We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. ~ Romans 6:4
Old habits die hard. A common saying filled with so much truth. Ask anyone who has tried to stick to a diet or start a regular workout routine. Ask anyone who has ever dealt with addiction. Ask anyone who has ever tried to change anything about their daily life and routine. Old habits do indeed die hard.
I think I marvel at the truth of this the most when my siblings and I are all together at my parent’s house. It has been nearly 25 years since we all lived at home together and yet, when we are all together, we all still find ourselves falling into some old routines. We are still annoyed at the same things, we still gravitate towards the same tasks to pull together a family gathering, we still have the same fights, we still fall into our old habits established during our youth.
In Romans 6, Paul is addressing the old, sinful habits we all seem to have trouble kicking at times. One of the arguments which had been made was that, if God’s grace was limitless, then what was the point of trying to rid oneself of the old sinful habits? If you are forgiven no matter how many times you sin, they why limit the number of times you sin? Some even went so far as to sin more so they could experience more of God’s grace and forgiveness.
One of the more famous and relatively recent examples of this way of thinking comes from Russian monk Gregory (Grigori) Rasputin. In the earliest days of the 1900’s, he gained significant influence with the emperor’s family as a healer. While there is much speculation to the exact details of his life and religious convictions, that he used his influence and connections to the royal family to live life on his terms, regularly accepting bribes and sexual favors, was common knowledge. He came to believe and teach that one was closest to God when feeling “holy passionlessness” which was best obtained in the exhaustion after a prolonged experience of debauchery.
It seems that Rasputin was not familiar with Romans 6.
The reality that Paul, and Christian leaders still today, face is that God’s grace is actually a dangerous thing to teach. God’s grace is limitless. Jesus says to forgive not just 7 times but 70 times 7 or, in other words, countless times (Matthew 18). And if God’s grace is limitless, if God will always forgive those who repent, then why should we be so worried about sinning? Why should we try to live a new life?
We should worry about avoiding sin because if we are to be a new creation in Christ Jesus, then we also will have a new relationship with sin. Instead of finding comfort in sinning, instead of being on a casual friendly basis with sin, we have an adversarial relationship with sin. Why?
Because God hates sin. In fact, God is so incompatible with sin that he physically cannot dwell in the same space as sin. It’s part of what makes heaven perfect, there is no sin and therefore none of the illness, hurt, pain, disease and such which are the result of choosing sin. Therefore, if we striving to follow God’s plan and purpose for our life, we are striving to follow a plan and purpose which, in no way, would include sin.
Striving to live a holy life is a tricky thing. It is hard to find a balance between following a list of rules and trusting in God’s grace. On one hand, that list of rules is a great way to feel confident you are on the right path. Do this, don’t do that. Go to church each week. Pray and read your Bible every day. Listen to Christian music. Don’t have sex before you’re married. Don’t swear. Don’t steal. We like it when things are as black and white, as straightforward as possible. But that list of rules can quickly become burdensome. It can quickly become all about following the rules instead of building a relationship with God the Father.
So you have to balance the rules with God’s grace. God knows we are going to mess up. God knows we are going to sin. God still chooses to love us, to adopt us into his family as his children, to forgive us and desire that we may have eternal life. God still provides the ultimate sacrifice for our sins in the sending his perfect, sinless, blameless son to die on our behalf on the cross and defeat the worse consequence of our sin, death. But if you swing too far, if you live life by the motto “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,” then you aren’t really striving to have a real relationship with God. You are just using God’s grace as a “get out of jail free” card.
When we embrace our new life in Christ, it should never be out of fear of hell, guilt, shame, or any other sort of coercion. It should always be something which is freely chosen. And our new life should flow not out of a desire to live up to some impossible standards on a man-made checklist of “rules to be holy,” but it should flow from an ever deepening love and relationship with our heavenly Father. In so many ways, it is so similar to our relationship with our earthly parents. We generally live a life which pleases them, especially as small children, for one of two reasons. One, we want to make them happy and proud of us. Or two, we are scared of our parents and don’t want to make them angry. Why did you chose to behave as a child? Love or fear? Why do you chose to live a life which avoids sin and is pleasing to God? Love or Fear?
- Check out our Monday Theme verse this summer and learn the actions in the video below!
- What old habit is particularly hard for you to defeat at the moment? What resources are available to help you?
- Do you tend to rely more on the rules or more on God’s grace? Why? In what ways has your approach drawn you closer to God and in what ways has it hindered your relationship with God?