Thursday, September 25, 2014

Should Christians Use Emulators And Abandonware (Part 3)

This is part 3 of an examination of video game emulation in an effort to answer the question, "Should Christians use emulators or Abandonware."

First some quick re-cap before we finish up this series.

To answer this question, I think there are four key elements to consider:

1. Is console game emulation legal?
2. What does the Bible say about our obligation to obey man-made laws?
3. To what standard are we held accountable in our obedience to man-made laws and/or the Bible?
4. What are the consequences for Christians who disobey man-made laws or commands of scripture?

In part one I did the best I could to examine the issue from the legal side of things, and concluded that playing unofficially emulated or Abandonware games is illegal in almost every case.

In part 2 I concluded, based on Romans 13:1-5, that we are commanded to obey man-made laws  because our governments, as corrupt and flawed as they may be, are put in place by God to serve his overall plan for us. And even imperfect laws must be obeyed and will ultimately serve God's purposes. (Genesis 50:20, Jeremiah 25:9, Isaiah 45:1-6, Romans 8:28)

The single exception that we see in scripture is peaceful disobedience to man-made laws that would otherwise cause us to disobey God.  (Daniel 3:28, Daniel 6:6-10, Acts 4:19, 5:29) God has not commanded us to emulate games or play abandonware, so we're out of luck using that argument.

But how good does God really expect us to be as Christians? Why not just emulate games and use abandonware anyway? It's not that big a deal, right? What about grace and forgiveness? If we look at scripture, it assures us that one simple, single decision to trust that Jesus is willing and able to rescue us from sin and death, serves as a non-refundable transaction resulting in eternal life.

(John 3:16, ESV) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

(John 5:24, ESV) Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

Notice the present tense "HAS" eternal life, and "HAS PASSED" from death to life. It's a one-time, done deal!

And this isn't something we have to earn or maintain through obeying God. This eternal life is a free gift.

(Romans 6:23, ESV) For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God's gifts cannot be undone. Even by God himself.

(Romans 11:29, ESV) For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

(2 Timothy 2:13, ESV) if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.
So believers have the unforced, free choice to obey or disobey God as much or as little as they want without fear of losing the free gift of eternal life. 

Does this mean that once we're "in the gates", so to speak, God doesn't care how we live life and is fine with us just doing what seems best to us in the moment? That doesn't seem consistent with the words of Jesus. He commands us to live according to a very different standard from those who don't believe in him.

(Matthew 5:46-48, ESV) For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

At this point, part of me is thinking, "Whoa, what? Perfect? Seriously? Why even bother commanding us to be perfect? We can't possibly achieve that!" And that's true, we can't. But the command is still there and we're meant to pursue it in every small corner of our lives.

If at this point if you're feeling the weight of conviction or finding yourself in disagreement with what I've presented, I want you to know that I don't think you're somehow a "bad person" or "immature Christian" because of your choices regarding emulation and abandonware. I don't even really know how to measure and define those labels. Until the day we die we are all works in progress and God's tireless, seemingly ridiculous grace and unrelenting love and mercy is enough to see us through to the end. And it's a good thing, too! Every day there are parts of my life I hold on to and refuse to give Jesus his rightful control over.

I've got too much mess in my own life to worry about you cleaning your own house. But if I can, I'd like to try and persuade you to pursue obedience in this issue, or any other choice to obey or disobey that you might be facing. Even if it means constant stumbling, obedience is worth pursuing. (And those are words that I need to remember as much as anyone.) Because if God is telling the truth about our gift of eternal life, he's also telling the truth about the additional rewards waiting for us in proportion to our obedience to him right now.

Although the Bible is silent on specifics, it seems pretty clear that there are "rewards" of some sort that will be given to us based on our obedience in this life.

"The Parable Of The Talents" (Matthew 25:14-30) comes in the context of Jesus describing the future Kingdom of God, in which Jesus physically returns to the earth. (Matthew 24:29-30) In the parable, which refers to the time when Jesus will return and evaluate the lives of all who have lived, the returning master gives more to those who made good use of what they had while he was away.

(Matthew 25:23, ESV) His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little;  I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Despite recognizing that he has guaranteed eternal joy ahead of him in the presence of God, the apostle Paul resolves to continually please Christ for as long as he lives, rather than leisurely coasting on the grace and forgiveness of God. Why? He explains it like this:

(2 Corinthians 5:8-10, ESV) Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Paul recognized that there was a reward from Christ waiting for him in proportion to his obedience in this life.

In 1st Corinthians Paul talks about the partnership Christians should live in with Christ, getting on board with his plan at every opportunity, building upon the foundation of Jesus' work. And this life of partnership is said to result in a reward when Jesus comes to judge the world. (This judgment event is sometimes referred to as "The Day Of The Lord" or simply  "The Day" as it is here.)

(1 Corinthians 3: 11-15, ESV)  For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Implied here is the temporal nature of activity that doesn't invest in God's agenda versus the eternal nature of activity that does invest in God's agenda. In some way, our choices to obey God right now will have an eternal legacy. Not something we will proudly hold over the heads of others (Revelation 4:10), but something that will increase our excitement, joy or fulfillment in Christ's future kingdom.
Maybe that doesn't sound like that much incentive to obey. When you don't have a clear description of something, it's hard to make an investment in it. It's also hard to experience the pain of denying ourselves something right now. Especially when it feels like that something could really make us feel better during a time when we're feeling angry, frustrated or sad. But whatever the details on our reward might be, Paul tells us this much:

(Romans 8:16-18, ESV) The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Now maybe giving up emulation and abandonware wouldn't feel like "suffering" for you. If so, then congratulations! You shouldn't have trouble being obedient in that area. But for others, it may feel like a big deal. Some sins that aren't even on one person's radar may be how another person has mistakenly defined themselves, making them horribly painful to give up. The pain that comes with denying sin is part of our suffering with Christ, who was a "Man Of Sorrows" (Isaiah 53:3) in part because he chose to live in obedience to God. In eternity, obedience will be natural and produce joy and pleasure. In this dysfunctional world where sin is the norm, that obedience is often unrewarded and even sometimes brings about pain.

As believers, our inheritance and "glory" are impacted by our willingness to suffer with Christ in this life. In scripture, when something is "glorified", it is showcased and celebrated for what it is. Our willingness to obey right now will result in greater celebration and reward in eternity. And Paul says that our current suffering isn't even worth comparing to that future glory.

Next to eternity, a day, a lifetime or a billion lifetimes are just a dot on the timeline. And this little dot we're living on right now is the one chance we have to obey when it's difficult. We're not promised any reward for obeying Christ once we're with him face to face, because obedience will just be natural. But right now obedience is an investment! Especially when it's hard. Those are the times when I see my own weakness and recognize more fully my need for the rescue of Jesus in my life.
The temporary pleasure of disobedience will satiate our gluttony for a little while. But the suffering of obedience takes us deeper in our relationship with Jesus right now and serves as our one chance to invest in eternity.

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