Sometimes the handiwork of God is hidden in the subtlest of details, visible to us only after years of reflection. Other times, He paints with strokes so bold that the only real way to miss them requires living blindfolded under a rock.
This past weekend was one of those “bold stroke” moments.
My wife and I were in Louisville, KY along with hundreds of other brethren for COGWA’s annual Winter Family Weekend. The theme of the weekend this year was “Escape From the World—Living a Godly Life in Satan’s World”—and while the presenters are typically all encouraged to draw from the weekend’s theme, something stood out to Mary and I this year in particular. With every class, seminar, and message we listened to, we began to notice common threads that ran deeper than a shared theme. Each speaker’s message complemented its predecessors in a way no amount of brainstorming and collaboration could have ever made possible—as if the hand of God was stitching each individual presentation together into one sweeping mosaic; as if each message was intended not only to stand on its own, but to add one more definitive stroke to a much bigger picture.
I left this Winter Family Weekend feeling spiritually charged and edified. The messages and the bigger picture they painted impacted me deeply, and so I thought that for this Sabbath Thought I could take a crack at recreating the glimpse I caught of that bigger picture. Keep in mind that this just what one person saw; if you were there, you may have come home with another set of lessons entirely (and I’d love to hear more about them in the comments below!).
What I’d like to do here is examine three overarching points that seemed to weave their way through the messages this year—sometimes noticeably, sometimes subtly—and then step back and look at the picture they all combine to make. I’ll also try to note in which class/seminar each point received the greatest focus (and just for clarity’s sake, these points are not my own—I’m just summarizing and amalgamating). After that, I hope you’ll keep the discussion going by adding impressions of your own, whether they come from having been there yourself or speaking with someone who has. And so, without further ado…
1. We need to start with a spiritual “will alignment”
(Primarily from Mr. Kilough’s class, “Chemistry of Spiritual Growth”)
Long before we do something, we develop the will to do something. In other words, our determination to act comes first; the actions themselves come afterward. Our wills are in turn influenced by two key factors: knowledge and emotion, the things we know and the things we feel. As human beings, we’ve all seen how our own wills can shift drastically throughout even the course of a day—this is because any serious change to the things we know and the things we feel can result in a serious change to our will. It certainly doesn’t help that our adversary the devil is always eager to feed us false information or wrong emotions for the very purpose of derailing our will and sending us off course. The apostle Paul put it best when he wrote, “what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (Romans 7:15).
But here’s the thing: God’s will never veers off course. God’s will never fluctuates. It is an unchanging constant, and we can depend on it. Satan uses knowledge and emotion to work against us carnally; God uses knowledge and emotion to strengthen us spiritually. What we need is to pray for God’s help in aligning our will with His. This means our prayers need to go beyond asking God to do something for us or to keep us from doing something—we need to pray for God’s help in thinking the way He thinks and in wanting the things He wants. The more our knowledge and emotions match up with God’s, the better we can expect our will and His will to align, and the more we’ll grow into “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
2. What you do shapes who you are
(Primarily from Mr. Meeker’s Bible study, “What Are You Doing With Your Free Time?”)
Paul, never one to be accused of beating around the bush, warns us, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits'” (1 Corinthians 15:33). What we might overlook in this verse is that the word translated “company” deals with far more than just the people we spend time with—it includes everything we allow into our lives. Evil company can literally be a group of troublemakers, but it can also take the form of a Web site whose content we should be avoiding, a movie which depicts things we shouldn’t be watching, or a game rewarding behavior God condemns.
Evil corrupts. It’s as simple as that. And yet Paul warns against deception as well. Why? Because our instinct might be to reason away the danger of evil in our lives. Maybe there isn’t that much of it. Maybe there is a lot of it, but since we’re aware of it we can keep it from affecting us.
But that’s not how it works. Evil corrupts. End of story. If you let it into your life, if you allow it to stay, you will be corrupted by its influence. You will be desensitized to things you shouldn’t be desensitized to; you will become complacent with things you shouldn’t be complacent with; you will grow comfortable with evil. There are quite simply things that shouldn’t be allowed into the life of a Christian, and this includes a lot of the entertainment that the world says is okay.
Instead, we must strive to “walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:15-17, emphasis added). We need to do more than simply weed the evil out of our lives; we need to take that free time and put it toward strengthening our relationship with God. We ought to be seeking out “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).
3. Be transformed, not conformed
(Primarily from Mr. Blackwell’s seminar, “Transformed or Conformed: Which Will You Choose?”)
Christians find themselves in a unique and often difficult situation: commissioned by Christ to be in the world and yet not of it (John 17:14-15), we must find a way to hold fast to God’s standards without giving in to the push and the pull of the world around us. In his seminar, Mr. Blackwell used jello to illustrate his point. With extremely little resistance, jello takes the shape of whatever container it is placed in. Remove it in that container and place it in another, give it some time, and your jello will be in a whole new shape. It has no way to retain its shape; it is subject to the current mold of the world around it and will eagerly take on whatever form it is given.
Precious stones, on the other hand, undergo a far more radical change. Subjected to intense heat and pressure for eons, their chemical structure is changed into something new, something different. Simple carbon-bearing material, pressed and heated for unimaginably long periods of time, eventually becomes a stone with the highest hardness and thermal conductivity of any bulk material in the world—a stone you and I call a diamond. A diamond has been changed inside and out from one state into another, and once that change is complete, it remains a diamond forever.
We are instructed, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). The difference between being conformed and being transformed is the difference between jello and a precious stone. And did you notice the last bit of that verse? As we are transformed to become more like God, we must at the same time be proving “what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
The big picture: The goal is Godliness
(Primarily from Mr. Franks’s sermon, “Escape From the Evil”)
So, we’ve gone over three separate points, each bringing out an aspect of God’s way of life. But what’s the bigger picture? What ties these all together?
There are a lot of little connections—for instance, part of being transformed means being careful about what we let shape us, and part of choosing what we let shape us means bringing our will in alignment with God’s. But there’s a real big connection between it all that I failed to notice until I heard Mr. Frank’s sermon at the end of the weekend. Throughout his message, he talked about the difficulty the Church has faced in defining what exactly constitutes worldliness. Is it the length of a skirt? A style of facial hair? Or do we just “know it when we see it”?
We haven’t always been 100% on-point in identifying worldliness, but knowing that the Church has been commanded to come out of the world (Revelation 18:4) makes avoiding worldliness a high priority of any Christian. But how can we avoid what we can’t always define?
It takes a perspective shift. Mr. Franks pointed out that the goal of all this, of this entire life, of everything we say, do, and become, is not to become “not worldly.” The goal is to become more like God.
How do we know when we’re coming into alignment with the will of God? By seeking Godliness. How do we determine the best use of our free time? By seeking Godliness. And how do we pursue transformation instead of conformation? By seeking Godliness.
That sounds like such a simple point, but the more I think it over, the more I realize how fundamental it is to everything we’re doing. If our focus is on avoiding worldliness, then we’re saying that the ideal Christian is a dead one—because, as Mr. Johnson noted in another seminar, a dead Christian will perfectly comply with the long list of don’ts which accompanies that mindset.
That’s not to say that God’s word is free of don’ts. There are lots of don’ts. The point is that because Godliness and worldliness are polar opposites, the closer we move to one, the farther we move from another. The more we learn to love our brother, the less we will hate him. The more we learn to give, the less we will find to covet. The more we learn to serve, the less we will be inclined to rule with pride. In pursuing Godliness, we cast out worldliness.
Don’t make your primary focus overcoming sin or getting rid of worldliness. Those things are important—hugely important. Don’t ignore them; don’t minimize them. But a primary focus of becoming more like God requires overcoming sin in the process. So let’s work on bringing our will into alignment with God’s will. Let’s work on filling our free time with things that will bring us closer to God. Let’s make a continual effort to seek a transformation instead of a conformation. But above all things, let’s remember:
The goal is Godliness.
Until next time,