This past Thursday, April 13th, evangelist Dave Young published a very thought provoking article on standards. He explained that there are five categories of standards in the life of a Christian: (1) standards that are pure obedience to the Bible, (2) standards that are applications of biblical principles, (3) standards that protect us from our own weaknesses, (4) standards in response to the culture, and (5) standards that help a weaker brother.
These five categories could actually be grouped together under two main headings: (1) standards derived from God Himself and (2) standards derived from men. Bro. Young’s first two categories would both fit under the first main heading as standards derived from God, and his final three categories could fit under the second main heading as standards derived from men.
Bro. Young then presented a list of six potential problems that standards could produce in the life of the Christian, and it is this list of problems that are the focus of his article. Unfortunately, I think that Bro. Young has made a critical mistake in this portion of his article. To be specific, Bro. Young failed to differentiate between the categories of standards which are prone to these six problems. Let me give an example to illustrate what I mean.
The first problem that Bro. Young listed was that “standards can destroy our joy.” He explained that this happens when our standards are so strict that we no longer have the joy of the Lord in our lives. The problem with this particular problem is that it only applies to those standards which are derived from men.
It is not possible to lose the joy of the Lord by obeying the Lord. That would be like saying that a child must be careful not to lose the joy of his parents by following their instructions too closely. On the contrary, it is the child that diligently follows his parents’ instructions who will receive the most joy in the fellowship of his parents. Similarly, it is those who have the strictest adherence to God’s commands who will experience the greatest amount of joy in their fellowship with the Lord.
Christ explained this to us very succinctly when He said:
“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21)
The key to experiencing the joy of being loved by God and fellowshipping with Him is keeping His commandments. Bro. Young should have made a distinction between retaining the joy of the Lord by strictly adhering to the standards derived from God and losing the joy of the Lord by adhering too strictly to the standards derived from men. Those who fail to make this distinction run the risk of losing their joy when they set aside the standards that God commands.
The same thing can be said for the second problem in Bro. Young’s list. Is it possible to become discouraged by allowing our standards to become the focus of our lives? Yes and no. Yes, if we are referring to standards derived from men; and no, if we are referring to standards derived from God.
Once again, let’s consider this in light of a child’s relationship with his parents, (and let’s assume in this case that the parents are perfect since they’re standing in the place of God in our illustration). Is it possible for this child to become discouraged by focusing on obeying his parents? Not at all. In fact, he would become discouraged if he did not focus on obeying his parents.
It is not possible for a Christian to become discouraged by allowing the standards which are derived from God to become the focus of his life. Discouragement comes when we lose our focus on God’s standards and begin to focus instead on the standards derived from men. As John wrote in Scripture: “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” (I John 5:3) Following God’s standards never brings grievousness or discouragement.
In discussing his third problem, Bro. Young asked, “Am I right with God and have special standing with God because of my personal standards?” He answered this question with a very emphatic “NO!” But Christ had a different answer to this question. According to Christ, those who follow the standards derived from God DO have a special standing with Him.
"5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.
9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.
11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you."
We see from this passage that it is only those who obey God’s standards who abide in the Father, and it is only those who obey God’s standards who abide in His love and who are the friends of Christ. That sounds like a pretty special standing if you ask me, and it all comes directly and solely through adhering to standards which are derived from God.
In his fourth problem, Bro. Young said that standards can divide us from Godly believers, but the Bible tells us that “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.” (I John 5:2) If our knowledge of the love among believers is dependent on keeping God’s commandments, then if necessarily follows that godly standards can never divide us from godly believers.
Bro. Young’s fifth problem was that “standards can diminish our Christlikeness,” but Christ Himself told us that:
"If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings." (Jn. 14:23-24)
Thus it is only those who follow the standards derived from God who actually love Christ and abide with Him.
The problem with Bro. Young’s sixth problem is that he sees it as a problem. Yes, our standards can define us, but isn’t that a good thing? Wouldn’t it be great to be known as a man who obeys God perfectly? It is true that following standards derived from God will cause the proud in this world to hold us in derision (Psalm 119:51), but those that fear God will be glad of our testimony (Psalm 119:74) and rally to our example (Psalm 119:79).
I am glad that Bro. Young is in favor of Christians having standards in their lives, but I think that he has done a disservice to his brothers in Christ by writing this article. By not distinguishing between those standards which are derived from God and those which are derived from men, Bro. Young has (unintentionally I’m sure) encouraged and emboldened those who wish to be “free” of both classes of standards.
In reality, however, there is no freedom apart from abiding in God, and it is only those who obey His standards who are actually abiding in and fellowshipping with Him. We can afford to be flexible regarding those standards which we develop in response to our own weaknesses or the wickedness of the culture around us, but we can never afford to introduce flexibility into those standards which are derived from a careful study of God’s Word.
I shared a link to this article with Bro. Young, and he has written back this very gracious and humble reply:
"Hello Bro. Fortenberry: Thanks for your comment and thanks for drawing attention to the difference in how different standards can be approached differently and can make a difference as well. I appreciate your thoughts very much. It would be very true that 'man-derived' standards and 'God-commanded' ones should be differentiated. I will be following up my blog later addressing that very matter. I have thought through Acts 15-16 where these matters were addressed in the local churches of the first century and will also be discussing that in a coming blog. Thanks for your writing. Your blog has a ton of great material! Your sincere friend, Dave"
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Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:9)