The statistics on the way Christians live compared to that of the world is startling. “For example, among those who believe they are Christians, just one-fifth say they live in a way that makes them completely dependent on God. A similar proportion of Christians claim that the single most important decision they have ever made was to invite Jesus Christ to forgive them and become their savior. And just one-sixth of Christians say they are totally committed to engaging in personal spiritual development.” http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/547-top-trends-of-2011-maximizing-spiritual-change
In my last post, we talked about God’s amazing gift of positional righteousness that enables us to live without shame. The essence of the gospel reveals our need for a Savior to bridge the chasm between a perfectly righteous God and desperately sinful people like us. God has declared us righteous through the blood of His Son Jesus. We don’t have to “live right” to earn His love.
Does it matter how we live? Now we must ask the question, how does God want us to live practically today in light of His sacrificial gift? Does He care if we obey His Word in our daily choices and if so, why? I know it seems weird to put yourself in God’s shoes, but think for a minute: Why might God care about our daily obedience since Christ’s blood is going to cover it all on judgment day? As a mom, I can’t help but think about my relationship with my children. They don’t earn my love with their behavior. Nothing they could do will make me love them more or less, yet, I care deeply about their choices. Having lived a little longer than them on this planet, I know that obedience to God and His laws brings blessings, while disobedience can leave a person bitter and miserable. I certainly am not their creator, but I desperately long for them to make wise decisions to spare them the pain of natural consequences. When you think about the children in your life, (whether they are your own, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, children of friends, etc.) what kind of choices do you hope them make concerning debt, lying, stealing, promiscuity, drugs, etc. when they grow up and why? As the perfect parent, God knows our human tendency toward sin. He knew we could never achieve holiness apart from the blood of His Son. However, He longs for us to live a practical righteousness here on earth.
What is righteousness? The Greek word means “uprightness, right living, integrity in one’s lifestyle and character.” (The Invisible War by Chip Ingram 92) In my mind, I translate righteousness with two words – right living. God protects us with His righteousness (justification – just as if I’d never sinned), but many commentators see the word for the breastplate of righteousness to be more about our personal, daily right living in obedience to Christ. “This is really the practical application of truth to our lives. In other word, the righteousness referred to here is submitting to the lordship of Christ. Put simply, it’s putting into practice what you know is right.” (Ingram 92)
What does it mean to live right? After much reading, I believe practical righteousness flows out of the life that truly understands our positional righteousness. When we constantly remind ourselves what God did in sending His own Son to die for our sin, how could we want to live in disobedience to His Word, His plan, or His will? They cannot be separated. Theologians refer to the process of becoming more like Christ through spiritual growth as sanctification. Easton’s Bible Dictionary explains that sanctification “involves more than a mere moral reformation of character, brought about by the power of the truth: it is the work of the Holy Spirit bringing the whole nature more and more under the influences of the new gracious principles implanted in the soul in regeneration. In other words, sanctification is the carrying on to perfection the work begun in regeneration, and it extends to the whole man.”
What does God say about right living? “Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.” Now these verses can scare us because we all encounter daily battles with sin. Some of us struggle with the same sin patterns for years until we find freedom and healing in Christ. Today’s lesson about right living should not leave us attempting to live better and fight our personal demons in our own strength. It is only possible through yielding to God’s Spirit to become conformed to Christ’s image. Then our lives change.
How can we live right? We don’t try to live right to earn God’s favor. Out of the overflow of the Holy Spirit working in our lives when we realize Jesus died for us, we desire to live in obedience to His Lordship. We can’t miss this. The Pharisees did. The legalists all around us who feel self-righteous because of their strict adherence to rules do. Paul used to be one of those guys trying to earn God’s favor by doing everything right. When he understood the gospel though, he said “I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:8) So we begin with faith in Jesus to make us righteous through His blood. Only then can we live righteous lives though His Spirit working in our lives. Now the problem is that many of us are educated beyond our obedience. We know a lot about how God wants us to live. We have Bible studies, sermons, devotions, and small groups where we talk a lot about God’s Word and how He desires for us to live intimately with Him. However, when we have to make tough decisions about how to spend our time, money, and energy – does it line up with what God’s Word says is important?
What are the dangers of disobedience? The enemy wants us to stay unfamiliar with God’s directives for right living, but also disconnected from a close personal relationship with God that would lead to conviction and change when we find ourselves disobedient. Satan knows that living a life in direct opposition to how God says we should live, is like walking around on the battlefield with no protection for our chests. It’s like an open invitation to the enemy for a full frontal attack when we don’t put on the body armor of God’s righteousness. When we say we believe God’s Word, but live in direct defiance to what it says about how we should live, we position ourselves for pain – right to the heart. “The fruit we bite into against God’s instructions is sweet on the front end – there is an initial reward when someone clicks on that porn site, takes food he or she doesn’t need, or harbors resentment. But it is bitter fruit to swallow. It will destroy us. Not just hurt us; destroy us.” (The Invisible War by Chip Ingram 97)
How about you? What area of your life do you know the truth of God’s Word about how you are living and yet you are not putting into practice what you know is true? Five out of six people who call themselves Christians say they aren’t committed to right living. The duplicity of this not only hurts us personally, but hinders the watching world. The Bible is clear about tithing, sharing our faith, forgiving those who hurt us, caring for the poor, studying His Word, prayer, moral purity, being involved in a local church body, and many other things. God applies these principles differently in our lives, but they cannot be rationalized. Disobedience will open you up to the enemy, but putting on God’s body armor of right living will protect our hearts. I pray that God will show me through His Word and His Spirit how He wants me to live today. I know obedience won’t earn His love – I already have that. But right living today will protect my heart from the enemy and enable me to love the people God has placed in my life. As my Father, I know God wants me to make good choices because He made me and knows the heartache of wrong living. He loves me enough to show me how He designed me to live and then gives me His Spirit to enable me to do it in His strength. Hope you have a great day of “right living” today!