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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Dynamic Duo

Combining Theology with Godly Behavior

Batman and Robin

by Dennis Pollock

The epistles of Paul are a great treasure to the church, and are totally unique to Christianity. No religious writings from any other world religion can compare with them. The apostle Paul had a brilliant mind and possessed an ability to write like few men ever have, then or now. Add to his natural intellect and abilities the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and you have writings which are unmatched in their eloquence and life-transforming power. As we read such books as Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, we evangelicals are convinced that we are reading the very words of God.

A careful reader of Paul's epistles will soon detect a very definite dichotomy in his writings. Much of what Paul has to say can be placed in one of two categories: theology and godly behavior. Believing that his writings were inspired by the Holy Spirit we can only conclude that God is very much interested in us becoming vitally acquainted with both of these. As we meditate upon these two dimensions of the great apostle's writings, let us begin with theology.

Pauline Theology

Theology can mean different things to different people. Some see it as a futile exercise in religious nitpicking – worrying about the reason a particular verb tense was used, or debating endlessly about the various shades of meaning of some Greek or Hebrew word. Some suppose theology is for philosophical types who ponder deep thoughts in ivory towers, but who are of no practical use in the real world, strange men with thick glasses and no people skills, men who will never lead souls to Christ, but love to analyze the obscure and dark passages of the Bible everyone else would rather leave alone.

This was definitely not the case with Paul. Paul's white-hot evangelistic fervor took him all over the world, winning thousands to Christ, healing the sick, instructing believers, and establishing church after church. But Paul was no mere mindless screamer or pulpit pounder. He was a man who thought, and thought deeply about the things of God. In particular Paul thought about the subject of redemption through Jesus Christ. He was an avid student of the Old Testament Scriptures, and pored over them with a Christ-centered lens. He was constantly looking for types and shadows of Jesus and His cross in the Old Testament, and the Holy Spirit was faithful to show him a great deal. In addition to this he learned much from the many current testimonies of the life and words of Jesus that were circulating in those days. The insights he gained in his studies and from the Holy Spirit's direct teaching made up the opening portions of his letters to the churches. We see this beautifully demonstrated in his epistle to the Ephesians where he writes:

…which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:20-23).

To the Colossian believers, Paul writes:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Colossians 1:15-17).

First and Biggest

The apostle Paul loved to write about, preach about, and teach about Jesus Christ! The opening chapters of his epistles are filled Christ and the redemption that He has provided us. As we study his writings, we can deduce several things. For one thing, we notice that the theology of Jesus Christ was always first. Before Paul got around to the responsibilities of believers, he wanted to make sure they first heard about Jesus. He must be exalted, magnified, and elevated as Lord and upholder of all things before anything else is addressed. There is no point to telling people to live honorably and practice self-control without first making sure their minds are filled with an exalted view of the Son of God. Secondly, a careful study of Paul's epistles reveals that theology takes up the lion's share of them. He will eventually get around to behavior and Christian conduct, but Christ-centered theology must take the larger part.

Thirdly, we see that these emphatic redemption-centered teachings were given by Paul in letters to Christian believers. These were not written as evangelistic essays to sinners. The readers of these letters were men and women who had already given their lives to Jesus and were professing Christians. Paul did not consider it a waste of time or redundant to thoroughly review for them exactly what their Savior had done for them, and why He was worthy to be followed and obeyed. Some have supposed that teaching on Jesus and His cross is fine for evangelists, but has no place in church meetings full of born again Christians. Paul never saw it like that. Just as none of us ever outgrows the need for food, no Christian will ever outgrow their need for Jesus Christ, the bread of life. Every time we sit down to read the Bible, and turn to one of Paul's epistles, we will soon be feeding on Jesus.

Therefore…

But as important as Jesus and redemption were to Paul, he was never content to make this the sole content of his letters. Often he turned the corner with the use of the word "therefore." After having given a lengthy, thoughtful, and powerful argument of salvation in Jesus Christ through faith, he would inject a therefore and begin to deal with the proper response by those who believe on Him. To the Romans he writes, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). Paul has spent most of the previous eleven chapters discussing the awesome nature of Christ's sacrifice, and showing clearly that we enter into God's family through faith and not by works. In these chapters we read some of the most brilliant and eloquent theology ever written by the hand of a man. But Paul could never stop there, and neither can we. We must present ourselves, our bodies, and our lives unto God for His service.

After writing so eloquently and beautifully of Christ and His redemption in the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul is ready to call believers to lives of holiness, writing: "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3). It is no good wearing a T-shirt that says: "God is good," singing passionately, "I am a friend of God," and making "I love Jesus" your username on various websites if you are not fully committed to live a humble life and bear patiently with your obnoxious brothers and sisters for the sake of unity in the church. After hearing about Jesus, there is always a therefore. We must respond to the grace of Jesus Christ by the way we live and relate to one another.

The Empty Tomb1 Corinthians 15 is a wonderful chapter which deals almost exclusively with the resurrection of believers from the dead. Here we are told that "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive." We read that "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed --- in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet…" It is a moving and powerful argument for the sure and certain hope of the believer after death has done its worst. But Paul being Paul he could never leave it at that. He finishes his linguistic masterpiece with this simple thought: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58). There must always be a therefore. Sound Christ-centered theology must be complimented by transformed lives and godly living and service.

Picture of the Christian Life

Throughout his epistles Paul gives many short, fairly simple exhortations to believers about how they are to live. Wives are to submit to their husbands, husbands must love their wives as Christ loved the church, and children must obey their parents. Christians must be gentle and patient with one another. All believers must keep themselves sexually pure, limiting sexuality to the covenant of marriage between one man and one wife. We must speak the truth in love, we must no longer steal but work with our hands so that we can share with those in need. We must "warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, and be patient with all." In essence these exhortations have become "commands" for those who name the name of Jesus Christ. Because we are convinced that Paul was not merely giving his own opinion on these things, and was in fact speaking as the Holy Spirit gave him utterance, we take these instructions as our Christian rulebook. We know we will not be justified by the keeping of these commands; we are justified through faith in Jesus alone, as Paul plainly teaches us. But, having been justified, this is the new life Jesus demands and expects of us. These instructions by Paul, as well as those from the other New Testament writers, and our Lord Jesus' own words, are a picture of what the Christian life looks like. Anything other than this is a lie.

Read – That You May Do!

As a young boy of around 14, America's first president George Washington copied a list of 110 rules for young gentlemen, known as the Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior. These rules enforced the ideas of humility, respect for other people, and dignity in one's behavior. Some of the rules would sound hilariously quaint to us today, but upon deeper reflection it is evident that the humility, decency, and respect for others they promoted were very qualities that made for greatness in our nation's first president. Some of the rules included:

  1. Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present
  2. Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not on when others stop.
  3. Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.


There is something powerful about learning, reading, memorizing, and constantly re-reading rules of proper behavior. But as Christians we have something far greater than the Rules of Civility. We have the instructions of the living God through the pens of Paul and the other Biblical writers. God told Joshua: "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it" (Joshua 1:8). As we read and re-read the words, instructions, and the ways of God, they leave tracks in our hearts and minds; they cut grooves in our souls that affect us in wonderful ways all the rest of our days.

We are told that God "works in us to will and to do for His good pleasure." Reading the redemptive-based theology of the New Testament epistles is a part of how God makes this happen, but so also is the reading of the simple exhortations and commands by Paul and the others that insist upon godly behavior. As we read Paul telling us: "put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering" in the presence of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves wanting to do just that.

Theology without godly behavior is death. Attempts at decency and goodness without a firm grasp of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ is futility and frustration. But when we combine solid, Christ-centered theology with a heart eager to conform to the New Testament picture of Christian living, we shall find victory and peace.

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