You read the law – do not steal. Is this law good? Absolutely. The law do not steal is necessary in society to restrain evil. Stealing will never be ok with God. Often people try and justify stealing: for example, they might justify stealing from their workplace because according to them, the employer owes it them and it’s not hurting anyone else.
The point is though, as a believer is this law going to help you stop stealing? Well, if you are a thief, say a kleptomaniac, the fear of the penalty of the law: “do not steal” may restrain you for a while, but it will not change your desire or compulsion to steal. The law has no power in itself to help you become holy. Not even 0.00001%. It is very good however at identifying your failure but only the Gospel and the grace of God has the power to transform you.
So, does this mean that a born again thief might revert back to stealing? Yes of course, he might struggle with the sin and fall to temptation but if he is truly born again, along with the desire to steal because of the flesh (body and soul), will be the new desire not steal because his spirit man is like Jesus. Therefore, when you are truly born again a miracle takes place : you have a change of nature.
Does it matter if I sin?
Therefore, as believers does it doesn’t matter if we continue to steal – say download a couple of pirate videos or music tracks, because we are under grace not law? I believe it matters tremendously, because when we continue to sin we are enslaved to that sin. We are not free. Of course, where sin abounds grace even more abounds but sin always harms others and ourselves. It continues to be deadly and dangerous!
Don’t give the devil an opportunity
For example, if as believer I go out and steal a car I probably will end up in jail just like the unbeliever. I mean, how is it loving your neighbour to steal his car? Do I lose my salvation or relationship with God because I stole a car? No, because I’m under grace but you are giving the devil a big opportunity to mess up your life and the lives of others!
Ephesians 5: 27 “and do not give the devil an opportunity. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
Get a job!
This is not Paul preaching law and laying down a load of rules. He’s not some pentecostal holiness preacher thundering from the pulpit at all the miserable sinners at Ephesus! No, he is like a father entreating his children from a grace perspective: from an identity perspective – this is who you are, therefore live like it! Put off the old man and put on the new (Ephesians 5:22).
In the first three chapters of Ephesians Paul establishes all this positive truth about our standing as believers in christ that our identity is a son seated with Christ in the heavenly places. In chapter 4 he changes tack to apply this truth to our lives practically.
Ephesians 4:1 “I therefore the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called”.
So, Paul says to the former thief: get a job, earn an honest living and give to the needy! That’s what a christian or one who is christ like looks like! That is loving your neighbour as yourself. Love is the fulfillment of the law. I mean, you may never steal a penny from anyone but still be like scrooge never giving a penny to anyone!
A short man repents
I love the story in Luke 19 of Zac the vertically challenged tax-gatherer because it illustrates the truth that the kindness of God not the law of God leads men to repentance. Zac was a thief. He defrauded people (v8). He was not popular – not surprising! Why did he want to see Jesus? Was it curiosity? Maybe he had heard stories from another tax-gatherer turned disciple – Matthew. Who knows. The fact is, he was pretty determined to see Jesus because I’m sure climbing sycamore trees was not something he did every day! Little did he know, that Jesus was looking for him! Indeed, he probably didn’t even realise that he was lost as Jesus describes.
What If Jesus had dragged Zac out of the tree and accused him of stealing? The crowd probably would have applauded and executed any punishment that Jesus decided. Did he deserve that? Probably. Instead though, Jesus picks out Zac, the most hated man in town and invites himself to dinner! He gives him a blessing! What does this do to the heart of a man who probably has a complex about his size and is hated by everyone? It melts his hard heart.
What is Jesus doing? He is teaching him to give freely rather than steal starting with a free meal for Jesus and his disciples! This is how grace works and notice the speed it works! Even before Jesus has cleared his preaching notes away, Zac is repenting at a level many christians never practice and at a level far in excess of what the law required. Did Zac say a special prayer or stick up his hand to get saved ( nothing wrong with that by the way!) No, he responds to Jesus invitation and repentance is the fruit. Zac is declared by Jesus to be son of Abraham. In other words he’s saved!
The thief on the cross
Let’s finish at the end of the Gospel. On the cross Jesus again encounters two criminals ( Matthew’s tells us that they were thieves.) Both have completely different reactions. One, insults Jesus; the other publicly confesses his guilt. Now, this repentant thief has no opportunity to change his ways or right any wrongs but Jesus tells him that he’s going to make it heaven – what amazing grace! So, Jesus lays down his life and arrives in paradise with his first fruit – a thief saved by grace!
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