“Teach a man correct principles and let him govern himself! ”
That was the premise of Glenn Beck’s show several weeks ago. His point was fairly simple and obvious to any thinking person. If you teach correct principles to live by individuals will be able to govern themselves.
On the surface that sounds appropriate, but many of us now that man “left to his own desires” will choose sin more often than not. Even those in Christ will choose poorly many times. Like Paul, there will be the desire to do good but the end action is doing bad. Perhaps in the sphere of morality the concept of proper principles leads to proper action can be mostly correct. Yet, temptation, lust and wandering far afield is not uncommon even for the most disciplined in the body of Christ. Why just the other day I read an article which talked about a pastor being unfaithful to his wife with another member of their congregation. That was bad enough, but it gets worse. Before long, the pastor’s wife and other lady’s husband were involved in a foursome. And I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in all of the extra-curricular activity someone uttered the words “if it was wrong, then God wouldn’t have given us these feelings for each other!” Really?
The writer of Hebrews knew that laws and cultic ritual could not make a person “perfect” or complete. It required an eternal sacrifice from an eternal God in Christ. Yet even then there was no certainty. We are still required to learn the principles of living in relationship to God and endure in that relationship until the end – either end of life or end of the age.
In a large degree what the writer of Hebrews is saying is that making good choices is not automatic. There is nothing about one’s relationship to Christ that makes moral or ethical decisions instinctive. We are compelled to choose – understanding that there are other options. That’s why the “hall of faith” in chapter eleven is so powerful. They exercised faith by their choices. We experience that pressure of making good choices daily unless, of course, we are in complete denial. Even though we are “new creatures” in Christ, our old nature is prone to wander. The tension between what we strive to be in Christ and what we find ourselves bumping into outside the body of Christ can often handicap us to such a degree that we are spiritually impotent.
When you read the book of Jeremiah, it becomes abundantly clear that Israel was struggling mightily with making the right choices. When given the option, they would run helter skelter to the foreign gods of their neighbors. They would play charades with their devotion to Jehovah and as a result suffer significant repercussion. This is evident in Jeremiah 15:6 where God says, “You have rejected me, declares the LORD; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you– I am weary of relenting.” Even God knows we know better in spite of our knowing that He knows and doing what we chose anyway. Correct principles mean nothing unless they are practiced. It’s not enough to do things right. Israel was good at that when it came to sacrifices and keeping their traditions. It is essential that we strive to do the right things.
Yes, it’s true, sin whether expressed as harlotry in the OT or “missing the mark” in the NT, has consequence. We can wrap it in any cloth we like but the moths will still take their toll. We can assume that our sin brings minimal consequence because we have been “forgiven in Christ.” But I’m afraid that is a false hope if one does not practice correct principles and live within the scope of faith.