A BETTER WAY (39) Living the Story #2

Whoever you are and wherever you may be, you have an important role to play in God’s great drama – his never ending story of creation and what he is doing about restoring it to its original purpose. Christians are a “new creation” of God. We are not made of new matter, but inwardly in heart and mind we have been created anew and are yet being renewed as his Holy Spirit increasingly reforms us into the image of Jesus who is the perfect image of our heavenly Father.

As his new creation, we have work to do. Paul informed the Ephesian saints of this in Ephesians 2:10.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

God has chosen our “career” of good works. When we “get with” his program we will have all the work we can do for a lifetime.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14).

Notice that this text looks back to what has occurred (Grace has appeared; Christ gave himself) and forward to what lies ahead (blessed hope; appearing of Christ). But it also stresses what is expected of us in the present – the time between the past and the future. When we accept the salvation the grace of God brings, we begin to be trained, disciplined or prepared for certain things. We are trained to renounce, reject, overcome ungodliness and worldly passions (evil desire) and to live “self-controlled, upright and godly lives” in the present age. Jesus died, not just to get us out of sin but to purify a people who are “zealous for good works.”

The things expected of us and the things that lie in the future are based on the doctrine – the teaching – of what Christ has done for us in the past. He gave himself to redeem us. That is what must be believed. Our hope is based on the same doctrine, as well as the life we are expected to live between the past and the future. We have the doctrine (the gospel) to be believed and the hope to look forward to at the Lord’s appearing. Now, what lies between? According to Paul, it is this …

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13).

We must look into the meaning of the self-controlled, upright and godly life as stated in the ESV and variously in other versions of the New Testament. Here is a sample …

  • soberly, and justly, and godly (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA).
  • a wise and right way—a way that shows true devotion to God. (ERV).
  • a sensible, righteous, and godly way (HCSB)
  • a life of order, of justice, and of holiness (KNOX).
  • live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, (NLT)

If this fits the Paul’s pattern of what remains – and I believe it does – we could sum it up in one word: LOVE. In fact, it is love in three dimensions; love for self, love for others and love for God.

To live life soberly, wisely, sensibly, ordered and in a controlled way is to manifest love for one’s self. Self respect – a real concern for who we are and how we are thought of – demands careful consideration of one’s ways. We are God’s children, his chosen people who have been bought with the price of Christ’s blood. We are precious in his sight. We deserve the very best we can do for ourselves. That is not egotism when it arises out of a realization of what God has done for us and how he thinks of us. This is the real basis of morality. Morality is “the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are “good” (or right) and those that are “bad” (or wrong).”

Faith in God that translates into real concern for what kind of person I am is what drives a moral life. There is no real, objective morality apart from faith in God. The morality of the world is a relative standard. It is in a constant state of change. But morality based in the character of God and which is expressed as man’s character is transformed into the likeness of God assures a personal morality that only grows deeper and is expressed outwardly not only in the observable goodness of the individual but in its concern for the well being of others as well.

This also has tremendous implications for the influence of the individual. This is one way our love for others is to be demonstrated. The example of a good, moral, upright person has far-reaching effects – often not realized by the individual for years in the future – if even ever known to him or her at all. This has been brought into sharp focus for me in the past few weeks as two different individuals have told me of the influence of my example on their lives from years in the past. Both these individuals are now preaching the word of God with an obvious love for the Lord and for those whom they are teaching. I cannot claim the credit for them having decided to preach, but I rejoice for them and thank God for the godly example they are setting before their families, before other believers and before the world. And I thank God that he allowed me to have a bit of influence in their lives.

Our influence is precious. We need to guard it with all our might. A wrong act, an unguarded word or a bad attitude can ruin our influence with a person, with the people of God or with the world.

Are you Christ’s light bearer?
Of his joy a sharer?
Is this dark world fairer
For your cheering ray?
Is your beacon lighted,
Guiding souls benighted
To the land of perfect day? (Priscilla J. Owens).

We must always remember that we are not the source of the light. Christ is the true light, we are reflectors, or in the words of N. T. Wright, “angled mirrors,” reflecting the glory of God into the world around us. That is what we were made to do. This is where we get back to our original purpose – God’s purpose for having created us to begin with!

The light we reflect into the world is the light of God’s love. Christ is the true light – the perfect light who gives the knowledge of God to the whole world (John 1:4-10). It is through him we come to know the Father and to know what we are supposed to be in this world. Therefore in order to shine as light in this world we must know him. That requires that we spend time with him – time in his presence, “walking” with him over the rugged hills of Galilee, “listening” to him through his teaching, “watching” him in the story of his life, talking with him in prayer, “seeing” his compassion as he fed the hungry and healed the sick, the lame and the blind – in short, being his disciples. A disciple then goes and does what he has seen his master doing. We are not to be his disciples only intellectually and theologically but in practice as well.

The influence of an individual can be a tremendous work of God in the world. We must be conscious of its power and work to develop the kind of influence that will always be looked upon with respect, love and appreciation by those around us. Be conscious of the great power God has put into our hands to guard and use it wisely. It really is God’s power exercised through us as we are being conformed more and more into his image.

Tomorrow: the good work of righteousness.

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