14. A Guilt-Free People

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

14. A Guilt-Free People

Rom 3:23-25   all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

A tighter focus: In this third Part we are going to move on from the general ways Christians are different from non-Christians to considering just what happens when a person does actually become a Christian, in God’s eyes as declared in the New Testament, AND is some practical ways. Yes, we have observed that there is a God-difference, that Christians are first and foremost believers in Jesus Christ, that they have had a supernatural experience or encounter with God that Jesus called being ‘born again’, and this followed their conviction by the Spirit and repentance. We also noted in passing, so to speak, the basic need to be saved and meaning of becoming a faith people, but now we are going to move on to see the things that happen to the believer as part of and following this experience of being born again. I want to approach it by recognising the needs that we have as we come to God and what He does to meet those needs. The contents of this third Part will be as follows:

  1. A Guilt-Free People
  2. No Longer Orphans
  3. Growing in Sonship
  4. The Yeast of Humility
  5. Getting on a Learning Curve
  6. The Reality of Sacrifice
  7. No Add-ons
  8. Servant-hearted (1)
  9. Servant-hearted (2)

We start with the guilt that we have and how He removes that, expanding on the things we considered in Study no.11, ‘Repentance and Conviction’.

A Basic Problem: There is a problem that is at the heart of human experience. It is the problem of guilt. Wikipedia comes up with a good definition: “Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that they have compromised their own standards of conduct or have violated a universal moral standard and bear significant responsibility for that violation.”  Now we may try and deny that – and modern thinking desperately tries to do away with standards in order to do that – but the truth is that deep down each of us feels that somehow we are falling short of some standard or other, and yes we may go to great efforts to cover that up but it is still there.

Cover-up Jobs: Oh how varied are the means people use to cover up this sense of guilt, a guilt that is sometimes very shallow, the guilt of not living up to one’s own expectations or even those of our parents, or it may be a deeper guilt where we know our behaviour towards another, or even against society, in the past was less than glorious! We try to cover up these feelings by appearing nice, trying to be good, trying to be respectable, aiming for achievement, fame, status, things that make us look good in the eyes of others.

Why? But why do we have these feelings. Well, the apostle Paul wrote that it was because we got it wrong (sinned) and fell short of the incredible potential that each of us have when we are in harmony with God (falling short of God’s glory). I have watched various Christians struggling with their lives, struggling to achieve and I have found myself saying, “Don’t you realize that God desires more success for you than you desire for yourself?”  Sometimes that success may be to simply make ends meet and create a great home for a family, sometimes it is to make millions to bless the world with jobs and so much more (consider Bill Gates), sometimes it is success that has nothing to do with money. I suggest Mother Teresa was a staggeringly ‘successful’ person, but that requires us to readjust our thinking about what success means.

The Answer- Justification: OK, we’ve faced the fact that so many of us in the human race struggle with guilt so now I am going to make a possibly surprising suggestion: Christians are possibly one of the only groups in the world who are not guilt laden – or at least should not be.  Now how am I able to say that? It is what I briefly referred to earlier, the doctrine of ‘justification’. If I say I was justified in taking a particular course of action it means I was actually right to take it. If I appear in a court case accused of murder and I plead a case of self-defence and am found ‘not guilty’ we might say I was justified in the eyes of the Law for accidentally killing someone while defending myself.

The use of the word ‘justified’ means I am found not-guilty, or innocent. Now the problem we have been facing when we come to such verses as our starter verse – “all have sinned,” is that I have to acknowledge that I am a sinner – and we all are – because I have fallen short in my life because I did not get God’s help, i.e. I was self-centred and godless. It appears to leave us in a hopeless state where we will be condemned by God, and with no hope of change or escape. But that is where we come to the wonder of the plan of God for salvation, ‘the Gospel’: I am guilty and I do deserve the punishment that justice demands BUT Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has died on the Cross in my place and when I accept that truth, the Bible tells me I am justified, I am put right in God’s eyes and in the eyes of justice because the punishment has been taken for my Sin.

As the apostle Paul wrote, This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (Rom 3:22) and then he explains, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” (Rom 4:3) and applies that to us,  The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Rom 4:23-25) When we believe (and remember we’ve seen previously faith means belief in action, i.e. we respond to what we hear) that Jesus is God’s Son and that he died for our sins and was raised from the dead to prove that this was right and acceptable to God, we are justified.

In God’s eyes it is faith that He uses to measure our righteousness. He declares us righteous (right before Him) when He sees this faith in us – this belief accompanied by action, belief in Jesus. As it was in the case of Abraham in the Old Testament period, so it is with us today. That, and only that, is why I and all of us who know we are Christians, born again of His Spirit, can say we are not burdened by guilt.

Freed! This is the wonder for the true believer, we know our propensity to get it wrong but we seek with God’s help not to; we know we are less than perfect and yet we know that the basis of our relationship with God relies upon what Jesus has achieved on the Cross, him taking my punishment and satisfying justice, leaving me to simply believe that and receive all that He has to give me as we live out this new life of relationship. I am thus freed from guilt and free to live in the wonder of this relationship with God whereby He provides for me through His Spirit.

Dealing with Failure: For the believer living in relationship with God, brought about by the work of Christ on the Cross and now enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit we are, in line with the apostle Paul’s teaching, to consider that we “have died to sin,” (Rom 6:2) and so we are to, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:11) Nevertheless, although our objective is never to sin, there will be times when we trip over our feet, if I may put it like that, and get it wrong.

The apostle John recognized that when he wrote, ”I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) and he had just written, if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil.” (1 Jn 1:9) To summarize: we should not sin, but if on the occasion we do, we are to confess it to God, repent of it, and Jesus’ work on the cross applies again to us. We do not need to go on feeling guilty, but just get on living positively for Christ. This is what all true believers are called to. Do you remember the first study in this Part (no.8) was all about the fact that a Christian is different from a non-Christian? Here is the first of the things that come about when we are born again that make us different: I am justified (put right) in God’s eyes by what Jesus has done for me. I don’t have to struggle to get right with God, just believe that Jesus has made it possible, and receive it and live it! Hallelujah!

30. Redeemed To (3)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 30. Redeemed To (3)

Eph 2:6,7    God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Recap Again: We are looking at the verses in Eph 2 that follow on from those where Paul describes our ‘old life’ and we said that from verse 4 he balances out those things with the things God had made us to be and is making us to be: alive to Him (v.5), joined with Christ (v.6), recipients of His incredible blessings (v.7). In the previous two studies we considered something of what it means to be ‘alive’ spiritually, and what it means to be joined with Christ, seated with him in the heavenly realms.  We move on now to the third aspect.

Incomparable:  The idea of ‘the riches of his grace’ sounds manageable until we note the word ‘incomparable’ which simply means cannot be compared to anything else, unmatched, unique, unparalleled, i.e. there is NOTHING else like it! Whatever this means it is mind blowing and because it is that enormous, that incredible, it is probably challenged by our intellect that says, ‘Surely that can’t be!” And of course you know who from Gen 3 is there in the background encouraging us to think like that. Our great danger as Christians, is that we get caught up in family life, caught up in our work, caught up in the bizarre goings-on of the world today, and we lose perspective, we forget who we are, who God is and what he has done for us, and so we live mundane lives of struggle instead of gloriously equipped lives of blessing. Let’s change that! Let’s think about what these things mean!

Familiar acts of God’s Grace:  There are certain aspects of God’s grace, His working out the effects of Christ’s work on the Cross when He finds a responding repentant heart in us, that I refer to quite often in these studies and because they become familiar they tend to lose their wonder.

First, there is the fact of our justification when we turn to Christ, the fact that God puts us legally right with Him and with justice, ‘just as if’ we’d never sinned. That involves forgiveness and the removal of our guilt so that we can be at ease with God and no longer fearful of any punishment.

Second, there is the fact of our being adopted as God’s children (Jn 1:12,14, Rom 8:14-17, Gal 3:26, 1 Jn 3:1) and we receive a new identity, ‘sons of God’ (Rom 8:15, Gal 4:6, Eph 1:5) which implies the possibility of an intimate relationship with Almighty God, a sharing of His heart, and an entering into His ‘business’ (that’s the significance of ‘sons’ in the OT).

Then, third, to enable those things to be worked out practically on a day to day basis, He imparted His own Holy Spirit to indwell us, to both empower us and be a conduit of revelation from Him to us.  Now I just said that these things become familiar and familiarity takes away the wonder of the reality, so let’s try and expand on those things and try and capture something of the wonder that is there.

Our Justification: Many see this as some theoretical, theological aspect with little practical outworking but exactly the opposite is true. The fact that we have been justified by God means that we don’t have to work to try to impress God, get Him on our side or even to forgive us – because He has already done that. How many Christians subtly still try to DO things to make themselves right with God? You can’t He’s already done it. Reading the Bible, praying, witnessing, going to church, are all good things in themselves but they are not what makes you a child of God, they are, as is often glibly said, ‘the icing on the cake’. You and I are guilt free, forgiven, and children of God.

All over the world there are millions of people who do not know that about themselves, and it has crippling effects. Only yesterday I sat in a (non-Christian) forum about homelessness and listened to a number of those from the local authority and other agencies who work with the homeless, and as they rolled out the causes, again and again they mentioned relationship breakdowns and even mental health issues, and both causes, they said (these non-Christians) were increasing daily and are often interlinked. This in a nation that is one of the most affluent in the world, that has so much and yet so little because the vast majority (possibly between 93 to 95%) are self-centred and godless. Most show little interest in God or spiritual matters, so caught up are they in materialism. On the outside, so much seems good in the nation, but look into individual lives and you find people who feel guilty but don’t know why, people who struggle with themselves and with the people around them for self-accreditation, self-approval, but constantly fail to get it. Why? Because it only comes with God’s forgiveness because of Christ.

Our adoption: Then, we said, there is this matter if our being adopted as children of God, even ‘sons’ of God. The world derides us and says how dare you make such claims, but our answer has to be that it is not OUR claim but that of the Bible and of God. This is our anchor point in life, everything hinges on this, my goals, my desires, my aims and objectives, my endeavours. Yes, I may have a job, yes I may have various roles in life – husband, father, worker etc. etc. – but actually the meaning that underpins my life NOW is that I am a child of God.

Father: Some of us struggle with the concept of God as Father, because of our earthly experiences, but dare you see Him as loving, gentle, caring, compassionate, understanding, forgiving (all things the Bible says of Him) and see yourself in a picture, as a little child snuggled up on His lap, totally secure, utterly bathed in love and peace, because that is what this idea of adoption enables us to have.

Empowered: This is what He is redeeming us to, to realise the reality of this, that His Holy Spirit really and truly does indwell us, a concept that is unbelievable by the world, that God could put a part of Himself in us, to link us to Him, and to act as a power source and channel of revelation. While the world struggles with self-help courses and so often wakes each day with a sense of dread at the day to come, you and I wake with the knowledge that we are children of God and have within us a spring of living water, just waiting to spring up afresh for today, to refresh us, wash us, to satisfy our thirst and be a life source for the day. But it is not just an impersonal power source, like adrenalin, it is HIM. But here is the challenge; if you are like me, it is a struggle to believe that reality, it is something we have to declare again and again. The Bible says it, so I must believe it. It is a reality and yet it is a reality that clashes with my old self-centred focus that so often is there. I have to purposefully pause and be still to know that He is God – here, now this moment, and He indwells me, and He’s here for me.

The Reality: Be honest, the things of the day call, the concerns of the day distract, I wake up after a poor night and feel weak, the burdens of life call to me, the lacks of church life cause me anguish – but He is here and I need reminding of that, I need to declare it afresh and then experience it, and when sometimes it is not so clear and obvious, just trust. But the truth is still here in this; on a bad day when I feel weak, suddenly, almost inexplicably, strength seems to come from somewhere, and I sense His provision to enable me to get on being the person He’s called me to be and do the things He’s called me to do. On a bad day when I feel confused and the way of the world seems even more chaotic and the church doesn’t seem to be living up to its potential, suddenly, almost inexplicably, a peace descends, and I know He is still in charge, and together we can face it. On a bad day when I am confronted with perplexing problems and paralyzing situations and antagonistic people, suddenly, almost inexplicably, a sense of what needs to be done settles in my mind and that sense of peace returns and He conveys His wisdom to see us through the maze of life.

Perhaps more than any other study I have ever written, I am left with a sense of having fallen short as we have started to ponder what these words – incomparable riches – mean, a sense that rather like the iceberg, still nine-tenths of it is still hidden. Maybe I’ll have to try to continue it tomorrow, maybe not, we’ll see.  But this is what He calls us to, this is what He is redeeming us to. I am a child of God.

67. The God of Peace

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  67.  The God of Peace

Heb 13:20,21   May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

There are some things that are so fundamental to our faith that I believe we often forget them and the whole issue of peace and God being a God of peace, being one of them. Now we will look at these two verses in more depth in the next study where we will consider ‘God who equips’, but for the moment we will simply focus on ‘the God of peace’ because it is so simple, so obvious and yet so fundamental to our Faith.

The God of Peace: Sometimes it comes to us so simply in scripture, for example, The God of peace be with you all.” (Rom 15:33) It was also there is the message to the shepherds by the angels heralding the coming of baby Jesus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14) i.e. God’s desire for all mankind is peace for everyone and Jesus is His way of bringing peace to everyone.  The apostle Peter brought this same message to the first Gentile converts: “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:36)

Lacking Peace in the world: But this all supposes that peace is lacking from mankind – and of course it is! Now the Hebrew word that is used for peace is ‘shalom’ which does mean peace but it is bigger than that and really means ‘wholeness’, or ‘completeness’. We are made to have a relationship with God but where that is missing, we are incomplete and we lack peace. It is simply how mankind is designed. Of course it is sin that separates us from God and keeps us from being whole. It is only the teaching of the New Testament that reveals this in the world. Nowhere else is there this realization. Various other world religions recognize that there is dysfunction in us but no other declares that it is because of our Sin and that God has provided an answer through His Son.

Jesus makes peace: The apostle Paul spoke of this: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:19) God is the maker of peace by reconciliation. He reconciled us to Himself by Jesus taking our punishment for our sins, and satisfying justice.

Zechariah declared it: This message was delivered right at the beginning of the Gospel story when Zechariah was filled with the Spirit and prophesied over his son, John, later to be known as ‘the Baptist’, when he declared, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Lk 1:76-79)

What an amazing word! John would go before his Lord to prepare the people to receive the salvation that God had planned for them, a real salvation that provided for forgiveness of their sins so that no longer need they feel guilty and apart from God. Previously it had been as if they were living in darkness, a place of fear and questions and doubts, but once this salvation came it would be like they were living in a new world, in the light where everything was visible, seen by God but no longer fearful of His judgment, death coming on them, because He had provided a salvation that included being a peace between them and Him.

Palm Sunday: One fascinating place where peace is referred to is when the crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem at the beginning of his last week (Palm Sunday) before Passover (our Easter):“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk 19:38) The crowds welcomed Jesus as their Messiah, the conquering king who had come to save them (from the Romans they thought). Their cries signified that they recognized, for a moment at least, that Jesus had been sent by heaven to bring God’s blessing to them which meant ‘peace in heaven’. Now they may not have realized what they were saying but that was exactly what he had come to do by taking the punishment for all sin and thus bringing peace in heaven, peace in God’s heart as He could receive sinful men to Himself.

The effect of Justification: The apostle Paul spoke of this work or process of putting us right with the demands of the Law and of justice as ‘justification’ which some have paraphrased as “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned; that is the effect of the work of Jesus on the Cross, and the end outworking of that work is peace for us: “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:1)

The outworking of Sanctification: But it isn’t just about what happens when God puts us right with Himself through Christ and we first receive it, it is also about how God views us throughout our following lives and what He intends for us, His changing us, which theologians call ‘sanctification’: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through,” (1 Thess5:23) and His overall intent for us: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.” (2 Thes 3:16) In every aspect of our lives, God intends that we should be at peace.

From before the world: Now our writer is going on to say what is an outworking of this peace – that God equips us to live as He wants – but in so doing he summarizes all that we have been saying in a power packed verse that we saw at the beginning: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep….” (v.20) Note, first, He has done what He has done because as we have noted earlier in this series, the plan of salvation was decided upon by the Trinity before time-space history came into being, i.e. it was an ‘eternal covenant’  set up right back then.  Note, second, this covenant involved Jesus’ blood being shed, his life being given up, again agreed before the foundation of the world. Note, third, once he had given his life it opened the way for the Father to step in and raise up the body from the dead because it had achieved what it was sent to achieve. Note, fourth, Jesus had been sent to do what he did, and that included to act as a shepherd to collect and return to the Father, all who would hear his voice and return to him and follow him (“When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Jn 10:4)

Conclusion: God wants your life to be founded on peace. Peace is to be the bedrock of your life. Know it, live in it and rejoice.

10. Ongoing Salvation

Meditations in Romans : 10:  Ongoing Salvation

Rom 5:9,10   Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Note again the order of what Paul has been saying in this chapter. First of all he spoke of what I have called the fruit of justification – peace with God and access to His grace (v.1-2) which enables us to rejoice in who we are and even in trying circumstances (v.2,3) which build perseverance, character and hope in us (v.4,5). But then, just to make sure we don’t get carried away with any ideas of self-effort or pride, he reminds us that we were powerless, ungodly sinners when God loved us and sent Jesus to die for us (v.6-8)

Now he seeks to reassure us about the ongoing nature of our salvation. The starting point was our justification when we came to Christ. At that moment we were born again and changed, and it was all because of Christ’s blood, because of what he had achieved on the Cross. We do need to come back to that basic truth again and again, that we are what we are because of what Jesus has achieved on the Cross. It is entirely because of what HE has done that we are justified.

So look, says Paul, if at the moment of conversion we have been justified by what HE has done, doesn’t that mean even more that we will be saved from God’s wrath that is due to sinners, as we go on in this new Christian life? The whole point of Him justifying us is so that we no longer have to come under God’s judgment because our sin and its guilt have been dealt with. Justice has been appeased and no longer cries out for the things we have done or will do, to be judged, because Jesus has completely dealt with all that. The future, as God’s children, is judgment free!

Then to make the point even more forcibly, it’s as if he goes on, look, stop and think about this a bit more. We saw just now (and agreed) that we were powerless, ungodly sinners when Christ died for us.  In other words we were still clearly his enemies when he died for us. We had nothing to commend us, nothing beyond HIS love to warrant him doing what he did. So if he died for us when we were still his enemies, how much more will he think and feel about us now that we have been reconciled to him and brought into relationship with him and made His sons?

Christ’s death was the thing that enabled us to be reconciled to God – and that has now happened. Because his love for us was so obvious by his going to the Cross for us, how much more must he feel now we have been made part of his family, children of God? If it was good before we came to know him, how much more wonderful must it be not that we have come to know him. Remember, we didn’t contribute to any of that; it was all the free gift of God. We didn’t earn it then and we can’t earn His blessing now.

This is a very simple and straight forward argument and it is simply Paul reassuring us about our future. Some of the Jews in Rome might have been wondering about God’s feelings towards them and, indeed, some of us might wonder similarly thinking, “Oh my goodness, what have I done? What is God going to demand of me know? Have I just opened the door to receive God’s ongoing corrective anger?”

No, the truth is that when we were justified, God dealt with all of His anger against sin, because our sin and guilt had been transferred to Jesus so there was nothing left for Him to be angry about. And if He loved us while He was making that provision, how much more will He express His love towards us now that all that sin and guilt have been taken away and we’ve been made His sons.

Imagine a modern prodigal son type of picture. A son goes away and ends up in the mud of the pigsty, a total mess. In this story the loving Father comes along and says, “Do you want me to help you?” The Son replies, “Yes,” and so the Father hauls him out of the pigsty, hoses him down and then takes him to a spa clinic where he is further washed and cleansed and treated with oils. Now that is the equivalent of our being justified.  Do you think the son in this story is worrying about what is yet to come? Maybe, in our thinking at least, he worries that he is going to get a thorough telling off for having got himself in such a predicament and be put through harsh training to ensure he never goes back to the pigsty. But if he wondered that, he is ignoring the wonder of what his Father has just done. If the Father has so graciously saved him, washed and cleansed him, he’s not going to beat up on him now. No, every sign in what has happened says his Father is just very glad his son has been able to be rescued and the future can now be spent in just entering into being a proper son again and enjoying all the benefits of being part of this family. This is what Paul is saying in these verses. Rejoice, for God has saved us for good days ahead! Hallelujah!

8. Life Flow

Meditations in Romans : 8:  Life Flow

Rom 5:3-5  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us

Having started off with what we might call the fruits of justification – peace with God and access to His grace – this, says Paul, produces a rejoicing in us as we realise that we are entering into a personal relationship with God whereby we share in His Spirit and in His future. It also means that that rejoicing flows over into all areas and aspects of our lives and that includes the hard bit where we suffer as Christians. So, yes, His resources, His grace, are there available for us in every area of life and in every circumstance.

But actually, he goes on, we can rejoice in the difficult circumstances not only because of the power source we have within, but also because of the effect that such suffering will have upon us. He then embarks on a list of things that flow from one another.

Because we have this access to His grace, when suffering comes, His grace enables us to continue without wavering – that is what perseverance is. How often today do we watch people face a difficulty and then just give up? Young people, it seems, so often get married and then go through a difficult patch and give up on the marriage. Perseverance sees you through that time into better times without giving up. How often does a student find that the work was harder than they thought it was going to be and so give up the course?  How many inventors or writers or composers would fail to succeed in their work if they gave up the moment they hit a dry patch. No, perseverance is a key to success. I wonder how many “How to Succeed” manuals cover perseverance. When the enemy comes and opposes us, it is perseverance that sees us through.

But perseverance is also an ingredient in itself that goes to form that thing that we call character. If you look up a dictionary definition of ‘character’, you tend to find such things as, “pattern of behaviour or personality found in an individual, moral constitution, moral strength; reliability, self-discipline, fortitude, etc that produces a good reputation”. We also speak of ‘bad characters’ in a play or story or film, meaning disreputable, unreliable, dubious, and so on. The act of having to struggle with life and to fight your way through difficult circumstances brings about a change of being within you. There comes a steadfastness and reliability or unchangeableness. You learn to cope, you learn to press through and all these things bring about an inner strength that we call character. It isn’t much spoken about in today’s society because we prefer the easy, comfortable way, but such people give up easily. Not so Christians!

These things were exhibited in Paul himself when he wrote, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12-14). Note the language! It is the language of an overcomer who is not going to give up but who is going to make effort to get where he knows God wants him to be. Is that us? Do we too press on, strain forward in our calling, or do we look for the easy way, the way that requires little or no effort. Even in writing these notes every morning I have to press on, for the temptation is always there not to bother. There are the key words the enemy uses, “Oh, I wouldn’t bother if I were you. It won’t matter. Give up. Stop all this straining and struggling. Surely the Christian life shouldn’t be like that.” Don’t listen to him!

Now when this character forms in us, this steadfastness, we find something else becoming clearer and clearer within us – hope. Hope in the Scriptural sense is a sure confidence, an assurance of what is coming. Hope is about what is still in the future, the goal that God has called us to, to become more like Jesus, to accomplish some particular task perhaps, to achieve the vision that He has put on our heart. As we persevere, so we find this strong steadfastness becoming established in us, character, and as that forms we have this growing sense that what we are aiming for WILL be achieved. That is hope.

As this process continues, we find also a greater awareness of God’s love within us, for we realise all of this is no accident, but a process that was initiated and empowered by God Himself and is one of the ways He is pouring His love into your life. As we wait for the vision to be fulfilled we realise that this love, His presence, is there sustaining us and encouraging us. In fact the whole process is part of His love and as we progress, as we develop, as we mature, we realise that all that is going on in us is a work of His love. How wonderful!

3. Law or Promise

Meditations in Romans : 3:  Law or Promise

Rom 4:13   It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.  

Paul has just dealt with circumcision as a possible form of ‘works’, something to be done which may make a Jew feel ‘justified’ or approved by God, by their actions, but then, thinks Paul to himself, if you are going to think of works by conforming to requirements as false causes for justification, the greatest example of that has got to be the Law.  Again, a Jew might think that by keeping the rules of the Law that makes him righteous and right with God, not realising that there is still plenty of scope to be unrighteous in our thoughts.

So Paul thinks back to Abraham again, but this time to the original promise of blessing that Abraham had received: “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” Wow!  The promise came to Abram (Gen 12:1-) that the world would be blessed through him and his future offspring, but to receive that offspring he had to respond positively in faith to God. As far as he was concerned his body was as good as dead when it came to having children – and the same was true of his wife – yet he responded to God’s word to him with belief, and that was the thing that justified him and enabled the Lord to declare him righteous.  The Law hadn’t been given until over four hundred years later. He was declared righteous before the Law came. His faith-response hadn’t been in respect of the Law but in respect of the Promise.

No, look, says Paul, you’ve got to think about these things, “For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless.” (4:14). Abraham was promised future generations who would be heirs or receivers of that promise of God that they would be blessed. However, if doers of the Law given centuries later were the receivers of the blessing, the original promise was meaningless, for it was given to those who simply believed God. More than that, it is worthless “because law brings wrath.” (4:15a).

The promise of blessing given to Abram meant a good relationship with the Lord whereby He imparted this blessing, but all trying to keep rules does, is create a sense of guilt in the person who constantly fails, and anger in God who is displeased at their failure. The Law, was meant to be a help to guide people into a good way of living but, because of the presence of Sin in each of us, just means that we yet have something else that highlights our sin. The fact is, says Paul, “where there is no law there is no transgression.” (4:15b) i.e. if there were no rules to be kept we wouldn’t constantly be failing. As we just said, the Law simply highlights our propensity to get it wrong! Behind all this, don’t forget, is the point that Paul is trying to make to Jews who might be relying on Law-keeping for their status before God: it doesn’t work like that!

No, says Paul, this justification that comes via a promise is actually all-inclusive and covers Jews trying to keep the Law and Gentiles who don’t have the Law: “the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” (4:16) Yes, that promise given to Abraham covers everyone who turns to God, those who simply by faith believe without knowing about the Law, AND those in Israel who are seeking to keep the Law and whose hearts are turned to the Lord.

Paul summarises it: “As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” (4:17) The Lord had promised Abram that he would be father of many nations (see Gen 17:5) but was actually referring to him being a father to all who had faith in God. You may think (possibly implied in the direction of Jewish believers) that Gentiles are dead to God and there’s no hope for them but Abraham’s experience of God bringing life from his apparently dead body, makes the point: God can bring life where we think there is only death.

There is a challenge here for us today: never look at anyone and write them off as too hard. It doesn’t matter how hard they appear, how evil they seem, how steeped in sin they seem; no one is impossible for God. There will be those who leave this planet to go to hell by their own choice, but they may be people who even appear good to us – ungodly but good. Goodness isn’t the criteria; it is response to God. I have looked back in my life and I have two examples of men who appeared utterly hard and hopeless. Never in a million years were they going to come to God – but they did! We don’t know why it is that some, however hard they appear, do turn and others who appear good, don’t. It is a mystery – but it is so. You and I cannot look at any man or woman and say they’ll never come to Christ. We just don’t know!  So keep your heart open to all people. You never know what might happen!

43. Vindication

God in the Psalms No.43 – God who Vindicates

Psa 26:1 Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.

There are times when we have been going through life quietly, minding our own business, when suddenly someone makes an unfounded accusation against us. We are hurt by it, but what makes it worse is that others listen to the accusation and wonder if it is true. At that point we want to be vindicated, we want the world to see that it is not true.  Or it may be that a certain course of action seems obvious to us – but not to others. We take it and then start wondering. We were sure about it but it’s going to take a while for the fruit of it to be seen. In the meanwhile you’re aware that people are questioning the wisdom of going this way. You long for success to come for you want to be vindicated in the eyes of the watchers.

This is how David feels.  David is aware that he lives in the midst of people who, he describes, are deceitful men, hypocrites,  evildoers, wicked (v.4,5) sinners, bloodthirsty men, in whose hands are wicked schemes, whose right hands are full of bribes” (v.9,10). It seems he is conscious that he stands out among them and (implied) they point fingers at him. It’s like the Christian working in the midst of people who are unbelievers and who point fingers at them for being ‘religious’ or a ‘goody-two-shoes’! The reality is they are upset by being shown up so they make comments, or worse. It’s normal in those circumstances to cry out, “Vindicate me, O Lord!”

In his appeal to the Lord, David now lists all the things he has been doing right: “I have trusted in the LORD without wavering” (v.1), I walk continually in your truth(v.3), I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites (v.4) and so on. It’s like he is saying, Lord, I have sought to please you in all I do. Please show the world around me that this was the right way. Please justify me!

Justify is a word that goes with vindication. To justify means to show the rightness of a person’s actions. Justification is a key theme in the New Testament. It’s all about how God has vindicated His actions, sending Jesus to the Cross, by making you right in His sight. Paul said, “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith” (Gal 3:8). One of those Scriptures that Paul spoke about was, “my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (Isa 53;11). Perhaps one of the other Scriptures was simply, the LORD will vindicate his people (Psa 135:14). Paul was to go on and write: we have been justified through faith(Rom 5:1), “we have now been justified by his blood” (Rom 5:9), “those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Rom 8:30) and “it is with your heart that you believe and are justified (Rom 10:10).

This is all about God putting us right in his eyes. But what about in the eyes of the world?  Well, we’re to do the same as David; we’re to seek to ensure that everything we say and do is right and glorifies God (Mt 5:16, 1Pet 2:12,15, 3:1,2). Even if we do receive opposition, says Peter in his first letter, such people “should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Pet 4:19). Ah, have you noted the goal of this vindication in these verses? It is to ensure God is glorified. As David put it at the end of this Psalm, as he realized what his position really was: “My feet stand on level ground; in the great assembly I will praise the LORD” (v.12). That was the truth: with the Lord it was fine!  Just let God be glorified.

Right with God

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Rom 3:27 ,28
We…. know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. Gal 2:16
Justification is a key doctrine for the Christian which is the outworking of the work of Christ on the Cross as it is received by us. Why have we left it this late? Because we’ve been focussing on the work of Christ on the Cross, and strictly speaking we were not justified by the Cross, we are justified by God after faith, on the basis of the Cross.
At various times in these meditations we have been seeking to show that what Christ achieved on the Cross was sufficient for the salvation of any and every person who would respond in repentance to him. There was nothing any one of us could have added to it. It was complete as an act by God to establish the basis for our salvation, but it was not our salvation. That only came when we responded in faith to this good news. Then and only were we ‘justified’.
So what is ‘justification’? It is the instantaneous legal act of God whereby He declares our sins forgiven and taken by Christ, and Christ’s righteousness declared as now belonging to us, so that we are now righteous in His sight. Why ‘instantaneous’? Because it happens the very moment when we believe and surrender to God, seeking His forgiveness and newness of life, i.e. at the moment when we exercise faith.  Hence faith is the key that brings the already complete work of Christ to bear on our lives.
There is no merit in our faith; we have not earned this justification, we have simply received it as an act of grace by God. When we believed what He has done and said, then by an act of grace on God’s part, He declared that that work of Christ on the Cross, that dealt with our sins, now applied to us and we were justified. In normal usage, a dictionary definition of ‘to justify’ means ‘to show the justice or rightness of a person or act’. Note the closeness of the words ‘justify’ and ‘justice’. Thus, to justify means that justice has been done, and we have been put right with the Law, and the basis of that is Christ’s work on the Cross.
Lord, thank you that you provided the completed work of Christ for me to believe in, and when I did you declared me free from my sin and guilt, and now righteous in your sight.