Do I Live Right?

Jari Rankinen
Reija Becks

God created man in his own image. This means that in certain things, God made man in the likeness of God. The image of God knew – like God knows – what is right and what is wrong. As images of God, the human beings understood that they must turn away from evil and do the right thing, and they also always did the right thing. Having been created in the image of God also means that we are responsible to God for our actions. God will call his images to account for whether they lived in God’s way – have they done what is right.

Then there was the fall. As a result, man lost the ability to live right. The fall happened, and that is why we do what we should not do and cannot stop it, even though we know it is wrong and try not to live like that. The fall also had the result that man’s ability to know right from wrong was severely blurred. Because of the fall, sin tainted our innermost being, which is therefore so warped that it can twist right to become wrong and wrong to become right. And it often does this. Therefore, we need to have knowledge about right and wrong from outside ourselves. Even if the fall happened, we are still images of God – we have a sense of right and wrong, although that sense has been blurred, and we are responsible to God for our actions.

God knows right and wrong and always does what is right. God did not keep the knowledge of right and wrong just to himself. He speaks to us about it by giving us his word, and this means two things:

  1. God gave us the Bible. God’s men and women wrote down what God wants to say to the people he created. There are countless Bible verses taking a stand on right and wrong. They are God’s stands – God’s, who knows precisely what is right and wrong. For this reason, we, whose sense of right and wrong was blurred, must listen to them.

  2. God himself came to this world. It happened when Jesus was born as man. He is the Word of God and God himself – in him, the Lord of heaven and earth spoke, taught, and worked. Therefore, what Jesus taught about right and wrong is God’s teaching. When we ask what is right, we must ask what Jesus thinks about it. If we know that, we will know God’s stand. What Jesus thinks about it, we learn from the Bible. The Bible is a book specifically about him.

What the Bible says about right and wrong resonates with what the human beings vaguely recognize in their hearts. When we hear what the Bible commands or forbids, it is as if something would say inside us, “That is true” – even if we would rebel against it. Why is this? Because the Bible is our Creator’s book and we were made in his image. Something in every one of us agrees with what our Creator says about right and wrong. May this encourage us to keep the commandments of the Bible in the foreground and act according to them.

In the Soviet Union, teaching the commandments of the Bible was prohibited, the Bibles were destroyed, and its teachings were replaced by man-made doctrines that appeared much better than the Bible. What happened? A few decades went by, and during that time, much took place: the people learned to steal, lie, and live disregarding their neighbours. The national economy was brought to such disorder that the nation did not pull through it without help from other countries. Even the environment was polluted. This is what happened, and this will happen, where the Bible and its commandments are ignored.

The Bible has excellent guidelines for our life. If you ignore the operating instructions provided by the maker of some device, the device will soon be out of order. The Maker of this world is speaking in the Bible. And he knows how we must live in the world he made, so that it will be as good as possible for as many people as possible.

The whole teaching of the Bible on right and wrong is stated in the double love commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37 and 39). Everybody will certainly agree that we must love. But there is disagreement about what love is. What love is and how we must act in different situations if we love, is something we would not know, if it was not told us from outside ourselves, the Bible. The other commandments in the Bible shed light on the double love commandment. The Ten Commandments are quite an extensive explanation to the love commandment. The first three Commandments tell us what it is to love God: it is to not serve other gods, to not use God’s name in vain, and to keep the Sabbath holy. The Commandments from four to ten tell us what it is to love our neighbour; it means that we honour our parents, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, and do not covet anything that is our neighbour’s.

There are also many other commandments in the Bible. They, too, clarify what it is to love God and our neighbour. The Bible tells us to give thanks to God in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18) because to give thanks to God is to love God. The Bible tells us to pay taxes (Romans 13:5-7), even if they would appear excessive. That which we withhold, when completing our tax return, is lovelessness towards another person.

From what Jesus did on earth, how he acted, and what he spoke, we know what it is to love God and our fellow human beings. God himself worked in Jesus, and God will not break the love command. Jesus loved and did what was right even in the situations that we think should have been handled differently. When you are pondering what is love and what should be done, think what Jesus would do in that situation. Do the same! If you do it, you love.

A friend of mine told about a discussion during which somebody asked about the Church’s view on infidelity. The asker had posed the question three times in different words, when justifying his/her own infidelity in various ways. When, for the third time, my friend had told that there is the sixth commandment in the Bible, the person had taken offense and asked, “Do you have any better-informed people to answer my question?” The Bible’s view felt so unappealing that the asker wanted to ignore it and hear a more pleasant answer. Many commandments in the Bible are hard for us for the very reason that they say something we would not like to hear – because we ourselves act differently from what the Bible says. And for this reason, people often declare, “There is no need to keep this commandment of the Bible any longer.”

Are there outdated commandments in the Bible – such that we need not keep in today’s world? The Son of God – the one who is better at answering this than us – gives the right answer, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18). The Bible is God’s word. God will not change, nor will there be any changes in what he has said. What God calls sin, is sin – has been, is now, and will be – even if we would come up with good reasons for it no longer being a sin, or if what we do is so common that it is no longer regarded as sin, or at least a great sin.

It is important to realize that we are fallen people, and for that reason, our ideas about right and wrong are distorted. God, in contrast, did not fall. It is also worth remembering that God will not differentiate between great and small sins. When we break his commandments, we are always committing a great sin, no matter how insignificant the issue would appear to us. Jesus taught that it is not only a murderer who will be liable to the hell of fire but also whoever calls someone a fool. In the eyes of God, even a small sin is a great sin.

Naturally, there are some things in the Bible that are no longer in effect. In the past, God gave commandments that were part of the old covenant and that only the people of Israel had to keep. Many laws for offerings are such commandments. The Bible itself says that a new covenant was established and those commands are no longer valid. The Son of God died on the cross, reconciled the sin of the whole world to himself and brought righteousness to all, and for this reason we do not have to, and even must not, keep the many commandments in the law of Moses. Keeping them would be a disrespect for Jesus’ death, as we would be trying to earn salvation through our own works even though Jesus already brought it for us and wants to give it to us as a gift.

In Paradise, the devil made the people doubt God’s word. The devil came up with an excuse for the bypassing of God’s explicit commandment and made them sin. The devil still works in the same way. He comes up with explanations why this or that passage in God’s word need not be taken seriously. The voice that trivializes the Bible or advises to act differently from what the Bible says is the devil’s voice, even if that voice would speak in a civilized, sensible manner, and in a way that would feel to be full of love. This, if anything, is a matter of spiritual warfare. Will we listen to God’s Holy Spirit or the devil? God’s Spirit wants us to draw closer to the Bible, whereas the devil wants to tear us away from it.

Not everything that we are told to do or forbidden to do is based on the Bible. There are still many traditions made up by people, and we may be required to keep those. If man-made commandments are viewed as equal to God’s word and we are required to keep them, God’s word is being despised – because the ideas of people are made equal to God’s word. When you are demanded or forbidden to do something, ask where in the Bible it is commanded. If no such passage is found, there is no need to keep the command.

It is dangerous to break God’s commandments. There are at least three reasons for this:

  1. God is holy. It is an offense to God’s holiness to disregard his word. God can put up with people’s insolence for a long time, but sooner or later, his wrath will be kindled. An individual or a whole nation may face his wrath even in this world. The despisers of God’s commandments will, at the latest, face it after this life, when everybody is standing before God and judgment begins.

  2. Breaking God’s commandments separates the human being from God. Sin taints the conscience, and anyone living with a bad conscience keeps avoiding God. The more you break God’s commandments, the further away you drift from God. It is the worst that can happen to anyone because we are designed to live close to God. Disregard for God’s commandments will separate you from God once and for all. The final separation from God is called eternal destruction.

  3. God’s commandments are life’s own law. If they are kept, it is much easier to live in this world. If they are not kept, this world will be all the worse. God’s law guides us to live right. The commandments also have another important task. They are like a mirror that reveals what we are like. When I hear how I should live, I am confronted with a tough question, “Do I live right?” All who sincerely examine themselves and their lives, must inevitably recognize that this has not happened. Someone has broken God’s commandments in one way, another one in another way, and every one of us in many ways. God hates this, and therefore every one of us is liable to God’s judgement.

There are those who feel that God’s commandments should not be proclaimed – that all we need is gentle Gospel. That is not so! Our ideas about right and wrong become even more blurred, if God’s word is not allowed to teach us the right concepts. And we need God’s commandments particularly in order to realize our constant need of Jesus. Without the law, we will start to think that we are so good that we can please God with our lives. This illusion leads to perdition. The law shatters this illusion, reveals the truth about us – our wickedness – and makes us go to Jesus, to beg for his forgiveness and receive it.

The law is needed, but it will not save anybody because no one can keep God’s law so well that it would be good enough for God. Then, what saves us? The gospel. God’s gospel is the message about Jesus and the cross: The Son of God was condemned, and there is therefore no condemnation for us. He offered himself as a sacrifice, and therefore God forgives us all our sins. Jesus kept all God’s commandments, from start to finish, and therefore God considers acceptable all those who turn to Jesus, even if they are not acceptable to God by their lives. Through his death, Jesus brought God’s grace to us. When our trust is in this, we will stand before the holy God.

Anyone who belongs to Jesus takes refuge in God’s grace. Those who belong to Jesus are the ones who have been baptized in him and who believe in him. Salvation is a gift; we cannot and need not earn it in any way. It is a free gift to all who care to receive it – it is totally irrespective of what we are like or what we are able to do. Those who realize that they are sinners and deserve judgement welcome the gospel of Jesus who is the propitiation for our sins. The law, no matter how much it is preached, will not create faith in Jesus. Only the gospel will do it. And the law will not strengthen the faith by which we are saved. It is only the gospel that does that, too.

Does the faith restrict our lives? Yes, it does. To live as a Christian is to fear God. To fear God is to understand that I am totally dependent on God – my life rests totally on what God will give me and whether he has mercy on me. That is why I dare not make God angry. If I make him angry and he rejects me, bad things will certainly happen to me in every way. I know that God hates it when his word is ignored. I therefore do not dare to live ignoring God’s will; by doing so I would make the holy God angry, and that is frightening to me. The faith does put restrictions on my life – I cannot live in whatever way. But the limits set by God’s commandments are good limits. They protect life. If we comply with them, we will avoid many bad things.

Where can I get the strength to do God’s will? I will not get it by being told strictly and precisely how I ought to live. It is the gospel that gives me the strength; the fact that I know how much God loved me and loves me. Anyone who receives the free gift of eternal life from God desires to give thanks to God. To give thanks to God is to do the will of God in your life. The fact that I am saved solely by God’s grace gives me the strength and will to it; I desire to be obedient to God who is so incredibly good to me. At the same time, we must bear in mind that we will never be perfect, not even nearly, during this lifetime. Once finally in heaven, there will be no sin.