Ethics, Morals, Behavior
The Package Deal
by Ed Vasicek
A retired man related the following story: "We went out to breakfast. The waitress told us the 'seniors' special' was two eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast for $1.99. 'Sounds good,' my wife said. 'But I don't want the eggs.' 'Then I'll have to charge you two dollars and forty-nine cents because you're ordering a la carte,' the waitress warned her. 'You mean I'd have to pay for not taking the eggs?' my wife asked incredulously. 'Okay, I'll take the special,' she said. 'How do you want your eggs?' 'Raw and in the shell,' my wife replied. She took the two eggs home."
Many times God is like this waitress; He does not give us the option of choosing cafeteria style. His "specials" include package deals.
Take doctrinal matters, for example. Most of us find great comfort by believing in the blessings of heaven. But, if we are honest, the idea of hell is upsetting to us. We are tempted to believe in heaven but reject hell. Fortunately, most of us realize the logical fallacy of trying to split up the package God has revealed!
Jesus taught about both heaven and hell. As a matter of fact, no Biblical personage spoke more about hell than Jesus. So if you believe in heaven because the Bible (or Jesus) said it was so, you must also accept belief in hell. Or you must reject both. God's restaurant is not a cafeteria.
The mystery of man's responsibility and God's sovereignty is another case in point. Many of us believe in the concept of God's Sovereign Grace—the idea that He freely chooses people for salvation (also known as the doctrine of election). Yet the Bible also teaches us that we are responsible for our choices. John 6:37 is a verse that seems to contain both truths, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." The belief that God is sovereign but man is responsible is often labeled a "paradox." A paradox is sometimes defined as two beliefs that seem to contradict one another, but actually do not. We are simply unable to harmonize them. For example, bumblebees do fly, but the laws of physics say this is impossible. It is a paradox.
Or what about the practical realm? The relationship between faith and works is another case in point. Scripture is clear: salvation is a gift from God, freely given to those who trust Christ as Savior (Ephesians 2:8-10, Romans 6:23). But the Ephesians passage does more than address the bare bones of salvation. Contemplate it with me: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
Note the passage tells us that everything pertaining to salvation (even the faith with which we believe) is a gift given to us by God. We cannot brag about what we did to be saved because our only contribution to the whole process was the sin from which God saved us!
But just as God foreordained that we would believe, He also foreordained us to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). What are the practical implications of this?
A person who claims to have come to know Christ—but who has no interest in doing good works—is not really saved. They go together. Works cannot save anyone, but someone who is saved will demonstrate that salvation by his or her works. This is James' point when he writes, "…I will show you my faith by what I do…" (James 2:18).
So works are like a thermometer, not a thermostat. A thermometer does not set the temperature of the room, it merely reveals it. The thermostat sets the temperature. Faith is the thermostat; works are the thermometer. If the thermometer shows it is 50 degrees, odds are that something is wrong with either the thermostat or the heating system.
Another tension we face is the responsibility to be in the world but not of the world. This is another one of those package deals we find difficult to handle. Christians have long gravitated toward either being part of the world or isolating themselves from it. And even if we agree that neither extreme is correct, we may struggle agreeing how this should look.
Some Christians trust authoritarian leaders to tell them how this looks. For example, churches associated with a rural, southern culture have their rules and regulations: women must wear skirts and no makeup, men must wear ties and coats to church, it is a sin to play cards, dance, or go to the movies. They are to stay so busy with church life that they have no time for clubs or a social life outside the church where they might rub shoulders with sinners. The bowling alley has a bar attached to it, so you don't want lost people to think you approve of drinking, so you stay away from the bowling alley, etc.
Interestingly, such an extreme position cannot be maintained without the King James version of the Bible. The translators of the KJV did a poor job translating 1 Thessalonians 5:22. All other versions translate it something like, "Avoid every kind of evil" (NIV), "abstain from every form of evil" (NASB), or "Abstain from every form of evil" (New King James). But the original KJV reads, "Abstain from all appearance of evil," nothing less than an inadequate translation.
So legalists have long enslaved others with the "appearance of evil argument." So did the original legalists, the Pharisees, who accused Christ of engaging in evil because he socialized with evil people: "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is proved right by her actions" (Matthew 11:19).
Although Jesus participated in His society, and was not into the "appearance of evil" thing, He was selective in what He did. So we too need to be selective. We must know our own selves, and we must realize that certain environments or activities make it easy for us to stumble. Arrogance about this sets us up for a fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). Yet God wants us to participate in our community and engage our society. We cannot retreat into isolation. It's a package deal.
Achieving the Christian balance is a challenge; such is the result of God's package deals. Fortunately, God has not left us without a Word. Between studying the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and asking advice from the people of God, most of our choices become pretty clear.
Reprinted from the December 2006/January 2007 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church