A thought that has recently crossed my mind has found a rather comfortable position in my brain, and doesn’t seem to want to let go. This thought (as the title reveals) is why good, Christian people are allowed by God to do bad things. Case in point, why would God allow a Christian to cause an accident in their vehicle? It is one thing when bad things happen to good people (a sinner misses a stop sign and hits your car while you were abiding by the law). But what does the Christian do when they are the one who causes an accident when they are the one who missed the sign and broke the law, causing an accident? Or why is it God allows Christians to provide false information to people at their job, or show up late to work? So often it is so easy for a Christian to justify why good things happen to them, or even why bad things happen to them. After all, we live in a sinful world, therefore God trains us in righteousness (like patience or virtue) by having bad things happen to test us. But what happens when we are allowed to do bad things ourselves? How do we respond to these?
To further complicate things, the Bible warns about Christians doing wrong. A text that continued to come to my mind was what Peter said in 1 Peter 3:17, “For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.” James makes a clear case why a Christian should not be one who is absent of good works, and Jesus Himself defines the Kingdom of God, into which a sinner cannot enter. And thus the Christian mind is confused. I have repented, I have given my life to Christ and His Word, and I am trying every day to become more like Him. So how is that I could be allowed to do something that is horrible it affects others as well? How can I let genuine, deserved guiltiness stand in my life?
I do not feel myself as under the threat of Hellfire, nor do I think God has forsaken me. Rather, the confusion lies more in the inconsistency that one finds in their own life. It is reaching the point of total loss in Romans 7, where the saint is at his end, seeing in his body that which is completely contrary to what he claims to have and be in Christ. Paul was able to tell the Gentile rulers of his day that he bore no genuine guilt, and that should be truly guilty of an actual crime he would gladly bear his punishment. He likewise told the Romans in chapter 13 to be wary of being truly guilty before the courts of the government, as the government is given its sword by God (which, by the way, is not for the use of a “slap on the wrist,” but rather a beheading of the criminal and the defense of its people against those who seek their doom).
But let us not forget that Paul was not absent of error in his Christian life. Nor was Peter, or John, or the Old Testament prophets.
So what is the answer then? How does a Christian reconcile sin in their earthly, Christian life? How do we answer the accuser of the world when they point their finger at our crimes and say “You do wrong like us!” Ah, but there is an answer. And one that ought to confound the sinner and encourage the saint.
The apostle Paul writes these words in Galatians 5:16-26:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
A very familiar passage to those who are well-versed in the Scripture, and yet one that is often misunderstood I think. It is often applied as a list of generic traits, or perhaps a list of options the Christian has to determine that their special “gift” or “fruit” is, as though the Spirit is a tree filled with various fruits and are free to eat of it. This is not at all the case, and such a thought ignores the clear fact that we are the tree. The Spirit is the one within us producing the fruit, and if He is absent, the tree bears no fruit and is condemned by Christ Himself, worthy of being cut down and thrown into the fire. “Therefore,” says John the Baptist, “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Mat. 3:8)
And Paul says as much here, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” In other words, “Do what you’re supposed to do and you won’t do what you’re not supposed to do.” A rather simple rule, and yet a vital principle to live by. If we are distracted in doing good, we are too busy to do wrong. The only way we can ever do wrong is if we stop doing what we’re supposed to and lay it aside to do wrong. There is no other way around it. So if we claim to be saved by God through Christ who has given us the Spirit, we are therefore not given the option of choosing which fruits will grow from our branches, but on the contrary, all of these fruits are inevitable. They are unavoidable, as it is the Spirit who dwells in us, and these are His fruits. If He is in us, they will flourish, and if He is absent, they will likewise be unseen. But how is it, then, that we who have the Spirit of God within us still do wrong? How does He allow us to continue in sin, and does not keep us from committing horrible mistakes? Why can’t I walk by the Spirit all the time, never wavering off His road?
Great question. It is a good question because it notes something very important that Paul clarifies here to the Galatians. “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” The “Flesh” is all that remains of our old nature. When Christ died, He took upon Himself all of the sins of those who would believe, and “nailed them to His cross.” Thus, they have been dealt with. When we repent and believe God, that Christ truly did this and it is in Him alone we find salvation, the old nature dies at that point and is evidence of the fact that the Spirit dwells in us, having led us to such an important point in our life. The old nature is now a twitching corpse, lying in the mud of our old lives. However, it remains there in our present life on this earth, stinking as it rots away and corrupting our life. It is still filled with the infectious nature of sin, grasping at any opportunity it might have of living again through us. And so the Spirit of God wars against the Flesh, and we are stuck between the two. As mentioned earlier, Paul summarizes this battle in detail in Romans 7: 14-20:
For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
Amazing, isn’t it? How he practically puts our conflict on paper. The very thing I cannot understand in my mind is what he puts into words, making so very clear that there is a conflict- a war- within us. This also makes my job as a writer much easier, in that I don’t have to spend an hour figuring out how to word such a complicated thought process. And take careful note of what the end result is of this vicious encounter, as stated in Galatians: “…so that you may not do what you want to do!” And that goes both ways. The Flesh cannot do what it wants, nor can the Spirit fully dominate our external lives. One the one hand we want to be Christian, and on the other we find ourselves sinning. “Oh wretched man that I am!” says Paul. The conflict is so great, it seems never ending and always active in our lives, ruining perfect days and breaking relationships (and cars). And so often, we find ourselves doing stupid things simply because we aren’t focused on anything in particular. And thus the war goes on, and we think we can ignore it, resulting in chaos.
But then an incredible thing is said. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” To us, as American Gentiles (excluding those of you who are either Jewish, non-American, or both) this idea of being “under the Law” is foreign. But to the Jew in the Galatia, it was an incredible thing to hear. What was the function of the Law? To kill us! It was meant to show sin for what it truly is, and through sin make utterly clear to us that we are worthy of all condemnation, in as much as we are completely unable to abide by all of the things written in the Law. The Law isn’t sin, but rather the Law is so perfect that it shows sin to be “utterly sinful,” and sin (through the Law) thus murders us before God. Because sin, when it has run its course, brings death in abundance. But we, as Christians, are not under the Law of God. The Lord Jesus Christ lived the perfect (complete) life, obeying all the things written in the Law, transgressing no command of God and being clearly absent of any natural sin. He then took our blood guiltiness through the transgression of the Law, and bore it upon Himself, clearing the slate and making us pure, having rose from the grave (and thereby conquering death, the very fulfillment of sin) and being our eternal Mediator before the Father. We are now perfect before the Father in Christ, bearing no sin on our account. Therefore, the Law does not kill us, nor is the schoolmaster to lead us to Christ, but is now that which shows us God’s glory and Christ’s righteousness. We now have the Spirit of God, through whom the fruits of righteous perfection come without fear.
So what of the Flesh? This is a fine question as well. What of the Flesh? Very little, to be honest. We do not need to spend any more time than it takes to read these things Paul lists, as he himself reminds us that we already know more than we should about such things. “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” That’s another way of saying “You already know what sin is, and if you pretend that you’ve never seen them before, let me remind you of your past guilt.” Not one of us is clear of all the above, nor dare we claim to lack the need for Christ. We broke the Law, and were worthy of condemnation. As a result of being in Christ, we need not investigate the deeds of the Flesh, or dabble in impurity for the so-called sake of “understanding.” This is because those who practice such things (actively do them, on purpose, as a way of life) are not in Christ, but are strangers of His Kingdom. We don’t need a license to sin, as we were born with the gift of doing sin without thinking, with such proficiency and simplicity that we need no guide. We were experts in sin, and could have put the devil to shame, were we to have tried.
Ah, but good works? You need to be licensed by God to do those. If you lack the Spirit, then any good works you present before God are tainted utterly with sin, with no good to be found in them. They are filthy rags before God, used falsely as a means to clean off an already filthy person. Such hypocrisy is wicked before God, and worthy of Him declaring “I never knew you” and such a one being thrown into the Lake of Fire. So a “license to do good works” is necessary before God. And such a license is granted to us, in as much as Christ has granted us the Spirit by requesting He be sent to us through the Father. And now that we have the Spirit, we are given a list of inevitabilities. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, but rather an abundance of righteousness in Christ. We are now able to please God, and serve Him without flaw, as any flaws which appear in our lives have already been dealt with well in advance by the Lord on the cross. You are now free to abound in good works, and when the flesh rears its ugly head, remind it of who it wars against. The Spirit of God, who can use the worst of men (of whom Paul was one) for eternal good. “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.”
So why does God allow Christians to do bad things? Because God is waring against the sinful flesh that so eagerly wishes to condemn us. It is trying to bring a charge against God’s elect, and so He beats it into subjection. Sometimes, that involves letting us make a mistake so ridiculous that we learn we are sustained by Him and what He deems best, not our own opinions of what is best. And quite frankly, we may not always know why God allows such events to happen in our life for particular reasons until we see Him at last, such as a car accident. But we know this: God is actively waring against the Flesh, and beating it further into subjection to His will. And sometimes He Himself causes “calamity” for the sake of breaking the flesh. Humility can be the best of allies, especially when it seems to be the worst of enemies. But God in His mercy directed that car towards your vehicle, for the express purpose of shaking you out of your mediocre life so that you would be entirely devoted to Him.
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. – Romans 7:21-25