“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14
Sex. Alcohol. Gay Marriage. These are some of the topics that are hotly debated in church today. On one hand, we see the extreme left, which actively seeks to continue Christ’s mission of caring for the poor and needy in the world but fails to address the issue of sin. On the other hand, we see the extreme right, which teaches strict adherance to biblical rules and practices but does little to reach those outside the church.
Such disparity across denominations can only go to show that Christ’s teachings, while simple in principle, can be extremely difficult to apply to the modern context. The church, in attempting to respond to the issues of the day, can misinterpret the Bible all too easily. The verse above makes it clear that we are expected live in peace with everyone and to remain dedicated to holiness. So what if our holy living offends someone of opposing beliefs?
Suppose I’m a photographer, and a gay couple requests my services for their wedding ceremony. I don’t want to appear hateful or judgmental by refusing to comply, but neither do I want to compromise my beliefs about marriage by explicitly or implicitly supporting their union. In situations like this, there is no black and white. It seems that we must either sacrifice peace with others for the sake of holiness or sacrifice holiness for the sake of peace. However, with the Spirit’s guidance and a few good habits, I believe we can do both.
One habit to form is that of seeking a complete and accurate understanding of what the Bible has to say about the issues of today. Remember Paul’s words to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) The Bible is the ultimate moral authority. No matter how persuasive a human authority (even a Christian one) may be, we must always search the Scripture for answers to difficult moral questions. This means we must not only read the Bible but also consider the context in which each passage was written. Commentaries and study guides may help us understand the intent behind the words.
In the areas where the Bible doesn’t give a clear precedent, we must pay careful attention to the leading of the Spirit. In Romans, Paul defines sin as “anything that does not come from faith.” If we feel convicted about something we are doing or are about to do, we must not do it, even if the action is not explicitly forbidden in the Bible. Remember that not everything that is permissible is necessarily good for us (1 Corinthians 6:12 paraphrase) If we desire holiness, we must avoid anything that holds corrupting influence over us.
As we allow the Holy Spirit to change our hearts, we must also allow him to do the same with others, and remember that those in open rebellion to God are not able to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice as we do. Therefore, non-Christians simply cannot understand what holiness is. The best thing we can do for them is to present them with the Gospel. Instead of telling them everything they are doing wrong, tell them that God loves them and is willing to forgive them if they only ask. Once they allow the Holy Spirit into their hearts, he will begin to convict them of the sin in their life, but any attempts we make to convince them that God’s way is the right way are likely to drive them further away from Christ.
Finally, we must develop the habit of removing the plank from our eyes. We are all sinful. And despite what our instincts tell us, no sin is greater than another. If we are quick to point out everyone else’s sin, while ignoring our own, we become just like the Pharisees. And Jesus reprimanded them more harshly than anyone else. If we try to act more like Jesus, we will find that we are able to make peace with others without compromising our holiness.