Standards. Everyone has them. One may differ from another regarding where standards are set, but everyone operates with them. And what of the guy who boasts about not having standards? His may seem decidedly low, but holding himself to a relative absence of standards—that has become his standard! Why standards? Do they have a place in the believer’s life? And why have standards become a source of controversy?
Standards are protective barriers that guard against something harmful. Illustrated in the physical realm, parents of toddlers often put a “fence” at the top of a staircase to prevent a little one from falling down the stairs. Typically, the fence disappears from sight after the child has grown, for a now twelve-year-old has matured in a decade’s time. Importantly, this does not suggest that maturity equates to outgrowing and casting off standards. Instead, it shows how a standard is internalized with a person’s maturing. A tangible fence has given way to a protective barrier in the mind that reminds one to take care when approaching and walking down stairs. The protective standard is still in place.
Romans 13:14 says, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” The second half of this verse is a Bible reason for having standards, but the primary focus is on the first half—and straying from this biblical proportion, our walk can easily slip out of balance.
The Danger of Overemphasizing Standards
Some are so fixated on standards that living according to the letter of them demands a near-exclusive focus. This is dangerous because such overemphasized standards can subtly become not the result, but the object of faith. When this occurs, real sanctification and its sharp focus on Jesus is distorted. It substitutes a monastic style of sanctification that focuses on the walls of separation. While such walls may prove effective at keeping those on the inside from the evils lurking without, they do not transform the heart. It is external “victory” but not internal reality. Tragically, when people so focused must go outside the monastery walls and into the workplace or marketplace, they leave their safe shelter and then find themselves vulnerable to temptation. Dependence has been on the monastery walls and not on Jesus, and once outside, they find themselves in trouble. They have not internalized the standard.
The Danger of Underemphasizing Standards
Some have overreacted to externalism and have nearly cast off having any standards. This is also dangerous because underemphasized standards may lead to needless stumbling into sin, especially for the immature. The lack of appropriate protective barriers ought to signal an obvious danger. Their absence in areas of need makes provision for the flesh and aids carnal living. Even the mature must have standards in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leadership in their lives.
The Secret of Emphasizing the Standard—Jesus
The real answer to establishing a biblical balance is seen in the first half of the text, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Obeying this first command is vital to obeying what follows; “and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” The key is to focus on Jesus, the object of faith. Here, the priority is on your relationship with Jesus and not on any religious ritual. As you cultivate a relationship with Jesus, He will lead you to the standards He knows you need to protect your relationship with Him. In this way, standards are the result of faith, not the object of faith. True holiness flows from a relationship of dependence on the Holy One, not a ritualistic dependence on perceived holiness. When you focus on Jesus, you can take His grace to protect as, of necessity, you walk through the world. With His grace, you can experience freedom in Christ over the world. This is simply faith that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4).
Truth is absolute. Convictions form as you become convinced of truth by the Spirit of truth. Standards follow as protective barriers the Holy Spirit leads you to embrace as helps in guarding an area of truth in your life. And truth always sets free! In some areas of life, the reason for a standard is internalized as you mature, and you maintain protection without having the former outward standard. A tangible element may have been removed, but the needful protection remains viable through an internalized heart standard.
It must also be remembered that within the absolutes of truth there are variables regarding the applications of standards. The Holy Spirit guides you as an individual to the standards needed to protect you from falling and to protect your testimony. But you must not make the variable standards that the Holy Spirit leads you to embrace a universal mandate for all. Others must be allowed to obey the Spirit too. Absolutes are absolute, and variables are variable—within the absolutes. This understanding protects from errors of legalistic thinking and a license approach. When some think to violate the absolutes in the name of maturity, they are deceived. When others disallow variables in the name of maturity, they too are deceived. Christian liberty accesses the life of Jesus through the Holy Spirit, and, as a matter of dependence, this demands humility. When you humbly access grace, you can be gracious to others who differ from you in the journey within the absolutes.
All those who have been placed into Christ “have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27). This is sometimes referred to as positional truth. But facts must be accessed by faith to function in experience. Even though you have put on Christ, the Scripture also says, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14). This is referred to as practical truth. Since you have put on Christ factually, put on Christ functionally. Faith accesses the facts into function. As you depend on Christ, He leads you—even regarding standards—and enables you to not make provision for the flesh to fulfill its desires. This is the secret to maintaining biblical balance regarding standards.
John Van Gelderen