In this abiding series, each post will be framed as an email correspondence to a friend who is seeking to get ‘more’ out of his or her faith. My hope is that by exploring this topic as a conversation, you will resonate with the message as deeply as if it were a letter addressed to you.
To: Friend Seeking More from Faith
From: Doug Nuenke
Subject: Does Right Living Even Matter?
The toughest questions always emerge late at night, don’t they? I got your email this morning and noticed the send time: 1:14am. It didn’t surprise me, then, that you asked the question:
If our salvation and relationship with Christ is based on “grace, through faith”, can we live any way we want?!
I’ve wrestled with that a lot lately, especially when it seems that Christ-followers are not only embracing behaviors or lifestyles that aren’t in line with Scripture, they’re advocating for them! What in the world do we do with that?
I’ll lean on Paul and John, two people much closer to the source than me, for help. To a similar question, Paul wrote to some Roman believers,
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1,2 ESV).
He goes on to say that those of us who are in Christ have died to sin and that just as He was raised, we who are in Him are resurrected to a new way of living. And that’s the hinge point, here: a new way of living. What exactly does that look like?
We all can get confused on how to rightly honor the law of Scripture while also leaning into the grace of Christ. Many of us can jump from one extreme to another, leaving ritualistic law behind only to abandon any standard of moral living whatsoever.
Paul warned against this, naming the dangerous behaviors of the flesh:
“… sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these…” (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV).
But Paul didn’t stop there. In the next verse, Paul describes the good behaviors that should mark those who belong to Christ: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (vs. 22) These characteristics aren’t meant to be trophies of our moral muscle, but evidence of the Spirit’s work in us.
The juxtaposition of these two passages—the dangers of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit—tell me that our salvation and relationship with Christ is not based on our works, but the character of our life is proof of our new life in Christ.
So in response to your original question, I would answer that yes, right living does matter. It matters because it is evidence of a close and abiding relationship with Jesus. Put another way, our morality matters because it’s a litmus test for our abiding. If we are not relying on Christ moment-by-moment, leaning on His grace and love for us, there is no way we can bear the fruit of Spirit-driven character. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Self-Control. These attributes (among others) are evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work within us. They are proof of our new way of living.
I know this might raise questions for you (as it does for me), so please send follow up questions my way! In the meantime, though, I will end on this thought: our relationship with God does not depend on our good works, but good works do depend on an abiding relationship with Christ.