19. A Right Approach

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  19. A Right Approach

Psa 4:5    Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord.

Context: So often with the psalms (and I suppose with so much other Scripture) you have to catch the flow of the verses to better understand where you are. David, we have seen, cried out for relief in his difficult circumstances (v.1) but the Lord called for us to look at the bigger picture of the state of the nation in which those circumstances flowed (v.2). David’s response within that is to declare his faith role that opens up the relationship with the Lord that brings the confidence that the Lord hears him when he cries out to Him (v.3). Then we saw that verse 4 was a call to hold a right perspective in respect of wrongs, to be angry but not allow it to become something out of control but simply something that highlights the wrong to be presented to the Lord (v.4).

Imperfect life: There is underlying all of this a constant awareness of living in a Fallen World where sin abounds, people do wrong, and the walk of the children of God is to be a walk of righteousness, but that is not always as easy as we might like it to be. We get it wrong, we stumble, we occasionally give way to temptation, we fail and have to repent, pick ourselves up and start again. How easy those words flow, how glib we can be, so what grounds do we have to be able to utter them?

Approaching God: Have you ever wondered why Leviticus exists with all its talk about sacrifices and offerings?  Pages of talk about sacrificing animals or birds? It’s all about how the Israelites were to maintain a right attitude, a right perspective, in respect of God, how they could come back into a right place after failure. There were fellowship offerings that could be used as expressions of their desire for a good relationship with the Lord; there were sin and guilt offerings to deal with failure – and don’t we as frail human beings get it wrong sometimes! Here they were called to be a holy people, the people of God and yet they are still very ordinary human beings and human beings never get it entirely right. It’s not even a case of not living up to God’s standards, it also about not living up to our own standards, or maybe the expectations of the community around us. So if we get it wrong in their eyes or even our own eyes, how can we (they) possibly have a relationship with a holy God?

The work of Sacrifice: The answer had to be to simply do what He said when you sinned. The sacrificial law was there and was taught: you offered a particular sacrifice in the manner laid down. In one sense it was simply your obedience to the Law of Moses, given by God, that put you right. At a deeper level it was the awareness that another life was taken (of an animal or bird) instead of yours to pay the price of justice in respect of your sin and your guilt. So there was an obedience factor and an atonement factor and perhaps also there was a deterrent fact; when you saw the life ebbing out of an animal at your hands, the severity of the punishment would speak of the seriousness in the eyes of God (it has to be Him for sin so often blinds our eyes so we don’t realise how serious it is) of what you had done, and that experience would hopefully ensure you would not repeat it.

The act of the righteous: And so we come back to David, very conscious of the fallen nature of himself and mankind around him, of the fact that they stood before a holy God who has just spoken about their shortcomings. It doesn’t matter what the sin, how minor or how serious, the path of righteousness is the path of the sacrificial law. For the Israelite that was the path of righteousness, acknowledgement of failure, of sin, and then a response in accord with the Law of Moses found in Leviticus. So the sacrifice of the righteous is first obedience in attitude and then the offering as the expression of that obedience.

Trust in God: For them – and us – there is always the human desire to try and work ourselves out of a place of guilt and shame, we always try and justify ourselves and if we can’t explain away our sin, we try and make up for it and compensate for our failure by doing something ‘good’.  Some over-zealous and misguided believers of the past (and maybe a few in the present) used to beat themselves or wear sacking as a form of penance, but all such things are acts of ‘self’ and are nothing to do with the faith that the Bible speaks of.

So when David says, “and trust in the Lord,” that is not just a reference to a general way of living but is a specific command in respect of our attitude towards how our sin is to be dealt with. No, we are not to be complacent and just shrug it off, saying, “Well everybody sins, so what.” No, God is concerned that in the big picture justice is done, justice is appeased. Justice is that demand that wrongs are properly dealt with, paid for, that unfairness becomes fair, that injustice becomes just. We all have this instinct and although it may not come out until we personally suffer at the hands of another, it is there.

Past and Present: The good news is that you and I no longer have to offer sacrifices because Jesus’ death on the Cross acted as a once and for all sacrifice that covers all and any sin. (Heb 9:14,25-28, 10:10,14). The sacrificial system of the Law of Moses looked forward to the coming and work of Christ, although the people then did not realise that. The sacrifice brought was, as we’ve said, an act of obedience, this is God’s way laid down for how to deal with your failure, your sin.

Today the call to you and me is to believe what the Bible says, that Jesus has died for all our sins and so when we sin, we confess it and repent (1 Jn 1:9) and we are forgiven on the basis of what he has done. When we have sinned and the Holy Spirit has convicted us, the weight of the failure so often makes it difficult to believe that all it needs is our repentance and the work of the Cross deals with it, removes it and cleanses us of it. That is where the trust comes in. We have to trust that what we read is true – there is no other way – that God’s way of dealing with our wrongs was the Cross and we can do nothing to add to that. All we can do is believe it and ask for forgiveness on the basis of it – and then trust that forgiveness HAS been granted.

Yes, we live in a fallen world and we get it wrong and, yes, God is a holy God, but HE has decreed the way back from our sin that satisfies justice and we must simply accept that, give thanks and not try to add to it. Blow it?  Confess it, ask for forgiveness on the basis that Jesus has died to pay for that sin, believe it, trust God be at peace and go on living thankfully. It’s a new day ahead.

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15. Continuation

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  15. Continuation (start of Psalm 4)

Psa 4:1    Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

Look again!  At first sight this first verse is just another of those cries of David that become so familiar in these psalms, and perhaps because of that I know it is another of those verses that in the past I have just skimmed over without giving it any real consideration. If that is true of you, let’s slow ourselves down and chew it over, meditate upon it and see what is behind it.

Urgency: It comes at the beginning of a psalm that may well be a continuation of the previous psalm for there are similarities, so it may be still on the occasion of David being on the run from Absalom. Having said that there do seem to be some stronger spiritual elements in it, but that may just be because David is thinking more about the nature of the people who are ousting him. In the middle of Psalm 3 we read, “I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain,” (3:4) but now there appears a stronger urgency, not merely a testimony: “Answer me when I call to you.”  This has that feel to it of, “Lord, I’m crying out to you, I need you to hear me, I need you to respond to me.” It is a strange thing but unbelievers may pray but without any conviction. It takes a firm, committed believer to suffer frustration with God, because we believe in Him, we believe He has given us a channel to Him in prayer, and we believe He is a communicating God and so we expect Him to hear us and answer. For these reasons it is the committed believer who puts urgency into such praying.

God’s Righteousness: But then we come to a phrase which produces a variety of translations. The ESV and NKJV both have “O God of my righteousness,” while the NLT has, “O God who declares me innocent,” while the NRSV has, “O God of my right.” Now although there may be some cause for the translators to take this uncertain phrase in this direction, I think theologically, from what we know of David, in this instance he is relying upon what he knows about God and is not appealing to his own righteousness (which he does do elsewhere) because if this is what we think, a continuation of his appeal on the run from Absalom, he knows he has not been righteous and is indeed under God’s discipline because of two acts of extreme unrighteousness, so he would not be appealing on that basis.

Now this is an important and significant point. I am maintaining that the NIV that we are using here conveys most accurately what David is thinking and saying when he says, “my righteous God.” He is affirming his belief in God, not in himself. God does all things rightly – including bringing discipline and including delaying in answering specific prayers sometimes – that is what is behind this prayer of this man described as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22). He will not blame God! He will not make himself out to be righteous and blame God either for his circumstances or for the apparent slowness in seeing an answer to his prayer.

And us? I believe our circumstances sometimes present a test for us, there to see how we will respond under trying circumstances. I believe I have been and still am facing such a trial, such a test at the present time and I watch others and see similar tests. Such trials make us grow up and mature, and they reveal to us (as well as to the Lord who already knows!) just where we are at in God’s redemptive process in our lives. It is only with His grace, apprehending it, taking hold of it and applying it by an act of will, that we remain righteous in our outlook and attitudes and subsequent thinking, words and behaviour. Part of our changing (2 Cor 3:18) is learning to trust God and not apportion blame for what appears to be happening to us. As I said, an important and significant lesson.

Relief? “Give me relief from my distress.” This takes us into the area of relief ‘from’ or relief ‘in’. At the moment of writing at least, David’s mind is in turmoil. David could be delivered ‘from’ his present circumstances if, say, someone back in Jerusalem had assassinated Absalom and changed the mind of his followers to repent and call back to Jerusalem the Lord’s anointed, David. That would have meant David being delivered out of them. But if the circumstances are going to carry on, then David needs a deliverance from his sense of turmoil, the anxiety he has within him. That would come about when the grace of the Lord imposes in his mind a sense of security, a sense of peace, and that so often comes when we pray (see Phil 4:6,7). Deliverance ‘from’ means a change of circumstance, deliverance ‘in’ means an inner heart and mind change.

A Need for Mercy: “have mercy on me”.  Mercy is undeserved compassion, forgiveness and blessing. Note the key word – undeserved. An appeal for mercy is saying, “I recognize I have no grounds to ask you to do this and so I plead with you to do this, just because you can.” For David, he is saying, “I realize I am in this mess because I deserve it and you are bringing discipline on me – and I deserve that – but in the midst of this I know you are the same righteous God who does all things well and so I plead with you that I may still experience something of your loving goodness towards me. Even asking for such a thing is in fact an expression of praise towards God, acknowledging something about His greatness that exists entirely independently from us; He IS known as a merciful God, a God who responds positively towards us, even though we don’t deserve it.

Let mercy listen: “hear my prayer“. There are times when we have messed up so badly that those who have been affected by our actions will just not listen to a word we say. If God had been us, if we had seen David’s adultery and murder-plans, and that in the face of all the things we had done for him, the human response would have been to write him of, give up on him, cast him aside. But God isn’t us – thank goodness! – He is merciful because He is love (1 Jn 4:8,16), and because we have learned that, it can give us hope that He might listen to our pleas.

When we have sinned and completely blown it, the wonderful thing is that God, as a loving heavenly Father, doesn’t turn His back on us but, to the contrary, is out there looking to hear those words that indicate change of heart, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son,” (Lk 15:18,19) and then to our amazement He throws His arms around us and kisses us (v.20) and orders a celebration (v.22,23). It is because we know that, that we can pray, even when we have got it seriously wrong. How wonderful is that; hold on to that if that is you.

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.

46. How faith makes righteous

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 46.  How Faith makes Righteous

Rom 3:23    This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.

In the previous study we considered such terms as “a sacrifice of atonement”, and ‘justice’ and ‘justify’, and we concluded thinking about how it was important to hold a ‘good conscience’. Now at the beginning of Romans Paul says, “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.” (Rom 1:17) and so following through on these ‘religious terms’ or terms that appear in the Bible but rarely elsewhere, we would do well to pick up on this word ‘righteous’.

We find it first of all in respect of Abram: “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6)  So believing AND obeying God, because obedience was part of that incident, is a basic definition of righteousness. As Paul later expressed it, referring to Abram, “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:21,22) That produced in Abram the intent to try for a baby. That was faith but it started from  the moment he heard the words and believed them.

Moses later put that obedience in the context of the Law: “if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (Deut 6:25) God had given them His Law and so obeying that Law would be righteousness.

Now we need to look more deeply at this for the Bible tells us that, “the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness.” (Isa 5:16) i.e. God’s righteousness is one of the things that makes Him holy – utterly different. So how can God obey Himself? God instinctively does what He knows is right. Everything God has designed – this world as it was originally before Sin entered it – is perfect because it is instinctively right. It is instinctively right because God knows everything – He is all-knowing and all-wise, He knows how everything works best and that is how He designed this world, including us.

But then we find this same thing being referred to in the ‘Coming One’, the Messiah, as the psalmist speaks of him prophetically:  “You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” (Psa 45:7) Jesus loves what is right, because it comes from his Father and everything the Father thinks, says or does is right.  Because we live in a sinful world, the acts of the Father are sometimes acts of judgement – but they are always right!  “When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness. Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the LORD.” (Isa 26:9,10) Judgements, I suggest, are either disciplinary (to bring about change) or terminal (to bring an end to wrong that will not happen otherwise).  Isaiah has this insight that when discipline comes, people learn, but where there is a set, sinful heart, people will not be moved, even by God’s grace.

To summarize, therefore, righteousness is the right way of doing something, right in God’s eyes, conforming to His perfect will. We’ve seen it above as obeying God’s revelation. For Jesus, even maintaining a right appearance was important: “Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” (Mt 3:15) i.e. let’s ensure we maintain every appearance of what is right before the Father, doing His will.

Now there are dangers in talking about righteous behaviour because some people will think that it is righteous behaviour, what they see as acts of good, that will win God’s approval. The trouble is that no human being is every truly righteous if we equate it with good acts. Even Moses had to say this to Israel: “Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Deut 9:26) In the New Testament the apostle Paul taught, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Rom 3:22) The righteousness that God is looking for is founded in faith, in responding to what God has said, not in what you think is right and when that comes to Jesus, that means ‘believing in him’ as we have seen before.

That is the basic faith we are called to. When we come to Christ, believing in him, we are justified AND declared righteous. It is a righteousness that comes first through belief and then that belief leads to action. Both are different dimensions of faith. God declares us righteous because we believe in Jesus, and then we act on that belief. Actions FOLLOW belief, but we were declared righteous before we started doing anything. You ARE righteous because you believe in Jesus. Let your actions come out of that belief. That is faith and then faith!

8. Righteousness by Faith

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 8.  Righteousness comes by faith

Heb 11:5,6   By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

The sense of guilt (and even shame) is so often seen in human beings that we might almost think it is a natural characteristic of being human, this sense of not quite having made it, of getting something wrong. Of course we try to cover it up and steel our conscience against such things but on occasions of rare honesty most people will confess to having a sense of guilt about something. But there is something about this sense and it is that we human beings have this awareness of right and wrong. Of course we have been through a period in history where some have said everything is relative and therefore there are no fixed rights and wrongs – well, at least people say that until they have been wronged by another and then it is different!

The Bible uses this word ‘righteousness’ and perhaps the most simple definition of it could be ‘the state of being right in God’s eyes’. We would all like to think that we are all right in God’s eyes, because, after all, God is loving and so turns a blind eye to our imperfections doesn’t He? But no, actually He doesn’t. So much human behaviour, and indeed religious behaviour, is given over to trying to be ‘good people’ If not good in God’s eyes (because atheists struggle to pretend He’s not there) then at least good in our own eyes and the eyes of those around us. We do like to put on masks to cover up the real person who is there.

It is clear when you read through this hall of faith in Hebrews 11 that the writer is working chronologically through the key Old Testament figures and so it is not surprising that he next mentions Noah, but what is surprising it that he mentions him in  the context of righteousness. If we know our Old Testament we perhaps might not expect that to get mentioned until Abraham but, no, Noah is spoken about in the context of both faith and of righteousness.

For those who try to pretend the account of the flood is fictional this passage comes as a wake-up call to its reality. The Son of God spoke of him as an historical figure (Mt 24:37,38) as did the apostle Peter (1 Pet 3:20). In fact Peter in his second letter referred to Noah as a preacher of righteousness.” (2 Pet 2:5) Interesting!

Explaining Noah’s faith, the writer speaks of his actions in terms he expressed earlier in the chapter, “when warned about things not yet seen.” Faith, he said earlier, “is being … certain of what we do not see.” The Lord told Noah to get ready to cope with a coming flood by building a large Ark.  The flood was a future event: it had not yet happened and so when Noah responded and “built an ark to save his family,” he was responding to God’s word and that was faith.

Now Noah’s faith was not something in isolation, it was something he did in the face of the godless and unbelieving world around him. Building the Ark may well have taken a couple of years and so even if Noah hadn’t actually challenged his neighbours outright, his activity building the Ark would have brought comment and questions, but ultimately no one said, “Can I come along please?” Simply he and his family responded. In that “he condemned the world.”  Belief in God was possible for all people but only Noah believed and responded to God.

Perhaps we need to see the realities of the state of the world as laid out in Genesis 6: “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Gen 6:9) Before he did anything in respect of the Ark he was seen to be a righteous and blameless man, and in that he stood out, for look at the description of the rest of the world that follows: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.”  (Gen 6:11-13)

Now I am not going to get into whether the Flood was worldwide or local, the main point is all about that state of the earth and why God was acting against it – and how Noah stood out. He was already, please note, a man of faith in that he, like Enoch who we have already considered, “walked with God”. But now the writer to the Hebrews emphasises his faith by the way he responded to God’s call to build an ark and thus stood out from the rest of the world. I like how the Message version puts it: His act of faith drew a sharp line between the evil of the unbelieving world and the rightness of the believing world.” The Living version is also good: “Noah’s belief in God was in direct contrast to the sin and disbelief of the rest of the world.”

But as we noted at the beginning, his act of faith was also equated with righteousness and he became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.”  He was seen as being right in God’s eyes for his act of faith, being obedient to God’s leading. An heir is an inheritor. Yes, that is going to become clear in the case of Abraham later on, but it is almost as if Noah is the forerunner to ‘justification by faith’, that is seen in Abraham. In other words, although it had not yet been declared or made clear yet, that was what he was experiencing by his act of faith. Faith is thus always equated with righteousness.

It was Habakkuk who declared, “the righteous will live by his faith.” (Hab 2:4) A righteous person – one living in the light of God and being accredited as righteous by God – will be a person of faith.  We will see this in various New Testament verses – Rom 1:17, Gal 3:11,  Eph 2:8,  Heb 10:38.

Christians are first of all believers, but life flows in them as they respond to belief and that is faith. Faith is belief in action. Noah exemplified it by his belief in God which led him to ‘walk with God’ which led him to ‘hear’ God and then hearing he responded to God (building the Ark) and thus revealed both righteousness and faith to the rest of the world who were condemned by their absence of either thing. Don’t be just a believer.

1.6 God’s Will and Purpose

Meditating on the Judgments of God: 1.6  God’s Will & Purpose

Rom 12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.

We’ve just noted in the previous meditation that God rules on a throne in heaven and a ruler rules with a purpose always. He establishes laws and seeks to maintain order in his kingdom. Now I’m told that painters using water colours lay a background ‘wash’ on the paper, let it dry and then start the painting proper with all its details on top of the wash. As we approach the whole subject of God’s judgments there is a background factor which is easy to forget but which should be held in mind at all times, and that is that God has a will, a purpose, i.e. God has desires, wishes, plans, purposes for His world, things He wants to happen. These are the things that form the basis of His rule from His throne in heaven.

Now we have already considered some of the characteristics or attributes of God – love, goodness, wisdom, perfection etc – and His will is simply an expression of all these, and having just considered the fact that God rules on a throne from heaven, we noted that He works to bring righteousness and justice, although previously we didn’t have time to think much on them.

So God works to bring righteousness on the earth. What actually is that?  If it is His will to bring about righteousness on the earth we ought to understand what that means. Let’s give a very simple definition:

  • righteousness is behaviour that conforms to the way God has designed us to live.

 When He created the world we read it was “very good” (Gen 1:31) – including us.  He made us to live in harmony with Him and in harmony with each other and with His world.  Now any behaviour that is contrary to that is unrighteousness.

Now of course we live after the Fall and so God’s will and God’s activities are given over to seeking to restore us to the place we were in before the Fall. Of course He starts by having to work with sinners, those who have fallen, and even after He has saved us we will still be battling against that old life.  God’s way of redeeming us, or buying us back from that old sinful, unrighteous life, was to send Jesus to die for us to pay the penalty for every sin we’ve ever thought, said or done, and then when we repented and received that work for us personally, He put His Holy Spirit within us and we were born again – washed, cleansed, forgiven, adopted and empowered to live the new life.

Once that has happened His intent is to help and encourage us to live out that life, a life living in harmony with Him, with other people and with His world, i.e. to live righteously because we have been restored to the position of righteousness. Thus when you read in the Bible references to ‘the righteous’, that is us Christians.

Now it may be that you are thinking, ‘Hold on, what does all this to do with God’s judgment?’ Well perhaps there are two answers to that. First, when we are thinking of God’s activities, and especially when we are focusing on this subject, we can become judgment-focused and that is all we see – an angry God who deals with the sin of the world by bringing judgments – but that is only part of the picture. The ‘wash’ in the background on which all else is painted, is God’s will which is to bless and restore whoever will come.

God’s word through Jeremiah, although first meant for another context, is applicable here: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:11-13)  That does sum up God’s will for each one of us – to prosper us and give us hope and a future. That hope and future is about living righteous lives, lives lived in accord with God’s perfect design for us.

But there is a second answer to that question about blessings being spoken of in the same sentence as judgment, so to speak. In that previous study on the throne of God there were two words that go together that we noted above: righteousness and justice.

  • Righteousness is for those who will respond to God and repent and turn to Him to receive all of His goodness.
  • Justice is for those who refuse to heed Him and turn back,

and that’s where judgment so often comes in. It is a necessary part of bringing justice.

We need to reiterate what we said in that previous study to ensure we take it in. In His role as Judge we may suggest that:

  • 1) He assesses all that happens and determines whether it was righteous or unrighteous (i.e. conforming to His original design, or not!),
  • 2) He decrees what should happen in respect of those events, and specifically in respect of the people involved, and
  • 3) He then acts in accordance with that decree, and this we see as the act of judgment that appears in the records of Scripture.

When He assesses, decrees and acts in judgment, it is to

  • bring justice in respect of the offender and
  • also for the rest of the world.

In other words, justice brings right order and outcome to the offender and everyone else. As we will see as we progress through these studies, acts of judgment come with a variety of reasons or anticipated outcomes:

  • to stop wrong behaviour in an individual,
  • to punish an individual,
  • to correct the individual, and
  • to act as a warning and teaching to all onlookers.

When justice has been done, we can say, ‘The right thing has been done!’, it was just and fair and right. That is justice and it helps bring righteousness to God’s world.

But remember, the focus is not on the hard aspects of the judgment, but on God’s blessing of His world. We may not have seen this before, but judgment also is blessing. The removal of a terror or threat of evil by the judgment, blesses the world by leaving it free from the effects of that terror or evil. It stops and removes that terror or evil and leaves the world open to be blessed by all of God’s goodness. Evil prevents God’s goodness flowing and so sometimes it has to be removed so that His goodness can be received. That we will see in future studies.

1.5 The Throne of God

Meditating on the Judgements of God: 1.5  The Throne of God

Psa 9:7,8  The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.

There is a truth about God which is perhaps so obvious that we rarely think about it. It is that God rules and judges and reveals to us a picture of Him sitting on a throne in heaven. A throne is a place where a sovereign reigns, and it a place of sovereign control. This whole concept of a throne speaks historically of a sovereign ruler, one who is all-powerful and with all authority. We may have lost this in the light of the monarchy in the UK in the twenty first century where the Queen is a figurehead and the power is actually with Parliament. That has not how it has been in history. The monarch was the one with the power, the one in absolute control and a benign and stable monarch (and God is at least this) had the power to be able to take time to weigh everything before him.

The first mention of God’s throne comes through Moses (Ex 17:16) because he recognized that when they prayed against the Amalekites, they were appealing to God on His throne: “hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD.” He saw that God was a ruler who presided over the affairs of men and would act and bring changes as part of His rule.

For the real revelation of the throne room of heaven we have to turn to the prophets. Isaiah declared, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isa 6:1)

Ezekiel also had a vision from heaven: “Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man.” (Ezek 1:26)

Even Daniel saw it: “As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.” (Dan 7:9)

John on Patmos was also privileged to see into heaven: “At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders,” (Rev 4:2-4) and near the end of Revelation, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.” (Rev 20:11,12)

Yes, these prophets were allowed a look into heaven and each saw God on a throne, ruling.  Job 1 doesn’t actually mention a throne but we are shown the deliberations of God in heaven. Micaiah the prophet also had such an insight: “Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. And the LORD said, `Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?” (1 Kings 22:19,20). It is of God working out His strategies as He rules.

The psalmists also had this idea in the back of their minds so often: “God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne,” (Psa 47:8) and, “Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity,” (Psa 93:2)  and Jeremiah added, “A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary.” (Jer 17:12)  But a throne even appears in respect of the work of Jesus as the writer to the Hebrews indicates: “The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,” (Heb 8:1)

But it takes some of the psalmists to catch something of the action of God from His throne in heaven: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom,” (Psa 45:6) and, Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you,” (Psa 89:14) and, righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” (Psa 97:2). The bringing of righteousness and justice is the work of a Judge, which brings us right back to our subject. God sits on a throne in heaven, ruling over all the affairs of everything He has created. He had made everything perfect from the outset but with the coming of the Fall, things go wrong, and things are done wrong. God does not sit back and just let it all happen.

In His role as Judge we may suggest that:

  • 1) He assesses all that happens and determines whether it was righteous or unrighteous (i.e. conforming to His original design, or not!),
  • 2) He decrees what should happen in respect of those events, and specifically in respect of the people involved, and
  • 3) He then acts in accordance with that decree, and this we see as the act of judgement that appears in the records of Scripture.

Now we need to reiterate what we have said before when we had observed He is perfect. This is vital to understand.

  • In the first stage, His assessment is uniquely accurate because He alone sees and knows all that happens and there is nothing about it that is outside His knowledge and understanding.
  • In the second stage, His decree of what should happen is perfect because He alone has the knowledge, understanding and wisdom to know what various outcomes would produce. So He knows that if He does nothing, what will come about. He knows if He brings discipline whether it will bring a change in life. In this determining the decree He knows whether terminating a life or lives will be the best for these people and, even more, for those who are left.
  • In the third stage, bringing about the judgement, we will find that this may come through a variety of means and it will be this that we will go on to consider in later meditations.

Bear in mind what we have observed in some of these verses. Wherever God makes a decision in His rule from the throne in heaven, where He sees and knows all things, His thinking, His decrees and His actions will always conform to righteousness and justice.