Consider the difference between, “You are a tidy person” and “You ought to be a tidy person.” I’ve raised three children and interacted with insecure and very secure people and found that all of them resist the “you oughts” but respond well to being told what is true about them. Their performance shines when told they are doing well. With that in mind, I look again at this verse…
We spent a long time in one church where the pastor was strong on the “you oughts” and threw in only enough of the “you ares” that we stayed (too long). Now we are in a church that focuses more on what God has done and much less on what we should do. We are much more committed to following Christ as we rehearse what the Gospel has accomplished.
Being told (or harped on) continually about how I should live puts attention on myself and I’ve been a Christian long enough to know for certain that myself is useless. I cannot do that which God has done for me. If I could, I would not need Him. Since He has done it, then I cannot live as if He had not. Such a response demonstrates lack of faith.
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth with much admonition about their worldly behavior, but he also said to them…
You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:2–3)
They no doubt knew they were not living right in many ways and deserved the rebukes Paul gave them. However, these two verses must have been a great encouragement. The New Testament is full of positive statements like this -- telling Christians what we have in the power of Jesus Christ and because of God’s grace. Paul told his readers over and over what had already been accomplished by their Savior.
As today’s devotional writer says, we have fallen on different times. The language addressed to churches is not, “You are…” but, “You ought to be,” and instead of walking in confidence, we are burdened by self-effort that can lead to self-righteousness but eventually despair.
The people whom Paul addressed had been heathen and therefore the changes in them would have been more obvious than in the conversion of an “ordinary nice guy” yet the Gospel changes everyone who believes it. Grace is a powerful thing. Instead of being the old person, Christians are made new.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
The Gospel means I can say to “the profane and the pagan” people of the world, “You ought to be humble followers of God.” However, they need to hear the good news as well, that Jesus Christ came to seek and to save, to make such humility and following possible. He did it, so they do not have to struggle or strive, but simple accept and believe what He has done in order to be people who can humbly follow Him.
The Gospel also means that I can say to true Christians these words of certainty, “Do not be fearful. You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.”