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Making Lifestyle Choices

Back in college, years ago, I knew a young woman, a friend of a friend, you might say. She was a pleasant young lady, unoffensive in her demeanor and polite for the most part, but she had a rather promiscuous lifestyle.
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I asked her once about her choices, and she justified her behavior by using the expression “Any port in a storm, right?” The phrase means that if you have problems in your life, you need to find a safe haven, and any haven is better than being caught alone in a storm.

However, she used it to justify bringing home a different man every night. This trite cliché was her way of covering up what she knew was unacceptable behavior. Her rationale was that she had the right to live as she pleased; after all, she wasn’t hurting anyone. Life was hard, so we deserved our little distractions. 

She, of course, was not alone in her lifestyle choices, nor in her justifications for them. Sometime later, I found myself working in a hotel with a couple of gentlemen who lived by what is commonly called an “alternate lifestyle.” They were reasonably pleasant, unoffensive in their demeanor, and polite. But they were very protective of their right to live in whatever way was acceptable to them and felt no one had a right to judge them for it.

The underlying presumption in both these cases and so many more is that it’s perfectly acceptable to live your life as you please, as long as it’s not hurting anybody else. We live in a society that agrees with and promotes that presumption. This is the mantra by which “civilized” society exists. So, if you want to smoke cigarettes or drink too much, gamble away your savings, sleep around, or share your bed with someone of the same gender, you have that “right.” But is it right? 

Adam had the right to eat the forbidden fruit or not. He chose to eat. Was he right? David had the choice of bringing Uriah’s wife to his bed or leaving her alone. He chose the former. Was he right? Saul had the right to persecute the people of “The Way,” and he did. Was he right?

Throughout history, man has chosen the wrong path.

The young lady I knew had the “right” to sleep in whatever bed she chose. Was she right? As a grown adult in a free society, you can, for the most part, watch whatever you want, say whatever you want, hate whomever you want, condone whatever you want, do whatever you want, just as long as you don’t cause harm to another person. But is it right?

Throughout history, man has had the “right” to do what he believes is right in his own eyes and live life the way he wants. Throughout history, man has chosen the wrong path. Why? God explained it in Genesis 6:5, “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”     

The Bible says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This shows that this is His creation and not our own. We should be trying to live by His rules and not our own. However, as we know from the lessons of Scripture and the lessons of life, man still does not recognize nor accept God’s ways. God has promised us the day will come when He will be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28), and man shall live in harmony with his Creator. But that day is not today.

So, how are we, as God’s children, supposed to behave in a world that does not obey God? Well, there are two important points to consider to address that question. The first is our relationship to the world around us, and secondly, how do we follow the Father and reflect His character in a world that rejects Him?

Before we were baptized, we were both in the world and of it, meaning the rules we lived by were the same as those that run the world (often referred to as “the will of the flesh”). When I knew the young lady back in college, I was not a Christadelphian, and I didn’t know God. While I thought her behavior was dangerous (from a health consideration) and morally shaky. (“What would your parents think?”) I didn’t have a major issue with how she lived her life. After all, that was her choice. So, when she said, “Any port in a storm, right?” my only response was, “You experience an awful lot of stormy weather.” I was a sinner, living as the world lives, worthy of condemnation and “without hope,” as Paul says. (Eph 2:12).

So, what does change when we’re baptized? Are we now no longer sinners, and are our sins not worthy of condemnation? Well, we know that’s wrong. Even as baptized believers, we know we still sin, and if judged by ourselves, we are still worthy of the same condemnation. When we put on Christ, we accept this truth, but we also accept that by the grace of God, we could live a new life in Christ and be judged by our faith in him.

So, where does this put us concerning sin? Well, it can’t place us above sin since we haven’t overcome it. Only Christ has. Instead, it places us beside sin, outside its condemnation but certainly not beyond its power. It is not until that glorious day when we are fully changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye! (1 Cor 15:52). By standing beside sin, we can see sin for what it really is. The depth of evil, disobedience, and the overwhelming sense of self-obsession, self-justification, and blindness toward God. The realization can be overwhelming when we see how evil this world is.

To a disciple of Christ who understands redemption and where we stand in relation to sin, this realization should be overwhelmingly humiliating because, in our lives, we have been as much a part of sin as anyone. Paul said to Timothy, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:15 NIV).

Paul is telling Timothy that everyone should be honest about their failures because their sins condemn them. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and no one gets to place themselves above anyone else, save for the Lord Jesus Christ. “All we, like sheep, have gone astray,” explains Isaiah. “We have turned everyone to his own way, and the LORD has placed on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:6).

By the grace of God, we, who have put on Christ, get to stand aside from sin and the world and see it for what it is, rebellious and destructive. This offers us the humble opportunity to be witnesses to what is the true, righteous, and loving will of God. Man has been at odds with God since the day Adam and Eve ate the fruit, and the world has been on a collision course with fate since the Almighty declared the seed of the woman would crush the head of the seed of the serpent. Since “the fall,” man has been in rebellion against God. There have been periods of reformation when he has turned back to his Father, but those moments always fade as the will of the flesh reinforces its power over man’s conscience and drives him back into self-obsession and self-will. 

At the same time as all this has been going on, the Father has maintained a “remnant” that sees and understands that His true will is playing out until it reaches its ultimate goal: all the earth full of His glory. That remnant could see that a redeemer would come, the seed of the woman, who would be bruised, but not crushed, by the seed of the serpent. That remnant saw that seed of the woman in the man Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (1 Pet 2:24 ESV.) As part of that remnant, today we can see by the ways of this world that a day is coming very soon when Christ will return to establish a Kingdom that will never end. 

So, how are we to live in this world with all that God has blessed us to see? Peter tells us that we are to live righteously in the passage just cited. We are to stand out from the world as a reflection of all that the Father has offered in his son, just as the remnant has lived all through the annals of time. In his Letter to the Philippians, Paul offers these instructions as to how to live in the present age. 

Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world. Holding forth the word of life. (Phil 2:12-16). 

We are to be blameless, harmless, without murmurings and disputing. Is this how we, as God’s chosen, live today? Sadly, this is not always the case. Because of the abundance of the revelations shown to us, we can sometimes act very harmfully toward those that know not God. We may forget our first love, that we have been saved, not by our righteousness, but by the grace of God. As Paul told the Ephesians: 

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph 4:29,31-32 ESV).

We must live before the world as Peter expressed it when he said, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evil doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Pet 2:12 ESV) Glorifying God on the “day of visitation” will be the ultimate statement that we have truly put on Christ and reflected his character.  

By the time I worked with the two men mentioned earlier, my life had changed from what it was in  college. By then, I had come to know the Father and the Son and been baptized into Christ. I had committed myself to live a new life in his name. When they discovered I was born again, they began to ask me a series of questions about how the Bible judges their lifestyle choice. In the past, they had been told that the Bible had either singled out their behavior and condemned them for it or that God loved them no matter what, so they shouldn’t worry about it.

Though we weren’t friends, we did have an honest and respectful relationship. They knew my choices, and I knew how they chose to live. Though it was several years ago now, I can still remember the essence of our conversation. I told them the truth. I told them that the Bible condemned their behavior.

I told them, concerning those that said differently about Scripture, that they were wrong, that you don’t get to play around with the word of God to make it fit what you want it to say. I told them that the Bible condemns all sinful behavior and that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” This doesn’t make their life choices right or any more acceptable in the eyes of God, and it simply places their choice in the context of all the wrong choices made by men against God throughout history.

Sin is disobedience to the Creator and worthy of the same condemnation.

When I was young, choosing to live promiscuously or homosexually was shunned by society and kept hidden. Today, choosing that lifestyle is more openly accepted. We have a tendency, as Christadelphians, to say that the old days when these lifestyles were shunned were better. Why? Was sin less sinful in those days? Was God’s condemnation less warranted fifty years ago than it is today? One hundred years ago? Four thousand years ago? Of course not. Sin has always been sin. It is disobedience to the Creator and worthy of the same condemnation. But sin must have its time. 

In the meantime, man in the flesh will choose how they want to live for themselves. They will justify their behavior by the rules of the day: “any port in a storm,” or “Who am I hurting?” or even eventually the depths they reached at Sodom when they said about the angels of God, “Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” (Gen. 19:5). In the end, God will destroy the will of the flesh, once and for all, in the same way he destroyed Sodom in the days of Lot. Ezekiel explains, 

Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good. (Ezek 16:49-50). 

But God will destroy the flesh because it was against Him that the flesh rebelled. 

It is our job, as God’s faithful, to reflect the character of Christ toward all men, whatever their sinfulness may be. About the character of our Lord, Peter said, 

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (1 Pet 2:21-23). 

No guile, no reviling, no threatening. This is how we’re called to live because that’s exactly how he lived on this earth. 

When they brought before him the woman taken in adultery, the Lord Jesus Christ posed a question to those who sought to stone her. He said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7). Slowly, they all turned away and left.

How could they stay knowing that they had brought only one of the two adulterers before Jesus for condemnation? They had condemned themselves in their deceit. But the woman stayed who had been caught in the act. As the others turned away, she had a golden opportunity to flee, yet she didn’t because, truthfully, she had no place else to go. Her sin had been exposed, so where would she go if she fled?

Those that walked away could go back into hiding, hiding in sin, hiding from judgment and condemnation, but she couldn’t. Her sin was out there for all to see. All she had to hold onto at that moment was the one kind statement made by the man who was now kneeling before her, writing on the ground. As he stood back up and looked around, he said to her, 

Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?” She said, “No man Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more.

The one individual there who had the right, by his criteria to cast a stone, chose not to, that’s the man who has saved us. 

That’s the man we serve. We who were once dead in our sins are now alive in Christ. All we have to hold on to is the salvation that comes through him. On the day of our baptism, we made a public confession of our sins, and now we stand always before him in sincerity and truth, reassured in our weakness that neither does he condemn us.   

James Sullivan,
(Stoughton Ecclesia, MA)

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