Monday, February 23, 2009

Practically Speaking – Part 3 of 3

The Apostle Paul was really great at laying the foundation of the gospel and the Christian life – God’s love and grace, the blood of Jesus, His finished work, our solid identity in Him, etc. All of this is not only the foundation, but it is woven into every aspect of life in Christ. Paul told the Corinthians that he “determined to know nothing among them except Christ and Him crucified.” Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God…” He was very careful to make sure his readers knew that the Christian life was about faith in God, and in the very life of Christ in them, and not about their own fleshly works that they could conjure up.

His epistles, of course, included much more than simply straight identity doctrine. In the very same epistles, Paul also included some very practical words about how it all looked when it was lived out. Grace and identity was, of course, inextricably woven into all of it. He was not giving “rules for Christian living” or any such thing, but rather was giving some very wonderful, practical words of wisdom. All of this has the potential to be taken in the wrong, legalistic way, of course. All of these things have the potential to be used in manipulative and controlling ways. But as people who love one another and have great grace towards one another, as Paul did with those he wrote to, this can all be a very wonderful part of the Christian life.

For example I don’t believe Paul was being legalistic or going beyond grace or looking to something other than grace or trying to balance anything with grace when he said, “flee sexual immorality.” That can (has the potential to) be taken as a legalistic command or rule, but in this (and other words of Paul), I think it's an exhortation that can help a Christian live as who they truly are. This also has the potential to be taken as words that we try to keep through the efforts of our flesh. May that never be!!!

I don’t live my life by looking at the Bible for principles for how to live my life. But what can happen is that at the proper times, God can speak things through people that help me, by His grace, to live like who I am. For example, God can speak to me through someone the words, “husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church” and that can be the instigator that changes my behavior… from the inside out. It can help, by God's grace, to change how I treat my wife. It’s not a rule and it’s not a law that I apply. It’s simply Christ speaking some good words through somebody else to me that helps me to outwardly be more of who I am inwardly. It’s the same with so many of the other things that Paul and the New Testament writers mentioned… and it’s by no means limited to the various exhortations in the NT.

I can think of many examples of how this has played out in my life. One example is Paul’s words, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Eph 4:26). What this has done, is it has caused me and my wife to do all our fighting during daylight hours! Just kidding! But seriously, as a husband and as a daddy who sometimes messes up and walks after the flesh, simply thinking about these words has brought me back to the reality of who I am and it’s led me to going and making amends with either my wife or my kids. It’s not a rule that I’ve followed. It’s not a law. It’s simply something that can be a good thing for the heart and mind to consider and it can really help to change a person’s attitude and actions to match who they truly are in Christ - again by the Spirit and by His grace, not by my own fleshly attempts at living it out.

As a child, when my sisters and I were squabbling and fighting, I remember my mom often saying, “don’t return evil for evil” (Rom 12:17, 1 Thess 5:15, 1 Peter 3:9). As I got older and began to truly understand what that really meant, it began to take root in me… especially because I saw it lived out by both my parents. I never heard them talking bad about others, and I know that they were hurt by others at times, and they always responded graciously, at least from what I saw.

Again, these are just a few examples of what I’m talking about. It is a “grace-full” thing to speak to one another in ways such as these. It’s not adding to grace, it’s not lowering the value of grace, it’s not balancing grace with anything. Our words to one another can stimulate one another into action. Our words to one another can work together with Christ’s life in us to bring about a change of mind and direction… to make conscious decisions or choices and that can help to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Not words of conviction, not words of guilt, not words of condemnation… but words of exhortation, admonition, encouragement.

I welcome your thoughts, whether you wholeheartedly agree with me or wholeheartedly disagree with me or anywhere in between. It’s me… JOEL! You can agree or disagree with me and I still hold you in the highest of regards!

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3


  1. What lovely posts, Joel.

    I think we agree. :D ::SHOCKER::

  2. Great posts, Joel.

    I'm now able to view much of Paul's writings as encouragement to be who we are and not laws to live by. He usually always says something like "You are this! Now act like it!"

    "For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light." (Ephesians 5:8)

    "For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober." (1 Thessalonians 5:5-6)

    "Since then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. For you have died and your is hidden with Christ in God." Colossians (3:1-3)

    And many such things are written in the epistles. Now it's not condemning when I read them, nor does it make me groan to see how much I need to work on to make myself holy, but now I see I AM holy, I just need to ACT like it.

  3. RJW,

    Thanks for the affirmation. :D I think we agree on sooo many things, and on other things we can talk it out and still be cool!


    The thing I like about Paul is his foundational teachings of grace and identity, and that it's woven into everything he says. He does say quite a lot of things that have been taken way out of context and way out of the original setting of grace, grace, grace, but when kept in the right context it is meant as encouragement to walk as who we are, by the Spirit and through nothing but grace.

    The living out of who we are must be grounded in the foundation of grace, and never done by self effort. To me, I think that exhortations and admonishments such as the ones I've mentioned and that you've mentioned are a wonderful way of bringing out the Christ-in-us, always by the Spirit and never by self-effort.

  4. Thanks Joel, for that. 'be who you are, knowing first who you are'. Thanks for the input into my thick skull.

  5. Yep indeed Phil, we are who we are, apart from anything we do or don't do. We need to be grounded and established in our solid identity in Christ. From Christ's life in us and our life in Him, flows the "doing" of who we are. The horse must be put before the cart. :)

  6. Joel, great posts!

    There is only one thing wanted to say:

    For example, the verse “don’t return evil for evil”. Even if that verse isn't there, a person who is born of God usually wouldn't return evil for evil. The other side is also true, the fact that verse is there not stopping us (if we deliberatly want to) from doing it as well. We still have the potential to sin and we also have the potential to not to sin (because of the fact the law is now written on our hearts which enables us naturally not to sin)

    I am sorry if I didn't make sense.

  7. Yep, Bino, I see what you're saying. Whether those words were written or whether they weren't written, we still have the potential to live by its truth as we walk by the Spirit or to not live by its truth as we walk according to the flesh.

    I think in my case, as I've recalled those words, what it's done is that it has caused the light to go on in my head in the midst of various circumstances, reminding me of who I am, and therefore being a nice reminder to walk as who I am, by the Spirit, and not as who I'm not, by the flesh.

  8. You said it better, Joel! Thank you!