Too many of us are lazy Christians. I’m including myself in this, too. We think we’re not doing too bad at following God. We avoid big sins, we pray a couple times a day, carve out 1/2 an hour for Bible study, and go to church. We may even do something particularly virtuous and pat ourselves on the back certain that God’s pleased with us. But perhaps our expectations of ourselves are too low.
When the apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith, He asked them a question. “Which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’?” The implication is that none of them would. Instead, they’d expect the servant to make them dinner and serve them before eating his own supper (Luke 17:5-8)
Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” (Luke 17:9-10)
Doing the bare minimum of what’s expected doesn’t earn us praise and it doesn’t do much to increase our faith. True faith before God doesn’t rest in simply doing what we’re told. It involves pursuing a higher standard.
In the book Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, Brandon J. O’Brien and E. Randolph Richards talk about a tendency in Western Christianity “to restrict the Christian life to avoiding vices.” However, “In scripture, the godly life is portrayed as a lifelong work, not a list of don’ts.” It’s not enough to avoid vices. We also have to put on virtues and cultivate right living as a habit instead of seeing virtues as spontaneous acts (p. 182).
Don’t Stay Naked
In Colossians, Paul counsels his readers to “seek those things which are above” because we have “died,” been buried with Christ, and then given new life in Him (Col. 2:11-13; 3:1-3). The body of sins is put off, including “fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry … anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language” and lying to each other (Col. 3:5, 8-9). It’s not a complete list of all the vices that have to go, but it gives an overview of the things God doesn’t want His followers doing.
Once we’ve received God’s free gift of salvation, we “put off the old man with his deeds.” We can’t stop there, though. When you take something off you either have to put something else on or walk around naked. True Christians “have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Col. 3:9-10). This “new man” includes virtues such as “tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another.” In addition, ” above all these things put on love … let the peace of God rule in your hearts … and be thankful” (Col. 3:12-15).
Paul sums-up this section with the admonition “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17). If Jesus wouldn’t want His name associated with a word or action, we shouldn’t say/do it. Our “new man” must be patterned after the image of Christ.
Make Virtue A Habit
Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes talks about developing virtue as a process. “The active pursuit of virtue, particularly through the disciplined practice of godly habits” is something that’s an integral part of Christian life (p. 182). If we confine our view of godliness to avoiding sins, we might overlook the importance of scriptures that teach it’s our job to make choices that are holy, right, and good.
I will behave wisely in a perfect way. Oh, when will You come to me? I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will not know wickedness. (Ps. 101:2-4)
David continues to say he will be careful about the people he surrounds himself with, promising to associate with “the faithful of the land” rather than the proud, slanderers, and deceitful men (Ps. 101:5-7). “It sounds self-righteous to Westerners,” Richards and O’Brien point out, “But what the psalmist is describing is a determination to pursue godliness” (p. 183). It’s a conscious decision to “walk as children of light” and obey Christ’s command “you shall be perfect” (Eph. 5:8; Matt. 5:48).
Obedience Follows Love
We might have it backwards when we think first you avoid bad things, then you become more spiritual. In history the Law came first, but we know keeping the Law wasn’t enough to lead to salvation. It was “our tutor to bring us to Christ” (Gal. 3:24). Once you’re in Christ, keeping the law isn’t our primary focus. We’ve been “called to liberty,” not so we can sin, but rather so we can fulfill the Law in perfect love (Gal. 5:13-14). We love God and because of that we keep His commands (John 14:15, 21; 15:10).
Our focus should be on following Christ, cultivating His character, and producing the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25). When we’re doing that, we won’t do the things of the flesh which break God’s law (Gal. 15:17-21). Our main focus isn’t on “what if I mess up?” but rather on, “How can I best serve God?” When your primary goal is to pursue godliness and love the Lord your God with all your heart mind and soul, obedience will follow. In fact, conforming to God’s law will become part of our nature if we’re letting Him re-make us in His image.