Have you ever had to stand by helplessly and watch as a friend – or maybe even your child – headed down the wrong path, seemingly oblivious to the right path that’s just inches away? You stand behind him, cheering him on, hoping and praying he’ll go the right direction, only to watch him make wrong turn after wrong turn.
That’s what it’s like being a biblical Christian watching CBS’s new sitcom, Living Biblically, currently airing Monday nights at 8:30 Central time.
Meet my new friend, Chip, the main character of the show. His best friend has recently died, and as a result, Chip becomes somewhat out of control – depressed, drinking, and not working. In the midst of this crisis, Chip’s wife Leslie arrives home one day, announces that she’s pregnant, and that Chip needs to snap out of it and get his life back on track. Chip decides that the way to become a good father is to start living “100% by the Bible”, carrying out every single command and obeying every law. He’s a lapsed Catholic, so he goes to a priest and asks for help walking through this gargantuan task. Father Gene laughs at him. Preposterous! Nobody can possibly live in 100% compliance with the Bible! But in spite of his doubts, Father Gene and his rabbi friend team up to serve as Chip’s “God Squad”- his spiritual advisors on this journey of living completely by the Bible.
Oh, Chip. Chip, Chip, Chip… I’m rooting for you, my friend, but you’re going the wrong direction.
I had high hopes for Living Biblically. Well, “high hopes” kind of like the hopes I have of winning the Publishers’ Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. It’s never happened before, but somebody’s gotta win. Maybe this time it’ll be me.
I want Chip to win. I want the viewers of Living Biblically to win. But, as of the first four episodes I’ve watched, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
Because Chip isn’t living biblically. In fact, he’s living most unbiblically.
The structure of the show is to take a different biblical command or two each week and have Chip attempt to walk it out in his life. Some of the commands addressed so far have been: love thy neighbor, thou shalt not worship false idols, don’t use foul language, and thou shalt not steal. Worthy and good commands, all. So what’s the problem?
Going against the grain
Being a moral person is good for society. It can even be beneficial to the person who is acting morally and to those closest to him. But the title of this show is not Living Morally, it’s Living Biblically. And therein lies the rub. It is impossible to live biblically by simply extracting external behavioral commands from the Bible and attempting to implement them in your life completely divorced from the main theme of Scripture. And what is that main theme of Scripture?
You can’t live biblically. That’s why you need a Savior.
The Old Testament is a case study of an entire nation who – even though they were chosen by God, even though they saw Him perform mighty miracles, even though He promised prosperity for obedience and calamity for disobedience – could not manage to consistently live by the commands He gave them. God graciously shows us through Israel’s example just how wretched and depraved we really are. We cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps of good behavior. The Bible tells us…
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God…For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Over and over again, this is the message of the Bible: You need to be in right standing with God. It’s impossible to achieve that by your own law keeping and good behavior because attempting to keep the law and behave well in order to garner favor with God is sin in and of itself. Why? Because you’re attempting to circumvent God’s way of making you righteous – repentance of sin and faith in Christ’s substitutionary atoning sacrifice on the cross – and instead demand that He accept your way of making yourself righteous – law keeping and good behavior.
I’m sorry, Chip, but you just can’t be living biblically if you’re living completely against the grain of Scripture.
For all the wrong reasons
Why does Chip want to live biblically? Because he wants to become a good father to his child. I’d like to pause a moment and commend the creator of Living Biblically for making being a good dad one of the centerpieces of this show. In a day where television often portrays fathers as dispensable or bumbling fools, and in a real world in which fathers are far too often absent or failing, this is a much-needed, courageous, and admirable message to send. I applaud Living Biblically for boldly stating that fathers are both good and necessary, and that men need to strive to be stellar fathers and set a moral example for their children.
That being said, obeying God’s commands in order to become a good father, is, once again, not living biblically.
When I was in college, my degree program required a course in experimental psychology. If you’re not familiar with experimental psychology, it involves rats. Lots of rats. Rats running mazes. Rats pushing levers. Rats learning to modify their behavior in any way that will earn them a pellet of food.
Sadly, this is the rat race Chip, and so many Christians who go to “churches” that only preach self-help sermons full of life tips, are running. “Just modify your behavior to X and you’ll get Y.” In Chip’s case, X equals obeying biblical commands, and Y equals his desired goal of being a good father. But that’s not what the Bible tells us to do, nor how the Bible characterizes obedience. The Bible says:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17
…we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:16b
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Obedience to God is not a quid pro quo in which your motivation for obeying is to get your own desired outcome. That’s what the Prosperity Gospel teaches, and God does not consider that obedience to His commands. Only Christians can truly obey God’s commands, because only Christians have been transformed by God into new creatures with the same mindset as Christ: to obey God simply out of love for Him and gratitude for all He has done for us. Those are the only circumstances under which striving to obey God’s commands is living biblically.
The heart of the matter
“Just go to church and be good. That’s enough,” Father Gene counsels Chip early on. Later, when discussing substituting what I’d call “Christian cuss words” for the real thing, Chip says, “It sounds unsatisfying.” Father Gene advises him, “It’s incredibly unsatisfying, but you’ll be doing the right thing.” Very bad advice, I might add, from someone who – claiming to shepherd the flock of God – should know better. It’s not “good enough” or “the right thing”, because, without Christ, Chip can’t be good and can’t do the right thing.
Chip, God can see right past your attempts at “being good” and zeroes in on your heart. He knows your thoughts: your lusts, your hate, your selfishness, your greed, your pride, and every other evil, sinful intent that crosses your mind. You might fool people with your external conformity to Scripture. You might even fool yourself. But you’ll never fool God. Your outward behavior isn’t enough for Him. He wants your heart.
For the Lord sees not as man sees:
man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
1 Samuel 16:7b
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
If you want to live biblically, Christ has to clean the inside of your cup first by giving you the gift of repentance and faith in Him.
The Bible says:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,
a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of Truth.
2 Timothy 2:15
Living Biblically’s “workers” (i.e. writers and script consultants) who are handling the Word of Truth for this show have every reason to be ashamed, because mishandled and misappropriated Scripture abounds at every turn.
In episode 2, False Idols (hint to the writers- there’s no such thing as a “true idol”, so you can just call it an “idol” rather than a “false idol”), Chip comes to the conclusion that his phone is an idol, so he smashes it and lives life phoneless (at least for that episode). Why does Chip think his phone is an idol? Because it’s taking up too much of his time and attention. That’s not the biblical definition of idolatry. An idol is something that you lavish love and devotion on in the place of God. The command in Exodus 20:3 is “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Chip didn’t smash his phone because he’s grieved that he has sinned against a holy God by loving his phone more than he loves Christ (because he doesn’t know Christ). He smashed it in order to fulfill a biblical law so that he’ll become a better father.
In episode 4, Thou Shalt Not Steal, Chip realizes he has, on several occasions in the past, brought office supplies home from work for personal use, and that this violates the eighth Commandment. (I’d like to commend the makers of Living Biblically here for demonstrating that “Thou shalt not steal” isn’t just about armed bank robbery, as some seem to think; it’s about pens and paper clips, too.) Father Gene comes to the rescue once again with…out of context Scripture.
“Ezekiel 33:15,” Chip quotes (actually, it’s Ezekiel 33:15a and 16a, but OK) “…if a wicked man restores a pledge and pays back what he has taken by robbery…none of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him.” (Another round of kudos to the writers here: Chip seems to be quoting from a decent modern translation – not The Message or some other adulteration of Scripture, not the KJV, as though no reliable modern English translations exist. As nearly as I can tell, he’s using the NASB, though there might be another translation with identical wording.)
“Bye bye sins!” Chip chortles as he begins bagging up reams of copy paper and other assorted office supplies to return to his workplace. As if glibly restoring the items to the supply closet will wipe out this offense against God. The problems here?
First of all, though there’s much to glean from the book of Ezekiel, Chip is reading somebody else’s mail. Ezekiel was written to Old Testament Israel, not as instructions for New Testament Christians (or lost people either, as Chip is). Zacchaeus would have been a much better role model for Chip in this particular instance. Next, Chip has ripped verses 15 and 16 out of their immediate context. Verse 15 starts in the middle of a sentence, for goodness sakes:
14 Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, 15 if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 16 None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live. Ezekiel 33: 14-16
This passage is not saying that simply returning stolen items will zero out your sin debt. Ezekiel 33 is a beautiful passage about true, from the heart, repentance that leads to walking through life in obedience to God. Indeed, the entire book of Ezekiel is God calling Israel to grieve and mourn over her sin (mainly of idolatry and forsaking the worship of God) and to return to Him. God isn’t calling Israel to rote obedience to random commands in order to actualize her own personal goals, but to the love and worship of God. If Chip truly wanted to live biblically, we would have seen him on his face in prayer, heartbroken over his sin, imploring God to forgive him.
There’s a lot that’s unbiblical about Living Biblically, but if you’re a Christian, I’d still recommend you consider watching it. As homework. Watch it as an apologetics and hermeneutics assignment. Get your Bible out. Which scenes and ideas match up with Scripture, and which don’t? Why or why not? Watch it to get a better grip on the world’s mindset about God, sin, and the Bible to help you in your approach to sharing the gospel. Maybe the show will even uncover some unbiblical ideas you’ve been holding on to.
In the final analysis, I applaud the creators and producers of Living Biblically for attempting something fresh and creative. It was a nice try, but Chip isn’t living biblically. To borrow from contemporary Christian phraseology, he’s living “moralistic therapeutic me-ism”.
Because unless you repent of your sin and throw yourself upon the mercy and grace of Christ to save you, you’ll never be living biblically.
Have you been watching Living Biblically?
Which scenes or ideas from the show have you found biblically problematic OR faithful to Scripture?