Ten thoughts on Righteousness

Lest I wander too far down the path of heresy with my “everything is sin, so stop worrying about it an get on with the job” vibe, I thought I should counter my ten points from last night with ten points on the antithesis to sin – righteousness. This is almost entirely from Romans 6, which I think gives us a great platform from which we can deal with the problem of sin tainting every one of our actions (even the righteous ones). Verse one and two…

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

Some may think, and yet nobody has yet suggested, that Romans 6:11-14 are a natural counter to my position from last night…

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

This is mostly why I’m writing this post. I don’t think we can consider sin without considering the opposite… I think this particular passage, the rest of Romans and the rest of scripture describes this tension. Galatians 5 is another good example of the “battle” going on within.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.

  1. We are not to “live in sin” any longer – we are now, thanks to the Holy Spirit, locked in a battle between our two natures. Our tainted by sin nature and our desire to serve our new master via the Spirit.
  2. Our new nature will lead to righteous actions. Romans 6 again…

    Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?

  3. Righteousness comes through faith, but is not limited to faith. Application in sermons, or bad advice, that conflates righteous living with faithful living is a bit unhelpful. There is more to “doing good deeds” than reading your bible. Nobody on the street ever thought “gee, God loves me” because you read your Bible for an extra hour last night.
  4. God is holy. He hates sin. Even if it’s inevitable he wants us not to do it. Both Jesus and Paul use imperative language when describing how we are to live with Jesus as Lord (both with regards to what we are to do, and what we are not to do). This to me suggests that we actually do have to do this stuff. Our good works are never salvific (because, to push my barrow a little further, they are always going to be tainted by our sin). But without good works there is no evidence that we are saved, and good works are what we are to do after salvation (think Ephesians 2, James 2).
  5. There are many things that we are called to do as Christians. Being the “missional” guy I am – I think all of the things we’re called to do are subsets of the need to be making disciples. This does not mean that we should not do social justice type stuff for the sake of proclamation of the gospel. We are not called to be street preachers who have no idea about the people they are speaking to – but to be relational (the analogies for ministry throughout the Bible support this – ie shepherds, family, etc). Proclamation without deeds is dead. While we’re sailing dangerously close to “preach the Bible when necessary use words” territory
  6. We tend to be more “armour of God” than “fruits of the Spirit” in our emphasis on righteousness. We need to be both. It’s no good being equipped with faith and truth if we’re not also demonstrating love, patience and humility.
  7. While I don’t keep a record of my rights and my wrongs (and I don’t think of it like a scorecard) – there would appear to be some Biblical case to be made for God providing extra reward (not just salvation) for righteous living. I think most of these passages are also tied to faithful ministry. Because I believe that all “righteousness” is a subset of ministry (because I believe that all Christians are in “ministry” as part of the one body).
  8. The right things that I do are only done as a result of the work of the Spirit, and are only possible because of the sovereignty of God (he prepares them in advance) – they are never a reason for boasting nor are they anything but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) without the Spirit imbuing them with righteousness (or removing the taint of sin – I don’t think this happens in the action itself, but in how God judges the action).
  9. The right, good, or obedient actions of non-Christians are also produced as a result of God’s grace in the form of common grace. These actions, like our own, have no intrinsic value or merit – the merit is extrinsic only. It comes through God working them out for himself.
  10. I am much more worried about my inability to do righteous things than I am by my inability not to do unrighteous things. I expect that as a result of the Spirit I will do good things, and if I don’t I am disappointed and have doubts. I expect as a result of the flesh to do bad things, and if I do I am not disappointed, I just get on with trying to do right. I think I try to apply 1 Corinthians 10:31 (which I think functions the same both in and out of context) to both my sin and my righteousness. I sin so that God may be glorified in showing mercy, and I do the good deeds prepared for me so that God may be glorified in his goodness.

Ten thoughts on the subject of sin

Simone wrote about a post church conversation last night (in real life) that was a continuation of a couple of posts from Simone and Kutz (part one), (part two). I’ve spent today trying to articulate my position on sin. It’s not like Simone’s (looking to the new creation to resolve sinful desires) nor is it like Kutz’s (looking to the original created order to salvage the good thing that sin twists). I don’t tend to analyse my sin. I find that can be pretty crippling.

Here are some of my thoughts about sin in list form…

  1. I think sin, by definition, is our expression of autonomy. It’s our rejection of God’s rule. It’s disobedience. It’s not meeting God’s standards. I think the last one is the key – if we do something that doesn’t meet God’s perfect and holy standards – as he as described them to us – then we have “sinned”.
  2. I think there are different values to different sins – I know some have interpreted passages to suggest that all sins are equal. I think all sins are equally deserving of condemnation – but I don’t think all sins are equal in badness. There are sins with external victims – these sins require an extra level of repentance because you should, I think, repent to the victim as well as to God, and there are sins that are essentially internal matters for you and God to deal with. Let me give an example, when you commit some form of idolatry, putting something else in God’s position – you are wronging God, but no necessarily other people. But when you murder someone you not only commit an act of disobedience to God, you not only commit an act that effects the victim, you commit an act that has multiple effects for the victims family – you cause them to sin as well – they will no doubt feel malice, they will probably curse God for letting you take their father, husband, or son (or mother, wife, or daughter). You rob these people of a significant other. Some actions carry with them many sins, others do not. All sin is worthy of death and judgment when God, the holy, holy, holy God sits in judgment and judges by his holy, holy, holy standards. The accumulated sin of a lifetime is a pretty massive barrier between us and God.
  3. I think the language of conflict between our new nature and our sinful nature, our flesh and the spirit, our slavery to sin and slavery to righteousness, are all Biblical analogies for the same internal struggle that occurs, and will continue to occur, until the new creation. We’ll never – no matter how mature we become – rid ourselves fully of the taint of sin. Which I think even spreads to our good, righteous and obedient actions.
  4. I think trying to determine whether an action is “sinful” or “Godly” in and of itself is almost a complete waste of time. A conversation sprang up about whether being drunk is a sin the other day. I think it is. I think eating fatty food is probably a sin. I think drinking instant coffee is a sin. I pretty much think that everything we do, stemming from our sinful nature, is a sin. We can eat fatty food for God’s glory, but I tend to think if we’re not eating it specifically for his glory, but rather for our own purposes, then that’s an expression of our autonomy. I’d pretty much say that I think everything we do is tainted by sin. Even the good stuff… even the God stuff. I think this is part of the battle between our sinful natures and our new spirit enhanced natures.
  5. I think it is more helpful to think of sin in terms of nature than actions. Sinful actions are those things we do that are born out of our sinful nature. The Bible certainly spells out that certain actions are sins. Both sins of comission and omission.
  6. Almost all “Godly” actions can be sinful. I’m thinking of the way Jesus talks to the rich young ruler – even keeping the rules isn’t enough. We’re sinful by nature, and we never meet God’s holy standards. We can not possibly do so. We’re wired to sin. I think sinful actions are actions born out of our sinful nature – and I think Godly actions are actions born out of the spirit working within us (and those “good” actions performed by non-Christians are as a result of God’s spirit working throughout humanity in the guise of common grace).
  7. I think even when we are obedient to God we are obedient in an incomplete way – I think this is the picture we see with Israel and its inability to ever meet God’s standards completely. It’s important that we, as God’s people, seek to be obedient. Even if we know we’ll do it generally, but not specifically.
  8. When confronted with a decision our job is to try to discern the obedient, or most obedient option. Some decisions will in fact be decisions between two equally tainted options. An extreme example would be a choice between lying to save the life of one’s child (or an innocent) or giving them up and becoming complicit to whatever happens as a result of your taking the moral high ground. Life is full of impossible decisions, because everything is tainted by sin.
  9. Sin sucks. I hate its effect on the world, on relationships between people, and on myself. I don’t wallow in my sin because I realise it has been paid for in full. I realise it’s inevitable. And I realise we’ve got a job to do. So I’d rather just get on with that job. Without distractions. Without paralysis by analysis. My job is to try to be obedient to God wherever possible – and I think the point at which this obedience is most important is the Great Commission. I think any Godly living is Godly living for the purpose of winning the lost, more than for the sake of redeeming myself (either bringing myself closer to the pre-fall or new creation versions of me).
  10. Because I see sin as an inevitable product of our sinful nature I’m not keeping score as though God is Santa Claus. I’m not wracked with guilt. My debt has been paid. While I am pursuing holy living, maturity and ongoing “sanctification” (though I think technically sanctification is part of the package with justification that occurs at salvation) I don’t do this by dwelling so much on the times I miss the mark, I do this by getting on with the job. I love Luther’s “sin boldly” quote from a letter to a guy named Melanchthon (included below). This translation is slightly different to the one I’d originally heard.

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.

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