One of the problems most people have encountered with religion is that it can often degenerate into a form of behaviorism.
Conform yourself to the right behaviors, at least externally, and you can pass as being religious, spiritual or good. Many times the majority of the focus from a behavior standpoint, is on the things that one shouldn’t do – you know, things that bad people do. This puritanical focus can easily lend itself to judgementalism, guilt, and a straight-faced, duty-bound faith. Meanwhile all the attention is focused on who’s doing naughty things and who is better than those people because they aren’t doing the naughty things.
Certainly this isn’t the life God has called us to.
What would happen if when we flip the system around? What if religion also focused on doing the things that are never wrong, rather than avoiding the things that are always wrong?
It’s an interesting question.
As I’ve reflected on this idea, I keep returning to several themes of behaviors in this positive vein. Here are five things in scripture that are never wrong:
Humility. 1 Peter 5:5 says, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle.” And we’re familiar with Jesus words when he says in Matthew 20:16, “The last will be first and the first will be last.” What I get from these verses is that there is never a time when authentic humility is frowned on by God or a bad strategy for life. It is always a good thing to be humble.
Repentance. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful,” Isaiah 30:15 says, “In repentance and rest is your salvation,” and in Matthew, Jesus tells Peter to forgive his brother, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:22)” In Scripture, confessing sins and repenting – saying you’re sorry – is always a good and healthy part of maintaining and restoring relationship with God and others. Do you want to move your life forward today? Think of somebody you can forgive, and forgive them. Think of something you need to say sorry for, and say sorry for it.
Faith. It says in Hebrews 11:6, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” We also sense Jesus’s discouragement echoed throughout the book of Matthew when he says, “Oh you of little faith” (Ex. Matthew 6:30, 14:31) From these I draw the conclusion that God is always more desirous of nurturing and drawing out a greater faith, reliance upon him, and trust in his promises. That we would end each day with greater faith than whatever our starting point was on that given day. Faith and more faith is never wrong and always good.
Prayer. Paul talks in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 about “Praying continually.” And the 150 Psalms, or songs of prayer, in the middle of Scripture make it very clear to us that it’s always appropriate to pray. There’s never a time when turning our eyes and tuning our ears to God falls out of bounds of what we should be doing in that moment. Prayer is never wrong.
Love. Possibly more important than all the others, is the idea that love is never wrong. In Galatians 5:22-23 love is listed as the first of many attributes that make up the fruit of the spirit. The verses close by saying, “Against such things there is no law.” Meaning there is never a time when love, or these other virtues, are legislated against. Therefore, there is never a time when love is wrong.
Jesus commands us to love and, in the famous passage on love in 1 Corinthians 13 Paul writes, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” In verse 8 he declares, “Love never fails.” Love is both a sanction and imperative. Sanction meaning it’s always good and imperative meaning we should always do it.
We can certainly do foolish things out of love, like a parent enabling a child’s drug addiction. However, the fact that the parent loves their child is not wrong, just unwisely expressed.
One of the best ways to follow Jesus and develop authentic spirituality is to start each day with a mental framework of love. With this mindset we begin to discern, “Who am I going to bless? Who am I going to seek to encourage?” And, motivated by love, “What offense can I overlook?”
There is no law, no legislation, no case against love. It is never wrong. Biblical and sacrificial love is fully sanctioned!
Walking by faith presents a tension in life and we can seek to resolve this tension by focusing on black and white categories of things not to do. This approach misses much of the positive thrust and heart of what it truly means to live like Christ. A better way to resolve the tension, solve the riddle, and navigate the paradox of faith is to focus on doing the things that are never wrong.