We are finally at the end of this series on Practising Holiness in an Immoral World. For those who have been following along, I hope you have seen throughout this study that the way to holiness only comes when we genuinely work to live each day giving glory to God. Our lives as Christians must not be self-centered but God-centered. This means that living in an anti-Christian culture, as we currently do, can be hard for us “mere humans” to not react when confronted with outright hate. Yet, this is the example Jesus gave us when he went to the cross and this is what is also expected of us.
Before Jesus came on the scene the only “morality” in the world came from what God laid down in the Torah. It was Jewish parents who fought against the immorality of the Roman rulers who surrounded them. They struggled to keep their children from worshipping the hundreds of idols Rome embraced. They struggled to keep their children from sexual immorality. In fact, many of the same issues during Jesus’ time are still going on today.
Today we oppose abortion, and while pro-choice people say it is not murder, that’s exactly what it was during Jesus’ time - literally! Romans regularly practised infanticide (killing full-term babies after they are born). Some did it because they couldn’t afford to keep the child. Some did it to limit the size of their families and others because it was an inconvenience. Whatever the reasons, an archaeological discovery in Ashkelon, Israel shows that “nearly 100 infants all died at about the same full-term age. They were not buried, but instead were cast into a sewer that ran beneath a brothel. Researchers suspect that most such victims were suffocated to death.” These archaeological digs have uncovered the remains of full-term infants throughout what once was the Roman Empire.
This is the world Jesus came into. He knew exactly what was going on. Knowing what was happening to Roman babies, makes Luke 18:15-17 all the more poignant.
“Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”
Notice in vs. 15 that it says, “they also brought infants to Him.” I was always been led to believe that when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me,” He was talking about young children, not babies. But in this particular verse the Greek word used for “infants” was brephos and literally means “baby, infant or newborn babe.” Now think about that for a minute in relation to the practises of the day. The disciples rebuked those parents who brought these little ones to Jesus and Jesus was indignant at the disciple’s behaviour. Why did the disciples rebuke them? Maybe they felt Jesus shouldn't be bothered with infants. Maybe they thought they were doing the right thing by "screening" who saw him. Who knows? But what if these were Roman parents who were contemplating infanticide? What if they saw a way out of that lifestyle though Jesus? We'll never know, but it is something to think about.
As for Jesus calling them “little children” the word “children” in verse sixteen is translated from the Greek word paidion which is used to collectively describe babies, newborn infants and young children.
So how did Jesus, the disciples and new Christians in general, deal with a culture that regularly practised infanticide?
Quite simply, they practised holiness.
1 Peter 3:8-9 explains how we can live in ways that are counter-cultural:
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good. They must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
We can immediately see the characteristics of holy living and how they should affect a believer’s behaviour in a hostile world. Notice that the first part deals specifically with how Christians are to behave toward one another.
I love the last part of the verse above. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer. You want God to hear your prayers? Practice Holiness! Much of what is written in the verses above pertain to how Christians are to interact with each other and with the world at large. How we behave within the family of God will reflect how we behave in the world.
Finally, in 1 Peter 3:13-17 we see clearly how we are to respond to those who hate us and persecute us.
And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
We are not to be afraid of their threats nor be troubled. And the threats are all around us now. In Canada the worst threat to our freedoms came when our Prime Minister demanded all organizations who wanted to receive government grants for the student summer jobs program, agree that abortion was right. He couched it with the words, “protecting our freedoms” but he really meant to only be protecting the freedoms of those who agree with his ideology. He knew Christians would not agree and that is why he put it there and refused to reword or remove it. He wants to weed us out.
Ultimately, we must place our conduct, our speech, and our beliefs in line with the Lord’s. He is our best example on how to practise holiness.