Confession Reflections: Why Do We Believe Scripture?

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Today’s reflection comes from The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter I, Section V. 

If you’ve grown up in a Christian home, it’s very easy to believe that the Bible is true. Usually, that’s been ingrained in you from the day you were born, your parents training you to see it as the Word of God.

But to those outside looking in, it might seem ridiculous. Aren’t we just attributing a random collection of writings to God? How can we possibly know? Outside of tradition, where is the proof that the Bible is, in fact, authentically from God?

There are lots of great facts that prove the Bible’s truth. The whole thing, if you interpret it correctly, presents one cohesive narrative that all fits together, with one purpose and one theme. That’s amazing if you consider the fast scope of time periods and cultural backgrounds the authors came from.

The Bible’s historical narratives fit flawlessly into the secular history that we know. Again and again, archaeology and scholarly research have confirmed things that the Bible describes.

And tradition isn’t a totally invalid argument, either. Those who were around in the time of Jesus were the first ones who began to pass down the Christian Scriptures in the form we know today. They have continued to be passed down, virtually unchanged, ever since, and the fact that so many great church fathers and theologians have accepted them as truth is a fact that can have some weight with us.

But while these facts can certainly have a strengthening and encouraging effect on our faith, the facts alone will never be enough to convince anyone of the authenticity of the Bible. Our ultimate assurance of that comes from the Holy Spirit, working in our hearts to convince us that the Bible is the Word of God.

That’s why, if you are a Christian, you don’t need convincing – you’ve seen the way the Bible works in your life and the lives of those around you. You understand it to be God’s Word, even if that doesn’t make any sense to the unbelievers in your life. You enjoy learning about the facts that support what you already know, but you don’t depend on them for faith.

Faith comes from the Spirit, and that’s the fundamental reason we believe what we believe. That applies to the authority of the Bible as much as any other aspect of Christianity.

What have you seen God’s Word do in your life or the lives of others? 

love, grace

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Confession Reflections: The One Key to the Christian Life

Close-up Photography of Bible

Recently I’ve begun studying the Westminster Confession of Faith during my personal devotions. I’ve grown up in the PCA church, and decided that it was time for me to really understand my denomination’s core beliefs and make sure that I agree with them.  And as I read through, I want to share my thoughts and reflections on various topics with you! 

Today: from Chapter 1, Of the Holy Scripture, section 1. 

This section of the Confession talks about the two ways that God reveals Himself: in the created world, and in His Word.

I love the idea that creation reveals God. His power and creativity are obvious the moment you step outside and see the trees, the sky, and everything He has made.

I’ve especially loved learning about space in my astronomy class this past school year, and I don’t understand how anyone can possibly think that such vast beauty happened by chance. How could the Earth have ended up in exactly the right spot for life to form, the right distance away from the Sun, by chance? How is everything so perfectly suspended in nothingness, moving like clockwork, by chance?

Here’s my favorite: did you know that Jupiter is positioned in exactly the right place to make it Earth’s bodyguard, that it catches asteroids and other debris long before they can hit the Earth and destroy humanity? How can something like that be arranged by chance?

This is why there is no excuse for not believing in God. Every mountain and tree and star proclaims His existence, practically screams it, and no one can say they “didn’t know”.

But of course, creation is not enough, and that is why God gave us His Word. The splendor and wonder and beauty of the natural world is meant to draw us to Scripture, to lead us into reading the Bible, trying to discover everything we can about the God who made us.

And as we read, we learn everything else we need to know: who God is, who we are, how the world works, how to find salvation, and how to live our lives.

The Bible is absolutely critical to the Christian life; reading a devotional every morning isn’t going to cut it. We must get into God’s Word regularly. Only by reading it will we know the truth. Only by reading it will we be able to decide for ourselves what we believe. Only by reading it will we be able to resist temptation, live by the Spirit, and glorify God with our lives. If we really call ourselves Christians, we have to read it, study it, and love it.

Reading the Bible isn’t a legalistic rule, a “have-to” that makes you a good Christian. It’s a privilege, a “get-to”. The God of the universe has given us His Words! Yes, it may take diligence at first to create the habit. But the more you read, the more the Holy Spirit will fill you and cause you to enjoy Scripture, to crave it and thirst for it.

So start now. Pick up your Bible and start reading. A little every day will go a long way.

love, grace

4 Reasons to Read the Bible

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We’ve all been told many times that to be good Christians, we should read our Bibles. But have you ever actually thought about why?

Well, duh, you say, rolling your eyes, it’s the Bible, Grace. Obviously we have to read it if we’re Christians.

But so often, we read it without really knowing what the point is, why it’s important, and what we’re trying to get out of it. We wander aimlessly through the pages, looking for that “spiritual growth” we’re supposed to find if we read for fifteen minutes every day. But without a clear purpose, growth is hard to come by. We need to know what the Bible is, what it is for, and how we can truly get the most out of it.

We’ll talk about the “how” part later. But for now, let’s talk about the “what for” part. Why should we read our Bibles? What is, truly, the purpose of it?

2 Timothy 3:16-17 sums it up best:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

From that verse, here are four reasons to read your Bible.

1. Scripture is God’s literal Word to us.

First of all, the most obvious reason. The God of the universe gave us a book of truth. Why wouldn’t you want to read that?

The Bible is not just a human book summarizing the history of the Christian faith and the dos and don’ts of the Christian life. Everything the Bible holds is God’s truth, breathed out for us to use. Hebrews 4:12 puts it this way:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Every time we read the Bible, God is working through the power of His Holy Spirit, opening our eyes and our hearts, teaching and training and correcting and inspiring. Fundamentally, the Bible is an amazing gift, and to neglect it is to neglect the one thing that will help your Christian walk the most.

2. Scripture shows us our sin and our need for a Savior.

So what, specifically, does the Bible show us and teach us? First: it reveals our sin in all of its ugliness. As we read God’s law, and see what He requires for a righteous life, we see all the ways in which we fail to measure up.

This does away with conceit and shows us our need for Christ. There is no way, after reading the Bible, that we can delude ourselves into thinking we are “good people”. And so we come away humbled and ready to accept the salvation that God requires, leaning on Him, knowing that on our own we could never live a truly upright life.

3. Scripture shows us who God is and what He has done.

As we read the Bible, we are humbled. We see ourselves for who we are. But we also see God for who He is.

The entire Bible is the saga of a people who rebelled and a God who loved them anyway, so much that He sent His Son to die. The more we see our sin, the more we realize the wonder of salvation, and the wonder of God’s love. Through the Bible, we come to love God more and more, as we learn more and more about His love for us.

We also learn about His character. God is so complex, and the best way to know Him better is by reading the Bible. Every time you read about God, you will learn something new about who He is.

4. Scripture shows us how to live a godly life.

And finally, once we have seen our sin and God’s love, and once we accept salvation, the Bible gives us a blueprint for our lives. Because while we will never be able to perfectly measure up to the righteousness God requires, through His work of sanctification we begin to change, growing more and more like Christ.

The Christian life is a hard walk, and the Bible is the guidebook. It is there for us to go back to again and again, seeking the way we should go in every situation. We should be familiar with it from cover to cover, learning to base our entire life upon the truth it contains.

If you’ve never read your Bible, or if this overwhelms you, don’t worry! This is the beginning of a new series I’m going to do on Bible reading. Next week we’ll start getting into the practical details, so stay tuned for that, and let me know if you have any questions I can address during the series!

What do you think? Do you read your Bible regularly? How have you seen these four benefits play out in your own life? 

love, grace

Read more:

Lessons from the Law: How to Get Into the Old Testament for Yourself

24 Resolution Ideas for Christian Teens

How I Enjoyed Reading Deuteronomy

Another Way to Think About the Christian Life

I wrote a post about works vs. grace a long time ago: Why Be Good if Jesus Died?

Today I want to elaborate on everything I said in that post, and use an illustration that will hopefully help you understand this concept even better. I know that it really helped me.

Because this can be a tough thing to get- if we aren’t saved by our works, why do we then have to live in holiness? What’s the point? If God forgives sin, why do we have to fight against it? Obviously it’s a complicated question with a lot of facets, but here is one way to think about it.

Leviticus talks about several different types of offerings. One is the guilt offering. This was an offering given when someone broke God’s law, in order to cleanse them and restore them to favor with God.

Another type of offerings were thank offerings. These were given to God from gratitude for the many blessings He had provided.

Think of your good works as offerings to God, something that you give Him. As guilt offerings, they will always be temporary and inadequate, just like the sacrifices of the Old Testament.

The good news is that those sacrifices were symbolic of Christ, as I talked about in this post. Each sacrifice was temporary, a shedding of blood to pay for the sins of the people. And then Christ came, and paid the ultimate sacrifice, and His was not temporary. It was eternal. And we have nothing else to do to earn salvation. It is finished. He was the ultimate guilt offering.

But our good works are still offerings. In Christ, they become thank offerings, something that we give to God because of who He is and what He has done, a way of thanking Him for all of His blessings. When we get to know God, we want to please Him. We owe so much to Him for the salvation we have from Christ, and so we seek to live in a way that honors Him because we know He deserves it.

The catch? Both of these lives will look the same on the outside. Whether you are living your life as a guilt offering or a thank offering, the outward form will be pretty much the same. It’s about your heart, your motivation. Are you trying to earn your way to heaven, to pay for your own sins by doing good things? Or are you trusting in God’s salvation and doing your best to live in a way that shows how much you love Him?

What do you think? Do you like this way of thinking about it? How else have you wrestled with this concept? Share in the comments! 

love, grace

Lessons from the Law: God and Social Justice

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I hit 100 blog followers this week…what?? Thank you so much to all of you wonderful followers! It means so much to me that you take the time to read what I have to say, and I hope it continues to be an encouragement to you!

So far in this series, I’ve covered the sacrificial laws and the building instructions. There’s another major category I have yet to talk about: the social laws, the laws for justice and equality. To get a sense of what I’m talking about, read Exodus 23:1-9.

These are the laws that provided for order in the community, for justice and fairness. They seem mundane, addressing issues like being a court witness, lost animals, dealing with bribes. After talking about the glorious symbolism of the sacrificial system, what’s the point of these? After all, the civil law of the Bible is kinda obsolete. It’s not the civil law of the modern world. Why do we need to know it?

Because of what it teaches us about God’s character. There’s one big thing we can learn from all of these social laws: God cares about justice. 

In fact, the only hope for true social justice lies in God. All the people in our world today who are trying to cure world hunger and get rid of poverty and everything else? Those are noble goals. But they can never be accomplished by fallen humans.

Christianity is the key to true social justice: because being a Christian means loving others, treating them better than ourselves, and believing in the dignity and worth of every human being.

What better foundation for social reform could there be than that? 

Christianity’s social reform is perfectly consistent. Christianity’s social reform is based on eternal things. Christianity’s social reform will succeed when all else fails because it has God behind it. And when it doesn’t succeed in this world, there is always the hope of heaven to look forward to.

In these social justice laws of the Old Testament, we see the foundation of Christianity’s belief in loving others and caring for others. God is justice, and nowhere do we see that better than in the law books. That’s what laws are all about, after all; protecting the innocent and prosecuting the guilty. And that structure ultimately came from God, not men.

That’s why we read the civil law of the Old Testament: because it came straight from God, and it shows us what God values and cares about. And our goal as Christians should always, always be to learn more about the character of God.

love, grace

What do you think? What else have you learned about God’s character from the law books? Share in the comments!

 

Lessons from the Law: 2 Truths About Worship

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Sorry I didn’t post last week! I was in a show all weekend and just didn’t manage to get something up. 

I think the hardest passages in the entire Bible to get through, besides the genealogies, are the passages with building instructions like the ones in Exodus 25-28. Why do we need to know things like the measurements of the altar or what kind of wood it was made out of? What could that possibly have to do with the message of redemption or instruction for the Christian life?

But God put everything in the Bible for a reason, and there are things to be learned from even the longest passages of measurements and materials. Here are two of them.

1. God cares about how we worship.

The sheer volume of details in the Old Testament about worship rituals and the appearance of the temple should say something to us about our worship. God takes it seriously; therefore we should take it seriously.

Worship is not something to be glossed over, or done however we feel like it at the time. Our worship time is sacred. We are in the presence of God! Worship is a gift, and we should have a sense of the privilege and the gravity of that gift and take the details of it seriously.

In Christ, of course, we no longer have to follow a specific set of regulations and rituals, and there are many “right ways” to worship God. But the principle still stands: we are to put time and thought into how we worship.

2. Worship may not make sense to outsiders.

Sometimes I was reading along in these passages and came across something that sounded really ridiculous. (For example, the ritual described in Exodus 29 where the priests were consecrated by having blood put on the tips of their ears and their thumbs, etc.)

If you think about it, these sacrificial rituals that we read about and are familiar with might have seemed really strange to nations looking in from the outside. But everything God commanded had symbolic significance and a purpose. The same is true today. God’s commandments and the way we live our lives in worship to Him may not always look normal in the eyes of the world. But everything God commands has a purpose, and is for our good and His glory.

Those are just two truths I gleaned from reading about the worship of the Old Testament. I’m sure there is much more to be discovered if you prayerfully do a little digging!

love, grace

What do you think? What has God taught you about worship lately? Do you agree with my points or have anything to add? Share in the comments! 

Read more:

A Day of Rest, Joy, and Worship

A Day of Rest, Joy, and Worship, part 2: My Experience

 

Lessons from the Law: The Sacrificial System

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Can you imagine having to kill an animal every time you sinned? Each angry word, impatient attitude, selfish action. Every time you worried. Every time a lustful thought, a jealous thought, a prideful thought entered your mind. Every time you put something else before God in your heart.

One of the most prominent features of the Old Testament law is the sacrificial system, taking up a good portion of the beginning of Leviticus as well as some scattered passages elsewhere. It can be difficult to read through all the specific requirements for offerings, when to sacrifice a goat and when to sacrifice a dove, and which parts of the animal to burn, and on and on.

But this is meant to make us realize how much more difficult it would have been to actually carry out these instructions, and to point forward to the One who released us from this burden once and for all.

The Sacrificial System

In Israel, overseeing offerings was one of the most important duties of the priests. Offerings were given for many occasions, such as festivals and the Sabbath (Numbers 28-29), but especially to atone for sin.

What did this offering look like?

It always required the shedding of blood, unless the guilty person could not afford an animal (Leviticus 5:11-13).

It had to be done in a particular way, with the help of a priest.

It was temporary, a way to atone for one particular sin. Therefore, it had to be repeated over and over, and could never fully remove the reality of sin from the life of the Israelites.

(If you want to read more about it, look at Leviticus 4-6.)

The Depth of Our Need

So why did God give us all of this incredibly detailed information about the Israelites’ sacrifices if he doesn’t expect us to sacrifice in this way ourselves?

To show us how desperately we needed Christ.

Here’s the thing: all of the sacrifices of the Old Testament had to be without blemish, that is, as perfect as possible, the best of what the guilty person had.

“When any one of the house of Israel…presents a burnt offering as his offering…if it is to be accepted for you it shall be a male without blemish, of the bulls or the sheep or the goats. You shall not offer anything that has a blemish, for it will not be acceptable for you.” (Leviticus 22:18-20)

Lame animals? Not acceptable. Sick animals? Not acceptable. Injured animals? Not acceptable. God would only accept the best of the best.

That’s bad news for us. Because the sacrificial system was not meant to be permanent; it was meant to point forward to a time when our debt could be settled for good, when our sin could be paid for permanently. And the only kind of permanent sacrifice God would accept was going to have be the best of the best, perfect.

Who was there in the world who could meet those standards? None of us could. The Bible is very clear that every single human being is sinful. There was no way for us to save ourselves.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

The Glory of Easter

Once we see the complex demands of the Old Testament sacrificial system, we see our great need, and we see the glory of Christ’s death and resurrection, the only thing that could permanently pay for our sin.

None of us could meet God’s sacrificial standards, so Christ came and met those standards. All of us are sinful, but Christ lived a life without sin. We couldn’t save ourselves, so Christ came and saved us, because he loved us too much to leave us where we were. 

See, that Romans passage goes on. It doesn’t leave it at that horrible truth.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:23-25)

The writer of Hebrews explores the idea of Christ as the final sacrifice:

“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption…indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins…

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come…it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near…for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

(excerpted from Hebrews 9-10; I highly recommend reading both those chapters in their complete form, as they pull this idea together very well)

This is why God gave us all the details of the sacrificial system for sin. He wanted us to see the absolute necessity of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and how glorious those truths are.

Because it is glorious. Christ, in one final sacrifice, did what centuries of animal sacrifices could not do.  He came, died, and rose, and in doing that he paid it all. 

That’s what we celebrate tomorrow, Easter Sunday.

love, grace

What do you think? Have you looked at the sacrificial system this way before? Are there other passages in the Bible you can think of that complement the ones I shared? Tell me in the comments! 

Read more:

Advent Reflections, part 4: Love

A Day of Rest, Joy, and Worship

Why Be Good if Jesus Died?

Lessons from the Law: Don’t Ignore the Old Testament!

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What Bible verses do you see quoted most often?

John 3:16, perhaps. Psalm 23. Jeremiah 29:11. 1 Corinthians 13. I’m sure many others come to mind, verses that every Christian falls back on. And it’s true that those verses are the Word of God, wonderful, beautiful, and greatly encouraging in hard times.

But you know what else is also the wonderful, beautiful Word of God?

Exodus. Leviticus. Numbers. Deuteronomy.

If you cringed as you read that, this series is for you.

Why Read the Old Testament?

Many Christians dread reading the Old Testament, especially those first few books that are full of Israel’s laws. So we float around in the New Testament, with maybe some Psalms thrown in for good measure, and somehow never get around to truly reading and understanding the Law.

It’s true that Jesus fulfilled the law of Israel, that we are under a new covenant after his death and resurrection. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t important for us anymore.

As I read through the law at the beginning of this year, I tried to come to it with an open mind, and God taught me so many amazing things because of that. The purpose of this series is to share them with you, to help you see the purpose of the Law and its place in the Bible.

Because nothing in the Bible is junk. God gave the entire Bible to us, every single word, for a reason. It is ALL meant to encourage, convict, instruct. I want to fall in love with the entire Bible, and I want you to fall in love with it too.

What We’ll Learn

Over the course of the next few months, we’ll learn about:

The Old Testament sacrificial system and how it points to Jesus

The cleansing laws and how they point to Jesus

Worship in the Old Testament and what we can learn from it

Equality in the law and how amazing it is

How to get started reading the law for yourself

I hope you’re as excited for this series as I am! I can’t wait to share the things I learned as I read through the law, especially Exodus and Leviticus, and to explore how this often-ignored part of the Bible is full of wonderful truth.

love, grace

What do you think? Do you avoid reading the Old Testament? What has God taught you from the law books? Is there anything you want me to cover that wasn’t listed above? Let me know in the comments! 

Read more:

How I Enjoyed Reading Deuteronomy

24 Resolution Ideas for Christian Teens

How to Take Sermon Notes

Why I’m Not Dating in High School, part 1: God’s Purpose for Romance

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Going into high school, I had no strong convictions about dating. I was wavering on the edge of truth, trying to convince myself that it was okay to date, you know, as long as he was a Christian and we stayed pure.

Then I read a book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It presented a new philosophy of romance for the Christian young person in a thoughtful, honest way, and I was convinced. While I don’t necessarily follow all of the specifics the book laid out, the principles led me to decide, purposefully, that I would not date at all during high school.

The question is debatable, and choosing not to date in a public-school atmosphere for four years is hard! But there are very good reasons for my decision and I want to share them with you in a series that will go through January and February.

We’ll start by looking at the most fundamental reason: God’s purpose for romance, dating, and marriage. To do that we have to go way back to the first married couple of the Bible.

What is the Purpose of Romance?

As we see in Genesis, God designed human beings for romance. His design of marriage was a lasting, exclusive covenant between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24), a design that was played out between Adam and Eve, the first husband and wife.

So what is the purpose of marriage? Primarily, to provide companionship. Eve was created so that Adam would have a helper, someone to live life with (Genesis 2:18). Humans are relational, and God gave us marriage as a way to have a deep relationship with one other person, a companion for us in the daily walk of life.

The other reason God created marriage is to have a model of His love for His people (Ephesians 5:25-26). The ideal loving, selfless relationship between husband and wife is the model for how much Christ loved us, that He came and died for our salvation. His love for us is pure, spotless, and beautiful.

Unfortunately, marriage has been marred by the fall in many ways, but the ultimate goal still stands, and as Christians we have the opportunity to pursue that goal despite the way the world has twisted it.

What is the Purpose of Dating?

With that foundation in mind, we can see more clearly the purpose of dating (or courting, if you choose to call it that). It is important to note that dating is a modern concept; there are many ways that people have found their spouse over the course of human history, some better than others, but there is not one perfect way to go about finding a husband or wife.

But that is what dating is: seeking a potential husband or wife. The goal of dating, courting, or whatever else you call it is to get to know someone better and see if they are the person God wants you to spend your life with in a marriage relationship.

Casual dating results in constantly giving your heart away to someone who is only in your life for a little while. We are called to date purposefully, seeking a partner in life, not for momentary fulfillment. Dating is not an end in itself; it is a means to a greater end. 

This is why I choose not to date in high school. I am not going to be ready for marriage anytime soon, and so getting involved in a relationship now would have no purpose to glorify God. All it would do is distract me, complicate my emotions, and add anxiety to my life.

Dating “just for fun” is not God’s best for us; we should always seek relationships intentionally, looking towards marriage and the future, and not just fun in the moment.

Have you been in a relationship before, and what wisdom can you share from that? Do you agree with me? Why or why not? Are you excited for this series? Tell me in the comments! 

love, grace

Boundaries, Rebellion, and “Living on the Edge”

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In today’s culture, especially among teens, people often have the following attitude.

How much can I get away with before I get caught?

How disrespectful can I get before I get called out?

How far can I go before I wreck my life?

We won’t talk about how destructive this attitude is in general, as that’s a conversation for another day. What I want to talk about now is the problem that surfaces when we apply this attitude to our Christian life.

It’s a principal called maximal righteousness vs. minimal righteousness. 

(I’m not entirely sure where I heard this terminology for the first time. I’m pretty sure I didn’t make it up.)

The question for us, as Christians, should not be “How far can I go before it counts as sin?” This is only striving for minimal righteousness. 

Minimal righteousness is the kind of life that only seeks to know where the absolute limits are, to live on the edge between God’s standards and the world’s culture. In minimal righteousness, the only thing that matters is where the loopholes and the absolute boundary line are. And that is not how God calls us to live.

What is the alternative? Living a life of maximal righteousness. In maximal righteousness, the question is “How much can I live to glorify God?” To live a life of maximal righteousness is to live a life that seeks to glorify God in every way, to stay as far away from the edge as possible, to be completely separate from the world’s culture.

This applies to everything we do. I’ve heard it most applied to dating and purity (not “how far can we go?” but rather “how pure can we stay?”). It can apply to lots of other things as well: how you treat your family, friends, teachers, etc., how diligent you are at your schoolwork…

This is the righteousness that God calls us to.

It’s important to remember, though, that this does not mean striving for perfection on our own. What I’m talking about is the mindset we have as we go about our lives, not actually living our lives perfectly in maximal righteousness all the time.

Remember that we do not have to do this on our own: not cultivate the mindset, not live a perfect life, none of it. God works in us; without the Holy Spirit, we would be lost. Pray that God would help you to live in maximal righteousness, that he would change your heart and attitude.

Pray that He would enable you to reject the cultural rebellion of pushing boundaries and instead choose to go beyond what is required in order to do what is fully right.

love, grace