Apr
10

Living a Deliberately Virtuous Life

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Text: Romans 8:1-17

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TEARS

The word of the week is TEARS. In the gospel accounts, Jesus wept more than once, often when He saw the spiritual lack of the people; the word in the Bible translated as ‘wept’ (eklausen) is a very sad weeping, a LAMENT.

The word LAMENT brings up images from the Old Testament: King David lamenting the deaths of Saul and Jonathan; in Psalms, as the writer pours out his sadness and grief to the Lord; the prophets as they wept for an Israel lost in her sins. As Jesus looks out over Jerusalem in

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. (Luke 19:41-43, NIV84)

ROMANS 8:1-4: A HEART STIRRED

Have you ever seen something that stirred your heart so strongly that your first response was tears?

As you read Paul’s explanation of God’s motivation in sending Jesus to earth for its salvation to the Roman Christians, you can get a sense of the depth of caring that God has for His creation, the depth of love and its desire to have everything turn out well.

TRUE LOVE IS COSTLY

We also learn that love asks something of us. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21, NIV84) What you love is part of you; when something’s wrong, you don’t feel right. You’ll do what needs to be done to make things right. This is because love is about action, about response; it’s not something that can just sit there.

God’s love for creation cost Him something. Loving the Lord costs you something; at the very least, discipleship demands something of your heart – a work of faith will always cost you something.

A DELIBERATELY VIRTUOUS LIFE

The point of what Paul is telling the Roman Christians is that the life of a follower of Jesus Christ is a life of ongoing response to God’s love. This is a life that requires focus, or as Paul says, “those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (8:5)

To have your mind set on something means you’re preoccupied with it. It’s not just something that occurs to you from time to time; it’s a major factor in how you live your days.

As Methodist Christians, our mutual commitment to Christ and one another is that we will not only stand against our own natural desires, but against the very fabric of our society when it is standing against God’s will.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “…we have an obligation, not to live according to the sinful nature … but by the Spirit, [putting to death] the misdeeds of the body.” (Paraphrase of Romans 8:12-13 NIV84).

Another way that we might put this for Christian living is that part of following Jesus is making a commitment to living a ‘deliberately virtuous life,’ living out our faith in a world that resists God’s holiness.

To live a deliberately virtuous life, there are questions that have a high priority for us:

· What are you giving your life for?

· Are you holding on, and expecting that you have life because of what you are or do, or because you’re giving it up?

· Do you come to church to get something, or because God has called you to come and give of yourself?

Truth be told, it’s so easy to become religious yet lose Jesus. Living in response to the love of God protects you from this pitfall.

Harry Denman, the great Methodist evangelist of the mid-20th Century, is reported to have prayed the Lord’s Prayer with a significant addition: it was not just “thy will be done,” it was “thy will be done in ME, in ME.”

This world – in fact, all of creation – was brought into existence for the sole purpose of giving glory to God. Further, this was not just the act of an ego-centric God who simply desired someone nearby to worship Him, it was an act of love undertaken that He might have someone to share the joy of life with Him. That is why each one of us is here – to acknowledge the loving glory of the Lord God Almighty, through lives that are fittingly lived as a testament to the reason for our very existence.

That sounds easy enough. However, with the love of God came freedom. Each of us was created with the ability to make our own choices. So, we don’t just automatically begin living lives of holiness at the moment of our birth. The process of overcoming the sinful nature within us begins when we first ask God to help us become a new person, the person that He created us to be.

The journey begins with the realization that this will only be achieved through self-discipline and an ever-closer walk with God each day that we are alive on this earth.

There’s where the rub lies, though. Doing that will place us not against just our own natural desires, but against the very fabric of our society! Self-discipline is not popular in our society! Even a lot of Christianity today insists that the intent of accepting the Lordship of Jesus Christ is so we can feel good, be personally gratified, and find fulfillment through doing what we want as we ask God to bless us.

If you carefully read Holy Scripture and the teachings of the Church over the ages, you’ll soon see differently. To put it in the terms that John Wesley used in his Covenant Service so many years ago, Christians have been created by God to be used by Him to fulfill HIS purposes.

That means at some times, we might be used by God for a season to accomplish something, and then have to be patient and wait while someone else is used. Reverend Don Haynes, a professor at Hood Theological Seminary in North Carolina, sums it up this way: “You might miss a promotion, or be called to wait on a loved family member who is suffering through a long period of illness. Wesley’s Covenant has us say to God, ‘I put myself in your hands – use me as you will, or set me aside … with a willing heart, I give myself to your pleasure and disposal.”[1]

The only way anyone could ever live a fulfilling life after giving oneself to God in this fashion will be through personal, God-assisted discipline. Wesley himself considered the “way of salvation” to include discipline as a means to both personal and social holiness.

The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes … and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:11-12, paraphrased, NIV).

Jesus Himself noted the marks of the person who desired to save his or her soul: seeking the Kingdom of God. Once you had done this, and ONLY when you had done this, would the blessings be added to you: Matthew 6:33 reports that Jesus put it this way: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (NIV)

As Methodists, we express this desire for salvation by noting that person who truly desires to be saved will show evidence of this desire in three ways:

1. Avoiding known sin

2. Doing good and avoiding evil

3. Attending the worship of God

Doing our best to live a virtuous life is the essence of living in the Spirit. God gives us strength by the Spirit so we can live the kind of life required by those who are waiting for the resurrection.

LIVING A DELIBERATELY VIRTUOUS LIFE

Let me take you on a brief journey into the living of a deliberately virtuous life. We think of virtue, and thoughts of faithfulness to your husband or wife come to mind; of not mistreating the people in your life; of not committing crimes.

Let’s take this further, farther outside of ourselves and our immediate circle. We understand this pretty well in some respects –many people, seeing the destruction in Japan and other areas in the world that have been struck by earthquakes, no doubt wept – and responded. Others have responded by working for peace. These are good and honorable things, and I believe that this brings pleasure to God’s heart.

I would like to get a little closer to home, though. Over the last few weeks as I’ve followed the antics of elected officials in Washington and other locations as they fight out budget provisions, I’ve felt anywhere from a little to a lot weepy.

The thing that gets me going every time is that, in the name of stabilizing the economy, the things getting cut are taking away from the people who have the least to lose. What keeps me riled is that so many of these individuals claim to have claimed Christ as Lord, yet their actions show very little of living in the Spirit.

It’s gratifying to get mad and holler about “those jerks,” but we have to remember – that body is a reflection of the community that elected them… and we elected them!

To paraphrase something said by Chrysostom, a teacher of the early Church, “If you put your confidence in baptism to the point that you neglect your behavior afterwards … you will lose the dignity bestowed on you and the honor of your adoption.”

Believers live close to God, and the constant presence of God in the life of the believer is an essential. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is not an unusual thing; the Holy Spirit is not something given to a few, select persons. It’s a normal and necessary part of being Christian. If we’re going to be part of the family of God, we should act like it! When it comes to living in response to God’s love, Justification and sanctification cannot be separated from one another.

God has changed us, and our daily life should reflect this salvation. If we don’t, we have cheapened the grace that God has given us in Christ Jesus, which leads to a life filled with the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, grace without discipleship, and grace without the cross.

“Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (8:12-15)

How will we be successful in our quest to give these evidences of our salvation? We will be victorious through the living of deliberately virtuous lives.

We will always be challenged in this respect. As humans, we will always find ourselves both attracted to and repelled from the idea of goodness. We take great joy in raising individuals up as heroes and saviors – but also find enjoyment when they are revealed to have “feet of clay.”

In response to the behavior of our leaders – a Christian response would be to respectfully remind them of their spiritual commitments and pray that their actions will be more reflective of Christ. For ourselves, remember to live within the family, led by the Spirit, that the Lord’s will be done in you. Amen.

Sources Consulted

“Unforced Errors,” Homiletics, July 2005

Morris, Leon. The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans/IVP, 1992)

Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Romans (IVP)

Whaley, Russell. The Case for Living a Deliberately Virtuous Life. Sermon, preached Lent 2005.


[1] Donald W. Haynes, Wesley’s Covenant: Antidote for morally lax times. Printed in the North Texas United Methodist Reporter, January 28, 2005.