A Long Obedience In The Same Direction

(this is a v long-ish reflection from today morning’s puttu mayam + kopi + Bible, but i’ve been thinking about what it means to be free of things and habits that grab at you and pull you down, or the incessant selfishness that seems to squirm its way into so many good things and relationships, and amidst my :””””(    i read the ending to Romans and was deeply encouraged. John 8:36 – so if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed :–) )

If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.

– Romans 12:8

A good number of us will not have to deal (yet) with the second half of that verse. There is still sickness and deep illness and accident, but a large part of our present struggle revolves around ‘living to the Lord’.

When Paul wrote this epistle (letter) to the Roman church, he does something quite beautiful. Instead of tossing down a chain of commands to bluntly bludgeon disobedient Roman Christians into submission, he urges them to ‘cling’, to ‘embrace’ (and later on in Philippians 3 – to ‘take hold’!!). Not merely to ‘refrain’, or to ‘abstain’, as if being a Christian was merely endless denial.

Hate evil, yes, but for love to be sincere – you have to cling to what is good.

Put aside darkness, immorality, dissension, jealousy, yes, but embrace the daytime and the light.

Don’t just shed bad habits and peel off the icky parts of you – clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ!!!

Paul knew that his transformation on the Damascus road (Acts 9) was not just a tearing away of all the hatred and self-righteousness that had clogged him up, but a consequence of meeting with Jesus and being filled with His love. He remembered the times when he had stood by as a young man and watched Stephen, an early disciple, get stoned to death. Crude, blunt rocks smashing into Stephen till his body gave way, and there stood Paul, giving his firm approval.

You can’t just easily wash your hands of something like that, or ‘forget’ it. And so Paul knew that to ‘live to the Lord’ meant more than just letting go of his past – it meant clinging (and that word brings to mind a certain dependence and a desperation, yes?) ever so tightly to Jesus, to a sincere love, to a mission of peace and service to those that he had once sought to kill.

(I’m guessing that) none of us have ever had to wrestle with a situation like Paul’s. But at the same time, many of us (that being me myself) fight and fail daily to ‘live to the Lord’, whether it is fatigue, or distraction, or being overwhelmed by circumstance and by self-occupation. Don’t be despondent! Don’t give up.

Romans 15:4 – “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us” – all the bible stories of Great Men and Women who also stumbled and fell and had to be picked up and loved and forgiven. And it is through these stories, through the “encouragement and endurance of the Scriptures”, that we now have hope.

Discipleship is (as Peterson would say) a long obedience in the same direction. That much is true. But if that line brings to mind a joyless trudge, think again please! Think on Scripture, think on God’s promises, think on Jesus who loves us through it all and frees us from the sin that so easily encumbers.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Amen 🙂


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