Among the articles on my USA Today iPad app, one took me aback. It posed the question, “Can a Christian watch ‘Game of Thrones’?”
Not having read the books or seen the show, I’m not in a position to answer the question one way or the other. But what struck me was that the question was being posed by an article in secular media, when it seems that many professing Christians do not even ask that question of themselves.
Holiness among believers appears to have gone out of style. I’m not suggesting we publish an “approved” list of morally acceptable TV shows, movies, books or magazines. I have a vague memory growing up (as most of my memories are nowadays) of a list of movies deemed permissible and impermissible, published by the Roman Catholic church. I’m not proposing we reinstitute such a list.
What I am saying is that, if followers of Jesus Christ are called to pursue holiness in His name, then it is necessary that we ask questions like the one posed by the USA Today article.
Our Father in heaven calls His adopted children to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:14-15). It’s clear Peter is speaking of the practice of holiness rather than positional, in that he calls for action in the verse prior.
“Holy” means separate. Not that we become aloof from the world or sequestered from it (cf. 1 Cor. 5:10). Our Lord Jesus urges His disciples to be in the world but not of it. We are to be holy, set apart for God, not from the world but in the world.
Holiness requires choices. Choices require deliberation. Deliberation takes into account counsel in what our God wants of us as His children. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet.
The teachings of our Lord and the epistles of His apostles pay much attention to how we are to live as saints, ones set apart to belong to Christ. Throughout, we are told to conduct our lives in light of our standing in Christ. Notice Paul in Ephesians 5.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. Eph. 5:1-4
These commands of Scripture make demands of us. They force us to ask questions about what we partake of and in what we involve ourselves.
Later in that same chapter in Ephesians, Christ’s spokesman reminds us that by the redeeming grace of God our orientation to life has changed.
…at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Eph. 5:8-10
Disciples of Jesus cannot go with the flow. They must walk circumspectly, following the GPS of wisdom (Eph. 5:15-17).
I can hear the protests of some, “But I am under grace, not under law. I am free in Christ.” That is assuredly true if you belong to Christ. But the freedom of the gospel speaks not only to freedom from sin’s guilt and power, but also freedom for obedience to Christ. Just read Romans 6 to see that the Christian’s liberty does not mean autonomy or license, but conscription to Christ.
Paul goes to great pains in Romans 3 through 5 to show that the righteousness by which we are accepted by God and through which we gain salvation is the imputed righteousness of Christ alone, received by grace alone, through faith alone. From that foundation, Paul goes on in Romans 6 through 8 to describe what that looks like experientially in the pursuit of holiness, as ones no longer dead in sin but alive in Christ.
The grace that saves apart from works (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:3-7) is a grace that enrolls us in the school of discipleship as Christ is formed in us. Look at the lesson plan of Titus 2:11-14.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14
Who is the teacher of Titus 2:11? Law? No, the schoolmaster is grace. But law is certainly part of the lesson plan as an exhibit of the heart-based obedience characteristic of those who love Jesus. Grace instructs and enables Christians in pursuit of holiness. Grace never teaches stark self-effort but Christ-dependence.
According to the salutation of 1 Cor. 1:2, believers are holy in the Lord and called to be holy. The call to holiness requires that we discern what pleases our Lord Jesus, to the glory of the Father, that we might not grieve the Holy Spirit (e.g., 1 Thess. 4:1-8; Eph. 4:30; Gal. 5:13-25).
Holiness testifies to us of the workmanship of God’s life-changing grace in our lives. Holiness also testifies to the world that we belong to a holy God, purchased by a holy Son, and are indwelt by a holy Spirit. Holiness is a calling card of the gospel to a world that needs to hear (Mt. 5:13-16; 1 Pet. 3:14-17).
Every Christian might not arrive at the same answer in respect to the question posed by the USA Today article, but the question needs to be asked. And it needs to be answered in light of the revealed truth of our Father in heaven, whose name is holy.