Tag Archives: Control

Telling others what to do.

It is one of the most objectionable features of religion – people who want to tell you what to do! Too often it is not a helpful sharing of good ways, but a desire to control, manipulate, or play power games.

As Paul moves on in his letter to the Romans (now to Romans 14:1-12) he clearly has this problem in mind. There are many ways of living the Christian life. In Rome, there were clearly believers from Jewish backgrounds, some of whom wanted to be wary of “unclean” food, and to keep the feasts they had grown up with. Paul is happy, as long as they do not confuse their customs with what is necessary for salvation. But believers of all traditions are to accept one another without hostile comment, as long as they share in the basic facts of faith. Of course, there is always a debate about what is basic, about what you “have to do”, but Paul argues against extending the basics to “our way”, whatever that may be.

I doubt there are many congregations today where the issue is between those of Jewish and Gentile background, but the issues remain. Food has become an ethical issue more prominently as ecological concerns have suggested the earth cannot support a Western style, meat focused, diet for all. Health experts have also ruled against much red meat. So some of us, if not becoming vegetarian, have added more meat-free meals to our diet. It is an interesting point to debate, but it is not a fundamental point of faith.

Anglicans (like me) tend to find the cycle of the “Church year”, looking at different parts of the faith at different seasons, a helpful teaching aid. Autumn brings Harvest, a thanksgiving reminding us of creation (and our need to care for it!). Kingdom reminds us of God’s rule, and Advent of our readiness for God’s Coming. Christmas (disentangling ourselves from the commercial version) speaks of God among us, and Epiphany of how that became known. There is time in Lent to consider the cost, of our salvation and of following a crucified Saviour. Easter takes us to the resurrection, and then on to ascension, Trinity, and the consequences all this has for our life routines and habits. Useful? Arguably. Necessary? Not at all. Many Christians will never keep that pattern, or those feasts. If they are “not like us” that does not affect their faith. In fact, it is just as well there are many Christians “not like us”, for it makes it easier to see what really is important!

We remind ourselves that the person to tell what to do – is ourselves. I am the only person I am meant to control, and as yet I have not worked that out fully. I am happy to try and encourage others, even to try and explain what I know of faith and Christian life, but I need to restrain the urge to tell others what to do. That is God’s job, and God is better at it than I am.

Who’s in Charge?

Who’s in Charge? – we usually ask when things aren’t working. No service, no progress, no satisfaction. Who’s in Charge? Last week, we looked at Romans 7, talking about the struggle within, knowing what we ought to do and want to do, but not always doing it. This week, on to Romans 8:1-11

“there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

Romans 8:1

That has to be good news. Nobody likes being put down, and being judgmental is a sure way to unpopularity. But what does that mean? not everybody escapes, so who? The rest of our reading explains.

“Those who live as their human nature tells them to, have their minds controlled by what human nature wants.” Good News Bible, may be clearer than
NIV “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires”

Romans 8:5

This is what we might call selfishness – but might not always recognise. It can be like the child “I want this, I won’t do that, tantrum..” But it can also be the clever executive who plans their way to the top, by fair means or foul, stopping for no one, or even the charming and subtle person, who will never put themselves in a position they don’t want to be in, for anybody.

What does it mean to “live according to human nature” (other translations have “sinful nature” or “the flesh”)? It means:

  • “Who’s in Charge?” – I am!
  • “What are you going to do?” What I want to
  • “What’s life all about?” ME.

[Some years ago, Jane Williams surprised a Conference in Oxford. She was talking about Spirituality, and reminded us how popular it is, how every personality has their diet, their routine and personal space carefully designed. But it is all about their fulfillment, their career, their choices & ambitions. Christians shouldn’t have that, but a different thing, called discipleship, about following God, not our own choices.]

“To be controlled by human nature results in death;” or
NIV “The mind governed by the flesh is death”

but

“to be controlled by the Spirit results in life and peace.” or
NIV “the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace”

Romans 8:6

God doesn’t leave us to do our own thing, and suffer other people doing theirs. His love finds a better way –

“For the law of the Spirit, which brings us life in union with Christ Jesus, has set me free from the law of sin and death. What the Law could not do, because human nature was weak, God did. He condemned sin in human nature by sending his own Son, who came with a nature like our sinful nature, to do away with sin.   God did this so that the righteous demands of the Law might be fully satisfied in us who live according to the Spirit, and not according to human nature.”

Romans 8:2-4 GNB

This is where we find what it means to “live in union with Christ Jesus”. We accept, not only that Jesus lived and died for us, but that our lives need now to be directed by his Spirit. This is what we ought to know as Christian life, or discipleship – but we don’t always recognise it. It is not being a doormat, trampled by everyone else. It is not failing to enjoy good and beautiful things. It is not letting our talents and abilities go to waste. Nor is it being very religious. But it is a new set of answers to those questions:

  • Who’s in Charge? God is, both of the big plan, and the details in my life
  • “What are you going to do?” What God wants
  • “What’s life all about?” God’s plan, which includes me, and the people I love, and much, much more.

Too often we try to fudge the issue with comments like “I’m not doing any harm”. This passage is much blunter:

“And so people become enemies of God when they are controlled by their human nature; for they do not obey God’s law, and in fact they cannot obey it.  Those who obey their human nature cannot please God.”
while for Christians it works differently
“But you do not live as your human nature tells you to; instead, you live as the Spirit tells you to—if, in fact, God’s Spirit lives in you. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ lives in you, the Spirit is life for you because you have been put right with God.”

Romans 8:7-8 and 9-10a GNB

The challenge for us is not to understand, it’s very simple: Who’s in charge? God, or your human nature. The challenge is to trust God, and let him control, and go on with that, so that he has more and more control, and we get more confidence to let him drive faster.