The specter of “The Law” hangs over Peter’s first letter in the New Testament. Christianity began as a sect of Judaism, but it rejected some of its most basic tenets, particularly the elaborate system of rules and social conventions that governed Jewish life. Christianity, unlike most religions, doesn’t believe human beings can earn our own salvation. There are no five pillars, like in Islam, or four noble truths, like in Buddhism, and the religious law of the Old Testament no longer applies to us. Christians believe that our actions cannot save us. Only God can.
Jesus did the work. All we have to do is accept his sacrifice. That’s the freedom the gospel provides. The question, which both Peter and Paul wrestled with in their letters, is what to do with that freedom:
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
- 1 Peter 2:16If your sins are forgiven, then you can sin all you want without worrying about the eternal consequences. In that scenario, it’s easy to see how Christianity becomes the first step to anarchy. How do you control people’s behavior if their salvation is guaranteed? Why shouldn’t they do whatever they want? After all, all they have to do is say a prayer before they die, and all the wrong they do in their life is washed away. So what, then, is the upside to being a servant of God?
Billy Joel summed it up on “Only the Good Die Young”:
They say there’s a heaven for those who will wait /
Some say it’s better but I say it ain’t /
I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints /
The sinners are much more fun.
The Christian response is simple. Sinning only looks like more fun:
“I have the right do anything,” you say -- but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” -- but not everything is constructive.
- 1 Corinthians 10:23I wouldn’t have understood this before I became a Christian. Now, five years later, I view deathbed conversions differently. It’s good that those people were saved, but they didn’t get one over on anyone else. They wasted their entire lives!
Sex is a perfect example. American society is obsessed with sex, so waiting for marriage to have sex seems insane. I didn’t practice abstinence before I converted, and I didn’t want to give up sex once I became a Christian. It’s a lot to get your head around. I grew up believing that sexual repression was at the root of a lot of misery. As long as you aren’t hurting anyone, what’s the big deal?
What I eventually realized is that sex is never just about sex. The reason Americans are so obsessed with our sexuality is because we get our identity from it. Sex is fun, but half the fun is the validation you get from it. That’s why people brag about it. In our culture, a man who can’t get laid is barely a man at all.
To be sure, plenty of Christians still have premarital sex, and there’s grace for them. That’s the whole point of the gospel. However, as Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. There are real benefits to dating without sex. The point of dating in the Christian world isn’t to get laid. It’s to get married. Me and my wife dated for seven months before we got engaged, and we were married a year and a half after we first met. Would that have happened if we were having sex? No.
Sex hangs over dating in the secular world. As a guy, you go on a date and you are immediately thinking - how can I get in her pants? If she’s not having sex with me, how quickly do I write her off? What happens if we don’t have sexual chemistry? It’s a lot of pressure! Sex makes dating more complicated. It makes it harder to break up with someone, and it blinds you to other issues. That doesn’t even get into the risk of STD’s, or an unwanted pregnancy.
The key point is there are still consequences for your actions, even if they aren’t eternal. As a Christian, I can rob a bank and still go to heaven. That doesn’t mean I won’t go to jail, though. Similarly, I can sleep around with whoever I want, but I will leave heartbreak in my wake, and it will add a lot of unnecessary drama to my life. I became a Christian at 25 and got married at 29. I don’t look at it like I had more fun in my early 20’s than my friends who became Christians in high school and got married after college. I look at it like I would be so much farther ahead in my life if I hadn’t wasted so much time. If you have kids in your early 20s, they will be out of your house by the time you are in your mid-40s! If I have kids, I’m probably going to be paying for their college when I’m in my mid 50’s instead of saving for retirement.
The American way of life is the exact opposite of the culture Jesus grew up in. We don’t want anyone telling us what to do, or judging us for our decisions. The Old Testament Jews believed that living by a strict religious code was the only way to please God. Americans believe that not living by your own desires limits your potential. Christianity is the middle ground: you don’t have to follow God’s commands, but you would be better off if you did.
Christians call God "The Father" because our relationship with Him is meant to mirror our relationship with our fathers. A good father loves his kids no matter, but he still instructs and disciplines them because it’s ultimately for their own good. Kids can’t raise themselves. They don’t want to study or eat well or clean their room or go to sleep at a certain time. Not only are those things worth doing in and of themselves, but doing them at an early age instills disciple that will help them in the rest of their lives. No one really wants to deal with a kid who was spoiled by their parents, particularly when they get older.
Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.
- Proverbs 13:24Swallowing your pride is a huge part of being a Christian. You have to accept that you don’t have all the answers. It’s a different kind of freedom than the one our society offers:
Here’s the thing about defining your own concept of existence: what if you are wrong? Why would you expect to be able to come up with a good answer, much less the right one? The universe is more complicated than we could ever hope to understand. Christians don’t need to worry about that. The answers are given to us.
There are parts of the Bible I don’t understand, and I’m not sure why it prohibits certain things. It doesn’t matter. I’m willing to take God at His word. Giving up control is the ultimate freedom in life. I trust that God knows what’s good for me, and that He has a plan for my life. Before I became a Christian, I was a drug addict working a dead end job. There’s no way I’d be where I am today without the gospel.
Here’s the secret, though: success won’t make you happy. My identity is in Christ, not in my career, my relationships, or my bank account.
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what is is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
- Philippians 4:11-13