Piety vs. Propriety

Piety and propriety hang about together so much that they’re often confused for one another – but they are not the same, and while piety can produce propriety, the reverse is rarely true.

The pious person, because of their relationship with the Holy Spirit, lives in such a state that none can put a law against them.

Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”  

As an example, society’s rules about modesty of dress change – but a modest person does not dress with the intent to attract notice, and thus is always modest.  The inside state reflects itself in the outer man.  Piety thus produces propriety.

But propriety, as much as we would like it to, does not produce piety.

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Propriety, serving only itself, turns quickly to hypocrisy.  For propriety is the *outward* manifestation of correct behavior.  And if only your outside is correct, you’ll soon find yourself indulging in what your heart desires, so long as no one can see.   The solution is to clean the inside of the cup, not the outside.  And only our Lord can do that – only our Lord can entirely change its contents.

Galatians 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.

Christians have oft been accused of hypocrisy – and especially now that social propriety has begun its divorce from piety.  The World is on the one hand waiting for us to get with the program and go along to get along, and on the other declares that we have no authority over them, that our piety is meaningless to them, and that our propriety does not come from the heart.  If only that was not true – but it is.  I’ve long wondered about the point of expecting someone whose heart doesn’t belong to Christ to act like a Christian.  We listen to sermon after sermon telling us that Christian conduct depends on the presence of Christ in our hearts, the strength of the Holy Spirit in our lives… why are we surprised that our Worldly friends are tired of being asked to live up to a standard that they didn’t agree to?

Certainly all of God’s laws are good.  And could we all live up to them – if we could only all live up to the 10 commandments – then we would have a substantially more peaceful and pleasant planet to live in.  Being human, we see this life… but I do not believe that our Lord bled and died so that people could live nice lives bereft of Him.  “Would that thou wert either cold or hot…”  We humans are tempted to believe that a lukewarm heart could be warmed… but our Lord *transforms* the heart, He doesn’t slowly warm it like a coddled egg.  And He leaves us in no uncertainty about how He feels about the tepid.

Revelation 3:15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,

Human as I am, I too mourn the black horror of what this world is, has always been, and what the Western world is rapidly becoming.  Propriety, divorced from piety, is a fragile shell without meaning.  But this gives us opportunity.  For it is in the darkest night that even a tiny candle can be seen.  And so – let us not mourn, but rejoice.  In all things, rejoice.

We are called to a life of piety.  And what He has asked us to do, He will make us able to perform.  May it be so.

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