(Eph 4:22-24) You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
We were saved for a purpose — to be like God. In particular, we were saved to do good works, which God wants us to do because they are also his works –
(Eph 2:10) For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Now, here we see that we are supposed to be like God in God’s righteousness — covenant faithfulness — which means we are to be penitent, but penitent in a very particular way. We are to be more and more like God. And this means we have to understand the character and purposes of God.
Of course, the Spirit is in us working toward this very end — and who knows God’s character and purposes better? — and so it’s not like we have to do this all by ourselves. But this language does not refer to singing a cappella, because God doesn’t sing a cappella. I mean, I’ve read the Revelation.
Rather, Paul’s point is much like a point Jesus makes —
(Mat 5:43-48) “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
To be “perfect” like God is to love those who don’t love us. (It keeps coming back to faith and love, doesn’t it?)
Of course, there’s much more.
(Deu 10:17-19) For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.
God begins the giving of the Law in Deuteronomy by describing his own passions and telling his people to emulate him. God’s passions haven’t changed. Indeed, we begin to understand —
(James 1:27) Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
We, of course, like to quote this passage, but we do so by pushing it into a much longer list of commands, subordinating pure and faultless religion to the 5 acts of worship and such like. I mean, we’ll damn an instrumental church for the price of a magazine, but we won’t bleat a word of protest about a church that ignores widows and orphans. But James understands God much better than we do. James says our religion is “pure and faultless” when we share and act on God’s passions. You see, James has read Deuteronomy.
Moral purity and caring for those in need. Sounds like Jesus, too. Sounds a lot like love.
(1 John 4:16) And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
It’s a shame that John and James died too soon to learn from Benjamin Franklin. Surely they would have agreed that the highest, best form of obedience is obedience to positive laws. And yet, when the New Testament writers tell us how to live as Christians, they issue not a single positive command beyond faith and love.
And so we have a decision to make: Do we honor the words of the New Testament or the traditions of the late 19th Century? They are not the same. And I’ve seen what our 19th Century theology did to us in the 20th Century. I think we might want to try something else.