Doing the Right Thing – Motivated by Our New Identity

We come now to our last installment of how believers are motivated to righteous living; because this is who we are.  In our new identity as holy and beloved saints, righteous living is what is expected of us.  It is what should come natural to us.  It fits who we really are.

In Romans chapter 6, the apostle Paul answers the question, “If greater sin brings greater grace, should we continue in sin?” with an emphatic “No”.  And Paul’s “No” is based on our new identity in Christ.  The apostle takes the rest of chapter 6 to explain.  When you became a believer, you appropriated the fact – and it is a fact – that your old sin nature died with Christ on the cross.  Your sin nature is dead.  In its place, you have received a righteous new nature infused with the righteous nature of Christ Himself.  Therefore, consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to the righteousness of God through Christ Jesus.  Sin is no longer your master, and your members are no longer instruments of sin, but instruments of righteousness. (Rom 6:1-13).

Paul often uses the analogy of putting on new clothes to represent putting on the new nature.  “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh and its desires” (Rom 13:14).  When we “clothe” ourselves with the nature of Christ, there is no longer room in the closet for the “desires of the flesh”, those clothes that no longer fit.  “Make no provision” means don’t make any space in your closet for those old clothes of sin to still be hanging around.

Suppose you woke up tomorrow morning 20 pounds lighter than you were when you went to bed, and the clothes in your closet no longer fit you.  You would dash to the nearest premium outlet mall and scour the sale racks and come home with a completely new wardrobe.  What would you do with your old clothes?  You would give them away or throw them out, but in either case they would be gone.  Why?  Because they no longer fit.  Now you might be tempted to keep some things with the idea that if you gain the weight back you will need something to wear.  That is a fine thought in the natural world.  But in our analogy of the Christian life, you will never gain the weight back.  You will never need the old clothes.

You have been forever changed and the old sin clothes will never fit you again.  Do you see the picture?  Throw the old sin clothes out.  Cast aside those old habits, reactions, and thinking patterns.  They do not fit you now and they never will.  “Make no provision for the desires of the flesh” means do not keep those ill-fitting clothes around and by all means do not try to wear them.  You will look a fright.  They do not fit who you are.  And if you do try to wear them, you will feel the frustration, the tug and pull, of just how inappropriate they are.

We have now come to the gist of what this blog is all about.  Walking in your new identity, experiencing the provisions of the new covenant, empowered by God’s Spirit inside.  To learn more of what this looks like in practice, we have gathered our most specific posts on walking in your new identity in this archive.  May I encourage each of us?  Live into who you really are; a holy and beloved saint of the Lord.

Doing the Right Thing – Motivated to Communicate the Good News

Another motivator to live righteously is our desire to communicate the gospel message.  As we have all heard many times, our actions can be just as powerful as our words in sharing the truth of the gospel.  So we want our actions to reflect the proper message; to reflect what God has done in Christ to rescue us.

Our verbal presentation of the gospel is soaked in the supernatural, as it should be.  From the miracles of Jesus to His resurrection from the dead to His identity as the Son of God, we emphasize the supernatural over and over.  But in our living-the-Christian-life communication of the gospel, we somehow like to leave the supernatural out.  We advertise the Christian life as a path of working hard to stay on the straight and narrow, seeking to attain certain spiritual qualities and fighting temptation by determination alone.  We do need to be diligent in our walk, but the picture we paint is like that of us paddling a canoe around a stagnant pond, trying to make something exciting happen by our own power.

The supernatural Christian life advertised in the New Testament is not that at all.  It is more like guiding a canoe downstream through a class four rapids where the rushing water of God’s indwelling Spirit provides the power and we steer our way along the exhilarating waves.  Living in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit inside is an exciting way to live.  And in communicating the gospel through our lives, we need to somehow capture and display the excitement of the supernatural side of living the Christian life.

Remember that Progressive Insurance ad that goes something like this?

Flo:  Hi, may I help you?
Customer:  Yes, I hear Progressive has lots of discounts on car insurance?  Can I get in on that?
Flo:  Are you a safe driver?
Customer:  Yes.
Flo:  Discount!…Do you own a home?
Customer:  Yes!
Flo:  Discount!!…Are you going to buy online?
Customer:  Yes!!
Flo:  Discount!!!…Isn’t getting discounts great?
Customer:  Yes!!!
Flo:  There’s no discount for agreeing with me.
Customer:  Yea, I got carried away.
Flo:  “Happens to me all the time!”

This is a picture of how the supernatural Christian life should effect those around us.  They should see us in action and be asking, “How can I get in on this?”  But when we leave the supernatural out of our day-to-day activities and actions, are we presenting anything more than a do-your-best mentality?  Are we offering a life with supernatural power to walk in righteousness and experience all that righteous living brings to our relationships, our actions, and our innermost thoughts?

The challenge for us is two-fold.  First, are we experiencing the supernatural Christian life as we should?  The nuts and bolts of the supernatural aspect of the normal Christian life is a large part of what this blog is all about and I will leave this topic for your investigation.  Secondly, if the supernatural Christian life is indeed our experience, how do we demonstrate that in ways that are humble and winsome?  We can’t just blurt out to our friends and neighbors, “My life is more holy than yours because of God’s supernatural power within…That challenge you face is really not a problem for me…My power to resist temptation comes from God Himself.”  You get the idea.

So, how do we live close enough to our friends and neighbors to demonstrate the supernatural influence Christ has empowered us with without coming across as proud, boorish, and condescending?  I must admit that I don’t have a good answer because with all the emphasis on common ground with unbelievers in evangelism, I am coming to realize that I really have very little in common with my unbelieving neighbor.  Something seems off with this equation and I don’t know where the balance lies.  Do you have some ideas on how to communicate the supernatural nature of our new lives in ways that are humble and winsome?  I would love to hear from you.  Please share!

We should practice our righteousness, not in ways that are Pharisaical or haughty, but in ways that engender, “How can I get in on that?”  This is another motivation to do the right thing.

Doing the Right Thing – Motivated by Receiving a Blessing

In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes the crowd’s expectations, “You have heard it said…Do not commit murder…Do not commit adultery…Give your wife a certificate of divorce…Keep your vows…An eye for an eye…Love your neighbor and hate your enemy” (Mt 5), and kicks it up a notch with, “But I say…Don’t be angry with your brother…Don’t lust after a woman… Don’t divorce…Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ without the necessity of a vow…Repay evil with good…Love your enemies” (Mt 5).  Jesus takes the law of consequence of the Old Testament and replaces it with the law of love.  The law of love is the new expectation for would-be followers of Jesus.

In the Luke chapter 6 version of this teaching, Jesus includes an interesting promise.  After instructing His disciples in the law of love, Jesus concludes with “Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…Be merciful…Give and it will be given to you.  They will pour into your lap a good measure – pressed down, shaken together, and running over.  For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Lk 6:35-38).

It appears from this verse that somehow our love and generosity in this life will bring us a blessing.  I say “somehow” because our experience and the rest of the New Testament message make clear that there is not a one-to-one relationship between our giving and our financial blessing.  In fact, we rightfully cringe at the prosperity teaching that runs wild with this verse in the form of “send us your money and you will experience a financial windfall.”  Unfortunately that misuse often causes us to ignore the verse altogether.  But I believe Jesus said it and I believe it means something to us, his disciples.

There are many aspects to this promised blessing for obedience.  Sometimes it is a direct financial blessing.  But with appropriate sensitivity and humility, generous believers who have experienced a financial windfall are unlikely to broadcast that fact.  But we also know from our studies in Prosperity and Adversity that direct financial blessing is not always the path of blessing that God chooses.  What are some other aspects of God’s blessing?

Sticking with the generosity angle, we also have the blessing of making eternal friends with our money.  In the parable of the unrighteous steward, Jesus emphasizes this point, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Lk 16:9).  I think this is a direct promise that we can use our wealth to bless folks in a way that they will welcome us into heaven with open arms.  This will be a blessing for us.

I could go on about how our generosity and righteous living leads to the blessing of oneness in our community, the blessing of God’s peace that passes understanding, the blessing of joy in the face of adversity, and many other blessings that God has promised us.  But I will finish with one of God’s greatest blessings; the ability to be generous, do good, love one another, and everything else He has asked us to do.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:3-4).

God has given us the ability to be “holy and blameless before Him” through the finished work of Christ on the cross.  And when we live into this new identity, there is an overflowing blessing – pressed down, shaken together, and running over – for those who obey.

Doing the Right Thing – Motivated to be a Clean Vessel for Service

Listen to what God says about how we prepare ourselves to be an instrument in His hands.  “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.  Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble.  If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (II Tim 2:19-21).  When we cleanse ourselves from worldliness and wickedness, we will be ready to be put into service for the Lord.

An illustration we often used to explain this concept to our children goes like this.  Once we become a Christian, God is prepared to use us like a homemaker uses their kitchen utensils.  We are like pots and pans; pitchers and silverware.  We are vessels for service.  Would a cook knowingly use a dirty pot or pan to prepare the meal?  Would you like to sit down to the table only to find a dirty fork with some old whatever stuck to its tines?  Of course not!

Likewise, God does not want to use a “dirty” you or me to accomplish His work.  Our II Timothy passage teaches us that sin makes us an unclean vessel while righteous living – “turn away from wickedness” – makes us a vessel fit for service.

One evening, after a Bible lesson on this very topic, our son Josh was emptying the clean dishwasher.  He came across a fork with some food still stuck to it and loudly proclaimed to all within earshot, “Hark, an ignoble fork, unfit for service!” and threw it into the sink of hand dishes.  The illustration had hit its mark.

We remain a clean vessel when we obey God’s commandments.  And the desire to be found fit for His service is another motivation to do the right thing.

Doing the Right Thing – Motivated by Future Reward

Many times in the gospels, Jesus lifts up the hope of future rewards as a legitimate motivation for good works.  And the reward theme continues in the rest of the New Testament.  Let’s see what Jesus and the apostles had to say about keeping our eye on the prize.

“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:11-12).  Persecuted for your faith = REWARD.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven…when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you…when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:1,3,4,6).  Practice your righteousness with humility = REWARD.

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great” (Lk 6:35).  Love, good works, generosity = REWARD.

“Now he who plants and he who waters are on one mission; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (I Cor 3:8).  Planting and watering = REWARD.

“For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.  For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward” (I Cor 9:16-17).  Preaching the gospel = REWARD.

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance” (Col 3:23-24).  Diligence in your work = REWARD.

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.  This is the deceiver and the antichrist.  Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you will receive a full reward” (II Jn 1:7-8).  Staying true to the gospel message = REWARD.

And finally, “Behold, I am coming quickly and My reward is with Me to render to every man according to what he has done…Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gate into the city” (Rev 22:12,14).  Heaven is our ultimate reward!