And in one bound, Jack was free…
Work in progress. You are. I am. We all are. We have good days. We have bad days. Days we reach out to God like a flower growing towards the sun. Days when we shy away from His light because we feel that we are not worthy in His presence.
And yet this so often is not how the Christian life is communicated. The evangelical wing of the church has focused on being born again. Starting a new life with Christ. John 3:16 is the touchstone verse that inspires preachers to convince listeners that repenting and being born again is the start and often the end of salvation. It is a one off transaction – “you plus Jesus equals a heavenly transaction”.
Even Paul, that most definitive of definitive answer providers, recognised that life was more nuanced than that.
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
Seems pretty clear. You once lived in sin. You have now died to that sin and you must now move on from the futility of that old world thinking.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Still very clear. Leave behind the old – those impure thoughts and immoral actions – and find new life in Christ.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”[a]: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
And yet here Paul makes it clear that we need to daily repent of those things that clog up our relationships. We need to put off falsehood and speak truthfully. If you get angry, don’t let the sun go down without fixing it. Grace is not a one-off gift in one great big metaphysical transaction. Grace is not the godly equivalent of the Shenghen treaty when once and for all, the borders of heaven are open. Grace is a daily task of taking one or two steps forward and sometimes one step back. Fixing that backward step and moving forward in him yet again.
Now I labour this point, because I have seen too many people come to faith and slip away all too soon. Taking on the life Christ calls us to so much more than just praying a one off prayer and finding life is all sorted. In fact, quite the opposite. Align yourself as a Christian and the naysayers will come out of the woodwork. It is almost as though if you lift you head above the parapet, you need to be shot down because you are disturbing the status quo. I can be happy in my unfulfilled life until someone tries to make me think. Rather than listen, let’s shoot them down. Put them back in their box. Then we can all carry on without feeling bad about it. Everyone hates the recent convert who wants to change the status quo.
And so more often than not, people slip into their old ways. Paul says move on. Sort it out. Keep short accounts with God and get those sins confessed. Don’t beat yourself up. Take action and move forward in Christ.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
And Paul is clear. It is not just about you sorting out your mistakes with Christ. It is about us all sorting out our mistakes with each other. Be kind and compassionate to each other. That isn’t a sign of weakness. That is a sign of real strength. The strength to forgive. The strength to work it out. The energy to truly make a difference. “Forgive others just as Christ has forgiven you”. We pray it every week in the Lord’s Prayer – “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those have sinned against us”. It is one sentence that equates all wrongs as equal and asks us to do our bit if we want God to do His bit. That is not to say that God’s love is conditional – his love is unconditional and free – but we will only find true peace if we have forgiven those who have stolen our peace.