There is a great deal of confusion today regarding the Christian life. Some say it is all about abstaining from sin. Don’t do this and don’t do that. Others say it is about advancing into righteousness. Do this and do that. To be sure, we are to be putting off the old and putting on the new. Scripture commands us “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).
However, even more than what we are to do and not do, the Christian life is rooted in the why behind the what. Gospel-rich reminders of why we are to abstain from sin and advance into holiness can be found throughout Scripture; they form a common theme of encouragement. Today we will plumb the depths of one of these messages from the pen of the Apostle Paul.
Having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25-32)
Paul begins his why by reminding us to turn away from falsehood and advance in speaking the truth because of our status as members one of another in the kingdom of God (v. 25). Next Paul instructs us to steer clear of man-centered, sinful anger, so as not to give the devil a foothold (vv. 26-27). Former thieves are reminded not to steal and instead advance into becoming faithful givers to those in need (v. 28). Next Paul reminds us that our words will give life to others when we remember we are sealed for the day of redemption (vv. 29-30). He closes out his Gospel-reminders by telling us to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Why? Because this is how God in Christ has treated . . . is treating . . . and will continue to treat us.
When we begin to be seized by the truth of the Gospel about the importance of the why behind what we do, we truly begin to sense the freedom and joy our union with Christ has given us. It is never enough to do what is right and refrain from doing what is wrong; the Pharisees were experts at that! We must understand the motivation behind our behavior. If what we do or don’t do is motivated by what we will receive (blessing) or avoid (cursing), then we are not living in the strength and liberty of the Gospel.
When our motivation for doing what we do flows from a heart that is overflowing with thanksgiving for what Christ has already done for us, then we are living the kind of Christian life that is pleasing to God and beneficial to others.
“For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). We have been set free to live a life of holiness—not because of what we will get by living it, but because of what we have already been given. In the words of John Owen, “Holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls.” The more we rest in the reality of our redemption and the finished work of Christ, the more we are transformed by the renewing power of the Gospel. At this level of living we both abstain and advance practically, simply because of our ever-increasing understanding of what we are positionally: a child of the Most High God.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!