We began in the last post to look at the second reason why the Lordship of Christ is essential to the Christian life—
Submission to Jesus as Lord provides us with an adequate motive for living.
We saw in the last post that we are not to live a self-centered life intent on pleasing ourselves only. Let’s look at another principle of Christian ethics.
7 For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself.
8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.
The Christian Life is more than living by a past era’s ethical rules.
Verse 8 says “We live to the Lord”—that is with Him and His will always in view. “What is always present to Paul’s mind, as the rule of his conduct, is the will and the interest of his Lord” (see “Nicoll,” below).
In this post, we will see that we cannot look to the past as an infallible guide to how we should live now.
We need to see how our forebears behaved, certainly. They did things right. They also erred in areas. We can learn from their mistakes.
C. S. Lewis clarifies how to look to the past.
…it is not the remembered but the forgotten past that enslaves us. To study the past does indeed liberate us from the present, from the idols of our own market-place. But I think it liberates us from the past, too. I think no class of men are less enslaved to the past than historians. The unhistorical are usually, without knowing it, enslaved to a fairly recent past. (see “Lewis,” below and the N. B. that follows that entry).
Too many people look for a golden age in the past. This is Gustave Doré’s 1868 etching of Camelot. Arthurian legend has long caused people to look back to the past and strive to recreate it in the present.
The Roman Church and the OT Lifestyle
Old-Testament-oriented Jewish Christians looked to Daniel and his three Hebrew youths for an example of how not to succumb to an Imperial pagan lifestyle. Daniel 1 states the crux of the matter from an Old Testament perspective. Daniel had withstood a pagan empire by refusing its delicacies—1:8—
8 But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank…
So, 1st Century Jewish Christians in Rome thought they should abstain, as well. This makes good sense of Jewish Christians “not drinking wine” in Romans 14. Jews were never ascetics before the inroads of Gnosticism much later. You will remember Rome had at this stage already gotten the crypto-name “Babylon” (cf. I Peter 5:13). (see “Shogren,” below, pp. 243, 248)
It is always safer for the immature in the faith to revert to the ethical standards of the past generations rather than apply the Scriptures directly to present problems. They perhaps think, “My Grandfather didn’t play cards because people might think he was a gambler. I’m going to follow his example and not play Bridge.” We could multiply examples of things our forefathers didn’t do. Maybe it’s time to consult God’s Word directly about our behavior today. We live in a day where playing cards does not cause people to assume we are reckless gamblers just because we are playing “Canasta.”
One man said his parents wouldn’t let them drink soda from cans for fear people might think they were drinking beer. I would say to him, it’s time to lay that past “ethical safeguard” to rest. Some folks are going to assume the worst no matter what. It’s up to us to do what we do in obedience to God’s Word. We can leave the rest to God who judges righteously in all things.
The Talmud (Oral Law and its Commentaries) aimed to build a fence around the Torah (Law), so people would not even get close to breaking the law. Rabbi Akiva said “Tradition is a fence to Torah.”
Don’t we Christians fence people out often when we add our man-made traditions and ethical rules to the Christian life?
Modern day legalism
We have 21st Century counterparts to those who are weak in the faith in the church. We have those who advocate extra-Biblical rules added to prevent us from ever even getting close to breaking God’s commandments.
My mother was a member of a church that had a dress code for those who attended worship. New people were admitted as they were dressed the first time they attended. After that first visit, they would be given “the dress code” and were told to observe it in the future when they came to church. Needless to say, she said there were few second visits.
Rules without relationship leads often to abuse or disillusionment.
In my childhood community one of the churches at one time considered it a sin to own a radio. However, when television came onto the scene in the 1950s, it was all right to own a radio but now a sin to own a TV. Many in that church did not wear jewelry—even wedding rings. When people began to wear ear rings, it became all right to wear a wedding ring, but a sin to wear ear rings. I could go on.
Our man-made rules ought not to be more important than the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and fence people out of the kingdom of God!
Extra-Biblical rules have no basis in the Scriptures. They change with the times, but remain a step behind society. They make people feel safe in the church, so extra-Biblical rules flourish today in certain circles. It is better to follow God’s Word and obey his commandments as clarified by Jesus in the Gospels and by the Apostles in the New Testament Letters to Churches. We have dead heroes from the past who established ethical rules for their day, but we are to be living models of Christ in the present.
I see application in two areas for our not living by past traditions and ethical rules.
First, people are still establishing extra-biblical rules in our day. The churches they establish should ask: “What has Christ in his word taught concerning ethics for our day?”
Second, many have been alienated from the church because of abuse from extra-biblical rules and regulations of people’s behavior.
Cyprian of Carthage famously said, “You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.” (see Cortez below.) There is no one mother-church. The one you can find that nurtures and enfolds you into its membership is a mother to you! It’s out there. Don’t give up on finding a church where you fit.
Prayer for those who tend toward extra-biblical rules.
O Lord Jesus Christ, I tend toward multiplying manmade rules for others.
I have not helped the hurting but I have actually
heaped on more hurt through my harsh judgment and criticism.
Your Word is the sufficient guide to our belief and practice.
Help me to stop creating harsh rules of behavior for myself and others.
Help me to follow your Word and apply its precepts to myself first.
In Jesus’s Name. Amen.
Prayer for those who were abused by extra-biblical rules.
Lord Jesus, I wanted to see You in that church.
Instead I was hurt by the people there.
The rules about behavior and belief were harsh and unfeeling.
I did not gain a relationship with You in that group, but
I got a set of rules and treatment
that still haunts my dreams and waking thoughts.
I was hurt and am disillusioned by that group.
I can’t change them, but I still want You as my Lord and Savior.
Lead me to a church that will help me through this pain
to a soul-satisfying walk with You and encouraging fellowship with them.
I know Your Word will correct as a well as encourage.
I want both. But Your yoke of requirements is easy and
Your burden of obligations is light, according to Your Word.
Help me to follow your Word and apply its precepts to myself.
In Jesus’s Name. Amen.
Cortez, Marc. (22 Nov. 2010). “Calvin on the Church as the ‘Mother’ of Believers.” [Blog post] Accessed 16 June 2018 from http://marccortez.com/2010/11/22/calvin-on-the-church-as-the-mother-of-believers-ets-paper/
Lewis, C. S. (1954). De Descriptione Temporum. [On the Delination of Time]. Inaugural Lecture from The Chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University. Accessed 18 July 2018 from https://archive.org/stream/DeDescriptioneTemporum/DeDescriptioneTemporumByC.S.Lewis_djvu.txt
N. B. Lewis referred to historians trained in the humanities approach to history. In my view, he would ahve been apalled by the social socience approach to history in the academy today! Such historians learn about past customs and culture, but do not learn any lessons to guide behavior today.
Nicoll, W. R. (1956 reprint). The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Accessed 14 June 2018 from https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/romans-14.html
Shogren, G. (2000). “Is the Kingdom of God about Eating and Drinking or Isn’t It?” (Romans 14:17). Novum Testamentum, 42(3), 238-256. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1561137
© 2018 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved