“Pig Pen Christians” by Hubert P. Harriman and Barry L. Callen

This article is a shortened portion of the final chapter of a book written by Hubert P. Harriman and Barry L. Callen entitled Color Me Holy (Glendora, CA: Aldersgate Press, 2013. pp. 119–137). It is available also as a tract from The Francis Asbury Society.

It is alarming to realize how friendly Christians have gotten with sin. Until there is a deep repugnancy and revolt against its presence in our lives, we will continue to live on a lower plain. It is disheartening to listen to theologians and want-to-be theologians decry bad living, even making a case for the need for holy living, and in the same breath speak of “sinning saints” as something inevitable and thus acceptable. We have convinced ourselves of our inability, even with God’s assisting grace, to give God total control of all aspects of our lives. Our default position is that continuing sin is a natural and common failing, an unchangeable result of the fall of Adam and Eve, a weakness that is both predictable and expected even among the most sincere Christian believers. The truth of the matter is that when we accept victory as impossible, failure is inevitable—and what is inevitable is predictable. And so, “we sin in word, thought and deed every day.”

Dallas Willard writes, “Should we not at least consider the possibility that this poor result is not in spite of what we teach and how we teach, but precisely because of it?… The current gospel becomes a ‘gospel of sin management’ (forgiveness is all that matters). Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message” (The Divine Conspiracy. New York: HarperCollins, 1998. pp. 39, 38).

Is this acceptable? Is this all there is? We need holiness to shine again!

Charles Shultz, in one of his famous Peanuts cartoons, shows Pig Pen and Schroeder playing together in the dirt with their toy trucks. Pig Pen says, “I think it’s time to go home and take a shower.” Schroeder responds with interest, saying, “Going to get all cleaned up, eh, Pig Pen?” “Well,” says Pig Pen, “I’ve learned never to expect too much from a shower. I have to be satisfied if it just settles the dust.”

Must we be Pig Pen Christians with our sins forgiven while more sin always collects for the next shower time? Or are we like the little fellow who was being scrubbed by a mother who insisted on getting him clean? He cried, “Mommy, that hurts!” “I’ve got to get you clean,” she explained. To which he replied, “Couldn’t you just dust me?” So many of us think that God will be satisfied with—maybe is only capable of—a temporary dusting of our sinful lives.

One of the great tragedies of our day is that we have made sin bigger than God in our thinking. We have made it both omnipotent and omnipresent, thinking that it is inevitable in our lives. Sadly, many Christians have accepted this kind of reductionist thinking. They are like the fish that was the subject of a scientific experiment.

A fish was placed in a sizable fish tank with full access to the food-rich tank. After a time, the researchers removed all food and put a glass wall down the middle of the tank. Letting the fish get very hungry, they then placed food on the opposite side of the glass from where the fish was. The fish naturally went after the food, but was immediately brought to a sudden halt when slamming against the invisible glass. The fish tried again and again, only to be rebuffed every time by the glass. Finally, it went back to a corner of the tank and just floated there. Then came the point of the experiment. The researchers removed the dividing glass and put in more food, but the fish just stayed in the corner. The food was moved closer to the fish, but the fish just stayed in its corner, convinced that food was still impossible to reach. Death became inevitable.

Is this the sad scene in today’s church? Christ has come. The dividing wall between sinful humans and God has been removed. The riches of God’s redeeming and transforming grace have been poured out and are within reach. And yet people just have quit trying to eat and mature spiritually because they have become convinced that they cannot have that for which their hearts hunger. To such deprived believers we say this: Don’t quit reaching! Don’t quit hoping! Satan wants us to believe that the glass wall is still there as the great impossible in your life. Make another turn. Try one more time. God has removed the partition!

Barack Obama entered into his first term of office as president of the United States on the theme “Yes, we can!” We contend that, when it comes to the sin problem, we need to alter that phrase by changing one word, and then placing God back into the highest of all offices on the theme, “Yes, God can!”

The Apostle Paul raises this possibility to a new level, saying, “We have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin…. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:4–6, 11 NASB). The shift from death to life is the path to Christian holiness. We are to be more than forgiven of past sin. We are to be made new creatures in Christ, the forgiven who are actively walking on the road of holiness, now alive to God in Christ Jesus.

This incredible new life provided by God’s grace had to be what John the Baptist was feeling when he saw Jesus coming to him that dramatic day by the Jordan River. Seeing Jesus, John exclaimed what ought to be our Christian mantra message: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). YES, GOD CAN!

God wants to reverse the “great impossible” that has dominated our vision and determined our theology for too long. God wants us to know and pursue holiness as a doctrine to be believed, an experience to be received, a message to be declared, and a way of life to be demonstrated before a hungry world.

This holiness is not something out of this world. It is holiness in this world. We are not talking about strange saintly figures lost in unreality with halos over their heads, but normal human beings dealing with all the nitty-gritty issues of life. Sin is not “normal” in God’s world. The grace-full colors of God are ready and able to redesign discolored lives in real time and in real circumstances—making human beings more fully human as God made us originally, “crowned with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5). Holiness does not result in artificial super Christians, but in humble believers who have taken hold of God’s promise. What promise? That God will keep his children each moment of every day, showering them with divine holiness and making them witnesses to God’s transforming power.

Will you join us in this prayer for the church as a whole? Will you personalize it and make it yours? God is wanting to answer your prayer.

Abba, Father, please cleanse the canvas of our hearts, removing the dark colors of sin and self that cloud our lives, and sanctify us with the brightness of your pure colors so that our lives might glow with a testimony of your presence and beauty, that all who come in contact with us might taste and see that it is good and give you glory for lives lived in your holiness and with your righteousness. Amen!