Something significant has been brewing inside of me as I observe various situations in our world.  Some are very public and some quite private.  They seem to boil down to one common question for me as a Jesus follower or more commonly know as a Christian:

Does how we live matter?

Choice questionThe last decade has seen a dramatic rise on the emphasis of the grace of God.  How our Father in heaven is a loving, good God who is so not willing that anyone should perish that he really doesn’t care how we behave.  Isn’t it interesting that as we live in a society full of people who continue to accelerate in their pursuit of the latest technological device, fashion, entertainment, sexual experience or other prized obsession that this emphasis of one attribute of God would also increase?  After all, He doesn’t care if I obsess on having “X” (fill in the blank) since he is such a loving Papa who knows my needs and wants a relationship with me so bad that he will tolerate anything.  Do our choices matter?

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably heard the following many times and may even be regularly dining on teaching similar to:

  • Jesus’ finished work on the cross forever put sin to death, therefore as his follower I cannot sin.  One well-known teacher of this doctrine has actually stated that he can’t remember the last time he sinned.
  • Father, Papa, Daddy, Abba (pick your favourite) is so loving and good that there is nothing I can do to get away from His love for me.  He accepts me just the way I am and doing “X” cannot change that.  This is the favourite of those involved in immoral behaviour.
  • This scripture (pick a contentious one) cannot possibly mean that because it conflicts with my understanding of the character of God as demonstrated in the life and teachings of Jesus.  This stance taken to the extreme has the effect of creating God in our own image since everything must bow to our understanding of Him.

There are many variations and offshoots of these themes but in general they appear to be running rampant throughout the body of Christ worldwide.  What is especially challenging is that as stand alone statements they all contain a measure of truth.  However, what is missing is the other dimensions of God that counterbalance these to create a more complete picture of the being who is infinitely more complex than humans can ever imagine.  Taken on their own without this counterbalance, it is not surprising that we are left asking “Does how we live matter?”

Thankfully this was a hot topic during the earliest days of the rapidly growing community of Jesus followers in the first century.  The message of grace and salvation by faith alone preached by the apostle Paul and others was like an earthquake set in the midst of a Roman Empire full of every kind of immorality and wickedness against the backdrop of the strict moral law of Judaism.  This divine tension brought this issue to the surface and was written about extensively by Paul.

This blog does not allow a full treatment of this topic since the intent here is to provoke and stimulate rather than provide all of the answers or an in-depth analysis.  However, a great place to start is Paul’s letter to the Romans.  While the entire book is helpful, the part most relevant to this issue is found in chapters 5 through 9.  Spend some time there and digest what is being said.  To whet your appetite, here are some selected references that should provide some counterbalance to the statements made previously:

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase? By no means!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” Rom 6:1-2

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.  For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” Rom 6:12-14

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” Rom 6:15

“For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.  But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Rom 7:5-6

“Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation-but not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.  For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those what are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Rom 8:12-15

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Rom 12:1-2

One of the most helpful things I was taught many years ago was whenever you see the word “therefore” in a passage of scripture, ask what it is there for?  The many “therefore’s” in the above mentioned passages will hopefully encourage you to spend some time in the book of Romans to dig a little deeper.  For now, here are some pertinent questions to ponder:

  1. If the recipients of this letter were believers (or Jesus followers) who were living under the grace of a good God, why the consistent exhortation to live a certain way?
  2. Is being a son or daughter of God conditional on being led by the Spirit and not living according to our sinful nature?
  3. If the death and resurrection of Jesus forever put sin to death, why the repetitive reminder for us to do likewise?  Is it possible we have to walk this out ourselves?
  4. There seems to be some behaviours we can participate in that are considered sin and lead to death.  Post cross.  As believers.  What might those be?
  5. As a believer, is it still possible for sin to be our master? or to live according to our sinful nature?

Regardless of how you define sin, there is no doubt that there are some behaviours that believers should avoid.  The emphasis and strength of Paul’s words is clear.

In closing, and in anticipation of readers now forming their rebuttals that this is Paul speaking and not Jesus (a regular defence of some), I offer the following parable from Jesus to further provoke you:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'” – Luke 16:19-26

In light of the rich man in this parable,

Does how we live matter?

John Matthews

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Showing 6 comments
  • James Thomas Canali
    Reply

    Pivotal words for our time. It’s amazing how Jesus constantly spoke of personal responsibility and the biggest thing the charismatic/evangelical “grace” teaching passively empowers is to put all the power in what Jesus did, taking a truth and enabling a individual and community dysfunction, in that they don’t need to have responsibility to manage their lives. I know, I was one of them. The body of Christ has some solid teaching on the true cost of grace from Bonhoeffer who says grace costs us everything, that it is an wonderful thing and it isn’t cheap.

    • B2E Group
      Reply

      Cool insight into the contrast between personal responsibility and putting all of it on Jesus and taking none ourselves. You are right that it produces a dysfunctional community of people who are accountable and responsible for nothing.

  • Mike C. Kesler
    Reply

    John – you are extremely gracious, and understanding of modern day thinking. Below is my first attempt at a blog here, I had to comment, here goes; Romans is arguably the backbone of all New Testament scripture, Romans 6 is key – the first opportunity I get to get free of my sins, I take it then I give sin up – which ultimately causes us to pour scorn on sin. So that we, once having been set free we set our selves never to be seduced again.

    It is of the greatest importance that all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ should take up the truth of this chapter, not merely as a matter of doctrine, but as the taught of God – to know it in moral reality. Nothing could be more serious or practical than raising the question with ourselves “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?” Paul had been speaking of the over-abounding of grace where sin abounded, and that might suggest to a natural mind that if we continued in sin grace will go on abounding. But he meets this by stating specifically the way a believer stands in relation to sin; we have died to sin, how shall we still live in it? He doesn’t pause to explain how it came about, but he assumes as an undeniable fact that we – believers (Jesus followers) – have died to sin. This is, indeed, the only relation to sin which can be contemplated for God’s called ones who live in relation to Him as justified, and who, as having received the abundance of grace, and of the free gift of righteousness, live by the One Jesus Christ. Such persons have died to sin – This is not reached on the line of demand, I don’t think you will find that is ever imposed upon us that we ought to die to sin. It is grace that brings us to it under the influence of Christ.
    In Christ we have learned One infinitely greater than Adam, and the principles of obedience and righteousness which He has brought in are greater than the principles of lawlessness which were shown in Adam. The principles of obedience and righteousness have been introduced (as seen in Romans 5, in pure divine grace) so that having the faith of Jesus Christ we might live before God as justified persons – by Him. The principle that came in through Adam vs. the principle that has come in by God’s One Man; to ‘live’ by one principle means death to the other. A man cannot be a loyal subject and a rebel at the same time. The ‘obedience of the faith’ is required (see Romans 1 & 16). This means complete severance from the principle of lawlessness which came in by Adam. I can have no blessing or life in relation to God except by the principle of obedience, which involves death to sin.
    If my knowledge of God in grace, and all the blessings of the glad tidings are shown, how infinitely attractive does Christ become to my heart? The first move to take is self-judgment – which is brought about by the light of grace. I find out that my own will has been carrying me on the road to destruction, condemnation even. However, I find that the will of God contains nothing but blessing for me, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. That turns me to God in repentance. Then I find that He blesses me through the Lord Jesus Christ – in the way we read about in Romans 5 – the One I have sinned against, who is shining upon me in supreme grace. Upon realization of this, I am thankful to come to the ‘obedience of faith’ where the Lord Jesus Christ is magnified in my heart. Furthermore, I am separated in my affections from the principle of my native, insubject will (which fills the world, gives character to its politics, pleasures, religion etc…)
    Finally, as to the practice of sin – the wages of death will be earned; but of the practice of obedience there will be righteousness, and fruit unto holiness, and we will all move in the direction of eternal life. God’s great act of favor to men is to bring in eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. The apostle Paul presents this great act of favor as an end reached by pursuing the moral course indicated in chapter 6 of Romans.

    Mike

  • B2E Group
    Reply

    Thanks for the thoughtful contribution Mike and welcome to Back to Eden Group! We look forward to your future comments and stimulation of others who frequent this site.

  • Estee Atkinson
    Reply

    Awe!!! Such a breath of fresh air. Thank you for writing this. I agree, I love the point that Jimmy made about our responsibility as Christians. The first thing that came to my mind reading this blog was the fact that we are in relationship with Christ, though present in the Old Covenant but hidden; is now fully revealed and emphasized in the New Covenant. A relationship is always made up of 2 people who have equal work and effort toward one another. And what a sad, lonely, and support-less relationship where only one person carries their weight. Jesus was always interested in having a forever long partner who would choose Him back through thick and thin, just like we do in an earthly marriage.

    There is intense fire we have to walk through on this side of the covenant in order to grow in our Spiritual being. Jesus says to “take up our crosses” and Paul says to “die daily”. Now that we have the Law written on our hearts, we are fully responsible to allow it to play out in our very being, while the Lord does the work within us. It is the blood of Jesus and God’s power, grace and love through the Spirit that frees us, but it is our responsibility to allow the Spirit to reign in our body and put our flesh to death. And the only way to do that is to walk through the fire that God brings to every one of His beloved children. The testing of a true Bride, a true partner. We must embrace it. Jesus finished His work on the cross, but at the moment of our salvation, our work as Jesus’ forever long partner begins in allowing His work to transform us. Jesus is waiting for us to be equally yoked with Him. When I just sit and wrap my brain around this, I realize I am going to marry a Spiritual being for the rest of eternity, I therefore must allow Jesus to transform me into a Spiritual being. And it takes work to submit to that new man He put inside of me. It is a true test of obedience. A relationship with Jesus is the hardest thing anyone will ever commit to, but it is also the surest thing anyone will ever commit to and the most fulfilling relationship of all time!

    If this seems like striving, be encouraged because that’s not what I mean. From the wisdom of one of my dear friends here in Boulder named Van; He calls it “effort” versus “striving.” Effort is something we put forth in faith assured that there will be great return. Striving is batting at the air aimlessly assured that there will be nothing in return. For what we could not do, Jesus did for us making us clean from sin forever, which He did in faith knowing He would gain us as the prize. Now that He took care of the impossible He opened the way for us to operate in effort with the same assurance knowing that we gain Christ. And true effort is empowered by love. The place we start in becoming new Spiritual beings is allowing Christ to love us. The love of God empowers and ignites us. The only way one can withstand fire is to know they are loved. And then through that fire mature love will develop in return for their lover. It proves true that we do love God because He first loved us. God’s love truly is the most powerful force of all time and eternity past, present and future. God’s love is what empowers us to put our flesh to death.

    Blessings dear Matthews!!! I hope you are all doing awesome 🙂 Let me know your thoughts!

    • B2E Group
      Reply

      So nice to hear from you Estee! You have clearly thought, meditated and reflected on this subject. It comes through in your writing.

      Like your portrayal of our relationship with Jesus as a 2 way relationship with each party putting in effort to make it work. As we know from our earthly experience, if only one party is investing in a relationship that is dysfunctional and unhealthy. To continue the example, it is very much like a parent of a young infant. At that stage the parent is putting in all of the effort, trusting the infant will eventually grow up and put in their own effort. Interesting that Jesus is not our parent but our brother and friend. Ruling and reigning with Him will require effort by both parties.

      Thank you for the blessing. We are doing well.

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