Recently I had the privilege of being taken out to a very nice restaurant. It was the kind of place that had a man in the bathroom who would hand you a towel after you washed your hands, and he offered you breath-mints or a spritz of cologne before you left. It was the kind of place where formality was expected, and there was an unspoken but understood rule of class and chivalry…
I was completely out of my element.
The whole time I had to look at the other people around me and the people at the tables next to me to figure out what I was supposed to do. This is the order the silverware goes in. This is where I put my napkin. This is where I put my silverware to let the waiter know I am finished with my meal. It was very exhausting! This is not like ordering “Mongolian Beef” from the Chinese place down the road… but yet I had to blend in – I felt like I had to fit the part – because every one around had slipped into it so easily.
Before one finds Christ as their Savior, they are unaware of the evil they are doing. As Paul says, “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” They are sinners, but since the law has not been given to them, they have not transgressed against God – they are disobedient but not rebellious (see Rom 5:12-21). Yet when the truth is made known to them, for them to continue the way they are is a willful disobedience – transgression. The same thing is true for those who sin who are in Christ. If you know you are sinning, that is willful disobedience, and is seen by God as more than just sin – transgression.
But once someone is saved, they now have to make an effort to put their sinful nature behind them (see Rom 6:1-14). It takes a conscious effort – trying to switch around the old way they once lived to the new way they are trying to live. It takes patience, and a lot of self-control. A person is not expected to be exactly like Jesus the instance after they give their life to him. Paul’s letters would not make sense if that were the case. But eventually one who is in Christ gets to the place where doing the right thing becomes natural. They might still slip up every now and then, but looking back they realize that the temptations that once grabbed them have disappeared. This is the process of sanctification, or holiness, and this willful change in character will truly be completed when Christ returns to earth (see Rom 6:15-7:6).
Sometimes Christians today forget that almost all of the New Testament was written to people who were already believers in the first century. These were people that had given their lives to God, but they were just working out the kinks in their lives. However, Christians seem to expect non-Christians to live the same way that they do and to understand the things they find important. This should not be the case! This would be like the people who took me to the restaurant not to have grace on me for clumsily fumbling my forks and knives in the right order. Grace is a two lane road and many in the church have forgotten that.
If you are in the church remember that you need to strip yourself of the sinful nature. Sin has the cost of an earthly and spiritual death, but God has offered a free gift of grace that is the defeat of death – eternal life with Christ (Rom 6:23)! Sin and death were defeated! But just because we are living this way, does not mean that we try to force others to live that way. We show them Jesus through our actions. We don’t tell them what to do. We have grace on them, let them know we disagree in a respectful way, and show them that Christ died and resurrected to set THIS earth to rights! Christ came to bring reconciliation to ALL THINGS in and through him (see Col 1:15-23). If we just tell people the rights and wrongs of our faith, we are not really sharing our faith. Christ is about reconciliation. He wants to reconcile the nations. He wants the earth to bear fruit. He wants us to live a life free from the bondage of sin, which is death, and He wants us to be at the forefront of bringing the world to rights!
Amen (literally: “Let it be so”).