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Barely a day goes by without some news of a health scare or moral hazard. Tobacco control zealots are still hard at work getting the new evil weed (which used to be marijuana in my day) banned from display in Western shops and supermarkets. Some of the same people — based in San Francisco (where else?) — are now focussing on the evils of sugar.  Another group wants more New York-style bans on transfats and a tax on higher-fat dairy products such as cream and butter. Here in the UK, the Coalition government is seeking less alcohol content in drinks and spirits. Unfortunately, the Church of England (largely apostate) as well as pietistic Methodists and Baptists have joined the battle.

Where will it all end, we wonder?  Any amateur historian will tell you that prohibition and higher taxation never work. Yet, our politicians, charity ‘experts’ and physicians are constantly hammering us about what we ingest. Name your poison and they will say, ‘If you only knew what a killer that is!’

That is the secular side of things. On the religious — Christian and Muslim — side of things, those prohibitions are largely shared where drink and tobacco are concerned. But they also add a socially moral element where children and women are concerned.  Many of us would say that 1960s and 1970s feminism has had a part to play in the downfall of our Western family structure. At least one generation of children — the eldest of whom are nearly middle-aged — have been seriously affected. Meanwhile, men have gone off the deep end in personal confidence.  We appear to have been seized by addiction, depression and nihilism.

Christian and Muslim groups are joining in with their secular allies in attempting to address all these ills in draconian style. Is that the right way forward? What about those of us who are minding our own business?  Can we be left alone with a glass of brandy and a pipe? No, because we, too, are part of the problem.  We must have a moral clean-up. Now. Totally.  And any women out there can stop reading now and get back in the kitchen.  You shouldn’t be trying to expand your minds — how presumptuous. Only the High Priest or Imam of the House — the husband — can do that on your behalf. (Irony alert.)

Last year, when I featured St Peter’s Epistles in my Forbidden Bible Verses series, I used a number of sermons by the Revd Gil Rugh as commentaries.  Mr Rugh is pastor of the Indian Hills Community Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Although he loves Christ and Holy Scripture, he does have a thing or two to say against moral movements.  I used his sermon ‘True Knowledge of Him Who Called Us’ from 1996 for my post on 2 Peter 1-12.  The sermon concerns 2 Peter 1:3-4 but references other New Testament passages and provides a context not dissimilar to what America and Western society are experiencing at the moment.  As he points out, this is because we are not well acquainted enough with the teachings of the Holy Bible.

Although the following is written as a criticism of Christian dominionism, you can easily read it in light of secular moral and health movements.

Emphases are in the original in the extracts below:

[In] Mark 7 The Jews in Jesus’ day were confused because they didn’t know their Scriptures. They were concerned about corruption, about being tainted by things from the outside. Jesus tells them in verses 18 and 19 that what they eat and drink doesn’t taint their bodies. We as Christians get confused by this as well. But note what He says in verse 20: “…That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man.” You’re not defiled by what goes in your mouth. It’s what comes out of you that defiles you. Verses 21-23: “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” This is the rottenness that is in the world by lust. It is because the world lives under the authority and control of a fallen being, Lucifer. It is populated by people who are corrupt and rotten at the core. This world is corrupted and made decadent by the lusts of fallen, depraved hearts …

I want to note here that knowing what God has said should help us discern false doctrine and false teaching. It comes at us in a variety of ways. Believers should not be caught up in an effort to restore America to its Christian foundation. What does it mean that we are going to restore a Christian America?

I was reading an article this morning about a man who is calling us back to Christian America. He says you are not truly being a godly person if you are not involved in this movement. How do you call America back? What’s wrong with this concept? The movements that center on moral improvement all deny the word of God, which says the problem is not what they are doing. Instead, the problem is the corruption of their hearts that drives them in what they are doing. That dead body is decaying. It’s rotting. You don’t go over and spray it with perfume. That may be temporarily helpful, but by its very nature it will rot. Do we really understand the depravity of fallen hearts? By our very nature, we are rotten. We are running around trying to spray perfume in the air. Why should I get ulcers over the fact that people are openly flaunting their homosexual behavior, or that they are openly parading their immorality and having sex with everyone they feel like, apart and outside of marriage? What do I expect from people who are rotten?

Turn back to Galatians 2:20. I want you to see a connection of two verses here. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” When you look at commentaries on 2 Peter 1:4, on what it means to partake of the divine nature, Galatians 2:20 is one of the verses almost all of them use. Fittingly so. Jesus Christ now lives in us, and His character and life is being produced in us. Note verse 21: “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” He’s saying that righteousness does not come by trying to conform to something external. Righteousness is produced in the life — in the heart — and thus flows out.

Look at all the attention being focused on crusades. “Oh, we are going to make men what they ought to be. We want men to take their responsibility and men to take the lead.” Do we think we can produce righteousness by law? What is wrong with the Church? You can get people to sign petitions and march in crusades, but do you know what is missing? The presentation of the cross of Jesus Christ. It’s not there because the preaching of the cross is offensive to those who are perishing. God does not call us to make rotting, stinking, corrupt corpses smell better or look better. We think we are doing something wonderful when we take that rotting, maggot-infested body and put new clothes on it. At least it looks better, but likely nothing of substance is done. It takes the precious and magnificent promises of God. It takes the new birth. You can escape the corruption that is in the world only by believing in the precious and magnificent promises of God’s salvation in Christ. Then you become a partaker of the divine nature. No longer by nature are you a child of wrath, but you are by nature a child of God, and your life is changed.

Note three sentences in that last paragraph:

God does not call us to make rotting, stinking, corrupt corpses smell better or look better. We think we are doing something wonderful when we take that rotting, maggot-infested body and put new clothes on it. At least it looks better, but likely nothing of substance is done.

Therefore, Christian and Islamic dominionists as well as our secular powers that be are misguided about moral crusades. They all have one thing in common: to save us from ourselves so that they will like us better. ‘If only you didn’t watch television, eat, drink and smoke so much’. They are no better than nagging family members.  And this is my complaint about pietism — religious or secular — and the holiness movements of whatever ilk.  I cannot speak for Muslims, but Christians are called to ‘work out their own salvation’ — their own sanctification. That will mean different things for different believers at different stages in their lives — through the grace of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Rugh says the result of these movements is an exaltation of Man and a denigration of our Lord Jesus Christ. He calls it ‘anti-Lordship’ and he is correct.  All our secular and religious pietism will not save us if we do not believe in Christ. So we live a ‘pure’ life, and many secularists will say that their Bible-believing families influenced their personal ‘cleanliness’ at home.  These people are proud of their personal pietism. They don’t have to believe. They’re leading a clean enough life as it is with daily visits to the gym, low-fat diets, plenty of fresh air and lots of hard work. Now, there’s nothing wrong with any of those, however, when they are not part of a Spirit-infused desire, then, what purpose do they serve other than to make one feel better about himself?

Rugh states:

We have everything necessary for life and godliness. There is nothing else. There is nothing more to enable you to live a godly life than what you have been given by God in grace. We partake of that by believing of the promises He’s given regarding salvation in the death and resurrection of His Son. And when you believe in Him, you escape the corruption and become a partaker of the divine nature. There’s no other way out of the pit. There’s no other way out of the corruption and the vileness.

There is much talk today about the filth of this world. It is a filthy world, and we like to say it’s getting much worse. Do you think it’s much worse? Peter said of the world in his day, “It’s like a rotting corpse.” Jeremiah said under the inspiration of the Spirit hundreds of years before Christ that “the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked above all things.” What kind of theology is the church preaching today? People are being told that these are the worst days. “If only we could get back to the Victorian age, wouldn’t it be wonderful?” What kind of foolishness is this? Put some clean clothes on that maggot-eaten corpse. Is it any wonder the church is susceptible and open for every foolish idea that comes along under the guise of helping us?

May God grant that we become people committed to truth and the true knowledge of the living God, and that we absorb that knowledge into our lives. As individuals and as a church, we must be building and growing to maturity, as Peter will show in verses 5-7, so that God’s purposes are clearly evident in all that He’s doing in us and through us.

There is no successful legislation against human nature. Let God’s grace do its divine work in different ways in different people. Let’s focus on our personal sanctification and leave the details of others’ to Him in His mercy and wisdom.  Making others’ lives a misery won’t win us any Brownie points in the afterlife.


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