“God is not a God of disorder but of peace…”
Order matters. Though Paul wrote the words above specifically to address an orderly sense of worship in the supremely disorderly church at Corinth, the broader principle applies. God is a God of order and peace.
If you go back to the very beginning, back to the garden, there was order. Stability. And therefore peace. This order is what God brought out of chaos when He spoke the universe into existence. In so doing He established repeatable patterns. The sun goes up, and the sun goes down. The earth revolves around the sun. All in an orderly pattern; all repeatable.
Order should also matter to us, not just in terms of what happens in the church, but what happens in all of life. And not just in terms of organization, but the actual order in which things happen. For example, I recently (and somewhat painfully) learned that it actually matters what order you combine ingredients in a recipe. You combine all the dry ingredients, then all the wet ingredients, and then combine the two. And if you get it out of order, the recipe doesn’t come out right.
Order matters, and when things get out of order, there are consequences.
We have the tendency when we look at our lives in Christ to get things out of order. But, it seems to me, that Paul the apostle wove a thread of the correct order throughout his writings. And the order of God’s work in and through us matters much – if we get these things out of order, we will drift away from a gospel-centered perspective into either moralism or license.
Order matters, so here is step 1:
Of course, you can go back further than this – the gospel must be preached in order for a person to believe it. But true life in Christ begins when someone not only hears, but hears the message of the gospel, knows their need, and sees Jesus as supremely valuable. That person turns from their self-lordship and embraces the new life in Christ. They believe the gospel, and they are once and for all born again into Him:
“When you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed in Him, you were also sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. He is the down payment of our inheritance, for the redemption of the possession, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).
When someone believes the gospel, everything is changed. We have the tendency to sell the implications of believing the gospel short, seeing it as only a question of where a person will spend eternity. But the response to the gospel does more than determine a person’s trajectory; it determines a person’s identity. It does more than change where you’re going, it changes who you’re becoming:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
When we believe the gospel, we are made new. New identity. New desires. New goals. New Lord. New everything. Though we are made new on the inside, the Holy Spirit continues to invest His transformative power in us so that our outer actions catch up with our inner identity. God gives us a crown, as co-heirs with Christ, that we grow into over the course of time.
This process of growing up in Christ happens as we time and time again embrace, through the Holy Spirit’s power, what God has done for us in Christ. Sanctification happens as our behavior falls into line with our identity. Paul’s theology, the “believe, become, behave” model, recognizes that we have already become something new in Christ. We are already different. That means that the behavior part is not an effort to become something different; it’s about recognizing and living out the newness that is already in us. That kind of theology is God-centered and grace-centered, and teaches us to make much of the cross, because that’s where our righteousness resonates from. You see this pattern over and over again with the apostle:
- Ephesians 1-3 is about new life and the new society God is building through Christ. It’s not until chapter 4, verse 1, that he says, “As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received…”
- Colossians 1-2 is about the greatness of Christ and what it means to live in Him. It’s not until chapter 3 that Paul says, in light of this, that we should live a certain way, setting “our hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God…”
- Romans 1-11 has every bit of theology imaginable in it, from the universality of sin to the greatness of grace and faith, from predestination to the role of Israel in the end times. But it’s not until chapter 12 that he says in light of all of this mercy from God, you should “present your bodies as a living sacrifice…”
Order matters. But we have the tendency to take these things in the wrong order, and when we do, we get a misshapen view of our life in Christ. For example, a “believe, behave, become” model that implicitly teaches that if you behave in the right way, you can at last become something good and acceptable to God. That’s not the gospel; it’s moralism in which we are trusting in ourselves to do the work only God can do.
Order matters. It matters a lot. When we understand and embrace the order of God’s work in us and others, we are prepared to grow not in our self-righteousness or our self-permissiveness, but in the gospel which prizes Christ above all things.