Practice Makes Perfect
I've been privileged in my youth to be surrounded by mature Christians - people who, to my knowledge, I would never have called 'sinless' but, as far as I could tell, never took a wrong step or never spoke out of turn. These friends of my family and parents were so kind and good and thoughtful - they smothered us in love with their godly generous spirit.
I suppose looking back, I would now call them 'mature Christians'. I guess what troubles me a little (or maybe it's just rose-tinted spectacles), but as such people die off, such Christians are a becoming a lesser-spotted breed. Perhaps I'm just more sensitive to my own and others glitches - but it does seem there has been a lowering of standards.
I rarely hear believers talking deeply about holiness today. Sin and worldliness seem to be missing words in Christian chit-chat. In our zeal to win the lost there appears to be more focus on being trendy - on conforming to expectations of the world so as to be as similar as possible.
As I come to preach tomorrow on Genesis 6.9-22, I've been called to reflect on grace and it's power in Noah's life. The text makes no bones about the transparently obvious fact that the builder of the Ark stood, morally, spiritually & ethically, head and shoulders above his contemporaries: his was also a wicked, evil, age. He was surrounded by temptation, he must have suffered persecution, yet remained a lone, bright light in a dark and violent age:
But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD ...Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.
Please observe a number of things about this blameless, or 'perfect', man:
1. The Root of Perfection
Moses makes a point by prefacing works, in v9, by grace, in v8. He says Noah found favor (or grace) in the eyes of God. It seems to be the case, as our late friend and Bible scholar Alec Motyer once put it 'Grace found Noah'. By kind, sovereign, choice, for nothing good in Noah, Yahweh set his love on this man, and began a work of grace in his heart. It was the effect of regenerating grace upon the mind, heart and will of Noah, that changed him from within, and produced this holy life.
2. The Standard of Perfection
The Holy Spirit asserts, v9, that Noah was a righteous man. It goes without saying, from what we know from the rest of the Bible, that God justified this man even while Noah was a sinner. Yet, justification by grace through faith in Christ alone is not the point that the author of Genesis is making. 'Righteous' in context refers to what conforms to the divine standard. In mind, heart and will, in word, thought and deed, Noah lived a life that aligned to God's commands. Whether this knowledge was that revealed in Creation, made known through His ancestors, or mirrored in God's Image, the son of Lamech was intent on a life of obedience to what God's regulations, now impressed on his conscience, informed him would please God.
3. The Life of Perfection
The Hebrew word 'blameless' does not denote 'sinless' but rather it points to a mature Christian character, in which all graces were blended and balanced. His words, thoughts and deeds and the character that led to behavior, were harmoniously integrated and genuinely godly. Like the unblemished lamb that was outwardly free from defect, there was no obvious blemish or stain on his life, either outwardly or internally. It falls short of sinless perfection but rises above Pharisaic legalism - the godliness that looks good but in public but is contradicted in private and secret. Like all other men Noah sinned and confessed. No doubt his sensitive conscience was heightened beyond most.
4. The Cultivation of Perfection
Like Enoch long before, Noah also walked with God. The text in the original is keen to stress this point. The particular form of verb implies repeated reiteration - walking with God was the 10th from Adam's habitual, continual, incessant mode of living. Here was a man who communed closely and constantly with the LORD. It was this fan of fellowship by which the embers of holiness were daily revived in a burning flame of an ever-closer walk with God.
My point is really this - if Noah was one of three outstanding Old Testament men (along with Job and Daniel) - it's really hard to miss the power of saving grace. This is the blood bought grace which saves and sanctifies - it is the grace that even then, flowed, retrospectively, from the as-yet-to-be-revealed Cross, in union with the Mediator and, as yet-to-appear, Messiah.
Surely we should be concerned when our moral and spiritual and ethical standards plummet. We need to be patient and tender with those who err (who is not weak?). Yet excuses are easy to make for bad behavior when we should know better. It is a sign of great decline when we stubbornly refuse correction or lack desire to learn from mistakes.
Today I was watching a thrilling international rugby union match. You'll be glad to here my team Ireland beat the Scots and, in the process, clinched the Six Nations Championship. One of the players Jacob Stockdale, a 6 feet 4 inch flying-machine, scored another doublet of touch-downs (the UK word is try, or essai if your are French). In the previous game, this same player had made some bad defensive errors - they led to leaking points to the opposing team he was trying to beat.
It was interesting what the commentator said today. At one point, the big man from Lisburn closed the gap, made the tackle, and shut the defense. "It's nice to see" he said "that Jacob Stockdale has learned from his mistakes." I guess as a keen ex-sportsman and eager ex-schoolboy - it's what was drummed into me as a lad - practice makes perfect. Practical godliness comes, in Christ (by diligent use of gracious means) in the practice of godliness.
Noah before the flood, long before the Covenant of Grace was published to Abram, in fellowship by the Spirit, was able to commune so closely with Christ. If that is the case, in these days of slipping standards, we need to raise the bar, and while calling for daily cleansing, and the mercy of the Lord, pursue cultivation of holiness, by this Almighty Messianic Powerful Grace, made available through the Cross.
May God so soften our hearts, by the truth of this text, that we will neither be deceived by some perfectionist delusion into denial of 'conscious sin', no be led smugly into a form of 'abstemious legalism' or 'fake outward Pharisaism' - the kind that stresses self-righteous external rules and makes us strain at gnats, swallow camels, be expert sawdust-spotters, and finally 'wholly hypocrites'. Yet may God open our eyes to the mighty grace of the Gospel - it is power of God in Christ, for salvation from sin, for all those who believe, both the Jew and the Gentile, old and young, male and female, for a saintly blameless life.
May the Lord in, and by, grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, so fill our churches and continents again, with a rich spiritual crop of Christlike mature, well-rounded, consistent, beautiful Christians - Until that day, when the earth shall be filled with glorified saints by the glory of Christ as the waters cover the sea!