Another motivation to do the right thing is our desire to enhance God’s reputation. At first glance we may to ask ourselves, “Is it really possible that the Creator of the world, the Sustainer of the world, and the Author of our salvation needs any help from us on the reputation front?” The answer is yes. Just as the children in a family contribute to the family’s reputation, so also, our actions either impugn or enhance God’s reputation on the earth.
The church is the body of Christ. The church is the physical representation of Jesus to a watching world. And when they look at us, the community of believers, what do they see? One of our motivations for righteous living is to accurately reflect the character of our Father and His Son.
“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Pet 2:11-12).
As an aside, based on my writings on Romans 7 and the end of sin’s power, I may have implied there is no longer a war within. But fleshly lusts are waging war against our souls. Where I depart from the traditional teaching about a civil war inside is that I believe the war has already been won by the finished work of Jesus Christ upon the cross. The primary war is over. We have taken the high ground. We are dwelling in our new fortress.
Yes, fleshly lusts are still attacking the fort. Yes, fleshly lusts are still shooting arrows over the walls. Yes, fleshly lusts are trying to ram open the front gate. But by the power of the new nature, we can turn back these attacks. Victory has already come our way by virtue of the new nature, the new self, the new identity, the new heart, the new power, the new disposition, and the new Spirit within. Rather than a civil war between sides of equal power – the old and new nature, the Bible teaches that the war has already been won. If fact, the apostle Paul says to celebrate our victory by putting on the victory wardrobe. “Put on the new self…and clothe yourselves with a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…and beyond all these things put on love which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col 3:10,12,14).
Now, returning to our I Peter passage, these new clothes of righteousness (“abstaining from fleshly lusts…and keeping our behavior excellent”) is what the watching world should see when they look at us. And when they see us in our new clothes (“our good deeds”), they should glorify the One who clothed us, God our Father. If we are quiet about the One who clothed us, they may glorify us, not knowing that we are a product of God’s transforming power. We must live close enough to our observing friends to redirect their compliments to God, the author of our transformation.
One of my work partners said to me, “Jay, you are the most patient and easy going person I know. You never let our unreasonable bosses or changing expectations or not being recognized for an accomplishment upset you.”
I replied, “Cecil, that is not the whole story. What you see as just my personality goes much deeper. I am actually one of the most competitive people you know. But God changed me. He gave me a new outlook and a new direction in my life that has allowed me to put, for the most part, the mean side of my competitiveness aside.” Please understand, reader, that I have no interest in tooting my own horn. This is just an example of turning my good deeds to point someone to the author of those deeds. I am embarrassed to say that on the whole, this conversation has been way too rare in my life.
There is also a negative side to how our actions affect God’s reputation. If we continue in sin, we are basically saying to the world, “God’s promises are not true. He cannot be trusted.” Because God has promised us not only eternal life, but victory over sin in this life, this victory becomes a referendum on God’s trustworthiness. When the church looks like the world – an all too common accusation – God’s reputation is harmed. But we won’t look like the world as we learn how to live into the victory God has secured.
Let’s summarize with Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 5, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16). Brothers and sisters, doing the right thing lifts up the reputation of our Father who is in heaven.