“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” -1 John 2:1
Why would the author of 1 John say this? “So that you may not sin”. What about grace?
Doesn’t grace cover our sins, and thus it does not matter if we sin?
Even if we truly love Jesus, live by faith, and soak up grace like a dry sponge to water, why pursue a change in the way we act?
We must turn away from sin, and seek to do good for the good of us, and the glory of our King. What does that look like?
We will get to that in a minute. First, some clarity on the topic at hand.
I want to make it very clear that I fully agree with and believe that we are saved by grace, and grace alone. I believe that we absolutely cannot earn even a sliver of heaven, and that we get to go there only because God loves us perfectly.
Our earthly efforts to earn our spot in heaven are pointless and a waste of time. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves righteous. It is only by the blood of Jesus through the grace, mercy and love of the Father that we are adopted sons in the Kingdom. (Romans 3:21-24, Ephesians 1:7, 2:5)
That being said, I think it is unfair to completely toss out the concept of behavior modification from every doctrine of Christianity.
Modifying Our Behavior
I do believe there is a place for the idea and practice of changing what we do, say, and think.
I believe that modifying our behavior has value, not in making us more righteous or holy, but in keeping us connected with the Creator.
When we sin, we turn our face away from God and lose out fellowship with Him. His grace keeps the relationship intact, but our sin breaks the connection, thankfully not for very long though.
The great thing about love is that it keeps no record of wrong, and since God loves us perfectly, you can bet your bottom dollar that He is still there when we decide to stop being stupid and turn back to Him.
So why do we not sin? Refraining from sin keeps us connected with God in fellowship. We change our sinful behavior into holy behavior to stay in fellowship with the One who made us, and that is our original purpose!
Before God had a line of work, spouse, or ministry picked out for you, your purpose was to be in close interaction with Him.
So in regards to our righteousness, yes, it’s not about what we do, but when it comes to our intentional interaction with the Father, it is most assuredly about what we do.
The Benefits Of Right Behavior
You cannot be in a sin, while in the kind of interaction with God that Jesus paid for on the cross.
What kind of interaction did Jesus pay for?
The same kind of interaction that the temple priests had in the “holy of holies”. The kind of interaction that was most intentional and intimate.
The beauty of the work of the cross is that we are able to approach God in this way anywhere, anytime.
Jesus did not endure the weight of humanity’s sin so that we would just absorb His morals. Rather, Jesus shed His blood to make us righteous in the sight of the Judge so that we have freedom to have intimate, intentional, and real interactions with Him.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” -Philippians 4:8-9
So where do we begin?
We cannot hope to act in a way that pursues God without first thinking about God. Notice that in Philippians 4:8-9, Paul first tell the Philippians to think. Why? Because we act based on the way that we think. If you believe that the speed limit on the interstate is 100 mph, you would probably drive 100 mph. You would probably get pulled over as well, because we all know and thus think that the speed limit is 75. So Paul urges us to think about the “praise worthy” things. If we do, we will act in a way that praises the Lord.
Paul also tells us to “practice these things”. What are these things? They are the thoughts he talked about in action. He acted in a way that was true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise to Yahweh. This can look many ways, but I am confident that if you have the Holy Spirit, He will convict and correct you in the way to act that will keep you in fellowship with God.
It is absolutely vital to your spiritual well-being that you remember that we cannot seek to do things, or not do things to gain righteousness, but only to have fellowship with God. When you say no to a sin, and seek God in place of that sin, you are changing your behavior to have fellowship with Him.