“Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22, NASB)
The negative command is to flee youthful lusts, but Paul goes on to give a positive one. Youthful lusts are to be replaced by the pursuit of righteousness, faith, love and peace. The negative command cannot be successfully accomplished unless the positive one is employed.
Too often we think of the Christian life in terms of the things we will not do. When this mindset is operational it is easy to become upset at the world all around us who is doing those very things. It is too easy to decry the degradation in the surrounding culture and long for the good old days where such behavior was not tolerated.
Instead of focusing on the negative, Paul gives us something to pursue. Rather than suppressing passions, Paul gives a worthy object for our passions.
When I see the word righteousness, I think of right standing before God. The beginning of this process is when we acknowledge our unrighteousness and accept God’s provision of Jesus as the means of our inheriting righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). At the moment we accept God’s provision, we are declared righteous.
There is also an ongoing component to righteousness. Paul tells us in Romans 12:1-2 that we have to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Elsewhere, Paul uses the analogy of clothing when he tells us to “put off” the old self (Eph. 4:22, Col. 2:11, Col 3:9). The follow-up is to put on the new man and live in obedience to God.
It took a long time for me to understand that this is more than adherence to a list of do’s and don’ts. To really pursue righteousness is to cultivate a deeper relationship with God through the reading of Scripture, prayer and fellowship with other believers. As I deepen in my relationship with God, it becomes less and less about external behavior and more and more about what motivates me and where my desires will lead. Righteousness is all about letting God be in control.
Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that we enter into a relationship with God through faith. Yet that faith can and should grow. On multiple occasions, Jesus challenged his followers because of their “little faith.” The implication is that Jesus’ follower should move beyond the little faith stage to a robust, mature faith.
I am challenged by those who seem to be gifted with great faith. Seeing those, I realize that I have so much room to grow in my own faith.
Jesus told us that the two great commands are to love God and to love our neighbor. I cannot claim to be proficient at either of these and have much room for growth. I suspect that none of us can claim to have fulfilled either command to perfection. To pursue love, selfless love, is a worthy occupation.
In human terms we think of peace as the absence of conflict. Yet this is not true peace. As Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount, hate is the root of murder and to hate is to commit murder without actually killing my adversary.
True peace is not only what happens on the outside. True peace must take place in our thoughts and emotions. Paul gives us indication of how true peace starts in Romans 5:1, it starts with “having been justified by faith.” This faith brings peace with God which can then begin to produce peace with ourselves and with others.
The Christian life should be so much more than following a list of do’s and don’ts. It should be so much more than a set of passionless rituals. A real walk with God should engage our mind and emotions in a pursuit of the things of God.