This past weekend, after the church service, a member introduced me to a gentleman, a visitor, who had enjoyed the sermon. Most of the time the traditional “shaking of the pastor’s hand” at the back door moves along swiftly. People nod, smile, make a minor comment, and then hurry home or to the church potluck. However, this man stopped to chat. Since most people had already left, he didn’t cause a traffic jam as we talked of his previous church experience.
The person who brought him mentioned that his friend had grown up attending church but had fallen away and become disinterested because of all the “dos” and “don’ts” he’d had preached to him. I empathized with him, having had a few of those experiences myself, and said I was glad he’d come and hoped things would be better. This opened the proverbial “can of worms,” and he launched into a diatribe about church-going people’s behavior.
“What I don’t like, see, is that the people up there,” he said, motioning to the platform at the front of the church, “say to do certain things, but then they don’t do them!”
“You mean people are hypocritical?” I replied.
His eyes sparkled and a grin of acknowledgment spread across his face. “Yes! Exactly!” he exclaimed.
I bit my pastoral tongue, feeling the urge to remind the man that hypocrites exist at work, at school, in our neighborhoods, and inside most of us from time to time. But I refrained. His next line of thought was that he hated all the people who put restrictions on his diet.
“They say you can’t eat things with cloven hooves or whatever [Leviticus 11], but Jesus said that all foods are ‘clean,’ ” he said working himself up.
I asked him which Bible verse he was thinking of, because I couldn’t remember Jesus giving license to put anything and everything into our bodies.
“The New Testament!” he said.
“But which text?” I replied, offering a couple of suggestions, but he waved them off.
“No, those aren’t it. I don’t know the text—it’s just in the New Testament,” he said.
I thought about asking him how hypocritical it was for people attending church to make theological statements against other sincere Christians using Scripture without even knowing the biblical source. (I didn’t.) The conversation ended with him saying he enjoyed the sermon, and I wished him a good afternoon.
While I would argue much with the visitor on his theology, he did have a valid concern regarding the fact that people who profess faith in Christ don’t always represent Him in their daily lives. As one researcher points out, “In virtually every study we conduct, representing thousands of interviews every year, born-again Christians fail to display much attitudinal or behavioral evidence of transformed lives. . . . Most of the lifestyle activities of born again Christians were statistically equivalent to those of non-born-agains.” Christians too often do not practice what they preach.
Genuine Christian behavior
In a conversation Jesus had with His Father, He prayed for His followers, saying, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of it” (John 17:16). Paul reiterated this thought in Romans: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (12:2). In short, Christ’s followers should have different values and a different approach to the rest of the world.
A Christian embraces two great principles upon which all the particular rules of the Bible hang. Jesus summed them up when He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). The entire Christian life is oriented around pleasing God and loving those around us. The Ten Commandments include both of these concepts.
It only takes a brief glance at these ten principles to realize how at odds they are with most of our culture. But can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone really practiced these principles?
What if everyone honored a Power greater than themselves and sought the welfare of others instead of the occasional act of kindness? Can you imagine the difference it would make if politicians really followed the creed of the Ten Commandments instead of using them as décor in an occasional speech?
And this concept of Christian behavior goes another level deeper. It involves not only loving God and others; it involves loving ourselves. Loving ourselves isn’t about being narcissistic but recognizing that God loves us.
In a letter to a church with serious behavioral issues, Paul said, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually, sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18–20). The immediate context is promiscuous sexual activity, but the principle is outlined in the last part—we belong to God and we need to treat our bodies with respect.
What about food?
This is where those dietary laws of Leviticus 11 come in. In my faith tradition as a Seventh-day Adventist, I observe the dietary prohibitions against certain foods. I don’t do this in order to be allowed into heaven, as if what I ate would make me pure. It’s about being healthy. Much of what is prohibited in Leviticus involves animals that function as nature’s garbage disposals (pigs, eagles, sharks, shrimp, etc.), and there are better things to put in my body.
Many Seventh-day Adventists adopt a vegetarian diet in order to avoid obesity and heart disease. A pastor I knew when I was growing up once commented that since Christians don’t party, don’t do drugs, and don’t drink—they eat! And, unfortunately, many of God’s people do just that. As a Christian I want to be in optimal shape through being careful of my diet, and exercising and resting regularly so that I can be more effective at doing what God asks of me.
But why all the fuss? If we aren’t saved by what we do, then what is the point of living a certain way? In a broken world where people become trapped in cycles of selfishness and become disillusioned, despairing, and disappointed, they need to see a different kind of life in Christians. They need to know that there’s a way of love and hope. They need to know a Savior who has a better plan for their life.
The late Robert L. Humphrey, an Iwo Jima veteran, wrote a verse called “The Warrior’s Creed.” Many contemporary practitioners of martial arts such as karate and ninjutsu adopt his concept as their philosophy of life: “Wherever I go, everyone is a little bit safer because I am there. Wherever I am, anyone in need has a friend. Whenever I return home, everyone is happy I am there.”
This has tremendous parallels to the objective of men and women in the service of Jesus, fighting against the forces of darkness.
Paul states the purpose of the Christian’s life in his second letter to the troubled church at Corinth when he says, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). We represent Christ in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31) in order that our behavior and attitudes may draw others to a loving relationship with Jesus and to bring a little light to the shadier places of the world.
How the Ten Commandments include the concept of pleasing God and loving those around us.
The first four commandments (my own paraphrase) have to do with loving God:
- Have no other gods but God.
- Don’t make any idols to replace God.
- Don’t use God’s name flippantly.
- Rest on the seventh day of the week, for as a memorial of Creation. It reminds you that you are not God, no matter how hard you work.
The last six commandments have to do with how we treat each other:
- Treat your parents respectfully.
- Don’t kill.
- Be faithful to your spouse; don’t make love with anyone else’s spouse.
- Don’t take what belongs to someone else.
- Be honest and full of integrity in all your dealings.
- Don’t be jealous of another person’s blessings.