Maintaining a Right Standing with God
Immorality is rampant today. How can a Christian avoid being ensnared?
WE LIVE in an era of change; it is an age of wavering faith, pursuit of material gain and lowering moral standards. Men fear the future, and well they might, for it appears to many people that the world is being irresistibly pushed toward a nuclear holocaust. This climate of uncertainty has caused many to adopt the attitude, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die.” (1 Cor. 15:32) The resultant immorality and unrestrained lawlessness should cause all honesthearted persons to pause and ponder: Just where do I stand with God? How can I gain and maintain a right standing in His sight?
Happily God has not left mankind without guidance in these dangerous times. He has provided his written Word, which not only contains much admonition, but also preserves many examples that warn of the pitfalls that can plunge one into the sordid sea of immorality. Consider, for instance, what happened to God’s ancient nation of Israel.
A WARNING EXAMPLE
In the year 1513 B.C. the Israelites marched out from Egypt and across the Red Sea. Led by men of faith, they traversed a fearsome wasteland, endured adversity and came to the boundaries of the land of Canaan, which God had promised to give them. However, because they became disobedient and showed a lack of faith, God forced the nation of Israel to wander in the wilderness for forty years, after which he again brought them to the edge of the beautiful land of promise. Here aging Moses relinquished leadership to his successor Joshua, who, as head of the nation, took possession of the land and settled the twelve tribes in their inheritance.—Ex. 12:37-42; Num. 14:26-33; Josh. 1:1-6; 13:1–19:51.
Under the administration of Joshua and his mature associates the Israelites continued to serve Jehovah acceptably. But after the death of these “older men,” who exercised a good influence on the people, “another generation began to rise after them that did not know Jehovah or the work that he had done for Israel. And the sons of Israel fell to doing what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah and serving the Baals.”—Judg. 2:7-13.
From that time on, the history of the nation of Israel was one of vacillation between true worship and false; between the great God Jehovah and the dungy idols of the nations. Finally, swinging too far away from their right standing before God, the nation lost its balance completely and was plunged into captivity to Babylon. Jerusalem was razed and its temple smashed, and princes and common people alike were slain or enslaved.—2 Ki. 23:26, 27; 25:1-11.
Contrary to what one may think, what happened to the Israelites back there is not dead history, but it shines down through the ages and illuminates the situation in which we find ourselves. Therefore it is important that we consider closely what led to their fall, so as to avoid our losing a right standing with God today.—Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11.
THE PITFALL OF IMMORALITY
Toward the end of the forty-year wilderness sojourn thousands of Israelites were ensnared by the immoral practices of the Baal-worshiping Moabites, whose land they had to pass by en route to the Promised Land. Fornication and unclean sexual indulgence were the way of life of these Baal worshipers. The Encyclopædia Britannica notes that the “cult of the baals and Ashtaroth was characterized by gross sensuality and licentiousness.” “Worship of these gods carried with it some of the most demoralizing practices then in existence,” The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible observes.
According to the Pocket Bible Handbook by Henry H. Halley, “temples of Baal and Ashtoreth were usually together. Priestesses were temple prostitutes. Sodomites were male temple prostitutes. The worship of Baal, Ashtoreth, Moloch, and other Canaanite gods consisted in the most extravagant orgies; their temples were centers of vice. So, the way the Canaanites worshipped their gods was by immoral indulgence in the presence of their gods.”
Instead of avoiding such immoral people, the Bible says that the Israelites “started to have immoral relations with the daughters of Moab. And the women came calling the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people began to eat and to bow down to their gods. So Israel attached itself to the Baal of Peor.” How disgusting to Almighty God was this sensuality and licentiousness! “And the anger of Jehovah began to blaze against Israel. . . . And those who died from the scourge amounted to twenty-four thousand.”—Num. 25:1-9.
Repeatedly in later years the immorality of their Baal-worshiping neighbors proved to be a stumbling block to the Israelites. Evidently they began to think, ‘Everybody is doing it; it is only doing what comes naturally, so why not be like the rest of the people?’ Immorality appealed to their fleshly desires, so, closing their eyes to God’s righteous laws, they satisfied their unbridled passion. “And they too kept building for themselves high places and sacred pillars and sacred poles upon every high hill and under every luxuriant tree [where they indulged in sexual immorality]. And even the male temple prostitute proved to be in the land.”—1 Ki. 14:23, 24; 22:46; Isa. 57:5; Jer. 3:6, 13.
In time immorality became the way of life of the Israelites. “They continued committing adultery, and to the house of a prostitute woman they go in troops. Horses seized with sexual heat, having strong testicles, they have become. They neigh each one to the wife of his companion.” They became just like animals, not even feeling shame for their promiscuousness.—Jer. 5:7, 8.
But civilized people are not like that today, some may be thinking. Their worship of God is not accompanied ‘with immoral indulgence and gross sensuality and licentiousness.’ They worship the God and Father of Jesus Christ who forbids such immorality, it might be argued. But what do the facts show?
The evidence reveals that conditions are the same in Christendom as they were among the Israelites long ago. Just as the people then had God’s righteous laws, including the Ten Commandments, and were obligated to keep them, people in Christendom today also have God’s laws which they are obligated to observe. But just as the Israelites rejected God’s laws, so today licentiousness and immorality reminiscent of Israel’s Baal worship is common throughout Christendom.
Everywhere there is evidence of a moral collapse. “The concept of chastity is completely out of date,” an audience of 1,000 University of British Columbia students was told not long ago. A recent survey of twenty-one California schools found that some of the girls considered pregnancy “a status symbol.” At a girls’ school in England it was discovered that students wore a yellow badge to advertise that they were no longer virgins. And at another school in Oxford, England, a surprise check of handbags revealed that 80 percent of the girls were carrying contraceptives.
The Toronto Daily Star (March 9, 1963) reports that “so many Winnipeg [Canada] high school girls are becoming pregnant that the city’s three main homes for unwed mothers are looking for ways to send the girls to special schools . . . The city last year had 537 illegitimate births.”
It has been found that the sex orgies of even the youth of today rival the licentious rites of the ancient sex-worshiping Baalists. Sir John Charles, England’s retired Chief Medical Officer, of the Ministry of Education, cited a case where the prosecuting counsel spoke of the “shocking precocity and depravity” of youngsters only fourteen and fifteen years of age.
Throughout Christendom ‘sex clubs’ and ‘wife-swapping clubs’ do a thriving business. Just this past spring the San Francisco Chronicle carried the headlines, “Wife-Swapping Fad—All Over Bay Area.” The paper observed that an eight-line advertisement “attracted an avalanche of answers from married couples seeking extracurricular sex.” “They are getting together in groups of two or more couples in homes, hotels and motels to participate in ‘switching parties’ that often take on the proportions of orgies,” the paper reported. Contrary to what some may think, these orgies are engaged in by respected citizens who apparently find their conduct compatible with their religion. In fact, one of them said: We never “switch” on Saturday nights because “we have to get up early Sundays to go to church.”—Issues dated April 3 and 6, 1963.
Such immorality reaches into high places. Recently the immorality of prominent governmental officials has been exposed, particularly in England. “The shock waves” that were touched off there “jumped the Channel to Europe, and were somewhat more than perceptible in even the glassy (if prosaically unmirrored) halls of the United Nations in New York,” Newsweek magazine reported. “A series of other sex and espionage scandals were reverberating in Stockholm and Cairo.”
All over the world, among the rich and influential, as well as among the common people and youths, sexual immorality has become the way of life. As one minister remarked: Teen-agers now look upon sex “as casually as eating and drinking.” (Toronto Daily Star, February 8, 1963) Although extramarital sexual intercourse is against God’s law, people today reason as the ancient Israelites apparently did, ‘Everyone is doing it, so why be different?’ Even some religious leaders condone the present-day immorality.
As reported in the London Daily Express of March 11, 1963, Church of England clergyman D. A. Rhymes told his congregation that the Bible code of chastity is “being ignored because already it is outdated.” He said it needed to be replaced with a moral code that would better fit the needs of the people. And along this same line of reasoning, a seventy-page essay released by a group of Britain’s most influential Quakers said that “morals, like the Sabbath, were made for man, not man for morals,” and that, therefore, even the expression of homosexual affection was not morally wrong. This essay entitled “Towards a Quaker View of Sex” “rejects almost completely the traditional approach of the organized Christian Church to morality,” declared the Toronto Globe and Mail on February 19, 1963.
How dangerous are these worldly philosophies on morality! If one listens to them he is certain to lose his right standing with God. God’s laws are as up-to-date and applicable now as the day they were written. Those who may feel that they can deviate from them to satisfy their sexual appetites are told by one of Christ’s apostles to consider what happened to the Israelites who were seduced by the Baal-worshiping Moabites:
“Neither let us practice fornication, as some of them committed fornication, only to fall, twenty-three thousand of them in one day. Now these things went on befalling them as examples, and they were written for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived. Consequently let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.”—1 Cor. 10:8, 11, 12.
Christians must beware at all times that they are not ensnared by this sex-maddened world, even as the Israelites were by their lustful neighbors. “Deaden, therefore, your body members,” the apostle Paul wrote early Christians, “as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite . . . Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality, which through accurate knowledge is being made new according to the image of the One who created it.”—Col. 3:5-10.
In order to avoid immorality one must fill his mind and heart with God’s righteous laws, and at all times endeavor to live in accord with them. This means that “fornication and uncleanness of every kind or greediness [should] not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people; neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming, but rather the giving of thanks. For you know this, recognizing it for yourselves, that no fornicator . . . has any inheritance in the kingdom of the Christ and of God.”—Eph. 5:3-5; Phil. 4:8.
God’s law is therefore clear. Immoral practices such as fornication, adultery, homosexuality and bestiality bring upon one God’s disfavor. It is true that before learning of God’s righteous requirements, and while still living as people of the nations do, many practiced these things. But if one truly desires to gain and maintain a right standing with God, he must now “abstain from fornication” and “get possession of his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in covetous sexual appetite such as also those nations have which do not know God.”—1 Thess. 4:3-5; 1 Cor. 6:9-11.