Tuesday, December 7, 2010

...when in Rome?

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Romans 13:14

This verse makes a natural transition in the book of Romans. Paul has gone from a section detailing the practical results of personal sanctification (Romans 12) to a section describing the social impact by believers who do so (proper submission to secular authorities: Romans 13:1-7). From there he talks about how proper Christian practice ought to lead to behavior that is ultimately law-abiding and respected by the governing authority of the state (Romans 13:8-10). The chapter concludes with this verse in a context of contrasting sinful practice of the pagans with the holy lifestyles of believers (Romans 13:11-14).

It is this practical contrast that is worth thinking about. It is about replacement. The Roman believers were situated in a difficult climate for holiness. Really, any large city in the Roman empire was beset with immorality and idolatry. You can see the negative effects of this in the book of 1 Corinthians where Paul has to reprimand a church that has caved to the pressures. He has already noted that the Roman church has a stellar reputation known to Christians throughout the world. He aims to keep it that way by reminding them of the need to replace sinful behaviors with sanctified living. And that comes through their relationship with Christ. They were called to be Romans who lived like Jesus in Rome. And that meant that sinful desires could not be provided for, indulged, or exalted.

If you want to know exactly where the contrast was most apparent, just read Romans 13:13. Six distinct problems sins were to be replaced by life in Christ. And they sound like the Roman empire at the depths of its depravity: "Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy." Rome allowed for every kind of personal indulgence, particularly among the decadently wealthy. And it would easy to follow the adage: "when in Rome". But Christianity defines behavior by being "in Christ" and not "in Rome".

That principle is vital today. Every form of personal and sensual indulgence is available in our culture. How else can we explain that pornography is a multi-billion dollar worldwide industry larger than the Hollywood movie-making monolith? And sadly, Christians are being trapped by it. We have often lowered our standards at the cost of Christlike compassion and service to the world. It is time to make Romans 13:14 a meaningful commitment once again. I know it challenges me, because the lifestyle challenges of living in Rome are always present in my world. In fact they are less than a mouse click away in this digital age...

- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13

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