During our church's monthly men's theology discussion this month, we took on the topic of mortification of sin (killing sin in our lives). One of the men brought up passages that teach that we must not only get rid of sin but replace it with something positive. Another pointed out that there was no such thing as a private sin, that eventually our rebellion works its way out and demonstrates itself, and it has effects on others. This should be no surprise to us, but perhaps we need to be reminded. We are to love God supremely, and then to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:36-40). The Ten Commandments themselves include instructions that explicitly have reference to our dealings with others (particularly the ones detailed in Exodus 20:12-17).
Our sin is inherently selfish, focusing on gratifying our own sinful desires. It does not regard the glory of God and it is dangerous to the true good of others. Perhaps that is why Paul through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit exhorts his readers the way he does in Ephesians 4.
After reminding us to put off the old man (Eph. 4:22) and to put on the new man, Paul reminds us that this new man is created by God "in righteousness and true holiness." So, we are to be living for the glory of God. But notice what follows several of his instructions (I have added underling below):
Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another. (v. 25 KJV)
Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. (v. 28 KJV)
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as it fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (v. 29, ESV)
Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking [slander, ESV], be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. (v. 32)
According to these passages, it is not enough merely to stop these sins. We must go a step further. It will not suffice to stop lying; we must speak the truth and do so because we belong to one another. It is not enough to stop stealing; rather, we ought to work hard so that we can share with others, desiring to be "givers" rather than "getters." Our speech should be more than harmless, it should be positively helpful to others. We must do more than shed malicious attitudes and talk, but should actively show kindness, tenderness, and forgiveness to others since God has forgiven us for Christ's sake.
One area in which we can readily see the relevance of this teaching is that of abortion. This is a sin that obviously harms others, in this case, an unborn child who is completely helpless. We remember that 35 years ago, Roe v. Wade legalized the murder of the unborn. We certainly should desire to see the day come that such an ungodly decision would be overturned. It should figure into our voting. But it is important that those of us who are anti-abortion are also truly pro-life. We should not merely be against abortionists and the decisions of those who choose abortions, but we should positively encourage and help young mothers and young mothers-to-be who are in need. One way of doing this is through donating money, goods, or time to a ministry such as abortion alternatives/crisis pregnancy centers. Another way is by befriending mothers who have unwanted, unexpected and even out-of-wedlock pregnancies, even in our local churches. If we have opportunity to interact with the men involved in such a situation, we should try show them that abortion is not the solution to their "problem." Instead, a man should be a responsible provider for the children he fathers. We certainly ought not to condone sin, but helping someone in need is not always the same as endorsing the actions that got them into that need. We must offer the forgiveness of Christ, who can forgive those who get pregnant outside of marriage as well as those who perform, encourage, or choose abortions. These people should know from our lips and lives the power of God to change a sinner from one who only cares about his or her self to one who truly loves God and others, and to help those who are trusting Him to continue in such a path. It is not enough to be against the killing of the unborn, but we must positively work from a perspective that views children and parenthood as gifts from God.
As we who are followers of Jesus continue to put to death the sin in our own lives, let us consider the danger we pose to others when we disobey God. The poor example others might follow, the harm we might inflict, and the good we neglect should be sober reminders of the ugliness and deceitfulness of sin. May God grant that we replace sinful attitudes and behaviors with mindsets and actions that seek to actively benefit others, so that God would be glorified in our lives and theirs.