When Jesus brought salvation to the world through grace and fulfilled the Law, did He take away all expectations of how we are to live? Do we still have instructions for our lives? Christianity seems to take two extremes these days: legalism and unconditional acceptance. I realize I have been on this topic for the last few days, with the different conversations floating around in our culture at large and American Christianity, but today I have been meditating on this well balanced instruction from Paul:
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God,for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord. ‘BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
– Rom 12
What grabs my attention in this passage is the level of love to which we are called. We all can spout out the commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself”. But when was the last time that someone persecuted you and you blessed them? Someone cut you off in traffic and you said, “I hope you get wherever you are going safely”? Someone stole your wallet and you prayed for them that they would have food to eat that night? And to be the person to suffer the offense for the sake of peace? We all know the fairy tale ending of the suffering hero, the one who sacrifices himself for the princess or the kingdom, but is that how you live?
We are incapable of living that way, without the hope and humility exemplified in this passage. Until we realize our guilt before God and grasp the weight of our forgiveness, we are incapable of forgiving others. But the moment we realize what we deserve and embrace the grace of God that leads us to salvation, we are no longer capable of expecting anything from others. He who has been forgiven much loves much. Having been forgiven much makes us humble and thankful, and that is why Paul tells us to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought.
But knowing that we have been forgiven does not always appease our desire for justice when we have been sinned against. We can be humble, but still get angry over injustice. And in this we trust the promise of God that He is going to handle that sin. All sin will be punished. God is not mocked, and He does not excuse any sin. Either Jesus paid for it on the cross, or the offender will pay for it in eternity in Hell. Would you take away from the crucifixion? Or are you capable of adding to eternal damnation? God knows His perfect plan and will handle each sin appropriately. It is not for us to interfere!
If you trust God to handle your sin, why not trust Him to handle someone else’s?
Yes, we have commandments. Live peaceably with everyone – so much as it depends on you. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good. Don’t be a hypocrite. Be transformed by renewing your mind (learn the Scripture, cling to the promises, remember your sin and your own forgiveness and be humble, fight your sin). Pray. Rejoice in tribulation. Bless those who persecute you. Return good for evil.
This commandment is infinitely more difficult than the Old Testament Law, which required an eye for an eye! But God provides the strength, the desire and the ability. Cling to Him. Trust Him. And make every effort to obey Him.