TBU: The Bible Unpacked: Comprehensive Edition

II. Staying Right with God

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Chapter 21  Part II

Staying Right with God

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As seen in the first half of this chapter, being made right with God involves being forgiven and granted righteousness. Having been made right with God, it is critical that we live in accordance with this standing, so as to stay right with God. The following topics deal with some key aspects involved in staying right with God.

The Need to Obey God

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Obedience does not make us righteous nor earn us salvation. But we need to obey God in keeping with the righteous state before God that is granted to believers through faith in Jesus Christ. (See the introductory comment below on Obedience leads to righteousness.) Moreover, in striving to obey God and to do his will, we effectively accept or grasp the undeserved salvation made possible by God’s grace. These same points can be made regarding good deeds – an aspect of obeying God – the subject of the following chapter section.

Obedience accompanies belief

Rom 16:26b  And by the command of the eternal God it [the gospel] is made known to all nations that they might believe and obey.  NCV™

God requires us to both believe and obey him. Thus obedience ought to accompany belief.

Obedience leads to righteousness

Rom 6:16  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  ESV

Righteousness involves conformity to the will of God. As such obedience is critical for it. However, as is the case earlier in this chapter, righteousness is also sometimes spoken of in a stricter legal sense – in regard to being deemed as righteous by God. This cannot be achieved just by obedience, simply because it is impossible to obey God’s law perfectly so as to be declared completely righteous before him. It is only by faith in Jesus Christ that one can be declared as righteous in this sense.

But bear in mind that obedience goes hand in hand with faith, as shown above in Obedience accompanies belief. Faith requires obedience and is shown to be valid by it. No one will be declared righteous on Judgment Day without having endeavoured to be obedient. So Paul can say in Romans 6:16 (above) that obedience “leads to righteousness”, a concept applicable to all senses of the word “righteousness”.

Obedience leads to holiness

Rom 6:22  [Paul, to believers:] But now that you have been freed from sin and have become God’s slaves, the benefit you reap is sanctification, and the result is eternal life.  ISV

Here Paul speaks of becoming slaves in obedience to God, which brings sanctification, a term akin to holiness.

Obedience brings one into a close relationship with God and Jesus Christ . . .

Jer 7:23a  [God, referring to the Israelites:] I also explicitly commanded them: “Obey me. If you do, I will be your God and you will be my people. Live exactly the way I tell you and things will go well with you.”  NET

Mark 3:35  [Jesus:] For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.  NET

. . . God and Jesus Christ are with those who obey

John 14:23  Jesus answered him, “Whoever loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and my Father and I will come to him and live with him.  GNT

Obedience and doing God’s will are critical for salvation

Heb 5:9  After he had finished his work, he became the source of eternal salvation for everyone who obeys him.  GW

Matt 7:21  [Jesus:] Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  NET

Obedience leads to eternal life

Matt 19:16-17  A man came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have eternal life?” 17Jesus said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? Only God is good. If you want to have eternal life, you must obey his commandments.”  CEV

John 8:51  [Jesus:] I tell you the solemn truth, if anyone obeys my teaching, he will never see death.  NET

Not obeying God ultimately ends in eternal destruction

2Thes 1:8-10  With flaming fire he [Christ] will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength, 10when he comes to be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed – and you did in fact believe our testimony.  NET

 Questions for Section A

The Need for Good Deeds

While good deeds do not make us right with God, they are critical for staying right with God – not least because they accompany things that are indicative of being right with God. As such, good deeds prove that one’s faith and Christianity are valid – and consequently they are important for one’s salvation.

Note that good deeds are involved in obeying God, the subject of the previous section.

We are to persistently do good deeds

Titus 3:1, 14  [Paul, instructing Titus what to teach believers:] Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, … 14And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.  ESV

True faith involves good deeds

James 2:26  For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.  NET

Gal 5:6  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight – the only thing that matters is faith working through love.  NET

Faith is more than just a matter of one’s intellect. It involves an active trust in God that is manifested in acts of love, i.e. good deeds.

Good deeds are critical for salvation and eternal life

Heb 6:9-12  [The writer, to believers:] Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case, things that point to salvation. 10For God is not so unjust as to forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have ministered to the saints and continue to minister to them. 11But we want each of you to continue to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to give full assurance to your hope. 12Then, instead of being lazy, you will become imitators of those who are inheriting the promises through faith and patience.  ISV

Rom 2:6-7  He [God] will reward each one according to his works: 7eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality, …  NET

Note: Our good deeds do not earn salvation, for it is by grace

Eph 2:8-9  [Paul, to believers:] For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9it is not from works, so that no one can boast.  NET

In v. 9, “works” may be primarily referring to things done in order to obey the law, but even so here it is very much applicable to good works or deeds (cf. v. 10). Any such good “works” do not earn us righteousness and salvation. They are an effect of these things rather than a cause. Rather, salvation comes by God’s grace.

 Questions for Section B

Living Free of the Law and Sin – by the Spirit

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Through what Jesus Christ has accomplished, believers have been set free from the Mosaic Law (the law given through Moses) as the means of being made right with God. As such, many aspects of the law are no longer applicable, particularly the regulations regarding making atonement for sin.

This does not mean that we are permitted to sin. For we are still to obey the spiritual and moral commands of the law that remain pertinent to our relationship with God and our relationships with other people. But rather than being preoccupied with doggedly obeying rules, we are to be focused on living by God’s Holy Spirit. In doing so we are better able to avoid sin and more effectively fulfill God’s will.

Our freedom from the Mosaic Law does not permit us to sin . . .

Gal 5:13  [Paul, to believers:] My brothers and sisters, God called you to be free, but do not use your freedom as an excuse to do what pleases your sinful self. Serve each other with love.  NCV™

Freedom from the Mosaic Law is being referred to here.

. . . In fact, sinning results in enslavement to sin

John 8:34  Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin.  NET

We have been freed from the law to live by the Holy Spirit

Rom 7:6  [Paul, to believers:] But now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us [the law], so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code.  NET

Living by the Holy Spirit involves: being both alert to and responsive to the Spirit’s promptings; and relying on the Spirit’s power, to enable and transform us. Along with this, our minds should be focused on things of the Spirit (as per Romans 8:5 in the following subsection).

Instead of living by the sinful nature, live by the Holy Spirit . . .

Rom 8:3b-5  [Paul, to believers:] He [God] condemned sin in the flesh 4so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  ISV

Gal 5:16  [Paul, to believers:] But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.  NET

In the above passages, “flesh” denotes our sinful nature.

. . . and live in God’s grace

Acts 13:43  When the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and God–fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and were persuading them to continue in the grace of God.  NET

After experiencing God’s grace in being made right with him and being given salvation (cf. Salvation by Grace, through Jesus Christ), Christians are to live in the realm of his grace. This primarily involves being faithful to God and holding to the faith – thus remaining under his grace, staying right with him. It also encompasses trusting in God’s grace to meet one’s needs, notably spiritual needs.

Living in God’s grace is complementary to living by the Holy Spirit. Additionally it contrasts in particular with living by the law.

Note: Inner righteousness and right attitudes are needed, rather than mere compliance with rules

Matt 5:20-22a, 27-28  [Jesus:] For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 21“You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment.27“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  NET

In v. 20 Jesus refers to the Jewish leaders’ lack of true, inner righteousness. They gave the appearance of complying with the law’s commandments – and indeed probably did largely comply with its rules and regulations. But their characters were not consistent with the spirit of the law. Jesus may well have had this latter point in view in subsequently speaking of attitudes that should accompany obedience to such commands as those forbidding murder (vv. 21-22a) and adultery (vv. 27-28).

 Questions for Section C

Epilogue: Living ‘in’ Jesus Christ

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Paul often speaks of believers being or acting “in” Christ. This refers to their close relationship and association with Jesus Christ, in which they are even identified with him. More specifically, it involves their spiritual union with Jesus Christ, and also the relationship that they have to God because of this association with Jesus Christ. (See also the introductory comment under Being ‘in’ Jesus Christ.)

Believers are to live their lives in accordance with this relationship. As such, in addition to being mindful of the relationship, believers should: be dependent on Jesus Christ in whom they subsist; and act in a way consistent with Jesus Christ and his teachings.

Live “in” Jesus Christ

1Cor 4:17b  [Paul, to the Corinthian believers:] He [Timothy] will help you remember my way of life in Christ Jesus, just as I teach it in all the churches everywhere.  NCV™

Remain “in” Jesus Christ

John 15:4-6  [Jesus, to his disciples:] Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. 5“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me – and I in him – bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up.  NET

We live “in” Jesus Christ – and he in us – by faith . . .

Col 2:5-7  [Paul, to the Colossian believers:] For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your morale and the firmness of your faith in Christ. 6Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.  NET

Paul appears to associate having a firm faith in Christ (v. 5) – and being established in the faith (v. 7; cf. AMP, NKJV, NRSV) – with living in Christ (v. 6) and being “rooted and built up in him” (v. 7).

. . . and by holding to his teachings

John 15:7, 10  [Jesus, to his disciples:] If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. … 10If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.  NET

One remains in Jesus Christ (v. 7) and similarly in his love (v. 10), by holding to his words (v. 7) including his commands (v. 10).

Speak “in” Jesus Christ

Rom 9:1  [Paul:] I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—  ESV

Being “in” Jesus Christ we should speak and act (as per the following subsection) “in” Jesus Christ, in a manner consistent with this standing. Doing so involves speaking and acting in accordance with Jesus Christ’s teachings and faith in him (as reflected by the previous two subsections).

Act towards others “in” Jesus Christ

Eph 6:1  Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.  NET

Phil 2:29  [Paul, to the Philippian believers:] So welcome him in the Lord with all joy, and make sure you honor such people highly.  ISV

Do God’s work “in” Jesus Christ

Rom 16:12  [Paul, to the Roman believers:] Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who have worked hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, who has worked very hard in the Lord.  ISV

Rejoice “in” Jesus Christ

Phil 3:1a  Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord!  NET

“In” Jesus Christ, we are to rejoice – “be joyful in your union with the Lord” (GNT).

Further aspects of living “in” Jesus Christ

1Thes 5:16-18  Be joyful always, 17pray at all times, 18be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus.  GNT

Eph 6:10  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  ESV

Believers are to be spiritually strong “in union with the Lord and by means of his mighty power” (GNT; cf. AMP).

 Questions for Section D

Pray for persecuted Christians