Forcing to Fit the Part

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”).

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Make it Reign!!!

Has someone ever invited you to go out to dinner with them? I don’t mean on a date. I mean that someone asks to take you out as an act of kindness, offering you community and potentially a free meal. Now, wouldn’t it be pretty shocking of them if the waiter asked if your meal is all on one check, and they turn around and said that you are paying for your own meal? Didn’t their inclusive invitation also include the meal?

Getting asked to go to lunch after church is like the only positive side of being a poor college kid. I think people can see a college kid’s skin become jaundice from the malnutrition brought by cafeteria food and ramen noodles. It would be a travesty if these people took advantage of the power that they knew they possessed. A college kid knows they don’t deserve a free meal, but it would be a let down and a tease to take them out with the expectation that their meal would be paid for and to not pay for it.

In the second half of the fifth chapter of Romans, Paul starts talking about Adam and the Fall. Many people like to think that Paul’s main focus here is on original sin, but really he is talking more of the result of Adam’s sin – death (Romans 5:12-21). Death is something that all people face. Blue Oyster Cult was right that we shouldn’t fear the Reaper – Death will come for us one way or another. And we just thought that they gave us the yearning for “more cowbell.”

I think a problem many people have is that they are afraid of death. That is pretty rational. But I think that the problem is even more escalated in the American Christian community. We want to escape death. The problem with this is that death can’t be escaped. Even before God gave Moses the Law, people felt the affect of Adam’s sin (Rom 5:14). And Death has been personified here as real as the Grim Reaper has in our culture. It is reigning as though it is king (Rom 5:14). And all people must serve him.

At the first part of Romans, Paul also explains this problem with mankind. There has been a deviation since creation (1:18-32). And from 1:18-3:20 Paul only makes one mention of Jesus Christ (2:16 in passing). Paul has been presenting the dark backdrop of the predicament that humanity is in. In Romans 5:12-21, Paul is now driving home the solution to the problem of what was first addressed in Romans 1:18-32. God has offered us the gift of grace through a faithful, righteous, and obedient act – Jesus’ death on the cross (Rom 3:22, 5:19, 21).

These are the high notes that illuminate this dark backdrop of death. It’s as though Paul is painting a masterpiece of cosmic proportions! Death is the dark backdrop of the past, and grace is the light in the foreground! We have a free gift offered to us that is way better in every way than the consequence of Adam’s sin (5:15). One person’s actions brought about death for all people. But everyone’s actions of sin caused God to do an action that would allow them forgiveness and reconciliation (5:15-17)!

We have the opportunity to be put in a right relationship (3:22) – in reconciliation with the Creator, with whom we have numerously offended (5:11). This logic makes no sense! Why would someone offer people who continually wrong Him forgiveness? One man sinned and brought death to many, but, even though many sinned, one man died so that they all could be seen as “innocent” in the eternal court of law!

So, in the end, Death is the kind of friend that invites you out to lunch and does not pay for your meal. Grace is the kind of friend that will go out of their way to bring the meal to you.

Where Death reigns as a king, demanding everything from those all around him, Grace, through Christ, reigns in a way that leads to life. This isn’t a spiritual life. This is the defeat of Death! This is the resurrection of the dead that happens at the end times (1Cor 15). Christ not only died an obedient death that he didn’t deserve, but he defeated death by rising from the dead! This is why death has no sting!

Do you want justification or condemnation? Do you want to live with grace or in sin? Do you choose to be with Christ or with Adam? What do you choose – life or death?

[References: World Biblical Commentary (Dunn), Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Witherington), Paul for Everyone (Wright)]