Ideals: Pious Platitudes or Prescribed Principles?

Christianity is a religion of the mind:

“Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus…be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…set your mind on the things that are above…gird up the loins of your mind…casting down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (Philippians 2.5; Romans 12.1-2; Colossians 3.2; 1 Peter 1.13; 2 Corinthians 10.5).

Christianity is an attitude – a mindset, a determination derived from surrendering oneself to God. “Sanctify in your hearts Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3.15) is the Christian’s daily goal. That means Jesus is King of my life, Ruler of my habits, Master of my mind, Overseer of my activities, and Director of my business.

As Christians we belong to God. We must never forget that there is God’s way, and there is our way, or the world’s way. We have chosen to conform to His way, which is high and noble and will bring His people to a righteous and holy standard of living, lifting us above the careless, selfish and destructive ways of the world.

One of the terms we use to describe God’s ways is ideal. That word never appears in the Greek New Testament; it is derived from a late Latin term which corresponds to the Greek concept of a pattern. The unabridged dictionary defines ideal as “a conception of something in its perfection; a standard of One of the terms we use to describe God’s ways is ideal. That word never appears in the Greek New Testament; it is derived from a late Latin term which corresponds to the Greek concept of a pattern. The unabridged dictionary defines ideal as “a conception of something in its perfection; a standard of perfection or excellence; a standard and model for imitation; an ultimate objective, aim, or endeavor; advantageous, excellent.”

Idealism is “the cherishing or pursuit of higher or noble principles, purposes, or goals,” and an Idealist is the one who does the cherishing – a visionary – one who represents things as they should be, not as they are.

How are we to respond to God’s ideals? First, let’s put what is obvious behind us. This is not to suggest that perfection (the way it’s commonly used) is possible. None of us is or ever can be perfectly sinless, perfectly right, perfectly consistent, perfectly considerate, perfectly spiritual, or perfectly anything else.

What does God mean when He says,

“Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect…but seek first His kingdom…whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do you also unto them…render to no man evil for evil…love your enemies and pray for them that persecute you…wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbor…let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth…be ye therefore imitators of God…wives, be in subjection unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord…husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself up for it…only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…flee fornication…be ye free from the love of money…a new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another…these things write I unto you that ye may not sin” (Matthew 5.48; 6.33; 7.12; Romans 12.17; Matthew 5.44; Ephesians 4.25; 4.29; 5.1; 5.22; 5.25; Philippians 1.27; 1 Corinthians 6.18; Hebrews 13.5; John 13.34; 1 John 2.1).

Does He mean for us to get busy, to get serious, to make the necessary changes, to pay the price, to do whatever it takes to do all that plus everything else He has said? Does He actually expect us to do all that? Or, does He mean we just ought to try? Is it the unstated, but understood, nature of God’s ideals that we cannot change, conform, or measure up? Has He required of us that which we are unable to do? Are these passages nothing more than pious platitudes reserved for our “church chat,” our sermons and Bible classes, but otherwise impractical, implausible, and unrealistic?

We cannot surrender to such thinking. The world and everything else that arrays itself against God would have us believe that He requires too much of us, that His ideals are unrealistic.

We must never forget that God means exactly what He says. What He has prescribed are principles by which He expects His people to live. They are demanding for sure. They require devotion to comply, determination to conform, and discipline to continue.

With faith in God’s power to work in us and through us, we happily and eagerly engage the “pursuit of higher or noble principles, purposes, and goals.” He calls us, by His grace, to make His ideals a living reality!

Bill