Practical Christian Living, Part 1

Grace For The Journey

Have you ever met someone who professed to be a Christian, but their life-style made you seriously question their claim?  Even non-Christians know that there are certain characteristics of behavior and attitude that should mark the Christian.  When those characteristics are obviously lacking, then there becomes a question as to whether a person’s claim to be a Christian is actually true.

Since we live in a society in which tolerance of everything except the truth is advocated as the supreme virtue, there are many that would immediately say it is wrong for people to question a person’s claim.  Paul had no such qualms.  In 2 Corinthians 13:5 he even challenges his readers to “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!  Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you, unless indeed you fail the test.”  You see, when a person becomes a Christian, there will be changes that will take place in that person’s life.  This is not in any way saying that Christians will not stumble and sin.  It is not saying that individual Christians will not have serious struggles with certain sins.  Paul said in Romans 7 that even he struggled with his flesh and would find himself at times doing the very evil thing that he did not wish. The Apostle John writes to Christians and tells them that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  He then adds, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10).

The issue here is not that the Christian will be perfect and without sin, but that the Christian will no longer be characterized by such sin.  Instead, the Christian will be characterized by the struggle against sin and will be making progress in that battle.  No Christian alive is what they want to
be in terms of personal holiness, but neither is any true Christian what they used to be.  Why? Because the change in belief concerning self, sin, and our Savior results in a change of attitude and action.  Paul covered the theological reality of this in Romans 6 pointing out that faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ results in our old self being crucified with Him so that we should no longer be slaves of sin.  We have been transferred from Satan’s kingdom to Christ’s realm.  There is a change of masters.  We no longer have to obey the devil, but we are now to obey Jesus.  The one that refuses to obey Christ and continues to follow Satan only demonstrates that there has not been a change of masters.

In the first 11 chapters of Romans, Paul has presented a lot of deep theological truths about what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  In Chapter 12, Paul gets very practical and applies these truths to our everyday lives.  The foundation for all that Paul says in the rest of the book is based on what he says in Romans 12:1-2. “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  We have covered the meaning and ramifications of these two verses already, but just as a quick reminder, being a living sacrifice means that your life is no longer lived for yourself, but for God and His glory.  You are crucified with Christ and no longer live, but Christ lives in you and through you.  Being a living sacrifice is the only reasonable response that the Christian can have to all that God has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

How does a Christian become such a living sacrifice?  It begins when they turn from their sin and self-righteousness to the salvation offered through faith in Jesus Christ’s atonement for their sin.  It  continues on as they resist the pressure of the world to continue in sin and instead are transformed through a mind renewed by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word.

Paul explains the practical aspects of being such a living sacrifice throughout the rest of the book.  As we have already seen in verse 3, the Christian is to be humble and not, “Think more highly of themselves than they ought to think.”  The Christian is to understand that they are part of a larger group that makes up the body of Christ, and as part of that body, they recognize that every other part of the body is important for the whole to function properly.  We spent quite a bit of time going over the various ways in which God equips His people to be able to serve Him and build up the rest of the body.  Every gift, ministry, and believer is important as each of us use our various gifts to help the rest of body become more like Jesus Christ.

As we now move to verse 9, we find Paul turning his focus to the characteristics of how we are to treat other people.  This lays the foundation for what he will say in the rest of the book on how we are to function in relationship to government, society and other believers.

Love.

Verse 9 says, “Let love be without hypocrisy.  Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”  This opening phrase may seem simple, but it is profound for it is exactly the opposite of the natural sinful bent of men.  The nature of the love described here is not only sincere, but it finds evil to be repugnant and will hold fast to what is good.

English is generally a very descriptive language with many words available to make distinction between ideas that are similar, yet different.  However, when it comes to words for “love,” the English lacks such words.  We use the word “love” to describe everything from fond feelings of affection for family and close friends to our enjoyment of a good meal; we also use it to describe sensual desires both good and bad.

The Greeks had several words for “love.”  “Storge” described the love of family members for one another.  “Eros” described the sensual love between a man and a woman.  “Phileo” means affection and could be combined with other words to describe the love of friends, love of strangers, love of wisdom, love of pre-eminence, love or money, and even the love of strife.

The particular word used here in Romans 12:9 is “agape,” a word that was not used very often in daily life until it started being used by Christians to describe God’s love for us, our love for God, and the love we are to have for one another.  This love is marked by its sacrificial nature in giving of itself for the benefit of another.  It is based in conscious choice instead of fleeting emotions.  It continues through thick and thin, good times and bad, heartache and rejoicing.

  • This is the love God has for the world spoken of in John 3:16 that caused Him to send His only begotten Son so that whosoever believes in Him should have eternal life.  
  • This is the love God demonstrated in Jesus Christ in that while we were yet sinners, He died for our sins in our place.
  • This is the committed love that God has for His people that will never depart and never diminish (2 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 13:5).
  • This is a quality that is so closely bound to God that He Himself defines and characterizes it, for God is love (1 John 4:16).
  • This is the kind of love that we are commanded to have for God.  In Matthew 22:37 Jesus cites the command of Deuteronomy 6:5 as the great commandment.  It applies to Christians just as it did to the Jews (1 John 5:2-5).

We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind.  This command is not using three or four categories to describe the ways in which we are to love God, but rather it expresses the totality, the comprehensiveness with which we should love God.  Notice that it is to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.  Nothing is held back.  We are to love God with every part of our being, with every aspect of our nature, with everything that makes us what we are as humans.  Taking into account the sacrificial nature of “agape,” we can now understand how being a “living sacrifice acceptable unto God” is a demonstration of our love for Him.  

This is also the love that we are to have for one another.  Jesus pointed out to His disciples that it would be their love for one another that would demonstrate to all men that they were His followers (John 13:35).  John points out that a lack of love for one another is the evidence that a person is a child of the devil (1 John 3:10).  He goes on to say in 1 John 3:20-21 and 5:1-2, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” . . . “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the [child] born of Him.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.”

This is the love Christians are to have for all people, including our enemies.  Jesus said that the second great commandment is “to love our neighbors as ourselves.”   He then gave the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate both the nature of this love and its extension to everyone.  Jesus was even more direct in Matthew 5:44 when He told us to, “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

This love is a primary evidence of being a true Christian.  As already pointed out, those who do not have it for other people do not have it for God.  1 John 3:1-18 shows both the seriousness of this and its practical application, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.  He who does not love abides in death.  Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”  Those
who do not demonstrate in practical actions and attitudes agape love toward God and people have no valid claim in being Christians.

Without Hypocrisy.

Paul further strengthens the nature of this love by adding that it is to be “without hypocrisy.”  The word here is “anupokritos.”  It is the negation of the word “hupokrites” from which we get our word, “hypocrite.”  The word comes from the ancient Greek plays in which actors would play various parts by holding up a mask over their face.  The word came to mean “two faced” or “someone who is acting out a part instead of being truthful.”

The Bible has quite a bit to say about hypocrisy and hypocrites.   The Scribes and Pharisees were the primary examples that Jesus used.  They thought themselves to be holy people who showed the unlearned the way to God.  The truth was that they were far from God and were leading people to Hell (Matthew 15:14; 23:15).  Jesus pronounced a series of woes upon them in Matthew 23 because of this.  They honored God with their lips in public, but their hearts were far from Him (Mark 7:6).  They even came to Jesus trying to flatter Him by calling Him “teacher,” but their purpose was simply to try to trap Him in something they could use against Him (Matthew 22).

The root of hypocrisy is pretending to be something you are not in order to manipulate another person to get what you want from them.  Flattery and feigned friendship are tools hypocrites will use to accomplish their goals.  That is worldly wisdom.  The Christian is to live according to God’s wisdom. James 3:17 tells us that this, “Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.”  Hypocrisy, along with other evils such as malice, guile, envy, and slander are to be far from the Christian’s lips (1 Peter 2:1).  The
Christian is to long for and live by the truths of the enduring Word of God, and all those things, including hypocrisy, are the opposite of what the Bible says.

All of us are familiar with hypocrisy.  Either we have been guilty of it ourselves or we have suffered at the hands of hypocrites.  It always hurts when the mask gets removed from the hypocrite and their true selfish nature is revealed.  From that experience alone we can see that true love and hypocrisy are as far away from each other as can be.  Hypocrites are self-centered and see relationships in terms of what they can get out of it.  True love sees relationships in terms of what they can give to it
and benefit the other.

People flatter others with the goal of being able to manipulate or take advantage of them later.  Proverbs 29:5 warns, “A man who flatters his neighbor Is spreading a net for his steps.”  Jude 16 speaks of the same thing warning about the ungodly who, “Speak arrogantly, flattering people
for the sake of [gaining an] advantage.” 
The unsuspecting are deceived through the smooth and flattering speech of the ungodly, who exist even within the church (Romans 16:18).  We also find that the adulteress seduces her victims with flattery (Proverbs 7:5, 21), and so does the adulterer.  Proverbs 26:28 tells us, “A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”  Flattery, like other forms of hypocrisy, is a sin that is to be taken seriously.  Be wary of those that seek to win your favor through undeserved praise and compliments.

Hypocrites will be your friend as long as they are getting or think they will get something from you, but when it requires a true sacrifice of themselves on their part for your benefit, don’t count on them.   Proverbs 19:6-7 reminds us, “Many will entreat the favor of a generous man, and every man is a friend to him who gives gifts.  All the brothers of a poor man hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him!  He pursues them with words, but they are gone.”  A true friend loves at all times (Proverbs 17:17) and is more concerned about what they can give to the relationship than what they can get.  That is how Christians are to treat one another.

There are several other aspects of agape that make it antithetical to hypocrisy.  Paul points out “Psome of these qualities in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 where he describes agape as “Patient, kind, and not jealous, bragging, or arrogant.  It does not act unbecomingly or seek its own.  It is not provoked, nor does it take into account a wrong suffered.  It does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices
with the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.”
 Hypocrisy is subject to all these things.  

Love is honest and true as well as kind and thoughtful.  For that reason, it will express itself on issues that a hypocrite would never touch.  The Bible says in Proverbs 17:9 that the counsel of a friend is sweet.  That is true even when there may be correction involved.  Proverbs 27:6 tells us that, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”  King David preferred to have the righteous smite him in kindness and reprove him (Psalm 141:5) than to suffer the hypocrisy of a deceitful friend such as Ahithophel who caused him much grief (2 Samuel 17; Psalm 41:9).  Believers are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) instead being like the hypocrites who tell people what they think they would like to hear in order manipulate.

Let me add here that the Christian does not avoid being a hypocrite by brutally telling people what we really think.  Such brutal honesty is not only unkind, for it is also based in selfishness, but it is a sure way to make sure you have very few friends.  The Christian avoids being a hypocrite by being a living sacrifice.  We are to love God and other people in this manner of agape.  That includes non-Christians and enemies as well as other believers.  We say and do what is right before God regardless of our personal feelings or thoughts of the moment. We then examine ourselves to change our attitudes to be more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The world will try to conform us into being like they are, hypocrites who try to impress other people only because it will help them build their own kingdom.  We resist that pressure because our concern is building Christ’s kingdom, not our own.  We are to live according to God’s priorities.  People
are more important than possessions, and purity is more important than people.  We are to lovingly speak the truth in forthright and honest relationships with the goal of giving of ourselves in helping people know and become like Jesus Christ.  As Ephesians 4:29 commands, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Abhoring Evil.

In the second part of Romans 12:9, Paul further defines the nature of this love and how it affects the life of the believer, “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.”  The word “abor” is  a compound word that combines the verb “stugeo” with the preposition “apo” which intensifies its meaning.  “Stugeo” is to “hate” or “detest with horror.”  This verb came to signify “hating or detesting something as much as hell.”  The compound word here is even more intense than that.  The idea here is “to find something so detestable that you shrink back from it.”  You want to get away from it.

The love Paul speaks of in this verse should cause the Christian to have a strong reaction to and aversion of what is evil.  The Christians’ love for God and striving to be a living sacrifice that is pleasing unto Him should cause them to flee in horror from anything that is evil.  That kind of reaction
demonstrates the radical change that takes place in the Christian as they are transformed into the image of Jesus Christ by the renewing of their minds.  Prior to salvation, we are bent toward sin. While there were certain evil things that you might have abhorred, there were many other evil things to which you were attracted.  The Christian increasingly abhors all evil.  The “evil” spoken of here is everything that is antithetical to God, anything contrary to His nature.  Evil is the opposite of godliness.  Those who love the Lord are to hate evil (Psalm 97:10).  Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10) and Proverbs 8:13 defines the “fear of the Lord”  as hating evil.  What God hates, we should also hate, and God hates evil.

What are some of the specifics that God hates?  Proverbs 6:16-19 tells us, “There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil,
a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.” 
Proverbs 8:13 tells us that God also hates, “Pride and arrogance and the evil way, and the perverted mouth.”

Other things that God considers to be abominations include the “crooked man” (Proverbs 3:32); “A false balance” (Proverbs 11:1); “The perverse in heart” (Proverbs 11:20); “the sacrifice of the wicked (Proverbs 15:8); “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous” (Proverbs 17:15); any cultic or occultic practice (Deuteronomy 18:10-12); and “Those who act unjustly (Deuteronomy 25:16), to name some of them.  God hates anything that is contrary to His holiness.

The sad part of this list is that there are many professing Christians in our day that not only practice these things, but they even want to justify themselves in their pursuit of them.  It is not surprising that Christians do evil things, for as already pointed out, Christians are still sinners and will still sin.  However, they should be marked, as was Paul, with a hatred for the sin that they do, not a defense of it.

What characterizes your actions and attitudes toward God?  Your love for Him should cause you to abhor anything that would not please Him.  Yet, how often do we treat God as if He existed for our benefit instead of we existing for His glory.  Too often we are guilty of thinking God is holding out on us because He does not give us something the world says is good, yet the truth is that it would be bad for us.  God is our loving heavenly Father who gives what is good to His children (Matthew 7:11), but He is the one that defines what is good.  And as a loving Father, He also knows how to chastise us when we disobey.  What characterizes your actions and attitudes toward God?   What characterizes your actions and attitudes toward others?  Your love for them should cause you to abhor anything that would cause them to stumble into sin.  Sadly, too often Christians can be just as self-centered as the world.  They can say and do unkind things simply because they do not give consideration to the other person.

I have a pastor friend who some years ago we asked a member of his church family to be a little more careful in how she dressed.  His church family did not have any dress code other than to be modest as 1 Timothy 2:9 says.  She was not flagrantly immodest, but she did at times dress in a way that several Christian brothers were distracted by her.  Tragically, she ended up being more concerned about herself than others.  She should have been abhorred that she could have in any way contributed to brothers stumbling in their thoughts.  She should also have had enough love for them to have happily modified her own behavior for their benefit.  How much love do you have for others?

What are the things that gain your approval when no one else is with you?  Our love for God and others should cause us to abhor anything that does not promote holiness in our own lives, both in action and in thought.  Yet, how often do we not only allow ourselves to be put in situations where there is evil going on or we are watching it, but we secretly are enjoying it.

In abhorring evil, we should have the same commitment as David in Psalm 101:3 who vowed. “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.”  David knew the tragedy of what could happen when he allowed his eyes to stray.  He did not want to repeat the tragedy.  Is that a commitment you are willing to make out of your love for God and for other people?

Clinging to Good.

Paul concludes verse 9 with the opposite of abhorring evil, “Cling to what is good. The word “cling” means to “cleave,” “be cemented to,” or “glued.”  Interesting enough, the word “abhorring” is in the active tense.  It is something you are to do.  “Clinging” is in the passive tense.  It happens to you as the result of something else.  The Christian “cleaves” or “holds on to” what is good because of their love for God.  It is the only reasonable response a person can have when they love God for they want to please Him.

The “good” spoken of here is contrasted with the evil in the previous phrase.  It refers “to all that reflects the nature and character of God” which defines what is good.  “Good” refers “to what is upright, beneficial, and honorable before God.”  As we are become a living sacrifice and become transformed by the renewing of our mind, our lives change and we will demonstrate what is good and acceptable before God (Romans 12:2).

“Goodness” is one of the character qualities that is to be part of every Christian’s character for it is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:20-21).  That character in turn will demonstrate itself in good deeds.  Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  One of the purposes of our salvation from sin is so that we might carry out these good deeds, which Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, should be done in such a way that they bring glory to God.  A person who has the character trait of goodness will cling to what is good because it matches their desire to be like Jesus Christ.

The Christian is to be characterized by agape love which is without hypocrisy because it is only reasonable to respond to God’s great love for us demonstrated in Jesus Christ with a corresponding love for Him and His people.  As the Christian resists the pressure of the world to conform them into its image and instead is transformed by the renewing of their mind, that which is evil will become
increasingly detestable to them while at the same time they will be clinging ever more tightly to what is good.  The point here is not whether you have yet arrived at full Christian maturity in these areas, but what your desires are and which direction you are heading.  What direction are you heading?

Remember too, that we do not walk with Christ alone.  God has given every Christian spiritual gifts by which we can serve God in building up the Body of Christ.  You are to serve God by using your gifts to help others become like Jesus, and they are to use their gifts in helping you become like Christ. Let’s commit ourselves to helping one another love in this manner and to abhor what is evil and cling to what is good.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.