Here is a re-post of an article I wrote ten years ago when I was trying to deal with the damage fall-out of an organization that, in a sincere desire to stimulate holiness of life in young people and families, added to the Scripture and emphasized compliance, conformity, control and external appearance. I did some deep thinking, soul-searching and Scriptural study and wrote this: (January 23, 2016)
My wife is a photographer and her most beautiful pictures are of our children. Most of them are posed, of course, even the candid ones are usually really posed, too. After all we want to look good. Can hear little Hopey’s voice calling to me now in my memory, “How do I look, Daddy?”
Do your children look like good Christians? That’s a good question, don’t you think? I suppose I think about that a lot. I like to think of it as “our testimony.” I want my children to look nice and dress modestly. I want them to wear things that show that they are not enslaved to the false philosophies of the world around them. I like to think that I feel this way because I want to have “a good testimony.” But I have to admit that sometimes I think I want my children to look good so that I will look good. Maybe there are times that it is more about my reputation than it is about their good or their “testimony” for God.
What’s the Question?
I’m not going to stop asking the question; “Do my children look good,” but I think there is a much better question to ask; “Are my children right with God in the deepest part of their hearts?” “Does my son love God and desire to worship him?” “Is my daughter in love with Jesus in the deepest part of her affections?” “Are my children getting a vision for the world based on the work of God within them?”
Which question is more important? This is not something we can afford to “miss” on. Satan would love to confuse your sons and daughters on this one. It is one of his most common strategies. Iniquity and willfulness abound. A new approach or a new movement will appear very effective for a couple decades while all the children are little and it is easy to “dress them up” and “line them up.” But in a few years that will be hard to keep them looking good and then our outward organization or demands will yield to their own private thoughts and opinions. They will follow the dictates of their hearts. They will begin to do what THEY believe.
Looking Good – for Now
You can force outward compliance for a few years, but there will come a day when your sons and daughters will act and talk and dress in a way that reflects their heart. They may go on wearing a disguise covering a heart that is not really taken with God and full of holy love for him. They may change from wearing what you expect them to wear to wearing what others expect them to wear but what good will that do if their hearts are still not filled with affection for God? Isn’t it even more dangerous for a person to look right on the outside when they are not right on the inside. Didn’t Jesus use some of his most direct language on those who emphasized outward appearance while within they were filled with things that were corrupt? (Read Matthew 23:5, 25 etc.) Jesus warned his disciples not to live to “be seen of men.” (Matthew 6:5)
Wouldn’t it be a great tragedy for our children to learn how to conform outwardly to expectations around them but have a heart that is empty of spiritual vitality? What if the learn to “play the game” and it really is nothing more than a game. What if we are not showing them how to live and love God and the world for God’s sake but we are just giving them a costume and a mask and we are just “teaching them how to act” instead of showing them how to really live. So even if they look good that doesn’t mean they are good. We could just be creating a more resistant breed of Pharisee. That would be a tragedy, even if we do look good.
The Heart of the Matter
Here are some things to keep in mind. We should instruct their hearts in moral purity and we should instruct their hearts in selfless ministry. We should instruct them and warn them to “keep themselves unspotted from the world,” and to walk circumspectly (carefully) in this world. These are the heart matters that will drive their lives and effect their appearance, too.
In other words, when we see faddish dress, immodest dress, worldly dress, over-emphasis on costly things, or careless dress or appearance that communicates identification and agreement with philosophies that are antithetical to our faith and the truth of God, we need to get beneath the surface to heart issues. We need to treat the root causes of these things. It is not enough to treat the symptoms of the disease. It is not enough to manipulate outward compliance. It is not enough to “control” behavior and outward appearance. There is a deeper and more important and more difficult and more time-consuming work that has to be done.
This will require time and relationship and patient teaching and consistent example. Most of us would rather just bark some orders and get back to what we were doing. Is it possible that the outward things that we see that we do not like are reminders that we need to strengthen the relationship, and deepen the teaching, and change the schedule, and examine our own lives, and make some changes so that we can get to the issues of the heart?
Our Ultimate Goal Requires Something More than Outward Compliance
If your son starts combing his hair in a way that displeases you and you ask him to change it and he resists you, what should you do? You can yell louder, lecture, and badger him until he yields to your wishes. You can beg him and manipulate him emotionally into compliance. You can force compliance by threatening to withhold food and shelter – That sounds extreme but that is what is implied when we say, “As long as your feet are under MY table, you will do as you are told.” And I agree, that is only reasonable. They should honor you and obey you, but don’t you want your influence to endure beyond the time when their feet are “under your table.” Isn’t it our goal that the truth of God will ring beautifully in their ears long after they have established their own homes. Aren’t we committed to a multi-generational vision that will require them to teach these same things to their own children from their hearts. Do we really expect our pressure tactics and manipulation to reach across generations and influence descendants that we will never meet until they join us in heaven?
We are not just passing down traditions here. We are bequeathing spiritual life from one generation to another. We are showing our children what it looks like to be in love with Jesus. We are imparting to them a vision for the world and for the Kingdom of God so that they will go and make disciples. This is a much bigger thing than outward compliance to a sectarian standard, this is about heart-fellowship with the Living God. This is passion for eternal things. This is a sense of mission and a vision for the world. This is not about lining our family up for pictures that look like they were taken in the early 50’s. This is not about us looking good and calling it “our testimony.” Our children will get old enough to see through that. This is about the real condition of the inner heart.
God help us raise sons and daughters and influence generations that really know and love You, not just good “posers.” God help us to have sons and daughters whose very heart of hearts are reflected in our most beautiful family photos. May their modest clothing reflect pure hearts and pure lives. May their beautiful smiles grow out of joyful hearts. May the light in their eyes come from conscience void of offence toward God and man. May their choice of clothing demonstrate selfless deference for the sake of missionary endeavor and disciple-making. God make us people who really love you deep down inside and give us sons and daughters-even generations who love you, too. Help us not to manipulate outward compliance and then deceive ourselves into believing that’s what holiness looks like.
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of men, otherwise you have not reward of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)
“They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:43)
“How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that [cometh] from God only?” (John 5:44)
“And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)
“Whose adorning let it not be that outward [adorning] of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But [let it be] the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, [even the ornament] of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)
We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. (2Co 5:12)
August 21, 2006