What is normal is usually defined by what we become accustomed to. We speak of normal rainfall, normal temperature, normal crop yields, etc. These are usually determined by averaging the numbers from each year. Then also, there are the ever-changing moral norms. These come by incrementalism—gradually creeping into our lives. At first we are in horror, then eventually there is acceptance that this is now the norm.
What ought to really wake us up is the fact that this “new normal” has entered the realm of morality. We need to think carefully when people say, “In the past we condemned this or that, but we don’t do that anymore.” Sometimes these changes are good, but a close look at today’s society reveals that more often than not these “new norms” are not good—they’re not in accord with God’s Word. These new norms creep into our lives incrementally as society denigrates. Dictionaries define “norm” as a model or standard usually derived from what is average or typical of a large group. Romans 12:2 teaches us not to be conformed to the world (i.e. its norms) but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Consider some examples that have become norms: man-made global climate change and the green movement, the cohabitation of couples before marriage, abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, single parent homes, widespread divorce, redistribution of wealth, entitlements, deficit spending, the church as a social and entertainment venue, the lowering of expectations in education, and the list goes on and on. I recently read that half of the babies born to women under thirty years of age are born into single parent homes. Nearly half of the population of our country is on some sort of government assistance. Nearly half of our population pay no income taxes at all. 60 percent of couples now live together before getting married. These are some of the new norms. What was scandalous or embarrassing in the past, is now considered to be the norm. As long as things are within the norms, we don’t become too agitated. Beware, however, the norms are on a slippery slope—usually for the worse.
We may shake our heads and wonder how we got where we are. We can cite the lack of a comprehensive education, the breakdown of the family structure, or the failure of our leaders. We might debate whether these are causes or results. We can see a parallel between the breakdown of the church and the breakdown of family and society.
The real question now is how do we guide Christians to establish biblical norms? The church plays a fundamental role in this. If the Bible is not faithfully read in homes and taught in churches, who will know what is normal or desirable in God’s eyes? Without a real “Reformation mentality,” the future looks grim. We could hunker down and become the silent minority, or we could shout the Gospel from the housetops. I’m convinced the latter is the answer.
Where do we begin? What is normal? What standard do we live by in a world of “new norms”?
Christians must look beyond the norms that are set by the world. Human autonomy (where man is a law unto himself) is at the heart of the problem. Totally depraved man determines what is allowable by the “normals” that he feels are good. “Sin” has been replaced with “unacceptable behavior” (i.e., it is outside of society’s norms). Man has no standard other than the whims of his depraved mind.
The law of God is not a fluctuating norm—it is God’s standard of behavior. What is normal is man’s inability and unwillingness to obey the law and his accursedness under the justice of God. Normal is a heart of stone. Grace gives a heart of flesh. Natural or normal is condemnation. Supernatural is believing in Christ who was sent to bear the curse for all who believe in Him. The Christian’s norm is still to fall short of obedience to the law, but at the same time to be forgiven of sin and declared righteous for Jesus’ sake. Living by grace through faith in Christ is our life’s goal.
The church however, is not immune to the danger of setting its own norms. When we hear, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” or “That’s what most of the people want”—just remember that these are not biblical norms. What is right or wrong is determined by God and revealed in His Word. The Bible is an absolute standard for truth not because lots of people think so, but because God Himself says so. Shifting societal and ecclesiastical norms exist where absolutes are despised.
What we are to believe and how we are to live is set forth in the Bible—“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (Jn. 3:36). And again, “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Hebrews 12 tells us to “lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith….” Romans 8:29 defines our goal: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.….” Looking to Jesus and being conformed to His image is not a normal thing for man today, but comes about by the grace and power of God.
Being normal, as the world defines it, allows for acceptance by the world, but not by God. “The world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn. 2:17). We don’t need an ever-changing “new normal” as defined by today’s world. We need the never-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.