Just about two and a half years ago, when I first started seeking God again after many long years in a wilderness of my own making, I was watching the popular TV show ‘Breaking Bad‘. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the story focuses on two main characters in a modern day Spaghetti Western setting. One of the characters, Walter White, is a chemistry teacher who, on the discovery that he has cancer, decides upon an unlikely method of raising cash in order to provide for his family and pay his medical bills. The other main character is Jesse, a former student of Walt’s, who has turned to producing the powerful drug, Methamphetamine (or Crystal Meth) in makeshift laboratories.
This unlikely pairing works because of the dichotomy of their personalities, and because Walt, who has never so much as broken the speed limit before, goes from being a chemistry teacher to criminal overlord in a very short space of time.
Early on in season one of the show, there is a small gambit from which the title ‘Breaking Bad’ earns its name. Walt is talking to Jesse about the two of them going into business together – with Walt providing the technical skills to produce a very high quality product, and Jesse providing the contacts necessary to distribute the product. Jesse is more than a little shocked that his former teacher, this pillar of righteous living, is so ready to become a criminal and says to Walt, “Are you trying to break bad or something?”
In other words, he asked whether Walt was trying to take the notion of all that is bad, and then break that notion to show that what bad actually is – a whole lot worse. And it was this idea that got me thinking.
What about if I decided to ‘break’ good. Is it possible to actually live a life of righteousness? And during my deliberations over the coming days, I felt that the Holy Spirit was encouraging me to try.
Of course, we cannot attain righteousness by any means at our disposal as humans. We know that Y’shua (Jesus) is our righteousness. But, we also know that we are expected to live holy lives. That is clear in the Bible when God says ‘Be Holy, for I am holy.’ (1 Peter 1:16)
So, I decided to look deeper. When God called us to set up Cornerstone, He was clear with us that we needed to be ‘beyond reproach’. That phrase speaks for itself, but it is actually a very large phrase that covers all sorts of things. Some things were more obvious, such as not drinking alcohol. We are ministering to people with alcohol problems. Unless we are not drinking, how can we offer them hope that you can live a life free of drink? The same with drugs and smoking too. But, what about other things? What about a life without anger, or judgement, or greed?
When I called out to God back then, He answered me. He answered me because I called out to Him with all of my heart. I had made up my mind in that calling, that I wasn’t going to try to walk with Him again in any sort of hypocrisy. That, to me, would be a waste of time. No, if I was to walk with God, it had to be according to what He prescribes to be holy living, and not what is being preached in today’s modern churches. I am sure that some are preaching holiness, but, for many, that message is too hard.
It struck me this morning what the real issue was. It isn’t so much that the church has watered down its message, but rather that it has forgotten how to be holy.
I am in the middle of researching for and finishing off a book. My research has caused me to check the facts behind a metaphor that I was using which concerns John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. As I started to re-read the book (I read it last in 1993 whilst in Bedford prison, the very place in which Bunyan wrote it), I noticed something remarkable. It would seem that the message of the book would be too hard for today’s target audience. Then it struck me why.
In 1678 when the book was published, the church, that is the body of believers who followed Y’shua (Jesus) rather than the established church, were unyielding in their approach. They had read the gospel and stuck to what it said. However, as the unbelieving world has, over the course of time, moved closer to the very gates of Hell, the church, instead of being the fixed reference point for morality and holiness, has moved with it in order to appear more relevant.
The actual result is, however, instead of the church being more relevant to the dying society around us, society sees the church as irrelevant because it isn’t grounded in anything. It moves with and is moved by what the public thinks of it. It rarely sticks to what it believes in. Unlike the God we claim to follow, we are no longer the same as we once was, nor shall we be like that in the future.
Many churches use the lighthouse as a metaphor – that they offer light in the darkness. But lighthouses didn’t offer light as much as a fixed point of reference to steer sailors away from treacherous rocks. If the lighthouse is to be transient like the modern church, it out grows its usefulness. It becomes unfit for purpose.
When I started looking at what a life of righteousness would mean, I realised that I needed to decrease so that Y’shua could increase. But in that transformation it had to be like the man that built his house on a rock and not on the shifting sands. See the parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders in Matthew 7. My rock is Y’shua. It is upon Him that a life of righteousness can be built. Nothing of my own making, although I do have a part to play. We can’t just sit back and say Y’shua is my righteousness if we are not living it. For that is hypocrisy. We will end up like the five virgins who were shut out when the Bridegroom arrived (Matthew 25).
I learnt something yesterday. I love learning about God, about how He was planned everything to the most incredible detail. I was watching a video about the Hebrew language and how each letter or character of a word in Hebrew contains the components of what that word describes.
Hebrew is more like the language we use for chemicals. For example, when we see H2O, we know it to be water. But more than that, we know that water is made up of two Hydrogen atoms and one of Oxygen. The Rabbi who was explaining this in great detail, went onto use several examples of how Hebrew words can be broken down to their component parts, just like the chemical symbol for water, in order to see what makes that word and the thing it describes. One of his examples is perfect for my own illustration.
The word ‘righteous’, in Hebrew, in its component parts, means ‘someone who rules over his own flesh’. Awesome isn’t it? The word righteous is perfectly described when broken down and gives us what we need to know in order to be righteous.
The Bible says that Y’shua is our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6). Why? Because He overcame the desires of His own flesh. He ruled His body. And, most importantly, He did God’s will, not His own. And we can do the same. The Bible teaches us that He experienced all the same temptations that we did and yet He didn’t sin (Hebrews 4:15). We know also from the Bible that He was like us in every way (Philippians 2). He didn’t not sin because He is God. He didn’t sin because He had control and rule over His flesh. And He asked us to follow Him and do the same.
And there’s my point: If we follow Him as individuals, we wouldn’t need to be part of churches who are trying to be relevant. We would be moral lighthouses, showing those lost at sea how to live. We need to find the ancient pathways again. The paths of righteousness. The highway of holiness. Read Psalm 23, carefully. And Jeremiah 6. And Isaiah 35. And Pilgrim’s Progress.
The wicket gate that Bunyan speaks of leads to the narrow path. The path of righteousness. It is ours to walk. We must follow Y’shua on the same path that he took. He was tempted just as we are, but He overcame. When it comes to temptation we are now too eager to give in. To capitulate. Why? Because our pastors preach a message of grace, instead of one of repentance. Repentance, like John Bunyan, has fallen out of fashion amongst the church. The church are trying to be liked by the world, when the point is that we should only be seeking to please God. Not other people. And certainly not ourselves.
Re-read Paul’s letters. Re-read Peter’s letters. Don’t read the commentaries that go with them. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the right path. Y’shua said that He is The Way. He is. He is showing us the way in which we should go.
You are called to be holy, so be holy. The next time you are facing temptation remember this: You can break the cycle of sinning and then feeling guilty by resisting the devil. He will flee from you (James 4:17). That breaks the cycle. Once you overcome the temptation, Satan knows that he is wasting his time. He may come back with something else. Be ready. None of you have ever been asked to resist to the point of shedding blood (Hebrews 12:4). Our Lord did. Be an overcomer. See what is promised to those who overcome in the book of Revelation. You will get a blessing just from reading it. Overcome temptation and lead a life of holiness. It is attainable, if you rule your flesh.
If you, as individuals, start living holy lives, then people around you will be drawn to you. Churches will stop thinking about bums on seats and start being what they are meant to be – the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Not the panacea for the conscience of a dying world.
Men like John Bunyan read the gospel and lived lives of holiness. They were imprisoned for it. Be like that. Be holy, for He is holy.