A man drives his car through a red light and hits another vehicle. The police arrive on the scene and question him as to what took place. Why doesn’t he lie?
A woman is shopping in a jewellery store. Suddenly she sees an expensive ring that she desperately wants lying loose on the counter. No one is watching. Why doesn’t she take it?
For some time now I’ve been thinking about the words “right” and “wrong” and wondering what they mean to people. The majority of people live socially acceptable lives, and are governed by the laws of the country they live in. They don’t steal everything that they would like to have, and they don’t assault people that annoy them. Most students complete their education without cheating on the exams, and most citizens will submit tax returns that have been completed honestly, to the best of their ability.
Why do the right thing?
But why? Does the woman leave the diamond ring on the counter because she knows it is wrong to steal and she doesn’t want to do what is wrong, or is it because of the security camera that is panning the store?
Does the man in the car accident tell the police the truth about what happened because of the 14 witnesses who are standing at the bus stop, or because he knows it is wrong to tell lies and wants to do what is right?
What about you? If you had a chance to steal $100,000 and you knew, you had a 100% guarantee that you would never be caught, and that no one would ever know, would you do it? Maybe $100,000 is a bit much; after all, you are taking money away from innocent people. What about $10,000? $2,000? $50?
There is a big difference between “doing the right thing” because you fear the consequences of being dishonest, and in doing so because it is what you really want to do, from the bottom of your heart. It is heavy to always have to go against your own wishes, to deny yourself the wrong things you want to do, always knowing that you will want to do exactly the same thing tomorrow morning, and will have to deny it again.
Love doing right?
Imagine there was a way to want to do what was right? Wouldn’t that be easier? Wouldn’t it be so much better to desire to be truthful, sincere and honest? That’s the way Jesus had it. It’s written about Him in the letter to the Hebrews:
“You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” Hebrews 1:9.
The verse speaks for itself. Of course He was happy when He loved righteousness! Wouldn’t anyone be happy if they loved doing what was right, if they preferred doing the right to the wrong? That would make everything much easier. But how did He get like this? Since He was born with a nature like ours—which we know is full of inclinations towards doing what is not right—how did He come into a state where He actually loved righteousness and hated lawlessness (wrong)?
The answer is actually quite simple. Jesus’ love for God made Him want to do only that which pleased God. He wanted to please God more than He wanted to obey His own. This is easy to understand in a natural sense. Think of someone who you really love deeply—you wouldn’t want to hurt them in any way, would you? The people you care about are the ones you want to be happy, and if you love them enough you would be willing to give up things to make them so.
A new mindset
It’s exactly the same with God and with Jesus. When you start to understand how much they love you, God who “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16), and Jesus who shed His own precious blood to redeem you from your sins (1 Peter 1:19), then you begin returning that love.
Suddenly your whole attitude changes. Your human nature hasn’t changed—you will still be tempted to tell lies, backstab others, be dishonest, etc. but now you have a new mind. Unlike before, you now want to resist the temptation, because you don’t want to do what is wrong anymore. You love Jesus and want to make Him happy, and you know that it won’t make Him happy if you, for example, tell a lie to cover up a mistake.
Because your human nature is still present, you still have to choose, but it’s not a difficult choice anymore. You’re denying your sinful inclinations because you love Jesus. You no longer have to envisage a long life of continuously stopping yourself from doing things you really want to do, because of how other people would view you. In fact, as you continue to deny yourself, you notice a change in your reactions. The indwelling sin in your human nature—what the Bible calls sin in the flesh—gradually loses its strength. The Bible says it is put to death. It actually becomes easier and easier, and one day you won’t even be tempted anymore. Can you imagine anything better?
The mind of Christ
This process is clearly described many places in the New Testament. For example: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit … Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:5,12.
“Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” 1 Peter 4:1.