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?
The 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:
- 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?
- Is being a son or daughter of God conditional on being led by the Spirit and not living according to our sinful nature?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?