Three People Donating Goods

How Can You Be Good in a World That Isn’t?

Christ and the Apostles taught us to be good even when the world isn’t. I think it can be safely said that we probably would not be here if we did not think that the following the example of Christ and living out those teachings is worthwhile. The list in today’s reading is pretty significant:

Be devoted to each other in brotherly love

Serve the Lord with spiritual fervor and zeal

Be joyful and patient

Live in harmony

Don’t be proud

Don’t be conceited

Don’t take revenge

Be faithful in prayer

Feed the hungry

Give drink to the thirsty

And what does Jesus promise when you do…..that the world will persecute you. And when you are persecuted you are supposed to bless those who persecute you.

So, how are you doing in that regard? Feel like running for the doors? My guess is that just about everyone here today has at one time or another resolved to be more faithful in following the teachings of Christ and sincerely tried to do so. I know I have. And I also know that I failed.

My friend Larry Schmidt has known me longer than anyone in this church; longer even than my wife. When I arrived at college to be his freshman roommate, I was a fairly new Christian and I believe Larry can affirm that I was pretty zealous about living the life and, pretty intense about telling others how to live their lives. I went to Bible studies and attended church regularly. I knew I could be a good Christian if I just tried hard enough. Well, by the end of my freshman year about the only thing that was left was my zeal around telling other people what to do. Some will argue I never lost that! But by relying on myself, gradually, over time, I compromised with the world. The desire to be a part of everything going on around me and included in the groups, and peer pressure to conform, took me away. It was just too hard to live the life of Christ. So I wandered away and hardly even attended church for the next 12 years.

Is that a familiar story? Have you also tried to live the life Christ describes for us and failed? If you have, don’t feel bad. You have a lot of company. But the good news is that Jesus understands that we will. He was crucified, died on the cross, and rose from the dead to release us from the consequences of our failure to do what is right…..from our sin. But he also intends for us not to go on sinning. So how are we supposed to do that? Jesus dies for us knowing that we are sinners and cannot live a good life when left to our own devices, tells us to be good in a world that isn’t, and we try and fail. Doesn’t that take us right back to where we started?

When I reviewed today’s scriptures again in preparing to speak with you, I concluded that they really don’t solve the dilemma. They certainly tell us what we need to do, but are not really clear on how to do it. But if you turn to Romans 8: 1-15, you will find the answer. I encourage you to read the passage directly from Scripture, but I’m going to read from Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of scripture, called “The Message” as Peterson says it better than I can:

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.

But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!

So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go!

Becoming a Christian takes place when you claim your salvation in Christ and accept God’s grace. But following Christ means accepting the Holy Spirit into your life and being sanctified by the Spirit. It’s funny how we claim Christ, but then go right on with the old way of thinking that we must do good things and then be rewarded by God for what we do. It has been the way humanity has thought about God from the beginning of time. We rely upon ourselves to do what is right, fail, and then feel guilty. And in order to stop feeling guilty, we eventually stop trying. And it is exactly what Christ opposes as it means that we rely upon ourselves instead of Christ. But in Jesus Christ we have a new way of thinking, one that is based not on our actions but on God’s love which has been graciously poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit is what will enable you to live a good life in a world that isn’t. The work of the Holy Spirit in us is called sanctification. Through sanctification, the Holy Spirit re-creates us in the image of God. The Spirit makes us holy and sets us aside for God’s purposes. The Spirit changes our desires, attitudes, and actions to increasingly meet God’s expectations. We are transformed in our character and our conduct.

The Holy Spirit makes this transformation happen, but we have to allow it to happen. While we are being transformed sin continues to have a harmful effect on us. Sin may no longer dominate our lives, but we will continue to sin. We will continue to compromise with the world. But sin no longer has full control over our lives. By cooperating with the Holy Spirit, we are transformed gradually, throughout our lifetimes.

So what does this mean practically? It means you have to be willing to surrender yourself to the work of the Holy Spirit. Being a Christian requires you to give up on the idea that you really are in charge and stop trying to follow your own agenda. As we have discussed already, when we try to be in charge we inevitably fail. It means you have to surrender your ideas of right and wrong, what you should do and should not do, to Christ working in you through the Holy Spirit. This is serious stuff. I guarantee you that if you do, you will find yourself thinking differently, doing things you never thought you would do, and desiring different things in your life. Your friends and co-workers will regard you differently. And it is a life-long process. It can be a dramatic turn, but for most it is a very gradual changing. It requires daily prayer and submission and studying the Word. Because you will measure yourself against the life described for us in the Word. But it is not magic. I often joke but with complete candor that I submit my life to Christ every morning and then immediately begin taking it back. But he always seems to hold on to another small piece of me and it is in that small piece that sanctification occurs.

We are about to share in communion. Communion means many things. But one is clear: receiving communion is a renewal of the process of the sanctification of the Holy Spirit within us. All communion liturgies call upon the Holy Spirit to transform our lives. The liturgy in our hymnal specifically prays “By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.” And it sends us out into the world “in the strength of your Spirit.”

So as you take communion today, if you want to live a good life in a world that isn’t, be intentional about inviting the Holy Spirit to work within you. Commit not to being good on your own, but to intentionally seek out the guidance of the Holy Spirit daily in your life. Come now. Let us receive Christ into our lives.

© Thomas M. Trezise, 2009


  1. Charles on February 23, 2010 at 1:12 am

    So true Tom. The struggles of living in a world with so much sin, sadness and hurt. But there is hope in God, hope that we have to hang onto. We have to look beyond the mortal place to a place that is much bigger, better and blessed than where we are today. For many, including myself, this is not an easy task, but a necessary one because at the end the journey, the struggles, the hope will be worth it.

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Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

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