Part 3 - Christian Behavior
Behavior that is expected from new creations in Christ
There is an abundance of biblical scripture that instructs Christians how to live. The instructions begin in the New Testament with Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-6:27). Jesus began this discourse of instructions by stating that he did not “come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17) The new covenant God made through Jesus eliminated the need for animal sacrifices in the Jewish ceremonial law, it added mercy to the Jewish civil law, and the new covenant expanded the moral laws to include attitudes as well as actions. For example, the sin of adultery was no longer just the act of sexual infidelity; Jesus expanded adultery to include lustful thoughts of another person’s spouse or a spouse’s lustful thoughts of a person other than their spouse. As a clarification, lustful thoughts are desires to have sex with another person, not admiration of physical beauty. I believe it is obvious that this expanded principle regarding lust applies to all forms of sexual immorality, including homosexual behavior and homosexual lust. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus also expanded the good behavior God’s people are to show, even telling his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
Some suggested discussion questions:
Review the lessons and instructions Jesus gives in his Sermon on the Mount and discuss their directions to us in today’s modern society.
How do these teaching reveal the heart of the Law and the heart of the Father?
What do Christians need to do to be wise builders of their lives?
The Apostle Paul gives several extensive discourses on what is expected from the person who chooses to follow Christ. The first examined here is in Galatians 5:16-26. The Christian is to avoid acts of the sinful nature which include “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” Behaviors the Christian should engage in are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These good behaviors Paul describes as the fruits of the Spirit from God. Ephesians 4:17-32 also gives behavioral instructions for Christians. Christians are to “put on the new self” and “speak truthfully.” A Christian is not to let anger cause them to sin, they are not to steal, or “let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” Words that a Christian speak should be “helpful for building others up.” Paul instructs Christians in this discourse to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Paul wrote to the believers in Colosse instructing them to “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed … as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another…” (Colossians 3:5-14) In the letter to the Ephesians Paul adamantly stated, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed … Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking … Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:3-12) To the Romans Paul charged, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 13:13-14) To the Thessalonian church Paul wrote “It is God’s will … that you should avoid sexual immorality: that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable …warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances … Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, 5:14-22) The Apostle Paul told his close friend Timothy to “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace … the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (2 Timothy 2:21-24)
The Apostle Peter gave these instructions to Christians in his first letter, “be self-controlled … do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance … be holy in all you do … Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” (1 Peter 1:13-15, 2:1) “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9) The people in the early Christian church were persecuted by many factions. The persecution came in all forms from insults to executions. Peter told the early church, “those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19)
Some suggested discussion questions:
What could some of the reasons be for sexual immorality being the first on a scriptural list of behaviors to avoid?
Do you find the list of do’s and don’ts helpful?
What can a Christian do to follow these behavioral instructions?
Would you be a happier person following these biblical behavioral instructions?
Would you be more at peace with yourself by following these behavior instructions?
How is being at peace with yourself and being happy different, and how are they similar?
Are peace and happiness different for the Christian and non-Christian?
To finish this scriptural study Christians need assurance that this change can take place in themselves. Many in the Exodus movement hold on to the verses in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. After listing ten sinful behaviors, including homosexual behavior, Paul says “And that is what some of you were, but you were washed, you were sanctified.” Paul told his friend Titus “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy … but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit…” (Titus 3:3-5) Students of the Bible are aware that the Apostle Paul was a persecutor of Christians before the risen Jesus appeared to him. Paul who was earlier known as Saul played a part in the execution of the first Christian martyr (Acts 8:1-3).
Most Christian changed lives do not happen as abruptly as the Apostle Paul’s. As Christians grow in their faith, they grow in these behavioral areas. From the scriptures that we have just examined this growth should not be surprising, but expected. To the non-Christian it might be hard to comprehend, but the Christian usually does not change their behavior grudgingly. The Christian changes their behavior out of reverence and submission to the will of God knowing that what God has instructed will be in their best interest. As Christians strive toward holy living, they will fail now and then. The Apostle John addressed this reality, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 John 2:1) The Christian who has sinned needs to repent and seek the leading of the Spirit and not the flesh; to become more and more like Jesus, “because this is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” (1 John 5:3-4 NIV)
It should come as no surprise that Christian treatment programs for addictive and aberrant behaviors consistently have higher success rates than secular treatment programs. If Christian beliefs are real, if the name of Jesus has power, if there is a Holy Spirit, Christians should expect people to overcome sinful behavior. People who follow Jesus should expect to overcome alcoholism, drug addiction, greed, promiscuity, pornography, and even homosexuality. As the scriptures have made quite clear there is a war between the sinful nature (carnal desires) and what the Spirit would have us do. According to biblical scriptures those who chose to follow the Spirit can and will overcome sinful behavior.
Some suggested discussion questions:
Without stating which example, in your past have you been guilty of any of the ten sinful behaviors listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10?
If you are a Christian, have you desired to obey God’s behavioral commands more with time?
Do you believe that Jesus speaks in your defense when you sin and seek forgiveness?
After you have asked for forgiveness do you make changes to prevent a reoccurrence of the sinful behavior?
Do you feel like you are overcoming the world?
If not, why not?
Do you agree that Christians should expect to overcome past sinful behavior?
Are people who say they are Christians, yet continue in sinful behavior without any evidence of a new self, really Christians?