“Ramadan dodgers” are in today’s news. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar; on its 17th day, according to Muslim tradition, Muhammad received his first “revelation” from the angel Gabriel. Millions of faithful Muslims are observing the month by abstaining from food, drink and tobacco from sunup to sundown.
But not all can keep the fast. Some sneak sandwiches or cigarettes in their cars or behind closed doors. Others are openly defiant of the Ramadan regulations. In Malaysia they are fined; repeat offenders can get a year in prison. Saudi Arabia threatens to expel any expatriates who violate the fast, including non-Muslims. But such legalism doesn’t keep everyone in line.
Of course, Ramadan dodgers are not the only people whose actions contradict their religion. The most common criticism I hear against Christianity is that “the church is full of hypocrites.” Every time a well-known believer is caught in immorality, the complaints crescendo—and understandably so.
The bumper sticker is true: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” But it’s also true that our lives are the only Bibles most people will read. If we don’t do what we say, we lose the right to say what others should do. When you read just now about Muslims who violate Ramadan, were you more or less impressed with their religion as a result? That’s how the people we know feel about our faith when our lives contradict it.
Jesus was blunt: “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). His best friend reinforced the fact: “This is love for God: to obey his commands” (1 John 5:3). God measures success by obedience. So, how do we trade hypocrisy for holiness?
By grasping two facts: there is no sin you cannot commit, but there is also no sin that you must. The first fact humbles us: without God’s strength we are as prone to sin as anyone we know. When we admit this reality, the moment temptation strikes we will immediately ask the Holy Spirit for help.
The second fact encourages us: our Father enables us to defeat every test we give to him. His word is clear: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
To a skeptical, post-Christian culture, there is no more powerful witness than a holy life. So let’s make St. Augustine’s prayer ours today: “Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, that my work may be holy. Draw my heart, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me to defend all that is holy. Guard me, that I may always be holy.” Amen.