4.3 The Wonder of Godliness

Short Meditations in Psalms: 4.3  The Wonder of Godliness

Psa 4:3  Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD will hear when I call to him.

This is one of those verses you go to pass by without much thought but then suddenly you realise it is saying things that are much bigger than you first thought. In the previous verse David spoke about those who worshipped idols, people who live a lie and are deceived. Now, by contrast, he speaks of the godly. Who or what are the godly?

A godly person is simply someone who has entered into a living relationship with the Lord and who now exhibits something of the characteristics of the personality and being of God. The apostle Paul described it in this way: “we… all reflect the Lord’s glory, ….being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.” (2 Cor 3:18) A godly person relates to the Lord and reflects the Lord.

But David says, “the LORD has set apart the godly for himself.”  i.e. we are a work of God. Again the apostle Paul speaks of this: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” (Eph 1:4,5) There is in His foreknowing us, a strong sense of sovereign calling. He knew back then who would respond to Him when, in our present day, He called us and we responded and became His children.

But note also those words from David, “for himself”. There is behind those words the sense that the Lord called us to Himself for His own pleasure (as well as ours). The Lord delights in us, His children, and takes pleasure in us – and yes I too struggle to accept the truth of this so often, but it is true!

Now it is because of all this that when we pray, when we call upon the Lord, He will hear us. Obviously because He is God He sees and hears everything, but here there is a special sense of Him hearing us; it is like He focuses on us when we cry to Him in the way that a mother or father focuses immediately when they hear their child cry out when they hurt themselves playing in the garden. So the Lord’s attention is caught by us when we cry out to Him because He is a loving Father who is attentive to His children.

Do you see how all this distinguishes us and makes us stand out in contrast to the ungodly who focus on idols that have no life, that are simply wooden models, the ungodly who have no relationship with the Lord? Imagine you have a child who is say six years old. You are at a fair and there is an explosion and people who running in all directions and crying out. In the midst of the shouts, there will be one that stands out – your child. That is how it is with the Lord, child of God!

17. The Working of Grace

Meditations in Titus: 17:  The Working of Grace

Titus 2:11,12   For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,

The word ‘For’ is a link word and links what we have here with what Paul has just said previously. He concluded his teaching about Christian slaves’ behaviour with, “so that…they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (v.10b) This verse was to be the effect of the good way slaves lived and worked so we have behaviour and effect in the previous verses. Now we have two corresponding things in our two verses above.

First there is the implication that the Gospel has become well known. Here Paul describes the Gospel as “the grace of God that brings salvation.” We know about and can have salvation because a) God has brought about the basis of it – Jesus dying on the Cross for us – but also b) because God has made it known now through the apostles and it has become well known, even if not accepted, by all. So slave owners will know about the Gospel, about the existence of this new group of believers called Christians, and so if they hear that their slave has become one, he will automatically have certain expectations, and the slave is to live up to them for the sake of the Gospel.

Second, this grace has certain outworkings, and those are things that we have just referred to when we spoke of the expectations of slave masters of their Christian slaves. Those outworkings, we will go on to see, are both present and future outworkings, although we will only consider the present outworkings in this particular study.

Paul says that God’s grace that brings us salvation, as an outworking of it, “teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,”  Let’s examine these things.

One the one hand there are the negative things we are to now reject from our lives.. We are to reject “ungodliness and worldly passions”.  ‘Ungodly’ simply means ‘contrary to God’. We are to reject from our lives anything that runs contrary to God’s character and will. ‘Worldly passions’ are desires that are self-centred and self-pleasing and which are so often expressions of sin.  The apostle John taught, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world— (a) the cravings of sinful man, (b) the lust of his eyes and (c) the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:15,16) That spells it out well.

First of all, desires or cravings that flow out of the godless and self-centred heart. Second, the things this godless and self-centred hearts sees and then wants – this is covetousness and idolatry. Third, boasting or pride, self-centred boosting of ego. This is the godless self-centred life that is to be rejected now we have received the grace of God. It is a life of excesses (of food, sex, alcohol and drugs), and a life of lack of restraint morally and ethically, and a life of self-promotion.(pride, boasting, vanity in owning ‘things’, or gaining status etc.), perhaps summed up as a seeking after pleasure, possessions and power.

On the other hand, the other side of the coin if you like, there are the positive things that are to be characteristics of our lives now that we are ‘in Christ’: “self-controlled, upright and godly lives”.

  • ‘Self-controlled’ suggests that we no longer let ourselves be blown to and fro by desires or emotions. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:23) and is to be one of those things that is worked into our lives (see 2 Pet 1:6). It brings an ordered life, one that is not unstable, and with it comes confidence and growth of godly self-esteem.
  • ‘Upright’ speaks of a morally or ethically upright or honest approach to life where things like purity, integrity and justice are clear features of who we are.
  • ‘Godly’ simply means God-focused. He is to be in all we are and do,. We can even perform the so called spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, Bible reading, worship, etc. in a mechanistic or formal way so that God has little or no part in it. If we just list off a self-concerned list of wants in prayer, that is not godly. It can be done with the complete absence of God. You can even read the Bible with no reference to God, and that is being ungodly. You can sing songs and make music that just satisfies personal pleasure desires and are in reality ungodly. When we purposefully focus on God before we do and while we do any of these things we are being godly.

The work of God’s grace brings us away from the self-centred and godless lives that we once had and leads us into lives of relationship with the Lord. This is the will of God, the purpose of Jesus as he administers God’s kingdom, and the working of the Holy Spirit as He brings it about. This should be seen in each and every one of us, whatever our station in life (slave or not) as the working of God in us that can be seen by those around us and which, hopefully points them towards Him.

10. Shutdown

Meditations in Malachi : 10. Shutdown

Mal 1:10  “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

I was amazed when I first studied the Law – well no perplexed first, actually.   Why were those long dreary chapters at the beginning of Leviticus about different sorts of offerings, and why were there those tedious chapters in the latter part of Exodus about the Tabernacle and the priests? None of it seemed relevant to today, so why was it there, and then eventually I understood. This was the Lord recognising that His people would get it wrong so that they would feel guilty and then feel at a distance from the Lord, this was the Lord making a way back for such people. This was also the Lord making provision for those whose hearts might overflow with love for God who just wanted to bring Him a gift.

That was what all those laws were about, about regulating how those things might happen through the sacrifices. That was what the Tabernacle and then later theTemplewere about. They were places of focus on the Lord, places where the Lord initially made His presence known, places that He filled with His glory, places of fellowship with God and places of reconciliation with God and restoration of a relationship with the Lord. That was what the Temple was all about. It was for the people to come and do two things: offer sacrifices and pray (remember Jesus called it a house of prayer). The Tabernacle and then the Temple were all about relationship with the Lord which is why, when the Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 587BC, it was so devastating for Israel. When Jeremiah spoke about restoration after seventy years, that seventy years was the period between the destruction of the Temple and the completion of its rebuilding, exactly seventy years!

But God isn’t fooled by play acting. That had been going on before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah parodied their reliance upon the presence of the Temple (Jer 7). Now the same thing was happening again. The apostle Paul prophesied about the last days: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:1-5) There is the same thing: there will be a form of religion (godliness) while all the time men and woman are living lives that are very different from God’s design for them.

The people of Malachi’s day were declaring that they were godly because they were performing religious acts and then comes this terrible word of judgment through Malachi: “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”   Shut down all this religious nonsense, is what the Lord is saying, for that is actually what it is – religious nonsense!  Did God want His people to perform religious acts in the Temple with no meaning behind them? No! God’s intent had been to provide channels for blessing Israel, for making ways back to Him and for legitimizing their gifts to Him. The Temple was for prayer and worship and reconciliation and those things, to be genuine, have to come out of wholeheartedness.

The Lord is concerned more what goes on inside a person than the things they do outwardly. Outward acts can be pure pretense. In medical terms, sometimes people come out in a skin rash and it is a sign of tension or stress within. It is the reality of the inner life that God is concerned with, not the charades that people put on. Who are they kidding? Do they think they will make God think well of them? Does “going to church on a Sunday morning” make God feel good about us? No, it should be an expression of the love we have for Him on the inside.

Around the world, often the churches with the greatest reality are those in countries where the church is persecuted and driven underground. When those people gather together under threat of arrest, there is a reality and a depth of love not found in the West. How tragic it is that our love is only proved real when it is challenged! When will we come to our senses and call out to the Lord for a reality of relationship? Will the Lord have to shut our churches down before that has to happen? May it not be so!

14. Life by Faith

Meditations in Romans : 14 :  Life by Faith

Rom 1:17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith

One of the strangest things about the human race, something that we largely take for granted, is that we have a moral outlook. Being human means we have ideas of right and wrong. In the modern age in the West, we may be confused and many deny there are absolutes of right or wrong, but in reality when it comes to ‘my’ own life, we do have clear ideas of right and wrong. It IS wrong for you to murder me, assault me, steal from me, and so on. Those things ARE wrong! Godless people have ideas of right and wrong as much as those people who would purport to be godly; the only difference is that godly people look to God for their definitions of right and wrong while ungodly people make up their own rules and work on what suits them for the moment, which may change from day to day.

The Bible uses this word ‘righteousness’ which we have twice in our verse above, to describe a ‘way of being’. In its simplest sense it just means rightness of behaviour as decreed by God. There is self-righteousness that we have referred to already which is rules and behaviour established around ‘self’, but the righteousness that the Bible refers to again and again, is behaviour that conforms to the way God has designed us to be or, if you like, a way of living.

In the Old Testament it was considered that you could be righteous by obeying God’s laws or simply responding to God. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Gen 6:9) i.e. Noah’s behaviour and his attitude towards God declared him righteous.  In the Law we find, “Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the LORD your God.” (Deut 24;13) i.e. behaving in this way is an example of righteous behaviour.

There are clear distinctions between the wicked and the righteous: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” (Psa 1:5) and “But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God (Psa 68:3). Living in the righteous way IS something that is a clear and tangible way of living: “Thus you will walk in the ways of good men and keep to the paths of the righteous.” (Prov 2:20) and “The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry” (Prov 10:3). ‘The righteous’ in all of these cases (and very many more in the Old Testament) are those who walk with God and follow His ways and are morally upright.

The only trouble about life in that period of Biblical history is that most people could not keep all the laws that came to Israel through Moses and which formed the basis for their understanding of righteousness. Paul struggled with this reality in chapter 7 of this letter. We may know the law, the rules of how to live according to the Creator’s design, but this thing called sin provides a stumbling block to getting it right. We fail and we feel guilty. We try harder and still fail to get it perfectly right. The bar seems to be constantly raised and we fail to clear it and feel bad – and so God feels at a distance.

And then someone comes and tells us about Jesus and tells us that he died for all our failures so that when we come to God He no longer counts them. Instead, when we simply come and say, I believe, He declares us righteous! But I’m not, we protest from inner reaches of honesty. No, but that is how I see you, He responds, and suddenly trying to keep the rules is no longer the important thing. We are overwhelmed by love and in our loving response to Him we inadvertently ‘keep the rules’ but they are no longer the most important thing; it is simply His love. The more we dwell on it, the more we realise it and experience it, the more we are changed, not by trying but by being loved.

Of course it is all a faith thing because we cannot see Him or hear Him audibly with our ears, but we read of Him, we sense Him, and we sense the truth He imparts to us. We sense His love and we are blessed and changed. Yes it is all by faith, it is all by simply responding to what He has said and it is simple! Everything we do as Christians, as His children, we do by faith and as we do it we catch the sense of being loved more and more.

I sometimes think that maturity is simply the ability to believe God when He tells us how much He loves us.  The echoes of Sin from the past challenges the truth of His love and wants us to resort back to self-righteous striving, but the Spirit is there to encourage us in the truth and as we are loved we change. We are righteous because He has said we are. We accept it by faith because that is what faith is – simply believing God and living it.

And that is what it is all about – living!  We live by faith. Love comes to us, we believe it. We respond to it and life flows. Suddenly it is a new life, real life. We are no longer struggling to ‘be someone’ for He has made us ‘someone’, one of His children. We find it hard to believe, yes, but it is true. It is hard to believe that His love is that good – but it is! We may trip over out feet a dozen times a month, but in the recognition and experience of His love, we are still in the category of ‘the righteous’ for no longer does it mean someone who achieves perfection but someone who has received perfection and is working towards an eternal perfection. ‘Working’ towards it?  All right, walking towards it in love!