This week, I was talking to some guys about what it means to follow Jesus. When he calls his disciples in the Gospel of Mark, he simply says “Follow me.” He called them, and he calls us, into relationship. And even though he doesn’t need us to accomplish something for him, God allows us to participate in the work He is doing to redeem and restore creation. God uses sinful people to accomplish his perfect plan. And that’s what we see in the reading this week.
s – These passages involve two topics that seem incompatible: blessing and deceit. In Genesis 27:19, we read that Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”
o – In this and the surrounding chapters, Jacob and his mother manipulate others to get something God has already planned. The sinful human choices, however, are not without consequences. Jacob fears his brother, Esau, and flees. He works seven years for his first wife, is given her sister instead, works another seven years, and winds up with two wives. He eventually fathers children with four women—his wives and their maidservants. His wives feud, and Rachel, the one he loves most, dies in childbirth.
It’s a story filled with sin and deception. Yet through these people, God brings twelve sons and the twelve tribes of Israel. And through one of those tribes, He brings us Jesus Christ.
a – So, how can we apply what we read in this complex narrative to our lives? First, we can accept and praise God for the fact that He uses sinful people to accomplish His purposes—and whatever God has set in action can’t be stopped by human sin. But, importantly, as Paul reminds us in Romans 6, we don’t continue in willful sin so that grace may abound.
While God may choose to work his purposes in spite of our sin, we always diminish negative consequences if we avoid sin and instead walk in obedience. God is deeply grieved when we choose to sin, and in doing so, we miss out on the fullness that he is offering to us. Why choose to live under the reign of sin (despite having been set free) rather than under the reign of God, which is only good? In uncertain times, when we may be tempted to manipulate events for our own good, we can trust He who is faithful and good…even when we can’t see for ourselves what it is that He is doing.
The book of Romans, specifically chapters 6, 7, and 8, are some of my favorite parts of the Bible. Lately, I’ve been re-reading them in Eugene Peterson’s contemporary translation, The Message. Here is how he translates the last part of Romans 6:
20-21 As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn’t have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you’re proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.
22-23 But now that you’ve found you don’t have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.
God will always accomplish His purposes in this world. He is almighty and He is faithful. But we no longer have to listen to sin. And when we walk in obedience we have life with Him to its fullest.
p – God, thank you that we have life—new, unending, changed, and full life because of what you’ve accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thank you that we are no longer slaves to sin. Thank you that we can walk in freedom, and thank you that you allow us to participate in the work you are doing to redeem and restore creation. May we do that willfully, without seeking to control and manipulate and get our own way. May we bow before you as our Savior, our Lord, and our King.