness and so mock the prophet who calls them back to God's standard.  Read the account of Isaiah or Jeremiah and your heart will be broken by people who should know the true love of God, but have substituted their own view of God and morality.  The account of the prophets are a reminder that in a culture filled with a shrinking standard of righteousness, God still holds mankind accountable by HIS standard.

Even Jesus saw this problem in His day:  Divorce was common, adultery was overlooked, revenge was the norm and even religious activity had become a show rather than worship.  So at the end of the sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21, He warns, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord Lord" will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven."  Jesus reminds us that God's standard of morality and righteousness is not manipulated by the dictates of culture or the politically expedient moment.  The account of Jesus is a reminder that in a culture filled with a shrinking standard of righteousness, God still holds mankind accountable by HIS standard.

Do we live in a culture today with a shrinking standard of righteousness?  It's hard to deny.  Though several studies say that over 60% of Americans claim to be Christians, we have a divorce rate of about 47%, we have more people living together than chose to get married last year, we have over 40% of babies being born out of wedlock, we see mammoth and crushing personal debt, We see millions of unborn children put to death. we see cities going bankrupt because they have overspent and misused monies they took from working citizens, we se perversion being normalized and justified, we see violence become an acceptable part of daily life and the list goes on.  Our standard of righteousness is shrinking faster than California's water supply.

So what do we do about it?  Well, we don't look to the legislators for a reverse.  Elected officials can never change the moral tide of a culture.  All they can do is pass laws that will slow down the decline.  An evil heart will move towards evil regardless of the laws.  We can't look to the media to change the tide because the media is in it to make money.  If immorality makes money, then they will give us more immorality.  They will even seek to justify this lack of righteousness in any way that is possible.

We have to be Noahs of our day.  We have to Jeremiahs in our day.  We have to be Isaiahs and John the Baptists is our day.  We must be willing to live the standard God says is righteous rather than living down to our culture's standard.  We have to be willing to repent from our sin and sinful lifestyle choices and let the Holy Spirit guide our living.  Without repentance their is now regeneration and there are plenty in America claiming to be born again who are unwilling to repent.  We can't change our culture, we can only live the call of Joshua - "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."  We must be willing to be hated, marginalized and persecuted for following God's standard of righteousness.  Unless there is a massive revival in America, our culture will become more antagonistic towards those who uphold God's standard of righteousness.  Just look at who is called "haters" today and who has become the politically correct targets of ostracism and hatred.  We will either have to choose to shrink our standard of righteousness to fit in and be accepted or we will adhere to God's unshrinking standard and face persecution.  Soon there will be no room for middle ground and we will have to choose.

Once a culture develops a shrinking standard of righteousness, it is almost impossible to stop this without a cataclysmic event.  Just read the Kings and Chronicles for confirmation of this fact.  Most of those around us have already accepted the shrinking standard.  Churches now advertise the fact that they adhere to the shrinking standard and you can attend their church without any fear of hearing a message of condemnation or of God's full standard.  I have friends who will read this and bristle at what I have just written.  They have a litany of names by which they will refer to me so they can categorize me and then demonize me.  That's what happens to those who profess God's standard in a culture of shrinking standards.  Most Americans consider themselves good, moral people.  According to their standard, they measure up and are doing just fine.

Now before you think I am getting all holier-than-thou, please let me finish.  The prophets preached God's standard even though they were aware they didn't measure up to that standard.  They were reluctant to preach because they could be labeled hypocrites.  They didn't want to face the abuse and pain...BUT they realized that someone needed to speak.  They understood God's standard, even though they didn't always measure up to that standard.  Isaiah in chapter 6 of is book is acutely aware of his sin when he has a vision of seeing the Lord in His throne room.  We don't speak as preachers of righteousness (As Noah did) because are perfect.  We do it because in our sin, we have seen how we don't measure up.  We know what will happen if we continue to lower the standard and do not repent.  Those who are aware of the lowering standard of righteousness have a God-given obligation to live up to God's standard and let others know of the coming judgment.

My heart breaks to see the culture in which my sons are being raised because of how much more immoral it is than the culture of my childhood.  I long for them to have the same opportunities I had, but I know that probably won't happen.  So we try to live God's righteousness in a culture where we have become freaks and oddballs.  We pray that our children will see the joy and peace of following Christ and choose to make that their standard rather than the cultural standard which bombards them.  You  know how I feel because you have the same prayer about your children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews.  May God give us the courage to uphold his standard in a culture with a shrinking standard of righteousness.