Weekly Meditation - 2nd July 2017
God sets high standards, and his word tells us that we should not let sin rule us, nor should we 'obey its evil desires' (Romans 6:12). For ordinary humans that can sound impossible. We so often find ourselves giving in to the weaknesses of our fallen flesh – losing patience, taking pride in a sharp retort, feeling envy or resentment at another’s success ... the list is endless. Furthermore, we sometimes sin, not through simple weakness, but by deliberately following the promptings of our desires.
Some churches try to counteract this sinful tendency by making rules. It can look like a good idea. They tell people what sort of music they should listen to, which television programmes to shun, what sort of clothes to wear. They make rules about hair length or hem length, and set down rigid standards of behaviour. Surely then, they reason, everyone will look and act as Christians should, and bring credit on the church. History and experience show, however, that it doesn’t work like that. God does not want his people to operate by a system or rules, for we are 'not under law but under grace' (Roman 6:14) and relationships are not built by codes of behaviour. Remember the Pharisees; they lived under plenty of rules which they kept to perfection. But the result was that they became proud and condemnatory; there was no love in their hearts, and all those regulations became a burden that they laid on others. Jesus called them 'whitewashed graves' (see Matthew 23:27) because of their hypocrisy, and they were far from knowing God. Jesus could level the same accusation at modern-day legalistic churches or individuals who judge and condemn others by their own standards. They might look successful, but they are not leading the way to Christ.
In this passage from Romans, Paul is expanding on his message of 'righteousness by faith'. He is not saying that sin is of no consequence; in fact he is reminding us that before we received righteousness from God, our sins were leading us to death. However, the emphasis is on the gift of eternal life through the redeeming blood of Jesus – in other words, through grace.
This gift, for which we will never pay and which we could never earn (otherwise it would not be a gift) should make us long to overcome our weaknesses and sins. Think of the most precious relationship in your earthly life – perhaps with a husband or wife, a parent or child, or even a dog! Being secure in the love of that individual does not make you exercise your freedom to cause hurt or upset, to be inconsiderate, to deceive or betray. On the contrary, your urge is to reciprocate that love. If you fail, you know you will be forgiven; the love will not be withdrawn. But you hope never to put love to such a test.
The most perfect temporal relationship is a pale copy of the relationship we have with Almighty God. He lavishes love on us, that we can never lose, and so our desire should be never to give him pain or disappointment; never to betray his trust or to seek to serve another. Paul hints at the struggle Christians can have to obey God faultlessly (and he expands on this theme in chapter 7 of Romans). We can feel very inadequate and downhearted, as did King David in Psalm 13. But with him we can trust in God’s unfailing love, and rejoice in His salvation, bought by grace, for us to keep forever.
Written by Susan Thorne