“But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak.” – 1 Corinthians 8:9 (CSB)
To eat or not to eat? That was the question in Corinth. Was it okay for Christians who felt the freedom to eat meat sacrificed as part of pagan rituals to do so? Or should they abstain from eating if it would harm some of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul’s answer to both questions: yes.
We would do well to apply his conclusions to the positions and actions we take today. We may be within our “rights” to do something, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessary or helpful to do it. Christianity is not about declaring our rights. It’s about laying them aside for the good of others. After all, we follow a Savior who did not cling to his rights but willingly relinquished them for our salvation. The least we can do out of gratitude is treat others the same way.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:21 (CSB)
Every culture has a few key snares that pull our affections away from Jesus. As Americans, the chief competitor for our heart is our stuff. Whether it’s the money we save or the goods we buy, the temptation is there to let what we have define us. We find our significance and meaning in what we own. Our happiness is tied to our portfolio or lack thereof. Living that way pulls our attention off of Jesus. It shifts our heart toward the things of this world. The antidote is to prioritize our resources around the things that matter most. When we sow into what is eternal, our heart is sure to follow behind. Then we will be in position to seek first his kingdom.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward with your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1 (CSB)
If someone does a good deed and doesn’t post about it on social media, did it really happen? That may not be exactly what Jesus had in mind with his statement but he’s heading in that direction. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to look spiritual in front of others. We may do it sub-consciously yet the tendency is still there. We want them to know what we have done. The sacrifices we have made. The people we have helped. The ways we have given of our time and money. How often we read our Bible and pray. How long we fasted. But like everything else we do, the internal motivation matters just as much as the external actions. And when the external is all we have, the best we can hope for is a pat on the back from others. That’s our reward – all of it.
Authenticity. It’s a buzzword that’s everywhere. It’s in business. It’s in pop culture. It’s in the church. And while the term isn’t found when doing a word search in the Bible, the idea of being genuine and honest certainly is. The problem with authenticity is that it’s morphed into a cover for brazenly bad behavior even amongst Christians. People use crass language in the name of “keeping it real.” They treat others like dirt because “I’m tired of faking it.” They brag about – even glamorize – unwise decisions because “it’s who I am.” That’s not authenticity. It’s sin masquerading as authenticity.
True authenticity never requires crass language, putting others down, or bragging about sin. It simply means admitting our shortcomings and not pretending to be someone we’re not. But there is a right and wrong way to do that. The wrong way makes it all about us. Our “authenticity” is really just a cry for attention. The right way makes it all about God and others. That kind of authenticity comes when we maintain a posture of gentleness, humility, and repentance.
“For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up. In struggling against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” – Hebrews 12:3-4 (CSB)
It’s tempting to think that Jesus’ struggle against sin was somehow different than ours. That misses the fact that he was fully God and fully man. He was equally and 100 percent both at the same time without any confusion or superseding of one nature over the other. From the time of the incarnation, Jesus became the ultimate picture of what it means to be fully and truly human. So when we think we can’t resist sin’s pull any longer, we are just getting started. We have not shed blood unwillingly yet alone willingly. Our struggle has not come close to his – a struggle that he won because of the Spirit’s power at work within him. That same power is in us who believe. The Spirit guides us, enables us, and empowers us. How can we not keep fighting?
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart. – Proverbs 21:2 (ESV)
We naturally assume we are right. We assume our opinions are right. We assume our decisions are right. We assume our motives are right. But in the end, only one knows what is truly going on inside of us. Only one knows whether our heart is in the right place. Only one can see past the facade. And only one perfectly loves us through it all.
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?-unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV). We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. There are no additions. It’s faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and nothing else that makes us right with God. Even our faith is a gift from God.
At the same time, Scripture reveals that the faith which saves is never alone. It’s not a mere intellectual ascent or an emotional moment when we walk an aisle and pray a prayer. Faith changes us. Faith always produces fruit. We cannot shy away from that reality. It’s right to lovingly call people who profess faith in Jesus to leave behind sin, especially unrepentant sin that is publicly evident to all and damages Christian witness. Yet even in the midst of that, we must maintain a posture of grace. We are not responsible for the quality or quantity of someone else’s fruit. Our role is to spur people toward faith that expresses itself through love and good deeds. That starts by practicing the same thing ourselves. After all, Paul says “examine yourselves” not “examine others.” Maybe we should start there and work our way out.