Sunday, March 27, 2022

Doing What We Ought

If I had entitled this article “Doing What I Ought” you might have thought “If he knows what he ought to do, why doesn’t he quit talking about it and just do it?” If I had written “you” instead, some might have decided to bypass this article altogether.

Instead, the title reads “we”, because both of us need to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit says about our privileges and responsibilities. There are things we should be doing, or doing with greater zeal. So before you turn away, think of this article as a reminder to us both.

Obligation vs. Legalism

Peter’s second letter had that character. He was deeply concerned that we not only gain access to the kingdom of our Lord and Savior, but that we have an abundant entrance into it. For that reason he says, “I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them ... to stir you up by way of reminder ... that you may be able at any time to recall these things ... stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder.”

Those of us who have embraced the grace of God may think the idea of being under obligation smacks of legalism, but the grace of God also teaches us to “renounce ungodliness” and to “live self-controlled”. Only when we go beyond the word of God and add human rules to that teaching could anyone be rightly accused of legalism. We will seek to stay within the bounds of scripture. It says clearly that there are things we ought to be doing. Rewards at the judgment seat depend upon our response.

The Meaning of ‘Ought’

Think of that word “ought” in our title. We tend to use the word in a trivial way, as in “I ought to send Mary a birthday card; she always sends me one.” But that may not mean we will visit the stationery store next time we are out, it merely means sending a card would be a nice thing to do if we could get around to it — when we have time of course. But next year we may repeat this ritual repentance. Note that Peter says we need a sincere mind in order to respond to reminders appropriately.

We must not overlook the fact that “ought” is a contraction, cramming two words into one. It thus becomes easier to weaken the strength of any charge given to us. But when the Holy Spirit says we ought to do something he is not speaking of a mere courtesy but a debt; we “owe it” to do whatever he requires. So when scripture uses this or similar wording, we have to ask how and to whom this debt is to be paid. The context may tell us that other people will immediately be blessed by our repayments. That means we must pay what we owe to them. Nevertheless, the Lord promises to regard and record them as repayments to himself.

Paying Our Debt

Let us look at the matter of forgiveness, beginning by thinking about the greatest example — to think of full repayment of what was due to God by one who, though rich, became poor in the process. What matchless grace was seen in his life, and what amazing grace was displayed in his death! A fairly recently composed song says, “He paid a debt he did not owe; I owed a debt I could not pay.” That is borne out by scripture. Speaking for the Messiah, Isaiah says, “What I did not steal, I then have to restore.” The forgiveness we receive is based on the price he paid on the cross.

Think now about our responsibility to forgive others when they seek it. Peter once thought the idea that we should be always ready to forgive can be carried too far; he asked if seven times put a cap on it. Our Lord’s reply showed nearly five hundred times would be closer to the mark. Anything less would bring the one suing for repayment into a far more serious obligation. Does not any reluctance on our part to forgive our brethren say that the estimate we have of our past indebtedness is far too low? Can we say we are Christians if we are not ready to forgive one of our brothers who sins against us? We owe it to be disposed to grant forgiveness — again and again, even if our patience is sorely tried.

Relieving a Burden

If the one asking us to forgive him is genuinely sorry for the way he spoke about us or the way he treated us, he is carrying a burden from which only we can deliver him. What would motivate us to do so? I ask this question assuming that we find a number of his ways somewhat annoying. They are not sins; we put them down to his personality. He is not our type and his background is different to ours. We speak with each other courteously but that is as far as either of us seems to want to take it. We will only find it difficult to respond to his plea if we have allowed those petty differences to lessen our love for a fellow member of the same body. We owe it to love each other.

There are other things the scriptures say we ought to do and be, none of them beyond our ability as the fruit of the Spirit ripens in us: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”. And we will freely do what we ought to do if we in whom his perfect love has cast out fear (terror) are living in the (reverential, obedient) fear of the Lord. Joseph, who was ever ready to forgive his brothers, was motivated by this spirit.

This is what is due to God by all who profess the name of Christ.

— Colin Anderson, “What We Ought to Do”, February 2014

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