Why should I live? That is the question that came to mind as I read Romans 5-8. Paul writes a theological piece here that on one hand is easy to grasp. “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.” Simply paraphrased, we all sin because of Adam and now we can all be saved through Jesus Christ. So why the lengthy discourse? For me, the difficulty lies in understanding the part about walking out our salvation. This concept unlike the gift of eternal life reveals, like shards from a broken mirror, reflected multiple images of me failing miserably at trying to be a good Christian.
My assurance of eternal life is based on the foundation of salvation; that is, Christ’s bearing the weight of our sin, dying on the cross, and being resurrected from death. I am awestruck by God’s overwhelming love for me, so in response to the gift of salvation, I have strived to prove that I am worthy of His love. And I have judged the fervor of my love for Him on the works that I do or fail to do. Yet Romans 5:19 says, “For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one Man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” The many will be made righteous indicates that a Christian depends on God’s help with walking out salvation. Does this mean that I am being made righteous through the one Man, Jesus Christ’s obedience, not my own? It would seem so. Other New Testament texts confirm that doing good works is evidence of our faith, but that these works do not save our immortal souls from death. James 2:18-24 states that we are justified by faith, and at the same time faith is perfected in good works. Likewise, Ephesians 2:8-10 contrasts the gift of salvation with the “good works” that “God prepared beforehand for us to walk in.” There is no contradiction in these texts, for they speak the same truth as Paul, describing a righteousness that saves and a righteousness that is based on the continual sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
I have been taught that good works are related to the time, money, and importance we give to activities for the church, such as supporting missionaries, gathering canned food for the homeless shelter, or buying a toy for the church giveaway during Christmas. Being charitable and helping others in tangible ways are certainly examples of loving others, and I try to do my share. I am finding, however, that even more than the outward signs of charity, my attitude and motivation for good works are important to this salvation walk. My Christ centered spirit knows to cry out to Father God. Yet, this mind and body wars against my spirit. In triggering situations, the righteousness of God is not always evident in my life. I can see this happening, but like a runaway train, I cannot always hit the brakes in time to avoid colliding with the object of my frustration. These words of John the Apostle convict me in these episodes of meanness, impatience, and stinginess. John said, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth and shall assure our hearts before Him,” (I John 3:18, 19).
These episodes are sin. The Apostle James uses strong language to convey the consequences of “full grown” sin. “Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death,” (James 1:14-15). Death in this passage refers to a physical death. How true this is in our lives. We bear the burden of unforgiveness, estrangement, or self-righteousness in the body – headaches, indigestion, tense muscles, high blood pressure, panic attacks, heart problems, etc. Thankfully, I am not given free rein to sin. More often, through humbling situations, being found obviously in error, or getting so out of sorts that even I can recognize the emptiness in all my rationalizations, the Holy Spirit pulls me back and turns me around to face Christ Jesus.
Instead of seeing disgust in the eyes of Jesus, however, I am overwhelmed with the gravity of my soul’s worth to this One who sees me, loves me, and has no intention of leaving me in my miserable state. He reminds me through His Holy Spirit that His perfect love, not my infrequent attempts at good works, is how I am being made righteous. He also gifts me with that same love for others that engenders all forms of charity, forbearance, and outward acts of mercy and grace. And isn’t this why we live?
Dear Lord God, it is here on earth that love is so needed. You have placed us here at this time for that very reason. To be loved by You, and to love others like You do. Help us, Lord, to be obedient to Your word and to walk out our salvation in love.