We can invest the rest of our lives plunging deeper into the writings of the apostle Paul to get a better view of the glories of Christ to delight our souls.
In Paul’s letters (as elsewhere in the Bible) we are told glorious indicatives of truth like Christ is the Creator and Sustainer (Colossians 1:16–17), who was incarnated and died as our propitiation (Romans 3:25), was raised from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3–4), and he inaugurated the new creation (Colossians 1:18), as he ascended to his sovereign throne (Colossians 3:1). And by faith we are united to him and his power!
In Christ all of these truths of grace are ours (2 Corinthians 1:20). And these glorious truths feed our souls and give rise to all the manifold commands from God that bring focus and direction to our daily lives in the form of apostolic imperatives.
Don’t Be [Blank]
Amidst all the glorious indicatives, some 30 times Paul tells us “don’t be” certain people. Don’t be this guy; be that guy. Don’t be this gal; be that gal. And every time he tells us what not to be, he’s also pointing us to what we should be, based on who we are in Christ. Here’s my paraphrase of the full list:
Don’t be strutting around arrogantly in life; learn to live in fear of God (Romans 11:20).
Don’t be conformed to this age; be transformed by the renewing of your mind to know God’s will (Romans 12:2).
Don’t be slack in serving Christ; serve the Lord enthusiastically (Romans 12:11).
Don’t be arrogant around others; associate with the lowly (Romans 12:16).
Don’t be conquered by evil; conquer evil with good (Romans 12:21).
Don’t be indebted to one another; except in the love deficit toward one another (Romans 13:8).
Don’t be divided by error; be united in the same conviction (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Don’t be deceived about sexual sin; immorality damns souls (1 Corinthians 6:9).
Don’t be a slave of man’s opinions; you are a slave of Christ (1 Corinthians 7:23).
Don’t be flesh-driven idolaters; be Spirit-guided delighters who reject temptation by God’s grace (1 Corinthians 10:6–13).
Don’t be overly concerned about your own good; seek the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:24).
Don’t be childish in your thinking; be holy but wise about the workings of evil (1 Corinthians 14:20).
Don’t be deceived about the influence your friends have on you; circle yourself with wise friends (1 Corinthians 15:33).
Don’t be married to an unbeliever; find a spouse who lives in the light of Christ (2 Corinthians 6:14).
Don’t be deceived by immediate gratification; sow wisely, knowing you’ll reap later (Galatians 6:7).
Don’t be deceived by empty-headed arguments; God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient (Ephesians 5:6).
Don’t be partners of those who live in the shadows of evil; walk as children of God in the light (Ephesians 5:7–9).
Don’t be foolish about your life; understand God’s will (Ephesians 5:17).
Don’t be drunk with alcohol; be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).
Don’t be frightened by your opponents; stand firm in the God who will deliver you (Philippians 1:28).
Don’t be conceited toward one another; in humility consider others as more important than yourselves (Philippians 2:3).
Don’t be consumed with self-interest; be consumed with the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).
Don’t be a worrier; be thankful in everything (Philippians 4:6).
Don’t be bitter toward your wife; love and cherish her (Colossians 3:19).
Don’t be driven by the lust-filled desires of the world; be driven by desires fitting of your redemption in Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:5).
Don’t be duped by people who say Christ already returned; keep anticipating the day (2 Thessalonians 2:2).
Don’t be quick to rebuke an older believer; encourage him like you would a father (1 Timothy 5:1).
Don’t be too quick to appoint and anoint church leaders; keep yourself free from confirming people in sin as you pursue your own personal purity (1 Timothy 5:22).
Don’t be ashamed of suffering for Christ; share in his suffering as you rely on the power of God (2 Timothy 1:8).
Defined by What We Are
In these dozens of ways, Paul paints the contours of the Christian life with darkened shadows of opposites — teaching us what to be by warning us what not to be. Again, the point of the list is not to find our Christian identity in what we’re not. Rather, our identity is rooted in what we are: united to our glorious Savior. Out of his work and power can we be told, “Don’t be that guy.” “Don’t be that gal.”
And in these juxtapositions we better understand the will of God for our lives, as we live out of the power of Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf.