12. Righteousness Arrives

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 12. Righteousness Arrives

Isa 32:17,18 The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. 

Fruit of New Birth = Righteousness: I often think that there are things about the Christian life that, for most of the time, we take for granted and so perhaps they are things to which we don’t give much thought. For example, we have observed a number of times already in this series, that the change from our ‘old life’ to the new born-again experience is quite dramatic and the product of being born again, if we may put it like that, is righteousness. 

Two Sorts of Righteousness: Now there are those who argue about these things, but I do believe there are two levels of righteousness that we experience. The first is imputed’ righteousness which is attributed when we come in repentance and submit to the Lord for Him to take and change our lives. On the basis of our belief in the finished work of Christ on the Cross, we are declared righteous by God (see Abraham’s example – Gen 15:6 and affirmed by the apostle Paul in Romans 4). It is all about our standing now.

The second is imparted’ righteousness whereby the Lord imparts His Holy Spirit to indwell us, and as He leads us He enables us to live righteous lives. This is all about practical living.

But what is righteousness? Well apart from the two suggestions above, put most simply, it is ‘living according to God’s design, the way God has designed us to live’. Using the two definitions above we might say it is about a new attitude, knowing we are justified children of God, justified by the work of Christ on the Cross and appropriated by us when we surrendered to Christ. It is also about a new way of behaving, as we work it out in our everyday behaviour.

NT Examples: Now at one level this is very simple for it is living according to the teaching of the New Testament and so there are very obvious statements that in some ways are the equivalent to the Old Testament Law. For example in both Colossians and Ephesians there are times when Paul says “put off” or “put to death” certain things and “put on” other things. (e.g. Col 3:5-9) so you have obvious things such as putting to death, “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed,” and “Do not lie to each other.” There are lots of these sorts of instructions in the New Testament.

If you want some of the more positive ones, a bit later there is, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love.” (v.13-15) There are lots of these sorts of instruction throughout the New Testament and we might summarise their description as ‘living according to God’s will and God’s design’. This is what He wants for us.

A New Focus: Whereas in our old life, we just lived according to what seemed right for us, now we have specifics to obey. Indeed, the fact that we have this goal – to please God by obeying His will – is the first thing that marks us out from our non-Christian neighbours. As we purpose to obey these things, the indwelling Holy Spirit helps us and enables us. When you look at Jesus’ teaching near the end, in John’s Gospel, we find that he told us that the Holy Spirit would testify in our hearts the truth about Jesus (Jn 15:26) and about sin, righteousness and judgment (16:8-11) and will generally guide us into all truth (16:13), i.e. his primary way of working within us, to help us clarify our purposes, is by convincing or reassuring or convicting us of things that are the truth in respect of God and His desires for us.

Dead & now Alive: Whereas before we came to Christ we were ‘dead’, now God has made us ‘alive’: you were dead in your transgressions and sins …. God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions …. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:1,4,6)   Previously we were spiritually dead, insensitive to God, and unaware of His presence. Now, by His Spirit He has made us alive – hence the resurrection analogy. The analogy of being lifted up to be seated with Christ, we will consider in the later Parts.

Change! The first sign of this resurrected life, therefore, is a change of direction, a change of purpose and, as I suggested at the beginning, it may be so obvious that we take little notice of it and yet it is the absolute basic foundation of our new lives. We were saved to be changed; we came to Christ because we acknowledged we needed to be different, and so we died to the old way of doing things and the Lord established a new way in us through His word and by His Spirit.

Spirit Direction: Note how we finished that last paragraph. It isn’t merely following a set of written instructions because there are times when the written instructions are inadequate for dealing with a particular conundrum that is before us. Problems arise and we really need some form of personal guidance and direction – and He is there within us, and then we find something strange: He doesn’t seem to be saying anything and so we have to go to Him and ask in prayer for help, for wisdom or revelation, to know what to do – and then we enter into a whole new world, the world of learning to listen to God. This is the world of relationship, not merely following a written list of rules; this is a world of trying to catch His heart, of hearing His quiet whisper, this is the world of the resurrected Christian who is now “alive to God”, empowered by God to, if nothing else, hear God.

Revelation brings Releasing: How rarely is this taught in church! How many there are who know so little of this relational living! How few put a premium on hearing God! Righteousness starts with us being told that we now ARE righteous in God’s sight. It continues as we turn to ‘the Law’ of the New Testament and start living according to this new paradigm, BUT the power of it is revealed in the relationship the Holy Spirit enables, which lifts being a member of the body of Christ, the Church, out of the realm of a club with a constitution, into a living, active body that receives revelation from heaven. This may be revelation about individuals, insight into situations, wisdom to know how to counter the works of the enemy and bring peace and harmony around us, freedom and liberty to individuals.

Righteousness means Peace & Security: Our starting verses from Isaiah, spoke of a righteousness that God would bring and the effect it would have “The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.” What a picture is conveyed of the fruit of this righteousness working in our lives: peace, quietness, confidence, security.  The fact that so often, it seems, in Christian lives today these things appear to be absent, suggests we may not be living lives of righteousness that I have described above.  Perhaps we might need to think again.

9. Confidence

Short Meditations in Philippians: 9. Confidence

Phil 1:19b   what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance and make me dwell in safety.

So here is Paul in prison writing to the saints in Philippi and, speaking about his own circumstances, declares he is able to rejoice, both in the circumstances because of the things that are happening while he is still in them, but also because he is sure he is going to be delivered out of them.

Let’s try and apply this to our own circumstances which are not always, it seems, truly glorious! Hold these two things from above. Are we able to rejoice both IN them and also because we have an assurance that we will be delivered OUT of them?

What is the key to these two things? I believe it is a sure confidence in who God is.  In my studies over the last few years, I am absolutely sure that the Bible declares three things about God. First, He is love. Second, He is good. Third, He is perfect (meaning He cannot be improved upon). Now these three characteristics apply to everything God thinks, says or does. Now having said those three things I have to admit there are times in my life when I may struggle to reconcile what is happening to me with these three things, but I have concluded that they ARE true; it is just that for the moment I cannot see how my present circumstances are going to work for good – mine or others, and it may be that these circumstances are going to work for the good of others as well as for me (somehow they WILL always work for MY good). It may take a time to see this – and that may be months or years  even – but it will eventually come through.

Now the more we experience this sort of thing and see that this is God’s intent, the more, when the next set of trying circumstances come along, we can declare by faith what we have learned previously: God will bring good IN this and He will deliver me OUT of it.

Now these sorts of things are real trials of faith. When you cannot see the way ahead, when it seems impossible for any change to come or any good to occur, it is a real declaration of faith to be able to say, “I don’t understand how this can bring good or can change, but knowing the Lord, I KNOW He will bring good in it and He will deliver me out of it.  Now don’t try and out-guess God. Don’t try and work out how God will do it, because in an impossible situation only HE can do it. When wine runs out at a wedding, only He can turn water into wine. When too many ‘guests’ turn up, only He can extend the limited resources to feed them all. When a blind person asks for sight, only He can bring it. When death confronts you, only He can bring resurrection. Jesus proved it. He is the grounds of our assurance.

42. Confident Asking

Meditations in 1 John : 42 : Confident Asking

1 John  3:21,22  Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.

In the previous meditation remember what we said about meditating in context? It applies here as well. In verse 20 John had written about, whenever our hearts condemn us,” and so now he deals with the other option – “if our hearts do NOT condemn us”. If indeed our hearts are at rest or at peace before the Lord, then this brings a confidence in us that enables us to ‘cash in’ on our relationship with the Lord – by asking for things in prayer. Now we need to be careful here because this doesn’t give us a mandate to ask for just anything, but it does give us a confidence to ask.

Before moving on, let’s examine why John says we have this confidence, why our hearts can be at rest. Very simply it is because “we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” If we are doing all we possibly can to obey all that we find in Scripture, and all that we sense the Spirit is leading us to do, then there is nothing more we can do and we can be at rest in the Lord and in His will for us. If we lack peace, assuming we have not been oversensitive as we noted before, then that may be a form of guidance from the Spirit to stop us moving in some particular direction, but in the absence of such ‘dis-peace’ we can be at rest, and when we are at rest we can be confident in our relationship with the Lord.

But this confidence doesn’t just end there, for John goes on to make an amazing claim: “and receive from him anything we ask”.   This incredible claim seems to come more than once in the New Testament, for example: “Ask and it will be given to you,” (Mt 7:7) – though the tense indicates that it is ‘ask and go on asking’ (We will only go on asking when we are sure that we are asking for the right thing. – but even that doesn’t guarantee it in practice – so why? We’ll see). A little later, Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:11) which is a further reason to have confidence in your Father’s love and concern for you.

Jesus also said, “I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Mt 18:19,20) The same applies to what we said above – two or three are only going to agree if they are sure it is God’s will. And yet…    Jesus also said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Mt 21:22)  Do we really believe when we pray? Are we convinced about what we are asking for?  John also records Jesus saying, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (Jn 14:13) In other words when we come to the Father asking things that we are convinced Jesus wants, we will get. Further he said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (Jn 15:7) i.e. having an ongoing sense of Jesus’ will because we remain in such close fellowship with him, will enable us to ask things in his will. He repeated this in an expanded form: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (Jn 15:16) i.e. when we are doing the work of Jesus as led by him, we may expect fruit when we pray for it. He also added, “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (Jn 16:23,24) James was later to write, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt.” (Jas 1:5,6)

Thus, although there are one or two general verses, most of the time the promise of answers is linked to conditions – that together with others we discern God’s will, if we genuinely believe and have faith (which means we’ve heard from God), if we are sure we’re asking in line with Jesus’ will, and it flows out of our fellowship with him, and we ask without doubting – then we can expect the Lord to answer.

The key to getting answers to prayer is that we ask in line with His will. When we discern that and ask accordingly, we see answers. May it be so!

34. Security

Meditations in Job : 34.  Security in God

Job 13:13-15 “Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may. Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands? Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him”

There are religious people who get upset at any wrong word spoken before God. The God they know is harsh and judgemental and who will strike out at anyone who says a word out of place. That is not the picture of the God of the Bible. I have always marvelled at Moses’ willingness to argue with God. His two-chapter dialogue (Ex 3 & 4) is an amazing example of someone making excuses before God, but then his knowledge of the Lord is very limited so he gets away with it. But after all the Exodus happenings, the deliverance from Egypt, the journeying to Sinai and the revelation received at Sinai, you might think Moses has learnt to hold his tongue before an Almighty and Holy God but when the Lord threatens to destroy the makers of the golden calf, we find Moses arguing with God not to do it. As a young Christian I was always fascinated by preachers speaking of Moses ‘importuning’ God. It means soliciting Him or persistently pressing Him. It becomes clear that this is exactly what the Lord wanted of him. When God comes in the flesh in the form of His Son, Jesus, there are lots of interactions between Jesus and his disciples, especially Peter who was always opening his mouth to put his foot in it. Having observed that at length, I conclude that Peter felt utterly secure in Jesus’ presence and felt quite able to speak his mind. When we come to Job, we find something very similar.

See how he starts out in this next part of our study: “Keep silent and let me speak;” (v.13a). Come on, guys, give me space, allow me to say what is on my heart, is what he is saying. But note how our verses above continue, “then let come to me what may.” (v.13b). Wow! In other words, let me speak my heart and I’ll take whatever comes. Now those are either words of careless folly or they are words spoken out of immense security, and I suggest it is the latter. In one sense, perhaps, he’s already received so much suffering and sorrow that perhaps he thinks there is nothing more that God can do, but the words that follow seem to have more assurance behind them than that somewhat negative and fatalistic view of it. He asks a question about his actions: “Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands?” (v.14). He realises that speaking rashly before God is a dangerous and foolhardy business, but then he speaks out words of immense confidence in the Lord: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (v.15a).

Those must be some of the great words of this book. God can take my life if that is His desire, yet I will trust Him for whatever comes after that, I will hope in Him, I will put my entire future into His hands and feel utterly secure in what He will do with me. Some of these Old Testament saints were incredible!  I always marvel at the way the writer to the Hebrews spoke about Abraham being willing to offer Isaac, “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.” (Heb 11:19) These men shame our often weak faith. Job has such confidence in the Lord and his relationship with Him that he is not afraid to say, “I will surely defend my ways to his face.” (v.15b) To His face? Job is willing to look God in the eye and defend himself!

But his confidence goes on and on: “Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him! (v.16). This will turn out for my deliverance? In this he trusts in God’s loving goodness and His faithfulness to what Job knows about Him, and then also in his own godliness. It is not pride to be able to look the truth in the face when it is about yourself. The apostle Paul taught, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Rom 12:3). Humility is the ability to see yourself as you are, to see your limitations AND to see your grace that God has given you. Job knew that he had been godly and wasn’t ashamed of it, and so also trusted that God would honour that godliness. In fact as he goes on, he builds on that certainty: “Listen carefully to my words; let your ears take in what I say.” (v.17). I’m happy to enlarge on this, is what he infers.

He continues, “Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated.” (v.18). I’ve thought about this, is what he is saying, and I trust God and trust what I know about my own motivation and actions, and I believe I will be vindicated by Him. Indeed, when we come to the end of the book, as we’ve noted before, the Lord declare to the three friends, you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7). Job concludes his case, Can anyone bring charges against me? If so, I will be silent and die.” (v.19). Look, he says, as I look back over my past life, I have examined myself and I am not conscious of having stepped out of line and having sinned, therefore you won’t be able to find anything legitimate to say against me; you can make these generalisations about me being a sinner, if you like, but I challenge you to find specific wrong things that I did. That is an amazing claim. It is similar to Paul’s claim to the Thessalonians: You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.” (1 Thess 2:10). It’s not a pride thing to be able to say this. It is a simple statement of truth spoken in humility. We should not be ashamed to say, “With God’s help I have been righteous this day”. Job actually has some lessons in humility for us. May we heed them!

A Gathering

Readings in Luke Continued – No.17

Lk 6:17,18 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases.

There can arise in us sometimes, when reading Scripture, natural frustrations at the nature of these Gospels. In one sense it would have been easier if we just had one Gospel account and then we would just have to accept it at face value. When we have three similar but slightly different accounts, the slight differences raise questions within us. Perhaps God has done it like that for a purpose, because at the point we start asking questions our hearts are revealed. Some people ask questions to challenge the truth and attempt to destroy the veracity of the accounts. Other people look to see how the accounts come together to give a fuller picture. The first group look to destroy faith; the second group seek to build faith.

The truth is that when we carefully look at the Gospel accounts, all our confidence is undermined. The person who is so self-assured and says, “That can’t be true, there is a contradiction,” is shown to be shallow and foolish. The person who brashly asserts, “There are no problems,” equally shows they are shallow and foolish.

Such considerations arise when we find Luke, who, you will remember, said he had carried out a careful investigation, stating that Jesus came down and stood on a level place. Now this raises questions for us in what goes before it or comes after it. In Luke this is followed by what some have referred to as an abridged ‘Sermon on the Mount’, except it is, in fact, a sermon on the plain! When we start thinking about this, we realise that Jesus was preaching and teaching for three years and therefore he would no doubt repeat himself many times to different groups of people in many different locations. It is suggested that Matthew had been a tax collector and tax collectors used a form of short hand which Matthew might have used to put together the much larger ‘Sermon on the Mount’. Luke’s informant recounts what they remember, which is likely to have been from another of those times when a large crowd came to him and he taught.

Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount simply starts out, Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.” (Mt 5:1,2), so there it is clearly a sermon on, at the very least, a hillside. Perhaps it is for this reason that Luke makes the point in his Gospel that what he is reporting was on the flat.

The other tricky distinction here is Luke saying, “A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon,” implying these people came to Jesus after he came down the mountain after having chosen the twelve after praying. Matthew doesn’t mention this big gathering from far and wide, but Mark does in a passage prior to these events, when Jesus is teaching and healing by the Lake of Galilee. Now the unthinking sceptic jumps on this and says, “See a contradiction!” No, it’s simply that this great crowd coming to him from far and wide were there when he was teaching and healing down by the lake AND later when Jesus came down from his prayer vigil and carried on teaching and healing.

Whether these words come from a common, unknown document that both refer to, or whether one referred to the other Gospel already in existence, but applied it to a slightly different time, we’ll never know. Both Mark and Luke bring this information to us, that the crowds who now came to Jesus for teaching and especially healing, came from all over the country – and they kept on coming! What we have is just simply different emphases being put in by the two writers. For one (Mark) as he thought (with Peter’s help) about Jesus teaching by the lake, he was struck by the variety of people and from where they had obviously come. For Luke, as he listens to his sources, that point came out after they came down from the prayer vigil.

What we should be left with after these deliberations, is a growing awareness of the variety of experiences and occasions that occurred in Jesus’ ministry of which the Gospel accounts are almost just a shorthand version. It is only John, years later, who, thinking on these things, realises this when he says at the very close of his Gospel, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.(Jn 21:25).

So, one final lesson, when you come across words in one of the Gospels, which are different from the others, ask why. Think about what was happening; consider the complexity or variety of things that were happening with Jesus, day by day, week after week, for three years. This must have been the richest three years of possible human experience, if you had been a disciple. Bear in mind it was a large crowd who turned up on this occasion, and time and time again the Gospels say that Jesus healed all who came to him. Imagine you were one of the disciples with Jesus, witnessing this day by day. The shear numbers must have left your mind reeling. The shear variety of teaching, healing, praying, travelling or whatever, must have appeared as one long blur after a while. The wonder of the Gospels is that we have them and with such uniformity. There must have been so many things happening that it would have been possible for four different writers to have recorded four completely different accounts – all true! Got it? What an incredible time! What an incredible Son of God!