The Christian’s Obligation
We tend to use words like “ought” and “should” and “need” loosely. I ought to call mom, or I ought to go to town, and any number of such statements leave our lips without much thought.
While we use the word “ought” frequently, we are not obligated to do as much as we use the word. How often do you stop yourself and ask, “Why ought I to do this?”
For example, with Thanksgiving coming up, we might hear the words “we ought to cook a turkey.” Really? Are we somehow obligated to cook a turkey because it is Thanksgiving? This “ought” becomes more troublesome when it is “we ought to go to mom’s house because it is Thanksgiving.” We are more likely to have a sense of duty when it comes to the choice of where to go on a holiday. We feel obligated for various reasons when it comes to family ties and relationships.
Obligations also come with our relationships within the Church body. We feel obligated to be good Christians. Our neighbors will have expectations for us as well when they know we are Christians.
I grew up on the farm, and it was quite natural to leave our dogs outside to fend for themselves, even on cold winter nights. Therefore, quite a few years ago, I was surprised to be told by a neighbor that I was unchristian when I left my dog outside.
How do we measure our obligations? What ought we to do as Christians?
Last week in Romans 13:1-7 we considered that we are to be subject to governing authorities. This week we are looking at Romans 13:8-14 and we will be considering our obligations as Christians in the world.
Romans 13:8 introduces the idea of our obligations when it says:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8 ESV)
This statement “Owe no one anything...” comes after a statement to pay taxes, revenue, respect and honor as required by law. Therefore, we are to keep clear accounts with government and those in authority. If the law requires that we show respect or deference to an authority, we are to show respect and deference. However, as we move from considering government to the consideration of the world around us, the principle involved changes from one of authority to the principle of love.
When it comes to our relationship with those around us in the world, we are to be controlled by the law of love. The text makes it clear why this is. Verse 10 says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor.”
However, our differing interpretations of what our obligations are and what is right and wrong leads many to errors in judgment.
Look with me at the first commandment listed as being kept under the law of love. Verse 9 lists, “You shall not commit adultery.” This implies that sexual immorality runs contrary to the law of love. However, our world celebrates sexuality as something to be experienced as each person sees fit. In the name of love, couples live together without the covenant of marriage. Consenting adults are free to do as they please and this is accepted even within the Church. Love is twisted to mean something different from the call to owe no one anything but to love one another. Biblical admonitions against sex outside of marriage, fornication, and homosexuality are set aside in the name of love.
God gives us these admonitions in the Bible because He loves us, and His warnings are for our good. All His commands lead to life and blessings. To ignore His commands leads ultimately to death. The law of love demands that we warn people of the danger they are in when they ignore the law of love, and yet our world interprets our warnings as hate speech. We have to be careful. We are not to judge the sinner. As Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged (Matthew 7:10),” and “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged (Matthew 7:2).” Without judging, we are to warn the sinner of the judgment of God. The Scriptures say:
If I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. (Ezekiel 3:18 ESV)
Love addresses people with respect, compassion, and understanding. Anger, fear, and malice are not usually part of a loving response.
Recognizing what it is we owe and what we do not owe requires discernment, knowledge of the Scriptures and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. We do not always owe what even we say we ought to do, and sometimes we owe what we would rather not pay. Living in this world, we owe no one anything but to live according to the law of love.
As Christians, we should live according to the law of love. As Christians, we also look forward with expectancy to the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is coming back. This truth adds urgency to the necessity of living according to the law of love.
Romans 8:11-14 addresses the expectancy with which Christians should live in this world.
Verse 11 starts with “Besides this.” This refers back to verse 8 that tells us that we must live according to the law of law. Besides this obligation, we know the time. What is the time?
Romans 8:11-12 clarify the time.
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. ()
The day this is talking about is the day of the Lord. Paul spoke of this in Acts 17 when he was addressing the people of Athens. He said:
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” ()
In this case, Paul refers to a day that God has fixed in which He will judge the world. This day of judgment is used as a reason for repentance. If we go back to Romans 13:11, we see the statement, “For salvation is nearer to us now that when we first believed.” That day is drawing ever nearer. It is 2,000 years nearer now than when Romans was written. Romans 13:11 says, “you know the time.”
Do we recognize the signs of the times?
When speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees of His day, Jesus said:
“When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” ()
Jesus used a number of parables to teach that we always ought to watch and be ready. In Matthew 24:43-44 He says:
“But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Matthew 24:43-44)
We should live with the expectancy of Christ’s soon return. We must be ready. We do not know if it will be today, tomorrow or a thousand years from now. Therefore, we must be ready. I know we have been saying this for generations, and most have ceased to take it seriously, and this is precisely what Jesus and Paul are warning us against. Listen to what Paul says:
Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. (Romans 13:13)
It seems hard to believe that Christians are involved in drunkenness and orgies, but some are. We have grown used to immorality and sensuality in the world around us, and we expect quarreling and jealousy. These things are all explicitly listed as things that we should not be involved in, but this is not an exhaustive list. These things are examples of what we should not participate in.
In relation to people, the law of love should govern our attitudes and actions. In relation to our flesh, our expectancy of Christ return should cause us to live godly lives. Romans 13:14 says, “…make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Romans 13:11-14 tell us to do something that is much more important than what we should not be doing. If we learn to do what it tells us to do, it will take care of the list of what we should not be doing.
Two statements are of particular interest in this regard. Romans 13:12 tells us to “put on the armor of light,” and Romans 13:14 tells us to “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” This then is the key to living as a servant of Christ in this fallen world. Galatians 5:16 teaches us, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. This then is the same idea.
Putting on the armor of light echoes what Ephesians 6 tells us about putting on the full armor of God. Ephesians 6:11-18 says:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. ()
The armor of God spoken of represents a mind and heart protected by the word of God and the truth of the Gospel. The helmet of salvation is a mind protected by the truth of the Gospel. The breastplate of righteousness is a heart and conscience protected by a godly life. A life of love will grow out of such a mind and heart. Also, the two complement each other. We cannot have one without the other. One cannot live a life of love and of debauchery at the same time. One cannot put on the Lord Jesus Christ and not live a life of love.
This is who we are to be in a lost a dying world. We are subject to the governing authorities of this world, but we are in truth citizens of a heavenly kingdom and ambassadors of our Lord Jesus Christ. As such, we do not owe anyone anything but to love him or her.