June 2024 Pastor’s Corner — Blessed Naïveté

Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. 

— 1 Corinthians 14:20

Has anyone ever accused you of being “holier than thou”?  It’s a strange insult, when you think about it, but it’s also one that I think most folks dread having applied to them.  There’s a good reason for that — the phrase is really directed at those who are arrogant and self-righteous in their “holiness” and look down on those who they deem not as worthy.  However, our dread of this accusation has had a consequence that is deeply affecting the Church (capital ‘C,’ as in the church universal not just the local church).  

Instead of striving after true holiness, as just about every page of the Bible calls us to, we strive to be relevant and relatable so folks will see us as just like and certainly no better than they are.  We try to avoid the scarlet ‘H’ as much as possible.  As NT Wright writes, “There are people who pride themselves on knowing about evil, but can’t be bothered to think through serious issues from a biblical or theological point of view. There are many Christians who can tell you which film star is getting divorced but can’t tell you where in the Bible you might find teaching on the subject.”  We want to make sure that folks know we’re no different than they are.  I doubt any Christian is trying to be an expert in evil; most likely we just want to make sure that we’re not being naïve about it.  We want to be seen as mature, not childish.

Paul flips that kind of thinking upside down in 1 Corinthians 14:20.  He says that what I just described isn’t mature — it’s childish.  True maturity doesn’t come from familiarity with or knowledge of evil, but rather by pursuing Christ and holiness.  Those who are truly holy don’t go around flaunting it in front of and over others.  Somewhat ironically, the holier we become, we become all the more aware of the depths of our sin and brokenness.  Consider Jesus.  He was perfectly relatable and relevant to all with whom he came in contact.  Sinners were drawn to him, so much so that He spent far more time with the “sinners” than He did with those who considered themselves “saints.”  Yet He never compromised his holiness or his righteousness, nor did He ever entertain temptation, sin or evil.

If we are striving to show the world that Christians are just like them, then what do we have to offer?  The entire point of the Gospel is that the world can never provide that for which our souls yearn. The world can never heal our brokenness. The world can never help us atone for our sins and failures. The world cannot provide life.  The Gospel, the Good News, is that by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ we have been called out and set apart (that’s what “holiness” means).  Being mature and holy isn’t about being perfect or sinless, but it does mean that we strive to leave sin and evil behind, focusing instead on Jesus Christ. True maturity comes from “pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14-15)

Instead of trying to show how much like the world we are, “let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)

Finally, brothers, 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. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. — Philippians 4:8-9


Rev. David Garrison