Does holiness really matter?
A Pathway Q&A with …Roger Moran
December 22, 2004
Hailed a hero by conservatives for his leadership with Project 1000 which brought conservatives to power in the Missouri Baptist Convention and villified by theological liberals/moderates, Moran, in the following interview with Pathway contributing writer Norm Miller, speaks on what he believes is the vital next step Missouri Baptists must take – to live holy lives. He also discusses the often misconstrued resolution on holiness that Missouri Baptists unanimously adopted at the MBC’s annual meeting in November.
Q: Was the SBC’s conservative resurgence rooted in control issues, as some say, or in theological reasons?
At the heart of the issue in both the SBC and the MBC was sound doctrine. Both resurgences recognized that at some point, we took the wrong fork in the road. For the SBC, the issue was theological liberalism. For the MBC, the issue was not so much that our leaders were “liberal,” but that the most rank forms of moral, social and theological liberalism just really didn’t matter to them. The conservative resurgence simply took us back to that fork in the road so that we might pursue the pathway of sound doctrine. This is that road less traveled which, hopefully, we will pursue and discover to be the pathway that leads to holiness.
Q: Why do you say “hopefully”?
During the years of Project 1000, I became acutely aware that holiness is not the natural outgrowth of falsehood and error (theological liberalism). But I also came to realize that sound doctrine alone does not produce holiness. I learned that the sin nature transcends theological labels. And while it is critically important that we believe the truth, we must remember that the demons of hell not only believe, but tremble. The battle in Missouri was ultimately about holiness, which begins at the point of sound doctrine.
Q: But why a resolution on holiness?
There is only one thing that can empower authentic, genuine kingdom growth – that’s when the people of God get right with God and pursue with passion the pathway of holiness, purity, obedience and faithfulness. It is at that point that the power of God comes upon His people. It is at that point that we have the right to look to God for His divine intervention, for His blessings, for His help.
Q: What is the greatest roadblock to holiness?
There is only one inhibitor to holiness, and it is sin. The great tragedy of American Christianity is that we have in large degree lost our biblical understanding of the seriousness of sin. We generally get it right on that we think of as the “big sins” like homosexuality, abortion, pornography and gambling. But it’s the “lesser sins” of life we tend to ignore that laid the foundation for those greater sins which our culture has thrust upon us. When I speak of the lesser sins, I’m saying that the kind of music I listen to matters. The television programs I watch matters. The kind of movies I choose to entertain myself with matters. And it matters supremely that my children are systematically educated into the biblical worldview. For how can I sing along with music that nurtures the flesh? How can I choose to entertain myself with movies and TV programs that glorify the very sins for which Christ died? We are commanded to take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ, because just as we are transformed to be like Christ through the thought process, so likewise, we are taken captive by the enemy through the thought process. One of the hardest lessons for me to learn was that whichever nature we nurture will become dominant in our lives. If we feed the flesh, it will grow stronger. But the pursuit of holiness means to take up our cross and crucify the old man who longs to fulfill the sinful desires of the flesh.
Q: What did you mean by Christians’ small sins allowing culture’s greater sins?
It was right in the midst of two unsuccessful bids for the Missouri Legislature in the late 1980’s that I came to understand that America’s greatest problem wasn’t in the political arena, but in the church. If God’s people don’t take sin seriously, then why should anyone else? If we want to see God heal our land, then we simply need to read His requirements laid out in 2 Chronicles 7:14.
Q: So, a focus on holiness begins by focusing on one’s sin?
If it is indeed true that the only inhibitor to holiness is sin, then not only is it important that we have a biblical understanding of the seriousness of sin but that we re-learn to recognize sin, especially when it comes knocking at our door. I think one of the early evidences of a life marked by a desire for holiness will be a growing sense of humility and an incredible gratitude for what Christ has done for us.
Q: Won’t preaching on sin offend people?
The greater question might be: “Is it possible to lead a person to saving faith in Christ if they are unclear about what they were saved from?” It is increasingly clear to me that before a man can become interested in a remedy for his disease, he has to first realize he is sick and dying. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ took care of the universal human problem called sin. Now, as we proclaim the Gospel, there are clearly two things that we must hold in tension. First, we are to hate sin. Second, we are to love people. We are to know the truth, live the truth and preach the truth. But my proclamation of the truth must be tempered by a biblically informed love. Likewise, my love for people must be informed by biblical truth.
Q: Can the church obey the Great Commission in the power of the flesh?
A couple years ago when the SBC was in St. Louis, I shared in a meeting with SBC leaders and about 300 others one of my greatest concerns. I am increasingly convinced that we have developed multitudes of programs, published reams of materials and spent millions of dollars to train and motivate our people to do in the power of the flesh what you could not prevent them from doing if we were in the Spirit. While God’s Word doesn’t return void, God did not call His people to carry out His work in the power of the flesh. Rather, He commanded us to crucify the old man, to abide in Christ, and to walk in the Spirit. I’ve said many times, it’s not what I do and say that matters most, but what I am. It’s the life marked by a passion for holiness and righteousness that brings the power of God to carry out His commission.
Q: So what’s next for the SBC and the MBC?
Our greatest days are ahead of us if we see sin as seriously as God sees it. My hope and prayer is that those who fought to win the theological and doctrinal struggles in both conventions would struggle with equal tenacity against sin and for holiness. The time has come to pursue holiness with the same passion we pursued doctrinal fidelity.