Denison Forum – Paul Ryan’s retirement: The price and power of holiness

House Speaker Paul Ryan announced yesterday that he would not run for reelection this fall and would retire in January. He has three teenage children; the oldest just turned sixteen, the age Ryan was when his father died.

“My kids aren’t getting any younger,” Ryan said, “and if I stay, they’ll only know me as a weekend dad. That’s it right there.”

It didn’t take long for critics to respond.

One of the Democrats running for Ryan’s House seat immediately posted a fundraising message: “We repealed Paul Ryan—now it’s time to replace him with Randy Bryce.” Another Democrat called him “the first casualty of the 2018 midterm election.” While a Democrat who disagreed with Ryan on policy issues “found him to be a good man with a kind heart,” a scathing article called him “the biggest fraud in American politics.”

For what will you be criticized?

Aristotle was right: “Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” For the rest of us, criticism is a fact of life. The question is not whether you will be criticized, but for what.

If you’re pro-life, you’ll be denigrated by pro-choice advocates. If you’re for biblical marriage, you’ll be branded as homophobic by those who are not. If you believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6), you’ll be labeled intolerant by pluralists.

We can refuse to engage the culture, but that keeps our salt in the saltshaker and light under a basket (Matthew 5:13–16). We can fight slander with slander, but that violates the biblical command to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and brings disrepute on our Lord.

Or we can stand publicly and humbly for Jesus, knowing that the darker the room, the more necessary the light. Consider an example.

“Religion and morality are indispensable supports”

A workshop last week at George Washington University was designed to examine the “unmerited perks” Christians receive in our culture. Titled “Christian privilege,” the course claimed that American Christians “live life in an easier way” than non-Christians.

While that may be true for some, the seminar apparently gave no voice to ways the culture makes life more difficult for many Christians. Believers who attended the event said many Christians on their campus feel persecuted. Their beliefs are often treated as mythology at best, they say. They attended the seminar in part to defend their faith from those who would demonize them.

It’s ironic that a university where many believers feel persecuted is named for a president whose “Farewell Address” stated, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” He added, “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

In response to President Washington’s desire that a university be established in the capital of the United States, Baptist missionary and minister Luther Rice raised funds to purchase a site for the college. Now that university is making headlines for marginalizing Christian students.

The good news is that those students are taking Christ to their campus. They are engaging in dialogue with those who deride their faith, standing boldly but graciously for their Lord.

You and I are called to do the same. But there’s a catch.

“Be holy, for I am holy”

I cannot give what I do not have or ask people to go where I will not lead. Nor can I expect the Holy Spirit to use me as his conduit of grace if I am an unholy vessel.

That’s why God requires his people to “be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). He calls us to present our entire lives to him as a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). We are not truly holy unless we are wholly his.

If you’re tolerating sin in some dimension of your life today, know that you’re tolerating spiritual cancer. And know that your decision is preventing the Lord from using you fully as his witness. Conversely, your decision to be holy opens the door to the abundant, triumphant life Jesus died to give you (John 10:10).

In today’s My Utmost for His Highest reading, Oswald Chambers notes: “Eternal life is the life which Jesus Christ exhibited on the human level. And it is this same life, not simply a copy of it, which is made evident in our mortal flesh when we are born again. . . .

“If it is difficult to get right with God, it is because we refuse to make [the] moral decision about sin. But once we do decide, the full life of God comes in immediately. . . . Eternal life has nothing to do with time. It is the life which Jesus lived when He was down here.”

Our highest calling

Whatever our vocation, our highest calling is to be holy as our Lord is holy. Such a commitment will not exempt us from criticism. To the contrary, it will likely evoke spiritual attacks from the enemy and secular attacks from our fallen culture.

But the rewards of holiness far exceed their price.

Charles Spurgeon predicted, “In proportion as a church is holy, in that proportion will its testimony for Christ be powerful.”

Will your testimony for Christ be powerful today?

 

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