How should we live out the Christian life?
Although some may choose to debate the answer to this question based upon their own thoughts and opinions, God has given us clear answers woven throughout His Word. One such case is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church of Rome. In chapter twelve, he begins by encouraging the believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices for service to God and His church. He then proceeds to give clear practical instruction on how we are to live out our Christian lives.
W.H. Griffith Thomas, preacher of the early 1900’s and author of a devotional commentary on the book of Romans wrote,
“Now we are to see the moral and practical consequences of these doctrines in order that we may reproduce in our life ‘the fruits of righteousness’. The Apostle’s mind has been convinced, and his heart stirred by the revelation of God’s righteousness. It now remains to emphasize the practical, joyous expression of this in daily living.”
Paul begins in verse 9 with clear, concise instruction on the Christian’s personal responsibility. Here, he lays the foundation. Once saved, we must take account of our own lives. He writes,
Let love be genuine
Abhor what is evil;
Hold fast to what is good.
Well known theologian and commentary author Matthew Henry, states “Now all our duty towards one another is summed up in one word, and that a sweet word, love. In that is laid the foundation of all our mutual duty.”
Let love be genuine
Sometimes things can best be explained by contrast. The Apostle John used this approach when he wrote, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
Genuine love is not just in the words we say. Words and even actions can be deceiving. Some may act loving as long as it serves their personal interests. However, that was never truly love. “The right love is love unfeigned: not as the kiss of an enemy, which are deceitful” (Henry).
Perhaps the best example of such feigned love was in the supposed friend and disciple of Jesus; the traitor, Judas.
“While he [Jesus] was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.’ And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ And he kissed him” (Matthew 26:47-49).
The Apostle Paul calls for us as believers to let love be genuine.
The word genuine here literally means without hypocrisy.
It means a love that is real and true; a love that is not fake, just pretending, a counterfeit, i.e. lying. Love is about commitment and devotion, about loyalty and standing strong with others through the storms. In his letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul gives a good definition of genuine love.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 12:1-8a).
Genuine love is not easy.
As part of our personal responsibility, we are also called to abhor or hate what is evil. The word translated abhor here literally means to shrink from. I.e. stay away, don’t go near, avoid it. To further illustrate the concept here, one may consider the following passage from the Greek historian Herodotus explaining how much the Egyptians abhorred or hated pigs.
“The pig is accounted by the Egyptians an abominable animal; if any of them in passing by touch a pig, he goes into the river and dips himself forthwith in the water together with his garments (Histories II, 47).
We are to hold the same level of contempt and disdain for evil in our lives as those Egyptians held for contact with a pig.
Abhor what is evil
1 Thessalonians tells us to, “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). But, evil is a broad concept taking on many forms. What does the apostle mean here? Evil here, according to Richard C. Trench, represents “the active worker-out of evil that puts others to trouble, the aptness to be shrewd, to delight in mischief; not content unless he is corrupting others as well, and drawing them into the same destruction with himself.”
The book of Proverbs gives insight to this form of evil, those characterized by it, and instruction for us to avoid them.
“Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble” (Proverbs 4:14-16).
Unfortunately, if left unchecked, evil can even take root in the church. It can take the form of a self-centered attitude. Author Stuart Briscoe wrote, “The insistence on position and rights rather than privilege and responsibility is the seedbed in which a variegated crop of evil flourishes. But where love is expressed in glad acknowledgement of the achievement of others and genuine appreciation of the deficiencies of ourselves, it is hard for evil to triumph.”
So, to abhor or hate evil may mean that we need to examine our own hearts and motives to make sure we are not insisting on our position and our rights instead of putting others first and providing an environment for evil to flourish.
Hold fast to what is good
This phrase “hold fast” means to cleave. I.e. glue, adhere, join – like stitching together a wound – to fasten tightly together. We are to hold fast to what is good. Not as in a hand grip that can slip or be broken but more as in super glue. We are to be bonded to what is good. And, by the way, this good he speaks of means, intrinsically good – not just on the outside – but that which originates from God and is empowered by him. He gives us an example of this good in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
There are many elements to living out the Christian life. We must consider how we relate to others in general, how we relate to other Christians, and how we relate to those that may be considered our enemies. However, we must first ensure that our love is genuine, that we hate evil, and that we hold fast to what is good. We must not take these responsibilities lightly. They provide a foundation for establishing a strong active faith in our lives and provide spiritual power for our churches. One theologian wrote concerning this text, “once evil is hated rather than treated with courteous civility, and good is firmly embraced rather than regarded merely as a desirable concept, all possibility of casual Christianity evaporates and in its place a life that is fervent in spirit takes over. Both expressions [hate evil / hold fast to good] devote an all-out attack on anything that savors of luke-warmness and present the exciting picture of zealous, white-hot believers acting lovingly out of firm conviction and deep commitment.”
Oh, how incredible would it be for our church to “present the exciting picture of zealous, white-hot believers acting lovingly out of firm conviction and deep commitment”? It’s possible. But, since the church is made up of individuals, we must each take personal responsibility to follow the Apostle Paul’s instructions:
Let love be genuine
Abhor what is evil;
Hold fast to what is good.
Here is one last word of encouragement,
“It is impossible to estimate the potential of a fellowship in which believers take seriously the injunctions outlined by Paul. But we can be sure of the serious intent of the Scripture in this regard, and also we can be certain that the evil which so often rears its ugly head in the family of God can only be banished when it is overcome with good – the good of genuine love demonstrated in tangible actions and attitudes” (Stuart Briscoe).