Growing up in South Florida, I spent many warm afternoons on the beach. I don’t know if it’s the salt water or what, but I always (to this day) have to have ice cream whenever I leave the beach. There was this local beachfront ice cream shop in my hometown which I used to frequent. They had a special “flavor of the week” to try. Where I live now, there’s a popular frozen custard shop which offers a “flavor of the day”, with wildly popular success. Now if “variety is the spice of life”, then a rotation of frozen flavors is healthy. But is it healthy when we apply that same concept to things other than frozen treats? Is it healthy to continually focus on what is “trending” in the world around us?
I’ve notice a growing trend of late, wherein people become extremely intent on whatever is currently trending (the “flavor of the day”, if you will). It dominates my Facebook feed, the local news, the conversations of my friends, and so on. And no sooner does it burst onto the scene with explosive force then it seems to fade away into the ether just as quickly as it came in, because it gets replaced by the next “flavor”. Just take recent “trends”, for example: First, it was Ferguson. Then, Baltimore. Freddy Gray. Bill Cosby, Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, the Church Shooting in Charleston, the Confederate Flag debate, the Gay Marriage Vote, the Oregon cake bakers, the vaccination debate, the unstoppable US Women’s World Cup soccer team. And that’s just the past 11 months. These topics rotate in popularity so much that it’s almost hard to keep track.
Why is it that people jump all over these “hot topics”? Could it be that they are looking for a distraction? John Piper once said that “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time”. So what is it that we seek to be distracted from? Based on my own observations, and the confessional conviction of my own heart, there’s a good chance that we seek to be distracted from our own personal pursuit of righteousness. Just take a look at the titles of popular literature in your local Christian bookstore. Back around the time I was born, books with titles like “How Then Shall We Live?” and “The Pursuit of Holiness” were flying off the shelves. Now, titles like “Your Best Life Now” line the shelves.
An unbridled pursuit for personal righteousness (and growth in sanctification) is widely lacking in the Church today. In our ease and comfort, it becomes much easier to discuss things outside of us than it is to look inside our own heart; to look at our own nature, which Calvin called a “perpetual factory of idols”. Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living”, yet so many of us who profess the name of Christ willingly allow our own lives to go unexamined every day, in favor of getting sucked in to whatever the masses happen to be discussing on Facebook or at the water cooler.
Dear brothers and sisters, where is the call for personal righteousness? Where is the desire to “conform” more “into the image of His Son”, Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29)? Why is it that we’re concerned more with what Bruce Jenner had for lunch than in crucifying our own flesh? Why are we not initiating conversations on social media about how we may grow in Christ and “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24)? If we spent half the energy and concern we devote to social media trends toward our personal righteousness and obedience to the scriptures, our churches would be full of people on a new level of personal sanctification, on fire for God and His word. Shouldn’t that be what we’re impassioned about? Shouldn’t that be the focus of our conversation? “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about THESE things.” (Philippians 4:8).
Again, let me reiterate, that this call to personal righteousness stems more from personal conviction in my own heart (and confession therein) than it does from being on a high horse (or high pulpit) and pointing my finger downward. At the end of the day, you are not accountable for the actions of Bruce Jenner, Bill Cosby, or Michael Brown. You’re only accountable for your own. The only answer to that problem is Christ. Therefore, the only response needs to be an impassioned desire to grow more into His image, even at the painful cost of personal introspection of our sinful hearts and continual mortification of the sin that is found there.
I hope you are reading this and nodding your head in agreement. However, don’t think that I am oblivious to the daunting difficulty of the task to which I am calling you. Like Martin Luther, I personally struggled with the role of my effort in sanctification. Was I working enough toward my own holiness? Could I ever work enough towards it? It took a page from my hero, Oswald Chambers to open my eyes to the truth about the doctrine of sanctification, and totally change the angle from which I look at personal holiness. In his widely popular book My Utmost For His Highest, Chambers writes:
“As workers, we have to get used to the revelation that redemption is the ONLY reality. Personal holiness is AN EFFECT of redemption, NOT THE CAUSE OF it. If we place our faith in human goodness we will go under when testing comes…. Christian workers fail because they place their desire FOR THEIR OWN HOLINESS above their desire TO KNOW GOD” (emphasis added)
Sanctification (and the working, more and more, toward righteousness) seem so overwhelming because we focus on the work itself. We get so bogged down in the steps toward righteousness and bettering ourselves that we forget where those steps our headed. In an interview, J.I Packer once reminded us of a humbling but powerful truth: “What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we have in life? To know God. What is the best thing in life? To know God. What in humans gives God most pleasure? Knowledge of himself”.
Our focus should not be on the social “flavor of the month”, nor should it be on building up a sweat toward making ourselves more holy. Rather, it should be on simply knowing God better. If that is our only aim, our only drive, then the “effect” of that (as Chambers tells us) will be “personal holiness”. “Seek ye FIRST the Kingdom OF GOD… AND.. HIS righteousness. THEN, all these things”, like methods and means personal growth in holiness, “will be added unto to you.” (Matthew 6:33). In short, if you think the work of becoming righteous is too overwhelming for you, you’re right. It is. But that’s not your job. God is the One who sanctifies. The only thing you have to worry about is knowing Him better. The more you seek the presence of the Holy, the more you will find (slowly but surely) that you’ve been changed into something holy as well. When you got to the bathroom at night, you are so glad there is a light in there. Why? Because it allows you to see yourself clearly. The light allows you to see what imperfections you have in the mirror, so you can change them. You are grateful to have the light for this reason. It’s the same with the light of God. The more you love Him, the more He is going to reveal what needs to be changed… what He is going to change in you.
Celebrity and social movements have their places. Each gets its “15 minutes” in the spotlight… but they are not worth near the attention that we give them. Why not focus our energy not on “the grass that withers” or “the flower that fades”, but on “the word of the Lord” which “remains forever” (Isaiah 40:8). Lord, give us the strength to exchange the “flavor of the day” for the Savior of every day.