Thursday, March 7, 2013

contradictory thoughts

Read Exodus 32 and I Corinthians 10

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down the mountain, they gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Make us gods who will go before us. As for this Moses…we do not know what has become of him. Exodus 32:1

I heard a preacher once say, “What you are when you are by yourself is who you are. What you think in your private meditations defines you.”

I read that Brother Lawrence, a monk from the 1600’s, decided as a spiritual discipline to purify his personal thoughts to the point of total holiness. But the harder he worked to push out all impure thoughts and keep his mind focused on God, the more aggressively lewdness and maliciousness came into his brain.

I am very thankful that much of who I am is defined by the “authority” of those around me. I am who I am because of my church, my family, my friends. But there are times when I find myself free of many of these external authorities.

When Moses was gone from the Israelites, his authority went with him. Aaron was suppose to have taken up Moses’ authority, but some of the people decided to push against it. With little effort, Moses’ authority in Aaron collapsed and the result was an astonishing display of riotous and licentious idolatry.

I went to a Christian college where half a dozen young men from my church background were students. Especially when I was a youth, our church was our life. Our total community was our church. So when we went off to college, it was a radical change for us. The authority of the church was the memory of it, or the habits from it. Some of the young men from our church were the best of the spiritual best at college. They led the Bible studies, encouraged their room-mates, continued with their devotional lives. But the others were amazing. How they were not kicked out of this Bible college, was beyond me, but their womanizing, alcohol, marijuana, and generally lawless exploits were known to everybody.

We have a friend who taught English to adults in mainland China. He said when he was in the classroom, he never had more attentive, respectful students. But the moment he stepped out the door, these adults would be throwing paper balls at each other and standing up on their chairs. When he returned to the classroom he would slowly turn the door knob to give the class time to return to order before he would reenter.

Two seemingly contradictory thoughts:

#1 When we are in a place where external authority is not exerting itself upon us, our thoughts and inclinations do not always move in the way pleasing to our Lord and Savior. At such times we cry out, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:24 The Lord is very gracious. He knows we are but dust. He does deliver us. We recognize like the Apostle Paul, “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” What a relief! Unlike what the preacher told me, my private thoughts do not have to define me. It’s the Lord Jesus who defines me, for He loved me and gave Himself for me and "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Rom 8:1

#2 When you are in a new place and thus the authority that had directed your life no longer has the same power over you; if your behavior becomes vile, you have no fear of the Lord within you and you need to get saved. You clearly do not believe in God or in His Beloved Son.

Question: Have I way overstated this dichotomy between people with bad behavior when others are not looking? Is person #1 so clearly a Believer and person #2 so clearly unregenerate?


  1. Character is a poor indicator of how people think and behave. We may want to believe that “good people” will do good things and “bad people” will do bad things, but this theory just isn't supported by data. So when we see people behaving contrary to character we are inclined to either change our assessment of their behavior (“she probably only did that nice thing cause the teacher was looking, she still is a bad person”) or, less commonly, change our evaluation of their character (“maybe she was a good person all along”). What we need to do, however, is to recognize the possibility that so-called “good acts” are not the exclusive property of “good people” and “bad acts” do not belong to “bad people.” Christians are capable of horrific evils, just as godless, unregenerate men are capable of astounding altruism.

    You suggest that there is an environment that would reveal our “core” self, our true nature. That we can look at our inclinations and see into our soul. Yet God has not burdened us with the charge to serve as salvation detectives, on the search for the lost soul. We are just as lousy at seeing into hearts and minds as we are at thinking and behaving in a way that reflects our own character.

    So what determines our thoughts and actions if not our desire, salvation or character? Some may look at the story of the Golden Calf and presume that Aaron was “unsaved.” Perhaps the issue is rather that Aaron found himself in a sinful context and so behaved sinfully. Surrounded by the profane, Aaron profaned himself.

    Is it possible that our actions are more influenced by our context than our character?

    I was wondering if anyone reads these comments. I rarely get responses and can just as easily think these thoughts or talk about them with Priscilla. Let me know if you read the comments section so I know to keep making comments. I would really appreciate a dialogue of some kind.

    1. Clearly how we behave is deeply intertwined/interconnected with the behavior and motivations of those around us. I think you would agree that if when you were out of your common environment, away from your family etc, you were delighted because finally you could fornicate and you could finally celebrate with those who worshipped the pagan gods, something would be wrong. The Apostle Paul tells us to examine ourselves to see whether we are in the faith. II Cor 13:5.
      I do not at all discount the benefit to our Faith of committed association with those of like faith.