(Note: A downloadable PDF copy of this lesson is available on the last page.)
“…and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:13, NASB)
Lesson 4 presents a series of steps that will enable you to love your neighbor as yourself. These steps are as follows:
- Evaluation of your behavior
- Acceptance of your condition
- Forgiveness received from God
- Surrender to the power of God
It is assumed that the student of this course is a Christian. That is, he or she recognizes and accepts the truths set forth in Romans 3:19-28, Colossians 1:12-14, and John 3:16 that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and that the sinner is saved through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Accordingly, this lesson, addressed to the Christian, seeks to show you how to take this series of steps in order to bring your life into continuous subjection to the will of God–to love your neighbor as yourself.
1. Evaluation of Your Behavior
Laws need to be considered
Before you can solve a problem, you must first find out what the problem is. This is an orderly world. It operates according to definite, dependable laws.
For example, we take care to make allowance for the law of gravity. A dear, elderly gentleman put up a ladder to do some work on his roof, but he placed it so that it was crooked. When he climbed up the ladder, it began to slide. He fell and broke his hip. Here was a man, a devout Christian, who was careless about observing the law of gravity. He fell just as the worst criminal would have fallen if he had gone up that ladder.
We take the laws of friction into account. A student took a curve in the road too fast on an icy day. His car went end over end and he came out of the wreckage with a battered head. He had ignored the laws of friction. He did not do this intentionally. He was not deliberately reckless. Yet the same thing happened to him as would have happened to the most reckless of drivers.
All of us know the importance to our safety of abiding by the laws of gravity and friction. These laws have been gathered together in books. As we study them, we learn what to expect if we abide by them and what to expect if we violate them.
The laws of human behavior are likewise gathered together in a Book–the Bible. To understand why people behave as they do, to understand why you behave as you do, you must understand the laws contained in the Bible. The apostle says of the Bible:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The cause of inner unrest, conflict between people, and separation from God is the violation of the laws found in the Bible. (See Isaiah 59:1-2; 1 John 1:6-7.) The violation of these laws is called sin. The Bible defines sin as “lawlessness.” “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Whether done deliberately or in ignorance, we reap the results of violating God’s laws just as we reap the result of violating the laws of friction or gravity.
To understand the cause of inner unrest, conflict with people, and separation from God is to understand the effect of sin. To understand God’s solution is to understand the preventives that keep us from sinning.
Now sin has two aspects: the tendency to sin and specific acts that are sin.
a. The tendency to sin is described by Paul:
“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.
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” (Romans 7:15-23).
To illustrate, a student tells of this experience: Night after night, before he went to sleep, he determined that he would go through the next day with a wholesome, positive reaction toward circumstances and people. One morning he was particularly determined to have a good day. He left his room, raced for the elevator, and just as he got there the door closed, and he was forced to wait a few minutes. When he did get on the elevator, another passenger accidentally stepped on his foot. He walked away very conscious of being annoyed at both incidents in spite of his determination to react in a wholesome, kindly way toward all such happenings.
Again, a mother of two pre-school children tells of her struggle with her attitude toward her children. Two specific tasks that faced her daily caused her much annoyance. She hated herself for it, but no amount of determination, will power, or good intentions could give her control over her annoyance at feeding the children or changing diapers. It is granted that these are trying tasks. The point is that this woman was unable to achieve the desired attitude toward these tasks.
Every man finds himself sooner or later doing, saying, feeling, thinking in a way that is distasteful to him. Every man, sooner or later, finds himself not doing, saying, or feeling as he would like. This is the tendency to sin–something within you that is beyond your control. To recognize and accept this tendency within you is the first step toward a solution to the problem.
b. Specific acts that are sin. The tendency to sin within you makes itself known to you by specific inner reactions or outward actions toward others. We use the Bible to identify these. Let us look at some of these passages: James 2:9; 4:17; 1 John 3:15; Proverbs 10:19; Ephesians 4:18-32; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; James 3:14-16; Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 17:3-4; Philippians 2:1-3.
Anger, bitterness, wrath, pride, and hate are inner reactions to circumstances. These are invisible and can be concealed. Any man who will compare himself with the Bible standard must declare himself a sinner, unable to eliminate from his life the inward reactions or outward responses toward others, undesirable to him and described in the Bible as sin.
We tend to overemphasize the value and importance of outward behavior and to minimize–or fail to realize–the emphasis, the importance, the value given in the Bible to inward behavior. It is impossible for another to see within you, and you are prone to hide even from yourself. James says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic” (James 3:14-15, emphasis added).
Consider also the following passages: Matthew 5:8, 21, 22, 27, 28; 23:25-26; Mark 7:14-23; Luke 16:13-15; Acts 8:18-23; Romans 2:28-29; Ephesians 6:5-8; 1 Samuel 16:7; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Job 42:2; Psalm 34:18; 51:6-10; Proverbs 3:1; 23:7; Jeremiah 17:5; 29:11-13; Ezekiel 33:30-33; 1 Timothy 1:5; Matthew 18:35; 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Psalms 38:8; Jeremiah 9:8.
The law of life
To bring into sharper focus the meaning of sin and its terrible result to you, you should consider another important law — “… the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2). “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). Consider also James 3:17-18; Ephesians 4:31-32; Luke 6:35-37. Again, these are inward, invisible qualities. You can act this way in your own strength, at least part of the time; but you can’t be this way without the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. If you doubt it, just pay attention to your inner responses to people or circumstances for one week.