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Monday, May 08, 2017

Christianity is about doing more than it's about not doing

Christians, unfortunately, are too often known for what we are against, rather than what we are for. We are also unfortunately known for what we don't do, rather than what we do.

Both of these misconceptions have some validity, because of the behavior of some people who say that they are Christians. But that's not the emphasis of the Bible. The Bible tells us that we should be for some things, and that we are to do some things. (Sure, there are things we shouldn't do, like stealing or adultery, and things we should be against, like child abuse. But these sorts of positions shouldn't define us. Not according to the Bible.) And, the Bible teaches, our attitude, not just what we do, is critically important.

In James 4:17 the Bible explicitly condemns sins of omission: To him therefore who knows to do good, and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin.
A sin of omission is about something we should do, but don’t; a sin of omission is when we don’t do the things we know we should.

But, some may say, the New Testament is about doing good. Not the Old Testament -- it's about not doing bad. And Christians are supposed to pay attention to the Old Testament, too. Yes, we should. It was the Bible for Jesus, and for the early church, and it was the foundation for the Gospel. But is the Old Testament just about not doing things? The Ten Commandments might seem to be that sort of rules: don't bear false witness, don't commit adultery, don't murder, etc. But, when Jesus was asked about which commandment was the greatest, here's what he said: Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37, and elsewhere, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, which passages, of course, are in the Old Testament.) These two great commandments tell us what believers ought to do -- love God, and love other people. When Jesus was asked to specify who a neighbor is, he told the story of the Good Samaritan, a member of a despised ethnic/religious group, indicating that our neighbors aren't just people who live near us, and/or act and look like us.

Here's another “rule,” from an Old Testament prophet: Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O man, what is good. What does Yahweh require of you, but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah tells us what we ought to do, and what our attitude should be, just as the two great commandments do. Be just, be humble, be merciful.

Let's go to the New Testament for further guidance. In fact, let us go to the heart of Christ's teaching, the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 5:5“… Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
The Beatitudes are not mostly about not doing things, but about doing things, and about our attitude: being merciful, making peace, etc.

The Golden Rule is also part of the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:12 Therefore whatever you desire for men to do to you, you shall also do to them; for this is the law and the prophets.

Back to the Old Testament. God wanted the Israelites to keep from worshiping idols, and, in order to do that, they were told to wipe out certain tribes that were already living in the Promised Land. But He also told them to treat aliens -- people who weren't Israelites -- respectfully and generously, and, in fact to love them:
Deuteronomy 10:19 Therefore love the foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. In other words, treat them in the same way Jesus indicated in the Golden Rule. (These directions for dealing with aliens, foreigners and strangers are repeated elsewhere in the five books that begin the Old Testament.)

Let's look at another central Christian text: 
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, 23b gentleness, and self-control. The Fruit of the Spirit is about our attitudes, not about what we shouldn’t do. 

And another:
The heroes (and heroines) of faith in Hebrews 11 are named because of what they did, not because of what they didn’t do.

And there are the final instructions of Christ:
Matthew 28:18 Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19  Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20  teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.  
Go, make disciples, baptize and teach are all things to do.

Examples of sins of omission in the Bible:
•    Matthew 11:20-24. The Galilean cities did not repent.
•    Matthew 25:26 “But his lord answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant. You knew that I reap where I didn’t sow, and gather where I didn’t scatter. 27 You ought therefore to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back my own with interest. …”
•    The Judgment scene in Matt 25:41-46. Jesus used that scripture to condemn sins of omission.
•    One thief on the cross did not believe and repent. (Luke 23:39-43)
•    The rich man did nothing for Lazarus. (Luke 16:19-31).

What should we be doing? Believe; repent; forgive/ask forgiveness; be baptized; take communion; praise and witness; obey Christ’s commands; be a Christ-like example; give, including to the needy; meet with other Christians for worship, learning and mutual encouragement; pray for other Christians; love other people; absorb the Bible; find ways to serve. That's a lot of doing, but God can help us do these things.

We must not forget that salvation is not the result of what we do -- we can't earn it. It's the result of what Christ did, in dying and being resurrected.

Thanks for reading.

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