How Should We Then Live?
Perhaps you’ve read the book, How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer, one of the foremost evangelical thinkers of the twentieth century, who long pondered the fate of declining Western culture. In this brilliant book he analyzed the reasons for modern society’s state of affairs and presented the only viable alternative: living by the Christian ethic, acceptance of God’s revelation, and total affirmation of the Bible’s morals, values, and meaning. It is in the spirit of that book and my quest to answer, What would Jesus do?, that inspires this practical guide to living the Christian life.
Our first priority is the share the gospel. Share the good news that ALL may be saved by the grace of God through His son Jesus Christ.
In the meantime, we still live our daily lives with all its struggles and challenges. And, depending on your perspective of eschatology (study of the end times), your daily activities will generally fit that view. Some believe they need to continue following the Old Testament Law. Others have interpreted Scripture to fit their preferences and see a secret rapture in their future removing them an expected Tribulation. Still others believe Jesus died on the cross, rose again, and instigated His kingdom on earth.
So, how shall we then live? Do we just ignore the Bible and live our lives in whatever manner seems comfortable? Do we follow all the laws contained in the Old Testament? How about those 10 Commandments? What would Jesus do? The New Testament church has plenty of direction given by Christ and explained by the Apostles.
The apostle Paul provided a practical guide to the Roman church how they should live this Christian life and I believe applies to us today…
Romans 12 describes the condition in this world and instructs us in the ways we should live, especially our personal responsibilities towards others.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12:1-2
The Old Testament Mosaic Covenant (Deuteronomy 11; et al.) has been replaced with a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). In the New Covenant, God promises to forgive sin, and there will be a universal knowledge of the Lord. Jesus Christ came to fulfill the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17) and create a new covenant between God and His people. Now that we are under the New Covenant, both Jews and Gentiles can be free from the penalty of the Law. We are now given the opportunity to receive salvation as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). The New Covenant presents for us a different way of living than that of the Jewish nation before. The focus on the temple and making sacrifices (the Law) is changed to where we are now the temple of God and our bodies (and how we live) become a living sacrifice.
Humankind and how we view it in our minds have been transformed. So long as we become like the culture around us, we will miss out on the fundamentals of kingdom life. In reality, most everything about popular culture is against God and we’ve got to cleanse ourselves (renewing our mind) of that as we seek God’s will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. – Romans 12:3-5
There is no room for segregation and prideful superiority in God’s church. Though we have differences among us, we are still equals united as ONE body.
We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.- Romans 12:6-8
Each of us have different gifts given by God and we should exercise that gift as we live out our lives. When all these gifts are expressed, the body as a whole operates as it should. What’s your gift?
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. – Romans 12:9
Hypocrisy has no place in the Christian’s life. You either love unconditionally as Christ did or you don’t. Paul also says to hate “what” is evil, not “who” is evil… that is to hate evil practices, beliefs, and actions – not the people who practice them. We hate sin, but love the sinner. Those that practice evil are victims, caught up in Satan’s lies. You might hate homosexuality, abortion, murder, theft, etc., but those people who practice those sins have been manipulated into believing Satan’s lies and are in need of forgiveness and reconciliation, not hatred. We don’t want to condone their sinful actions and can stand firmly against the practices, instead clinging to what is good and reach out to the individual in compassion with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus provided many examples of this behavior that we can model. His dying words on the Cross of Calvary was, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. – Romans 12:10
This points back to the new commandment Jesus gives in His final instructions to His disciples after the Last Supper (John 13:34-35) and seems related to the so-called golden rule spoken by Jesus in Luke 6:31 and sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12) .
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. – Romans 12:11
Laziness, complacency, ignorance, and apathy should not be traits in the Christian. Instead, we should enthusiastically live out our Christian faith and avoid being conformed in the ways of this world. Everything we are and have belongs to the Lord, to be used for His glory and purpose.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. – Romans 12:12
I don’t think anyone can deny that life is tough. Humankind’s history is filled with difficulties and afflictions. And it seems in these current times, things seem out of control. But, we Christians can remain hopeful knowing that in the end we win. In the meantime, we are urged to be faithful in prayer as we seeks the Lord’s guidance and encouragement to stay the course through these difficult times. Turn off your TV and stop watching all that negativity that is sure to bring you down. Instead, turn your attention to God who will lift you up.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. – Romans 12:13
Christian missionaries across the globe understand that in order to share the gospel, they must meet those populations at the level of their need. It might be improved living conditions, improved education, improved nutrition, or improved health. In your local community there are people in need of help and it’s the Christian’s duty to extend the love of Christ by helping them. You likely encounter people every day that need the love of Christ and you just may be that instrument that God uses to accomplish his will. I am encouraged by the mission of the Salvation Army, “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. – Romans 12:14
Loving those who love us is easy. Loving those who are opposed to us is more difficult, but Paul says we are to bless those and do not curse. Christians today are opposed by a monolithic society that stands for all those things we Christians hate, and they may persecute us because we won’t conform to their evil ways. What is our response? It shouldn’t be hate but blessings. We overcome their evil with good (v.21). My friend Patricia writes, “To bless does not mean to approve. It means to bless, to continue to do what is good and right even under the pressure of persecution. Believe me, folks will notice. They may think you strange, but you will make an impact.”
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. – Romans 12:15
As Christians, we can demonstrate our love and solidarity with others as we join them in their emotional state. Whether it’s happiness or sadness, we can empathize with others and understand more of what they’re going through. No doubt, there has been some point in your life where in the midst of the circumstance you were going through, you thought to yourself that others simply did not understand what you were dealing with. Perhaps that was because they were not joining you as a co-sojourner.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. – Romans 12:16
There is no place in the Church for discrimination. God created ALL people equal. Sure, He gave each of us different gifts and abilities, but those are not to be used to elevate one person above another. As we harmonize those gifts, the body of Christ becomes united and its impact in the world is enhanced. Regardless of who is reading this now, understand that I am no better than you and you are no better than I. We are all equal. My heart is grieved when I see people refer to themselves as “white” or “black” or whatever. Those are only physical descriptors and has nothing to do with a persons humanity as seen by God. I’m encouraged when I go into a church and see all manners of ethnic races and economic standings worshiping God together. Jesus tells us, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:24-25, see also Matthew 12:25, Luke 11:17)
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:17-18
We can forgive others of their trespasses against us as we’ve been forgiven by God through Christ [Matthew 18:23-35]. Rather than allowing our differences to separate us, we can seek ways to reconcile with them. Jesus tells us in the sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45) I’ve seen it all too often, especially in the political arena – instead of trying to understand the opposition and to be a peacemaker, we resort to name calling. That never produces peace and only exacerbates the differences. When talking with those people we need to keep a level head and not resort to name calling and innuendo. Rather than focusing on the person, we can focus on the issue and present evidence that supports our position. For example, calling abortion supporters, “baby killers” only separates. Instead we can attempt, if it is possible, to educate them about the life that lives inside a woman’s womb and that all life matters.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:19-21
This is a tough one for many people. When we’re attacked for whatever reason, we tend to want to strike back. Some have resorted to violence when it comes to, for example, abortion doctors. There’s NO justification in murdering others because of their sinful actions. I’m not suggesting we should stand idle in our self defense when physically attacked, but only exercise our self defense to the degree of protecting our lives and the lives of our family. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:44, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.“
Romans 13 now turns to our relationship with government, those in authority, and society at large.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. – Romans 13:1
In His timing and for His purpose, governments are established. Sometimes God establishes a wicked form of government to bring judgment on His people who have turned their back to Him. When people are right with God He establishes a righteous government.
Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. – Romans 13:2
Whoever resists the government is rebelling against God. God is sovereign and whatever form of government you may find yourself under is ordained by God for His purposes in His timing and we can never second guess Him.
Certainly when we are presented with conflicting orders, we must first take the matter to God in prayer and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in our decision. We don’t want to be in rebellion against God if we’re put in a position of resisting authority. We must obey God rather than man and deal with the consequences. Whoever does resist can expect he will be punished by the people in power. And, yes there may be consequences we don’t like. For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego it was the fiery furnace. For Daniel, it was the lions den. In the end, God even used those uncomfortable consequences for His purpose and to advance the Kingdom.
For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. – Romans 13:3-4
The primary role of government is to restrain evil and encourage good. Rulers enforce a basic form of morality and to act as God’s agent to dispense punishment. We do not need to fear government so long as we’re doing what is good. It’s when we do wrong that we might fear government. Romans 12:17-21 forbids individuals to seek revenge or to take justice in their own hands, rather governments are ordained by God to dispense justice in this world.
Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. – Romans 13:5
We don’t submit to government only to prevent punishment but to have a clear conscience. As God’s laws are written on the hearts of man, when we do wrong we know it deep down.
This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. – Romans 13:6
Many of us may not like paying taxes, but it’s necessary and ordained by God. Governments are agents of God to provide for us safety and protection and we citizens finance those activities with our taxes. Without government we would be left with anarchy. Granted, there are corrupt governments that unfairly tax their citizens and use those taxes for nefarious purposes.
Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. – Romans 13:7
This behavior produces peace and harmony in society. Taxes are paid to governments to finance their efforts at providing protection and better living conditions. What about when our taxes go to evil programs like paying for abortions? Paul seems to be saying in these verses that taxes are paid to finance government employees, not necessarily programs. In America, we live in Constitutional Representative Republic. If taxes are used for evil purposes, we citizens can influence our government to stop using taxes that way. It’s called voting folks and writing to your government representatives.
Revenues are paid to others in exchange for their contribution into our lives. Respect is due those in authority and leaders in our community. Honor is fitting those who do God’s good and perfect will.
Remember, we Christians are ambassadors for Christ in the dark and fallen world. As good citizens in our communities, we need to be good examples to others.
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. – Romans 13:8-10
Paul wraps the fulfillment of the 10 Commandments into loving one another. Jesus declared a new command to love one another (John 13:34-35). Our love for one another is a witness to others of our Christian faith.
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. – Romans 13:11-14
Paul makes here the point that NOW is the time to wake up and for believers to act like Christians. We must put aside the ways we used to live and embrace this new way of living; and to do so openly – not just when we’re filling the pews on Sundays. There is no place in the Church for hypocrisy. Drunkenness, sexual immorality, dissension and jealousy is not the picture of Christians. Instead, we are to become more like Christ who set aside personal desires of the flesh and instead reached out to and embraced all people in love.
In Romans 14, Paul next turns his attention to how we Christians live in relationship with the broader society we live in.
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. – Romans 14:1
Paul acknowledges there are some things that are disputable and there are some differences amongst us. We can still accept those folks that differ with us in those insignificant issues. Often those differences is what creates divisions in the Church and the formation of all the various religious denominations. Paul says it’s a “faith” issue and mentions specifically issues surrounding food and the days we consider sacred. Newer believers may have a weaker faith along with a lesser knowledge of Scripture while more mature believers may have more Scriptural knowledge or life experience that defines their faith. I believe as the young believer matures in the faith, they may actually change some of their views, and that’s okay. I know in my personal growth over the past several decades, I have changed some of the things I once believed. Though not mentioned in these passages, I believe some of those disputable matters might include our eschatological perspective, what translation/version of the Bible we prefer, speaking in tongues, the woman’s place in the Church, baptism by dunking or by sprinkling, infant baptism, and perhaps many other matters.
One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. – Romans 14:2-3
Paul specifically tells us not to fight or quarrel over disputable matters like food. Clearly, the Mosaic Law contained many regulations about food, but the New Covenant sets new standards for believers today. We see in the book of Acts that Peter and the church founders did not force Jewish laws on Gentile believers. This should put an end to the debate over vegetarians and meat eaters; each is free to choose their diet based on their personal choice.
Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. – Romans 14:4
You are not the master over others and have no place to pass judgement on them. As Paul wrote in chapter 13, it’s the governments role as God’s agent to pass judgement when there are civil infractions.
As to the personal influencers in our lives, Jesus tells us to judge them by their fruit (Matt. 7:15-23). Does the results of their life demonstrate faith in God or does it undermine it? We are not judging a persons salvation or questioning their faith, but we should make judgements about what they are teaching and whether we allow them to influence our lives. There may be differences in our personal beliefs, as is clearly evident in the fractured denominations in our Church, but these can be accepted so long as they don’t undermine the foundations of our faith in Christ.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. – Romans 14:5-6
The Mosaic Covenant clearly set forth holy days and feasts the Jews were to honor. They had meaning to Jews living at that time, reminding them of what God had done in their lives. But the New Covenant puts an end to that form of worship and while the history is still important, gives believers today freedom to live a new way. Jesus is today for all of us, our way of salvation, not the old sacrificial temple system. Whether we choose to worship on Saturday or Sunday is irrelevant. What’s important is our motive or reason for worship. Do we do what we do to please or honor the Lord or do we have another motive? Whatever we believe about how we live our Christian faith and the choices we make, we’re in a good place when it is “to the Lord“.
For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. – Romans 14:7-9
Our lives on this earth is not to please ourselves or force our way of living on others. What are your motives? Hopefully it’s not about traditions or about being right or wrong. Nowhere in Scripture do we find instructions to be proud and judgmental. There is plenty of room for differences and yet, we can still live in the unity that is found in Jesus Christ. He is what we live for and our lives should reflect that by bringing Him glory. His death on the cross gives us all freedom to live apart from sin.
You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ” ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ – Romans 14:10-11
Now, there’s a couple of questions we all need to honestly answer. Passing judgment on others is rooted in the sin of pride and suggests that we are as God. Remember the lie Satan told Eve in the garden (Genesis 3:5)? You and I… and everyone else will bow our knee to God and acknowledge only Him. He is in control, not us. He knows what is truth vs. a lie, not us. We need to humble ourselves and recognize our rightful place in this world and resist elevating ourselves beyond that. I’m reminded here of Christ’s words in Matthew 7:1-5. Now, I don’t suggest we should not have ANY discernment about what is true or right. Christ also said to beware of false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20). I take that as not condemning others but rather protecting myself from false teachings.
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. – Romans 14:12
We are personally responsible for and accountable for our own beliefs and actions. It is our personal responsibility to rightly divide the word of God (2 Timothy 2:15) and not rely on some preacher or book to teach us. “The devil made me do it” is a lie from the pit of hell. Satan might influence us, but we ourselves choose what we do.
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. – Romans 14:13-15
While our personal food choices are our own, at the same time we are not to use those choices to cause someone that believes differently to stumble in their faith. If you’re sharing a meal with your Adventist brother, for example, you don’t want to prepare the meal that consists of pork. That would be disrespectful to them and put them in the uncomfortable position of refusing your meal. If you’re eating in a public restaurant, you might not want to order pork for yourself (even though it’s permissible for you), out of respect for the other and not wanting to offend them.
Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. – Romans 14:16-18
Arguing over eating and drinking and other disputable matters takes our focus away from what pleases God. We need to get right in our own mind and leave all the rest to God.
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. – Romans 14:19
Rather than tearing down, we should be building up and encouraging others as we seek peace. This verse echos Romans 12:10 to Honor one another above yourselves. Instead of dwelling on our differences we should be seeking that which is good in others. That which binds us together is greater than that which sets us apart. If we want an end to war and peace among the nations, this simple diplomacy will do far more than any aggressive attempt to control and dominate.
Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. – Romans 14:20-21
Rather than squabbling over food, instead we should be focusing on God and His blessings. Paul makes it clear that all food is okay, but if somebody believes differently, rather than putting up a temptation for them we can abstain. Food and drink are not important enough to cause division amongst us.
So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. – Romans 14:22-23
Ultimately, what you or others choose to eat is based on your faith and relationship with God. Nobody should be pushing their dietary beliefs on others.
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” – Romans 15:1-3
Those who have a more mature faith should be patient with those newer Christians understanding that growth takes time. We can encourage those growing in their faith and do things that build them up – not tear them down for doing wrong.
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 15:4-6
There you have it… a practical guide to living the life of a Christian. Ultimately our goal is to become like Christ, having the same attitude of mind toward each other. As we move in that direction we bring glory to God. I encourage you to study the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) to further discover the mind of Christ.