• Steven Marsh

Joy–The Complexity of Living Christianly: a Reflection on Romans 6:12-23

How’s it going living liberated from oppressive and destructive behaviors? Many of us hold the notion that the better one thinks and the harder a person works, things detrimental to or holding us back from living the American dream will one day be overcome. Just work harder and smarter.

Four times in my 35 years as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I have had the privilege of being a part of the Presbyterian Panel which is a group of randomly selected ministers, elders, and members. Over the course of a three-year period, this group responds to approximately twelve surveys, to give insight to what’s going on in the life of our denomination. One survey that grabbed my attention was about “Presbyterian Colleges and Universities.” One question stood out: “How important in your selection would be the potential for Christian growth offered by the school?” 79% of the pastors, 63% of the elders, and 60% of the members responded affirmatively. Geneva Presbyterian Church is not a college, yet I pose a similar question: “How important in your selection of a church would be the potential for Christian growth?” Do you expect Christian growth to be a part of your church experience?

Romans 6:12-23 asserts a strong mandate for Christian growth. The text makes three points. First, verse 12 states the expectation. Do not let sin exercise dominion in and over your life. There is freedom from gossip, hoarding, sexual immorality, anger, and cheating to name a few sins. Freedom from a rule or obligation “never leads to a flourishing life unless it is linked with “freedom for” a higher, heart-felt commitment.” Second, verse 13 delineates what we are to stop doing and start doing. Stop doing sin with the “members,” the parts, of your body. What you do with your mind, emotions, words, thoughts, and extremities is critical. Start doing works of righteousness and working for the common good. And third, verse 14 gives the reason why we can succeed at Christian growth. Through obedience, grace kicks in. God is faithful. Change happens. Confidence emerges that faithfulness to God works.

A transformed life occurs when we expect Christian growth from the church. There is new life in Jesus. We integrate our new identity with behavior. Harold Masback, pastor of The Congregational Church in New Canaan, Connecticut writes, “Since being precedes doing, better being may now naturally issue forth in better doing.”[1] Jesus lives in each one of us, whether we know it or not.

When we begin to live in true freedom, Jesus lives his life in and through us for the sake of others. Brenda Salter McNeil, the author of Roadmap to Reconciliation, writes, “Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish.”[2] Yes, make the story of “the other” a part of your story and yours theirs. Journey together, in reconciliation.

On this Fourth of July Weekend, we lift up the value of freedom. Yet, many of us are put off by Paul’s admonition in the Romans text for us live as slaves to Christ, a poignant statement about Christian growth, particularly with our country’s civic creed of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We are forced to rethink the intended and unintended consequences of arbitrary freedom and to reexamine the values we hold, the good and the bad, as we celebrate being American.[3]

Do you expect the church to assist you in Christian growth? I hope so! Jesus invites you to participate in the universal story of God’s redemptive unconditional love, acceptance, and grace. Be authentic. Christian growth occurs when you reach into your own brokenness and the brokenness of others, seeking reconciliation with God, self, and others. Therein lies the complexity of living Christianly.

[1]Harold E. Masback III in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 163.

[2]Brenda Salter McNeil, Roadmap to Reconciliation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 22.

[3]Ideas adapted from Harold E. Masback III in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3, 183.

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