As Christians we understand that “good works”, behaviors that are characterized as loving toward our neighbors, are not the criteria for sanctification (i.e. holiness). We also understand that our behavior must consist of “good works”, like – being loving toward our neighbors.
This may seem contradictory or confusing. We have all spoken to people who say, “I try to live right”, or “I keep God’s law”, and you just know they don’t “get it”. After all it seems pretty simple, God tells me not to behave certain ways, I don’t behave like that, where’s the problem?
The problem is we have a wrong headed understanding of sin.
I think many people see sin in terms of the sins enumerated in Romans 1 starting at verse 29. So when they think of being good they think of not doing those things. To be clear these behaviors are clearly sin. What is missing in that view are the verses before the lists, like “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him…”
Sin or sinfulness is lawlessness in the sense of ignoring God’s law, lawlessness is sin.
What is God’s law? Well it rests on the two rules Christ identified in the Gospels.
Rule #1 – Love God.
Rule #2 – Love your neighbor as yourself.
Rule #1 is the most important rule because without Rule #1 we end up putting ourselves in the place of God, judging good and evil. Of course you will rightly say that we must judge good and evil to be able to execute on Rule #2, but if our execution of Rule #2 is not dependent on Rule#1, loving, and therefore trusting God, we are left with only ourselves as the motivation for the righteousness of Rule #2. This is why our righteousness is “filthy rags”, it is lawless, ignoring God’s law. It is sin.
God is and must be our judge, not we ourselves. That is also pretty obvious and simple to understand. Isn’t that what we are all hoping for anyway, trusting Him to be merciful?
This is not new or a different way from God’s Law as given in the Ten Commandments. As a friend of mine says, “there are 10, not 6”. The first 4 commandments are Rule #1, the rest are Rule #2. Christ fulfilled the Law He did not abolish it. How can we Love God, how can we Trust Him? It is Christ’s work on the cross that gives us a reason to trust in God’s mercy, it is not a “pie in the sky” hope, but the real hope of a real provision in time and space for our sanctification. He really lived, He really died, He really rose.
C.S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves paraphrases another writer by saying “[love] begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god.” If we make Rule #2, what is commonly know as “living a good life”, preeminent it becomes a demon in our lives and we end up serving what is not God. It is only when we have the Rules in their proper order that our “good works” are actually good because they rest on Him not us. We can’t get the rules in their proper order unless we understand He first Loves us as He demonstrated on Calvary.
God didn’t change, the message continues to be the same. “…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life,…”
I just Love that about Him.