If you’re a believer, as I am, then we are together in Christ. His death has paid the price for our sin, and his righteous life has been credited to us. We stand before a smiling God, who is well pleased in us, as he is well pleased in his Son.
So we’re free.
Free from the stain and penalty of sin, free from its power to compel us to evil, free from the need to try to win God’s favor by being good enough, free from any sense of impending doom.
Life in Christ is very, very good. It’s joyous. We, of all people, should be dancing like no one is watching (2Sam 6.12-21).
And this life in Christ includes even more. It’s a long process of God’s working in us to conform us ever more closely to the image of his Son (Rom 8.29; 2Co 3.18). Through his empowerment, we take off the old way of life like a dirty suit, and we put on a new lifestyle of sparkling, beautiful righteous behavior (Eph 4.17-32).
And that’s where it starts to get tricky.
The Bible speaks of this process, called sanctification, as being a cooperative work between God and man. God directs and empowers it, but we’re not just lying on the couch waiting for it to happen. The New Testament is filled with imperatives—commands—for God’s people. Hundreds of them. We should roll up our sleeves and get to work at this business of good works—not because they’ll save us (Titus 3.5), but because that’s what God’s people “naturally” do, by his grace. Faith without works is dead (Jam 2.20).
How does that look in action? The devil, as they say, is in the details. What actions of the old lifestyle do we stop doing? If we’re not bound to keep the Old Testament Law, how do we exercise that freedom? How do we prevent being entangled again in the yoke of bondage (Gal 5.1)? And what do we do when we disagree?
This is a really big topic, and there have been whole books written on it; I’ll be pointing some of those out along the way. But there is a section of Scripture specifically devoted to the question, and I’d like to spend a few posts sharing some thoughts about that section that I don’t see being emphasized in many of those books.
We’ll get to the biblical section in the next post, but to start with I’d like to lay down some principles we all ought to agree on:
- God’s people are given the Holy Spirit to illuminate their thinking on what the Scripture says (1Co 2.9-16).
- But God’s people still have broken thinkers, limited by the damaging effects of sin. We’re not glorified yet. So God’s people will disagree with one another about specific ways to apply the Scripture’s teaching.
- Every believer is of infinite worth.
- The unity of believers is one way God shows the world, seen and unseen, that he is capable of bringing together people who should be fervent enemies (Eph 3.1-12).
- The spiritual health of our fellow believers is partially our responsibility. We’re a body, and God calls us to take care of one another (Eph 4.11-16).
These ideas should drive our thinking when we find ourselves in disagreement with other professing believers. We should seek to reach agreement in our understanding of Scripture, but we should expect a certain degree of disagreement, and we should care for one another in times of disagreement as certainly as in times of agreement.
Next time, we’ll start into the particulars—the details. You know, where the devil is.