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!

13. Clean & Planted

Meditations in James: 13 :  Clean and Planted

Jas 1:21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Whenever a verse starts with ‘therefore’ it is a consequence or requirement flowing on from what has gone before. Context we have so often said is very important. The verse before, that we looked at yesterday, said, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Our verse today therefore flows on from the thought of the righteous life that God desires.

The most simple thought that flows on from that is that God has specific desires. Some people think that God is just some disinterested ‘Being’ who is ‘out there’ and who really doesn’t care at all what happens here on earth. Nothing could be further from the truth. God has designed this world to work in a particular way and the role of science is to discover part of that way. However, note that it is only part of that way because science has so far locked itself in to measuring only the ‘material’ aspects of existence. Part of this ‘particular way’ that the world has been designed to work, involved having God in it, and when it comes to human beings this is no less so.

God has designed us to operate best when we are living and working in relationship to Him. He is Life and relating to Him means we receive that additional dimension to existence which means we are more than electrically charged brain cells ensuring blood is pumped around the body and breath is inhaled and exhaled to charge the lungs. Now why are we saying all this? We are saying it to convey a broader sense of the meaning of the word ‘righteous’. Very simply a righteous life is one that is living in harmony with God conforming to God’s will as received through the Scriptures and confirmed and applied by His Spirit. If we are ‘word and Spirit’ people we will be seeking to live in harmony with Him, our Lord. When we do this we will be living righteous lives, not lives focused on rules but on Him, lives that are living out in accordance with His design.

Now you don’t have to look around you very far to see many people living out lives that are clearly not in accordance with God’s design as seen in His word. If we were able to be a fly on a wall we would observe many people who are lacking peace, many people who are stressed and worried and anxious, many people who are being unkind and selfish, many people not caring about anyone else apart from themselves, many people seeking to harm others, many people following self-harming practices as they disregard their Maker. You only have to see the fruit of these lives to know that there must be a better way, for this is fruit that is self-destructive and destructive of others,  but then that, we know from Scripture, is Satan’s desire for God’s creation (Jn 8:44). James sums all this up as moral filth and evil that is so prevalent.

Look, he is saying, that is how the world lives, but it is not the righteous life that God desires for us, a life of love and fulfillment being lived out with Him. Get rid of all this he says. That is your responsibility; that is your part of the life in Christ. You have the capability of choosing and making an act of will. Exercise that free-will by making sure that none of that stuff is left in your life. As we’ve said previously, you are a different person, a special person, a God-person, someone living a much better life, a more fulfilling life, a righteous life in harmony with God. As we’ve recently seen, God is good and therefore evil has no place in Him or in those who relate to Him. Get rid of it.

But James doesn’t leave it just with a negative injunction; he adds a very positive one: humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. In verse 18 he had spoken of God choosing to give us birth through the word of truth, a reference to the way that God brought us to Himself. God had brought the truth to bear on our lives and when we saw the truth we realized our need and accepted the truth about Jesus and gave our lives over to God who promptly cleansed, forgave and energized them. Now God’s word is described as living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Heb 4:12). Jesus’ parable of the Sower (Mt 13:3-8) was all about the effects of God’s word in different heart conditions (Mt 13:18-23). It finished with, the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown,” (v.23) a clear picture of God’s word, His truth, working within us to bring great changes.

Now there is one little uncomfortable word that we have not considered so far: humbly! The old life was proud and arrogant and thought it knew best. When we came to Christ we realize that we didn’t know best and so we submitted to him and to his word. In other words we came humbly to him, but I wonder how many Christians, as they go through life, lose some of that humility? You know the answer to that as you think about how you view God’s word and how you think about the sermon that is preached in most churches every Sunday. If you come to it with a hungry, open heart that is teachable, you are coming in humility, but if you come with indifference you have allowed pride and arrogance to grow. We will only grow in our Christian faith if we come to God and to His word humbly, with open, teachable hearts. See what James says this approach does; it can save you. Yes, you have been saved, but your life on this earth is the process of being saved so that when you get to heaven you will be well and truly saved. The word saved has connotations of wholeness. If you want to come to a place of wholeness under God’s hand, allowing Him to restore you to the design He has in mind for you, then you will humbly allow His word to work in you. That is how He has designed it to be. Let His word do that, let Him keep on changing you to bring you into that wholeness that He has on His heart for you.