It’s week three of our series on considering a spiritual tune up.
Quite a few years ago I had a car that slid on an icy road while turning around a corner and hit the curb with one of the front wheels.
It wasn’t a hard hit and there was no visible damage.
I honestly didn’t think much of it.
The engine still ran and sounded just fine; everything seemed to work the way it should.
My first thought happened to be that I was thankful the curb was there to keep my car on the road instead of in the ditch.
But in the days that followed I began to notice something when driving the car.
When I would get up to speed on the highway or a road with a faster speed limit, I noticed the steering wheel would vibrate and the whole car felt like it was shaking.
So, I brought it in to the shop and had it checked out.
It turned out to be an alignment issue.
The hit on the curb was just enough to knock the wheels out of alignment to a point that I noticed the shaking when the car picked up speed on the road.
It was not a hard or expensive fix, and I was back on the road running smooth again.
But when the wheels were not properly aligned, there was no mistaking that something was wrong.
Having the wheels all aligned together is necessary for a smooth ride.
Let’s consider today what a spiritual alignment looks like.
There may be nothing visibly wrong with your spiritual life on the outside.
And maybe everything in your life of faith seems to be in operating order.
It’s not that your spiritual life has hit a breakdown or popped a flat tire; it’s not that you’ve just run out of gas.
For all evident purposes, it seems like your faith is moving along.
But could it be that sometimes when the pace of everyday life speeds up, suddenly there begins to be evidence of a misalignment somewhere.
Could it be that we need to spend some time considering how our souls find alignment with the kind of faith God desires for us to have?
Consider how the apostle Paul talks about this with the Christians in Rome.
Today I am going to move through this passage of scripture in three parts so that we can see that way Paul is developing and applying this idea of spiritual alignment into our lives of faith.
Romans 13:8–10 (NIV)
love for other people is what aligns my faith with God’s heart
The law of love; let’s begin there.
It sounds so simple, and we all know it, but how often we forget it when everyday life picks up speed, and the tensions and anxieties of the world press upon us.
When life picks up speed and things happen where I feel I’ve been mistreated or pressed too hard, how quickly I can forget that the thing which aligns my faith with God’s heart is to love other people.
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church he says it very poetically.
Maybe it is a passage we hear mostly at weddings, but Paul certainly does not have romantic love between a married couple in mind when he writes these words in 1 Corinthians 13.
1 Corinthians 13:1–3 (NIV)
We could spend an entire lifetime reading the scriptures and understanding the Bible.
I have a graduate school degree in biblical theology.
I can take a passage of scripture and carefully analyze it in its original Greek or Hebrew language.
I can untangle the intricacies of historical context and cultural nuances in the stories of the Bible.
Calvin Theological Seminary has given me the tools to—as Paul says—“fathom all mysteries and all knowledge.”
But all of that is entirely useless and amounts to nothing if there is not love.
I value the theological education I have received; I am grateful for all that I have been able to learn about the Bible.
But none of that makes my faith any more meaningful than anyone else here.
Love for others is what aligns our faith with God’s heart, and that is a quality of faith that is just as accessible to every person here.
How do we achieve a spiritual alignment like that.
Let’s keep reading from today’s passage in Romans, finishing chapter 13.
Alright, step one for a faith that is in alignment with God’s heart is to run a little bit of personal spiritual diagnostics.
Paul uses more poetic imagery than that: “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
But here is the important part of that step I want us to take away from these verses; it is personal.
This is not a measuring stick to hold up to the behavior of others.
This is a standard of measurement for your own heart.
This is about looking in a mirror and beginning with yourself.
the law of love begins with looking at my own life
it is impossible to love other people in a way that aligns with God’s heart if we continue to live in habits and behaviors and patterns that hurt other people
Here is the reason why I think Paul begins with a personal application.
Because it is impossible to love other people in a way that aligns with God’s heart if we continue to live in habits and behaviors and patterns that hurt other people.
It is not about a personal standard of ethical behavior and moral purity for its own sake.
It is about a personal standard of behavior which takes away the barriers to loving others.
It is a personal morality which removes the roadblocks which keep me from loving other people the way God loves people.
We cannot take these words which we just read in verses 11-14 and pull them apart from what we read earlier in verses 8-10.
The first three words in verse 11 makes that clear.
“And do this…” do what?
Love others in a way which fulfils the law of love.
personal standards of purity and ethical moral behavior should always remove barriers to loving other people
Step one to having a faith that is in alignment to the heart of God is to stand in front of a mirror, confess to God that you are a broken sinner who struggles to keep his perfect law, and pray that the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit grabs hold of your personal life of faith in ways that plows all the roadblocks and barriers out of the way for you to be able to fully embrace the law of love expressed towards others.
This is not a standard that Paul is telling us to hold up for what we expect of other people; it is a personal standard that each one of us confronts in our own life of faith.
It is between you and God, and whomever else you invite into your life to help maintain accountability in your life of faith.
Why do I say that this is a standard that is not meant for us to measure anyone other than yourself?
If it is a standard of life that God intends for our own wellbeing which helps us to embrace the kind of faith to which he calls us, shouldn’t we hold all other Christians to that exact same standard?
The answer is no.
And here is the reason why; keep reading from where we left off in Romans.
Paul begins by explaining the centrality of the law of love.
He moves from there to make the law of love personally applicable to own life of faith for each one of us.
It is an inward alignment.
And now in chapter 14 Paul moves on to instruct us how this inward alignment shows up as an outward alignment toward other people.
A quick note of explanation about the historical context of these comments.
Paul is talking about eating here in reference to kosher dietary laws.
The Jewish Christians still mostly followed the Jewish cultural customs of what can and cannot be eaten.
Certain foods were off-limits to Jewish people in order to follow the Old Testament laws about purity.
But the gentile Christians in Rome who converted to Christianity after hearing Paul proclaim the gospel of Jesus knew nothing about these Old Testament purity codes.
teaching on the law of love continues to Romans 15:13
I stopped reading here at verse 4, but this section of scripture continues on this same theme for all the rest of chapter 14 and into the first half of chapter 15, where Paul circles back again to referencing the law of love.
This is how we know Paul ties these sections of Romans as one teaching under one theme.
We are not veering off in some totally new direction here in chapter 14; we are continuing to talk about the application of the law of love which Paul began in chapter 13.
It follows the same teaching, that it is the law of love which aligns our faith with God’s heart.
Paul summarizes this in Romans 15:7
accepting others who share the same faith in Jesus
If my faith is not in good alignment, here’s what happens.
Maybe in my own life of sanctification I have come to embrace certain standards of moral behavior and purity that God works toward my own holiness—that I am being made holy in the image of Christ, as scripture says.
And as I am driving the vehicle of my faith out in the real world encountering other people in real life and picking up speed, I see that other people who also call themselves Christians profess the same faith in Jesus that I profess, but their habits and standards for moral behavior and purity are not the same as mine.
If this causes distress, if coming into relationship with other Christians who do not embrace the same rules of purity as me starts to feel like there is some shaking and vibrating in the vehicle of faith, it might be worth asking if you need to check alignment.
Some of us here might follow what I am going to call pretty old-fashioned rules about eating out at restaurants on Sunday.
(I say old-fashioned just because of the generation I grew up in.)
And here’s the thing, if that’s you, if you are a person who intentionally decides to refrain from eating out at a restaurant on Sunday, and if that is a habit that contributes to your own personal effort to keep Sunday special as a sabbath day, then great.
If it helps you keep and honor a day of rest in that way, by all means embrace that as a personal habit.
But how do you react when others in the church who are also Christians do not behave the same way?
Does it cause some friction?
This is where the Bible is reminding us that the law of love ought to keep us in alignment with God’s heart.
You may certainly keep holding onto those habits and patterns which have become meaningful steps in advancing your life of faith, please continue that.
But if encountering other people who do not share those exact same habits and values—even though they profess faith in Jesus—causes barriers and roadblocks, it is a sign that you might need a spiritual re-alignment.
Can we talk about what makes this passage from Romans 14 so difficult?