36. Hearing leads to Action (3)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 36. Hearing leads to Action (3)

John 2:5   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We continue pursuing a fictitious example of a listening prayer group and the revelation that came, as an example of how we may cooperate with the Lord, seated with him in the heavenly realms, bringing in the kingdom of God on earth.  Let’s move on to see what happened next.

(Alan’s Boss)

It had been two days after the prayer meeting that Alan had been in his boss’s office talking through various pieces of work. When they came to the conclusion of it, Alan realised there was something he needed to mention.

“Boss, I’ll be off in a couple of days, just for the one day, I’ll take it out of my annual leave. It’s just that my daughter is applying for Uni and we want to go with her to the Open Day of one she has her eye on, if that’s all right with you?”

“Yes, no problem,” the boss replied and then added almost as an aside, “I wish I had got stuff like that happening with my kids.”

“Sounds like it’s not going well?” Alan enquired lightly.

“You’re joking. My boy, the older of the two, is coming up to his A-levels and we just can’t get him to work. And then my wife caught the younger one, my daughter, and she’s only thirteen, talking to a friend on the phone about using Cannabis. I really don’t know about kids today! Who would have ‘em!”

Alan made non-descript noises and made for the door, then paused in the opening, “Mind if I pray for them, boss?”

His boss didn’t answer and just turned back to papers on his desk.

Alan left feeling a little rebuffed – but that night he did remember to pray for them.

It was the day after his day off, when he was back in the office, and again had to talk some business stuff through with the boss. His boss seemed a bit more irritable than usual – which was saying something! – but they talked through the stuff and then as Alan was about to leave his office, his boss said in a casual but nervous, if not embarrassed tone, “Er… I don’t know if you prayed about my kids the other day but there’s been a remarkable change in them in just a few days. My wife has managed to have a good talk with my daughter about the dangers of drugs – which she seemed to accept – and my son suddenly seems to have got down to revising for his exams like there’s no tomorrow.” He winced.

“Are you all right, boss, you look like you’re in pain?” Alan ventured.

“Yes, I don’t know what it is; I woke up with a stiff neck this morning. I can hardly move it and it’s agony!”

Now it was Alan’s turn to feel nervous. “Er… would you like me to pray for it?” he ventured again.

“You can do what you like; I’ll take anything to get rid of this!”

“No, I mean would you like me to pray for you now, here, this minute?”

His boss looked uncomfortable. “Well shut the door then.”

Alan shut the door and went over to his boss. “I’ll just put my hand on your shoulder as I pray, if that’s all right?” His boss said nothing, so he did. “Lord Jesus, I know you love us both and I know you healed anyone who was ill when they came to you when you walked on this earth, so can I ask for you to heal this neck right now. Father, please let it be, in Jesus name. Amen.” His boss said nothing.

Alan opened his eyes and to his surprise saw tears running down his boss’s face and the older man was swivelling his head.

“That’s amazing. How did that happen? The pain’s completely gone!”

“Jesus just healed you because he loves you,” Alan found himself saying.

“Sit down, I need to ask you some things,” his boss replied.

Forty minutes later Alan came out of his office very thoughtful and with tears in his eyes.

Now this may be making some of us seriously uncomfortable. I was recently in a well-known annual ‘Bible Convention’, led by good evangelicals and they had invited a delightful head of a bible seminary to take the morning Bible studies – and she was excellent. On the last one, as a natural outflow of the Bible book we had been following, she suggested that the Lord might want to heal people there, that morning, and graciously turned to the man who had been compering the morning, if that is the right word for such a time, and said, “I’m just a visitor here, how do you want to do this?” I have never seen someone look so discomforted and he replied after a moment, “Well, people can just pray for each other where they are,” which was not a faith-filled answer as she had already spoken about people with real needs coming to the front for prayer. Many of us are good at receiving ‘the Word’ but as soon as it means stepping out in faith, we move to the back of the boat and let the brash Peters of the world step over the side. God delights in His children who ‘risk it’.

Alan, with the sense of high expectation that we mentioned yesterday, ‘stepped out of the boat’ and God turned up. He had already pushed the boat out (to change the metaphor slightly) by offering to pray and when he got no answer, just went home and prayed – and things happened! Because they happened, when his boss was in such pain he was past caring what happened, the way was open for Alan to pray for healing and leave the answer to the Lord – who healed!

I was at a brunch for the vulnerable in society recently and a young man (well a good bit younger than me) walked in, a man I had known some ten years before and whose family and work situation was dire! I noticed that he could hardly hobble his way in, with back and leg problems, so I greeted him and, knowing he had been anti-Christian and had forbade his wife to go to church, nevertheless sought to reach out to him. (We’ll call him Rick.) When I offered to be available to pray for him in private he hedged. “Look,” I said, “the best that could happen is that you get healed completely, the next best is that you get partly healed and the worst that could happen is that nothing happens! You can’t lose.” He still went out refusing prayer. How crazy is that! Make yourself available with humility and gentleness, and the worst that can happen is nothing and they might think you rubbish. The best that might happen is they get healed and might just turn to the Lord. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt 6:10) Go for it!

35. Hearing leads to Action (2)

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 35. Hearing leads to Action (2)

John 2:5   His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

We are pursuing a fictitious example of a listening prayer group and the revelation that came. We need to move on to see what happened and then draw some lessons from it.

(The office junior)

When Alan went onto the office the next morning he went with a slight sense of apprehension. What should he say or do? The easy answer was nothing but just watch. In his interactions with his junior over the next couple of days, he was particularly careful to be open and friendly and gracious. Nothing happened. It was on the third day that things started to change. As he happened to be passing the young man’s desk, he noticed he was just sitting there staring ahead and doing nothing.

He paused. “Kev?”

No response. He pulled up a chair. There was no one within listening distance. He tried again, very gently. “Kev, what’s up?” Kevin seemed to suddenly realise he wasn’t alone. “Oh, sorry Alan, it’s nothing.”

“Are you sure? Do you need to talk about something?”

“No, not really, no it’s fine, it really is…. well …. I don’t know what to do. My wife’s has been diagnosed with cancer. We’ve known about it for a number of months, and it’s the bad sort and now at the hospital yesterday they say it will be touch and go, and…” his voice trailed off as he fought back tears.

Alan found he had tears running down his own face. “Oh Kev, I am so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

“There’s nothing anyone can do. Anyway why are you crying, you don’t even know her!”

“Well that’s right but I just don’t know how I would feel in your shoes. I am so sorry. Look you’re not going to be able to concentrate on some of this stuff you’ve got on your desk at the moment. Let me get one of the others to lighten your load. What can I take from you?”

They discussed the possibilities and Alan took several files to redistribute round the office without saying why to the other staff.

“Do you need some time off? Is there anything you can be doing for her?”

“Well not really, but I suppose I need to arrange for the kids to be picked up from school in the days to come. Oh, what are we going to do?” He fought back the tears as a floodgate looked like it was just ready to burst.

“Look let’s not worry about that for now. Take one day at a time. Look, the other stuff you have here is not urgent. Go home now and just come in when you can. Kev, would you mind if I asked my church to pray for her?” Kev just nodded. “What’s her name so we know who we’re praying for?

“Marianne, but we call her Merry. Alan, I just don’t know what to do, and I know my work’s been going to pot, and I’m struggling with some of this stuff anyway.” He looked miserable.

“Look Kev, let’s not worry about that now. Let’s see how this works out and then perhaps in the future I can get you on that training course that is up on the notice board.”

“Yes, I’d like that. Thanks.”

“Come on, let’s go and get a coffee into you then you get back home, and we’ll take it from there – together.” The two left the office for coffee.

Back in the office, Alan thought to himself, “well that was an answer to prayer I wasn’t expecting!”

I am tempted to follow on with the other two things the group had prayed about, but this is all about bringing in the kingdom of God on the earth and there are some things in the story above that bear thinking about.

New Expectation: Because the group has prayed. and revelation had come, Alan is now in a state of expectation about an outcome. He doesn’t know what it will be, but he is on the lookout for something to happen. He is looking for the Lord to move, but that isn’t always in ways that we might expect.

New Concern: We may say (being really pious) that as Christians we should always be loving, gracious and caring for those around us, but the truth is that in the mundane ongoing-ness of daily life, especially life at work, it is so easy to stop making an effort to be a blessing to all those around us. However, now Alan is in a new state of expectancy, that has caused him to be particularly alert to those around him, and especially his young subordinate. It is because of this, that he spots the young man looking down, and needing some help.

New Compassion: Something different has happened and, because he is on the watch for such things as maybe part of God’s moving, he pauses up and gives the young man time, care and consideration, expressed in a variety of ways to help him with his present situation.

Spiritual Input: Don’t rush here, for there will be time to go further, yet Alan does gently ask him if he may share this with his prayer group. Don’t be surprised or cynical about the response because very often people may not be ready to hear the Gospel and certainly not be ready for church, but they will very happily receive prayer.

Conclusion: Perhaps the most important change here has been that in Alan himself. He has suddenly gone on the alert because someone dared to say they thought they had heard from God and he is now watching to see how God will open the situation up. As we said before, don’t prejudge how the Lord might move, but just be open and available to Him and, working with Him, you prepare the way of the Lord, for Him to come more fully into this situation: In the wilderness (of the office) prepare the way for the Lord.” (Isa 40:3) Tomorrow, we’ll see what else happens to Alan

33. Ground Rules for Sharing

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 33. Ground Rules for Sharing

Deut 30:19,20  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.

Listeners: Listening to God is perhaps one of the fundamental characteristics of the people of God throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve had to listen to God. Cain had to listen to God. Noah had to listen to God. Abram had to listen to God, and so it goes on.  If God hadn’t spoken to Israel at Sinai they would never have been constituted as a nation, never led to Canaan and never taken the Promised Land. Years later, it was because they refused to listen that they ended up in Exile. Yet it was because an ungodly king, Cyrus, listened to God, that they were sent back to their own land.

Threefold Purpose: The other facet of God speaking, we said yesterday, was people hearing. Many people deny hearing, I believe, because they are insecure in their faith and fear that if they start hearing they will find themselves being told off. However, let me remind us again of the threefold thing Paul said prophecy should do today within the church: strengthen, encourage, and comfort. (1 Cor 14:3) Those are all good things. So, perhaps to allay fears and show a feasible and secure pathway through, may I suggest some guidelines to help you become available to bring these three things to people as you listen to the Lord.

Stick to the Threefold: First, stick to the three things above. Prophecy, or hearing a word for another, is not an opportunity for you to vent all the feelings you might have for that other person.  You are NOT there to correct them or chasten them; God will do that in His own way.

A simple example: Many years ago I was ministering in West Malaysia under the leadership of an apostle with whom I was travelling. We were having a ministry time after the main part of a service in a church in the north, and as I stood there I felt the Lord focus my attention on a young man standing across the room and the Lord said to me, “Go and tell him that I love him.” And that was all. It doesn’t get more simple than that! I went across and shared that with him, to which he broke down in tears and ran out of the room.

Confession flows: He came back a little later, more composed, and said, “How can God love me when I’ve done what I’ve done?” He went on to share how he and a friend had gone across the border into Thailand one night and visited prostitutes and he was now sure he had AIDS. “What’s more,” he confessed, “I am engaged to that girl over there and I don’t know how to tell her.”  The girl in question was a beautiful young Malaysian Christian. We talked, and he agreed he would tell her if I would come with him. I did, and he did and, listen to this, she looked at him tenderly and said to me, “I love him, so it doesn’t matter. We’ll get married and trust God for the outcome.” What example of faith and commitment, and possible sacrifice, and all because of the most simple word shared.

Keep it simple: Did you see how simple that was?  An illustration I gave yesterday simply involved two words – “Do it.” Even more simple. We are not talking about bringing deep and meaningful and highly theological words here. The first ground rule is keep it simple and keep it love.

Conform to God’s Word: The second ground rule is say nothing that is contrary to God’s word, so you never give permission to someone to sin, say. More often than not, your words of strengthening, encouraging or comforting, are most likely to be words of assurance. I say again, you may know areas of weakness in the person before you, but you are not there to correct, chide or chasten them; God does that. This is different from the correction process that Jesus spoke about when someone has sinned against you (see Mt 18:15-17). We are, in all we are saying, ministering to the imperfect people of the church (that’s a big field; it’s all of us) and as we seek the Lord (and do nothing outside that context) we are making ourselves available to Him to strengthen, encourage or comfort another brother or sister.

Humility: The third ground rule is approach in humility and deference. Where I know people are not used to this sort of thing, I may approach them with, “I hope you will forgive me if I’ve got this wrong, and if I have, please just forget it and put it down to the ravings of a guy having a bad day, but I felt as I looked across at you that the Lord wanted to say to you……” Then, as you share and see tears of appreciation and even wonder running down their face, you know you got it right, especially when they say, “Thank you so much, that was exactly right.”

Avoid Dogmatism: Fourth, and perhaps associated with that, never speak beyond contradiction. As a church leader many years ago, I often used to say in leadership meetings, “The Lord said to me that we….” and it continued until my wife pointed that that shut down every conversation because no one wanted to challenge the assertion that I had God’s will. I may have had but we are all imperfect and we can get it wrong, and if we speak in dogmatic ways, we shut anyone else down who might put forward an alternative – which may be the right path.

Straight forward language: Fifth, as part of this, you don’t need to use Authorised Version, “Thus says the Lord…” In fact these days I never say, “The Lord says….” Which so often raises the defences of our listeners. I simply say, “I believe the Lord says…” which is much less dogmatic and not so confrontational.

Don’t dress it up: Sixth, don’t be defensive and dress it up by explaining how this word came, i.e. you don’t need to justify it. It doesn’t need lots of preamble. Many of us do this, and I still find myself doing it from time to time, perhaps to give time for people to take on board what is coming. Yet it shouldn’t need that. When you are saying good things to people it neither needs dressing up nor justifying.

Checking it out: Seventh, you can say perhaps as you end, “Does that make sense?” but often they will show by their response that it certainly did, so don’t emphasize your rightness by asking. However, if they stand there and you ask, and they say no, then simply apologize that you’ve obviously got it wrong and leave it at that. You might not have done; they might just be feeling insecure still and it will take a little time for them to accept what they’ve heard.

Walk away: Eighth, when it comes to giving deeper or fuller words for the future, leave it with the Lord and don’t worry about it. Walk away and leave it; you’ve been the messenger boy He wanted you to be. The greatest extreme I’ve had of this was someone who didn’t look particularly blessed by what I shared but who ran across me years later and said, “Do you remember that word you shared with me ten years ago? Well the Lord’s just done it as you said.” I try not to look blank at that point because I rarely can remember even a few days later what I’ve been able to share.

And us? Available to bless others? You will be if you concentrate on your relationship with the Lord. These things will just naturally flow when that relationship is alive and well. It’s streams of living water flowing; it’s that simple. Can we grow into that?

24. The Body brings the Kingdom

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 24. The Body brings the Kingdom

Rom 12:5    in Christ we, though many, form one body

1 Cor 12:27   Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Eph 1:22,23 God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body

The ‘Body of Christ’: The key to understanding how Christ, ruling at his Father’s right hand, works through us to being in the kingdom on earth, is the concept of ‘the body of Christ’ which comes up numerous times in the writing of the apostle Paul, especially in the three books from which our verses above come. Now what are the key things about this body?

First: To do the Father’s Will: First, it is the way Jesus continues to bring the will of his Father to the earth. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.  Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—  I have come to do your will, my God.’” Heb 10:5-7) It was through a human body that he expressed his ministry – teaching, delivering, healing, setting the captives free (Mt 11:5, Lk 4:18). When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost a new body was formed, the church, the ‘called out ones’ who were called to do the same things Jesus had been doing (Jn 14:12, Mt 28:18,19).

Second: Multi-Gifted: The thing about the body is that it is multi-gifted – both in terms of ministries: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service,” (Eph 4:11,12) and spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:12:4-11) and more general gifts (Rom 12:6-8) and we are each gifted differently as the Holy Spirit enables us and we need each other with our differences (1 Cor 12:12-26) and all are essential.

Third: Growth Goal: God’s objective for the body is that it grows: “so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12-13) and “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph 4:15,16)

Fourth: Growth Determinants:  Now note those characteristics for growth.

  • First, “From him.” Life flows from Jesus and it is life that enables growth. It is through a living relationship with Jesus that the body grows. I’ll say more on that in a later study.
  • Second, “held together by every supporting ligament”. What are the things that hold us together? Real relationships.
  • Third, “in love”. Love is the cement that binds these relationships together; love is the unique characteristic of the body of Christ. We see it in the Gospels as Jesus cares for and accepts the unlovely, the tax-collectors, sinners, prostitutes – you and me!
  • Fourth, “as each part does its work.” A healthy body is an active body and that is as true of the church as it is in personal daily life. We are each designed to play a part.
  • Fifth: The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) God knows what He has on His heart for each of us and us collectively. Jesus taught, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deedsand glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) Those “good works” or “good deeds” are God expressing His goodness through us. As we have said before, our righteousness is shown as we conform to the teaching of the New Testament and also as we are led by the Spirit, but often it will be seen as acts or words (“speaking the truth in love”) of love and goodness
  • Sixth: The Head: Earlier we read, “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. The thing about the body, (any ‘body’) is that it will be directed by its head and for the ‘body of Christ’, the church, its head is Christ himself, seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven.

And Us?  Now in all honesty, I wonder when we look at the Church, can we say that it (and its individual local expressions) can be clearly seen to be directed by Jesus?  You see it occasionally when a local church clearly gets guidance to launch out in a particular direction and you know it is under Jesus’ leading because the fruit of obviously there; the local expression is clearly and obviously expressing Jesus as the fruit of the Spirit is clearly manifest, the gifts of the Spirit are exercised wisely and in love, individuals are growing, prayer is a vibrant part of the body, and others are being saved and added, revelation and power are expressed and the neighbourhood is impacted. THIS is a body where the kingdom is being expressed and God being glorified. In such a body we will grow. May it be seen more and more in these days when so often the world considers the Church irrelevant.

19. Recap 2

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 19. Recap 2

Phil 3:10    I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection

Death before Power Resurrection: Before we move on into the third Part, we will remind ourselves of the things we have covered in Part 2.  It has been all about the power that God has released in our lives by the presence of His indwelling Holy Spirit which, when we consider it in the light of our previous lives that were dead to God, we have referred to as ‘resurrection lives’. We considered that for the resurrection life to come into being, death has first to take place, death to self, death to the old life, death seen in the form of surrender to the sovereignty of God, a new reliance on Jesus for the rest of life.

Righteousness the New Goal: From there we went on to consider that the goal of the new empowered life is righteousness, conforming to the will of God, and we reminded ourselves that that comes in two forms. First, it is our righteousness that is seen through God’s eyes as a result of the work of Jesus on the Cross.  Second, it is practical day to day righteousness that is being lived out as we conform to the teaching of the Bible and aided by the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Fruit of that righteousness is peace and security.

Prayer, a New Way of Looking: We followed on by thinking about this new empowered life also been seen as a life of prayer, of becoming aware of the presence of God in a new way and responding to that presence, realising it is all about what He wants, Him knowing all of our needs already, and so entering into a new life of learning to listen to Him. In the corporate dimension, prayer within the church grouping, there is released a new dimension of revelation and direction.

God’s Provision: Because prayer is so often seen as asking for our own needs, we went on to consider the Lord’s provision for us, His grace, which comes in the form of the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We saw that His resources as witnessed in two different ways: first, sometimes He delivers us out of the situation and, second, He sometimes delivers us in the situation by allowing it to continue but providing for us in the midst of it.

God’s Word – Transforming Revelation: One of God’s ‘provisions’ we considered was His word that we see both in the form of the Bible AND of the communication of His indwelling Holy Spirit, directed by Jesus, ruling at the right hand of his Father. This ‘revelation’, we said, should always bring life transformation. We examined this in the light of the examples in the Scripture of individuals being told to ‘eat’ God’s words and eating, we went on to consider, brings change to the body.

The World of Possibilities: Stepping aside from what we call the spiritual disciplines, we considered the bigger subject of how this power of God in us opens up a world of possibilities. Observing various Biblical characters, we realised that so often when God comes to bring revelation and direction, our personal sense of inadequacy has to be overcome before we can move into the fullness of His will for us.

Sacrifice & Transformation: To conclude this Part we looked at two aspects of Paul’s teaching, both of which are vital to this resurrection life.  In the first we saw Paul’s call to lay down or sacrifice our lives for God’s use. Underpinning everything about the resurrection life is this primary call to be available to God. Power flows in His children when we are seeking His presence and His will, and to do that means a laying down of our own wishes, our own ambitions and our own way of doing things. It is only within this context that the power of God is experienced.

But then, second, came the question of mind transformation, changing our way of thinking to conform to His – His overall will and goals, and His way of doing things. We realize that our life is a combination of His leading and our responding and when we respond to His leading we find a power resource available that we had not known before.

Summarizing? How can we summarize these things? Well, strangely you might think, there is very little about specific doing. These things are big ways of working, if I may put it like that, and that is on purpose. Our intent has been to focus on the reality of the resurrection life, the life empowered by the Spirit. It will only be as we move into the third Part that we will see specific things that we can DO as expressions of the kingdom of God. This Part, we might say, has been about principles.

So, yes, first, there is the principle that death must precede resurrection. For the resurrection power life to happen there has to be death to the old life and surrender to God.  Then, second, there is the realization that this is power is to enable righteousness. Third, it is a new of “God first” looking at life, especially experienced in prayer, which opens the door to the realization that, fourth, it is a life of power resources made available to us in the form of the Holy Spirit, available for every situation and circumstance. Fifth, we see it is also a life of transformation as the power of the Spirit opens our eyes and our hearts to ‘hear’ His word, the revelation of His will for our lives. Sixth, we see that this opens a whole new world of possibilities, only limited by our self-unbelief, but never His power.  Seventh, there has to be the balance of seeing it as a life of sacrifice whereby we give our entire lives over to Him for His use and disposal. Eighth, there is also the recognition that to fully enter into these things our minds need renewing to enable the transformation to take place.

Now that is interesting because I hadn’t planned it like that (I hadn’t planned it!!!) but eight in scripture is the number of resurrection. So here are a number of principles that we will take into the final Parts to see how these things are expressions of how Jesus works in and through us to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. Before we do that, let’s just remind ourselves that this is all about us growing up in Christ. As we understand and take on board all these things, so we grow. As we move into the third Part we will seek to get a third perspective on the Christian life which will enable us to grow in Him.

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.