Climbing on the Altar
Quarter 3, Lesson 8
"Get a clue!" "Will you get real?" "Grow up!" "Get serious!" What do those statements have in common? Those statements come from persons with broader perspectives. The horizons of those perspectives encompass a wide view of life and its meaning. The person receiving the statement has a narrow perspective. His or her "close horizons" are unconcerned with life's purpose or meaning. His or her view of life is that of a self-centered child who expects someone else to provide for him or her. He or she does not have a mature focus.
The common first century view tended to be "now" focused. The key considerations of that "now" focus often were indulgence and manipulation. Slaves used indulgence to escape and manipulation to survive. Patrons used indulgence to celebrate status and manipulation to achieve ambitions. People commonly justified their indulgence in pleasurable experiences. People commonly regarded their use of manipulation to be a useful tool.
Paul urged Christians at Rome to let God's mercy motivate them to climb on the altar. This was NOT an appeal to use pleasurable indulgence or manipulation. It was the call to a different life. It was the call to retrain thinking. It was the call to unselfishly use abilities to benefit others. It was the call to lovingly relate to fellow believers in Christ. It was the call to humility. It was the call to treat enemies with compassion. It was the call to defeat evil by doing good. It was the call to respect a government that did not respect them. It was the call to function through love, not through the patronage system.
Roman society would regard those calls as unreasonable. Why should anyone take Paul's call to climb on the altar seriously? Not everyone would. Only those who saw and were touched by God's mercy would take Paul's call seriously.
Paul provided a perspective. "This do" (verse 11) because they adopted Paul's perspective concerning life. Paul's perspective provides invaluable insights into the minds and hearts of people touched by God's mercy. Consider a condensed statement of Paul's perspective:
You are no longer asleep.
You understand salvation is a journey, not an achieved destination.
Because a new day is dawning, "darkness" behavior is inappropriate:
a "party animal" lifestyle, getting drunk, sexual misconduct,
indulging desires for pleasure, strife, and jealousy.
The "dawning" of the new day was not gauged by the transformation of society. Christians of today have been deceived by the myth of the first century world's conversion. We have "swallowed" the concept that most of the first century world became Christian. It did not! While the first Jewish converts had "favor with all the people" in Jerusalem (Acts 2:47), it was not long until the council arrested Peter and John (Acts 4) and then all the apostles (Acts 5). Soon after those arrests, Stephen was killed (Act 7:60). Paul promptly conducted a city-wide search for Christians. He arrested and imprisoned them (Acts 8:1-3). In the last half of the first century, the Jews, the Roman government, and leading forms of idolatry organized oppositions to Christianity. By the first century's end, Christians in Asia Minor questioned the survival of the church. Revelation was written to give them hope. The declaration that "these men have upset the world" (Acts 17:6) was an exaggeration declared by opponents at Thessalonica. Their intention was to emotionalize a local crowd and the city's authorities (Acts 17:8). The instigators of that situation were local Jews who were jealous of Paul (Acts 17:5).
First century Christianity's objective was not control of nations. Their mission was not based on controlling or transforming society. The Christian's personal goal was to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" and live as a part of the new day. Existence in the new day was not based on national or social reform. It was based on putting on Jesus Christ.
Putting on Christ changes behavior. Those who put on Christ retrain thinking, live unselfishly to benefit others, treat enemies with compassion, fight evil by doing good, respect authority that does not respect them, and function through love. They reject the party lifestyle, getting drunk, indulging in sexual promiscuity or selfish gratification, and surrendering to strife and jealousy.
In Paul's theology, putting on Christ goes far beyond immersion into Christ (Galatians 3:27). Putting on Christ involves becoming the new self created in righteousness and holiness of truth (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10,11). It involves becoming all the positives in Colossians 3:12-17. Remember, Romans 13:14, Galatians 3:27, Ephesians 4:24, and Colossians 3:10,11 were written to Christians who were baptized.
When did they know their lives belonged to the new day? The most powerful evidence existed in their planned use of themselves. Did they "wear" Jesus Christ? In mind, heart, and behavior, were they dedicated to being people who belonged to the merciful God? Or, did they plan and produce opportunities to gratify physical desires? Did they surrender their minds, hearts, and behavior to satisfying "the flesh in regard to its lusts?"
Those who wore Jesus Christ saw the coming light of the new day. Those devoted to gratifying the lust of the flesh immersed themselves in the works of darkness. Which do we do?
Link to Teacher's Guide Quarter 3, Lesson 8
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