38. God who is Righteous (3)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  38. God who is Righteous (3)

Mt 6:33   seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Eph 4:24   put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Acts 7:51,52 You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.” 

Where to look? Perhaps there are fewer better places to see the wonder of God’s grace and His righteousness – His ways of dealing rightly with us human beings – than in the way He called people and dealt with them in the New Testament. As we pursue these thoughts about God’s righteousness, His good and right way of doing everything,  our natural concern must be about His interaction with human beings as seen in the Bible and with the coming of the Son of God there is a clarity brought that almost takes your breath away when you pause up and look at it carefully.

When Jesus called: There was something about Jesus, and remember those who encountered him had no preconceived ideas about how God might turn up in human form (apart from rare angelic visitations) and so when they first met Jesus, they did not immediately think, “Oh this is God,”  but there was something about him so that when he encounters fishermen on the beach and invites them to follow him,  “they left their nets and followed him,” (Mt 4:22) and when he says the same to a tax collector at work, he does likewise (Mt 9:9) But if that isn’t bad enough to understand, what is more difficult to comprehend is the sort of people he called.  First of all four rough fishermen, then a tax collector, considered by the local populace to be one of the lowest of the low, probably a crook feathering his own nest while collaborating with the Romans. Another of them is described as a zealot, a nationalist, an extremist possibly intent on revolution. Not exactly men you would think you would recruit to a top religious team.

Serving with Jesus: But then they get under way and you find one of the obvious leaders of this bunch, Peter, constantly opening his mouth to put both feet in it. Then there were James and John, two brothers also seen to be within the inner four close to Jesus exercising pride and arrogance (see Mt 20:20- and Lk 9:54). At this point you might be forgiven for questioning Jesus’ talent for choosing good men to serve God with him. But it gets worse.  As what turns out to be the end draws near, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times, Judas betrays Jesus to the authorities for thirty pieces of silver, and the rest flee and go into hiding, abandoning Jesus to his fate. What a bunch!

Jesus’ Response: Now when Jesus rises from the dead and reveals himself as the glorious, risen Son of God, you might expect him to come down on this miserable bunch like a ton of bricks, but it’s nothing like that.  Instead (read the encounters in Mt 28, Lk 24) he simply encourages them and comfort them. Yes, he does gently chide them for lack of belief (see Lk 24,25) but mostly he just seeks to help them believe. And then comes the most amazing thing of all. He meets with them all back up in Galilee and wonder of wonders he takes that greatest example of failure, Peter, and commissions him to lead the church. Unbelievable!!! But read on in Acts and you see this bunch of failures, full of the Spirit and powerfully proclaiming the gospel and performing miracles. Even more incredible!

And Saul: But Jesus hasn’t finished yet. He may be in heaven but don’t think that’s the end of it. Here is Saul, a prominent Jew, a Roman citizen, a zealous Pharisee, who is all out to imprison these new Christians who are upsetting Judaism, a clear enemy of the Faith, so what might we expect Jesus to do? Strike him down? Well, yes, he does in one sense, he temporarily blinds him, but more than this he calls him to follow him and go and take the gospel to the gentile world. (Read Acts 9)

Righteousness???  Hold on, this is supposed to be all about God’s righteousness, the way God does all things rightly. But it is all as Isaiah declared, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord, “ (Isa 55:8) and Saul, who later became Paul was to write, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.“ (1 Cor 1:27) ‘Right’ as far as God is concerned is redeeming people. For us we might look for revenge or judgment but God comes to redeem us, save us from ourselves and our foolish ways of thinking. God sees past our failures, He sees past Peter’s big mouth and his unknowingness of his own weaknesses, He sees past Saul’s misguided zealousness, and He looks and sees what we can become – Peter the leader of the Church, Paul the greatest missionary ever.

We focus on looking good, appearing religious (try reading Isa 58), appearing spiritual but God sees past the outside (see 1 Sam 16:7) and sees the heart and sees our potential. Yes, Jesus knew exactly who he was recruiting to his team, knew exactly what they were like, knew exactly their potential for getting it wrong, sometimes very wrong, but he sees past the failures and sees what yet can be. Tell me if that is not the right way of doing things!

But what about….?  Yes, there will be times when we read Scripture that we will be left wondering, times when all the answers are not there and we are left with question marks. There are times here on earth when things will appear to be going wrong and in the midst of pain and anxiety we wonder is this a unique time when God has got it wrong. No, it’s just that at this moment we can’t see it or haven’t yet seen it and we are going to have to wait until we get to heaven to have all the answers. I often say that when we meet Him face to face, if He allows us to see the past with His eyes, we will never be able to criticize Him for anything He did or didn’t do. I wonder sometimes if the Lord takes His children home prematurely because He knows what might be coming and so does it to protect us (see Isa 57:1). I also wonder sometimes if the Lord prevents us going down some particular path in life because He knows what is might lead to – harm!    As an old friend used to say, “The things I see and understand in the Bible give me confidence to simply trust when I come across things I don’t yet understand.

And So?  I am sure I must have said it before somewhere in one of these series, but we need to distinguish between faith and trust. Faith comes from hearing; trust is what we are left with when we are hearing nothing. Faith is our response when we’ve heard God. Hopefully in this study I have provided some material that will release faith in us. However there will be times when we are left perplexed, either by scripture we don’t understand, or circumstances that challenge our understanding and in both cases we just need to trust God. Why? Because, as my friend said, of the confidence we built up in Him by the things we do understand. Whether it be faith or trust, may we be able stand assured that whatever it is, our God does all things well.

(We will now pause up this series for two weeks while we have a mini-series taking a fresh look at Advent and the Nativity)

36. God who is Righteous (1)

Getting to Know God Meditations:  36. God who is Righteous (1)

Amos 5:24    But let justice roll on like a river,  righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Job 4:7 ‘Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can even a strong man be more pure than his Maker?

Job 37:23 The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power; in his justice and great righteousness, he does not oppress.

Psa 9:8  He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity.

Psa 11:7 For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice;

Righteousness? The words ‘righteous’ or ‘righteousness’ don’t come up in regular conversation today! They are, I suspect, words we consign to Bible use only, which is a shame because it is foundational to understanding God and His purposes for us. Righteousness is a word linked to justice and of course justice is about rightness and fairness when it comes to behaviour. Righteousness is simply right thinking, right speech and right behaviour.

God is Righteous: Mostly, in Christian circles, we tend to talk about righteousness as something required of us. The prophets, such as Amos above in our starter verses, were constantly challenging the people to live righteous lives. Righteousness for them meant adhering to the Law of Moses.  But the thing about righteousness is that it starts in the character of God, He is righteous.  As one theologian has put it, “God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right.”

Creation & Righteousness: You might be wondering why the subject of righteousness is appearing here immediately after the study on God being the Creator. The answer comes when we ask the question, how can we know ‘what is right’ in that definition above, and the answer to that question is twofold. Part of it is in the second half of that definition above, but the other half is in the fact of Creation.

We take Creation, or what we often refer to as ‘Nature’, for granted. Much of the time we only take note of it in nature programmes (which, with the wonders of modern photography, have become incredibly good) or when it goes wrong – earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.  Someone might ask, is this how God made this world, so it goes wrong and kills people? The answer is no, before the Fall it was not like that but the effect of Sin meant that mankind’s activity released spiritual powers (is the best way to describe it perhaps) or maybe removed God’s sustaining power in the way it had been before, and that meant that natural forces were released that cause these upsets. The Bible is not very specific on it although there are occasional hints. What is clear is that before the Fall, everything about Creation was very good (see Gen 1:25,31).

Now put aside for a moment these aberrations of the natural world (things that by and large with some more thought, we could quite easily cope with, considering modern construction techniques and the use of early warning technology) and consider the 95% of the rest of our experience with this world. There are certain characteristics about it that are worth noting:

  • First, it is mostly orderly and predictable.
  • Second, it is for our benefit whether that refers to the amazing range of food and drink available to us, or even into the pleasurable ways that we find to enjoy this world – skiing, sailing, swimming, diving, flying etc. etc. There are endless ways we find to enjoy this world because it is orderly and predictable. It works well!
  • Third, there are clearly ways to ‘use’ this world that are both pleasurable and beneficial, but there are also ways to misuse this world that are harmful and destructive. I often give the example of eating, an experience that can be very pleasurable, but when taken in excess causes obesity which in turn has other various health harming and even life-threatening effects.
  • Fourth, there are therefore, clearly boundaries of wise behaviour but the effects of Sin – that self-centred godless propensity that we all have – so often means that we see the negative effects that come from unwisely using this world, but that should not detract from this wonderful ‘machine’ (that includes us) that God has given us, that is good!

A fresh view of Righteousness: The character of God, we have observed in previous studies, includes love, goodness, knowing everything, and knowing how everything works best (wisdom). The character of this word reflects all those attributes. Righteousness goes back to ‘what is right’, and that goes back to how God has designed the world before the Fall and before the effects of the Fall, and that again goes back to His character.

Righteousness through the Law: When He gave Israel the Law through Moses, that law simply reflected His design criteria, and therefore pointed Israel in the right direction of how to live, how to behave, how to relate to one another (and outsiders) and how to relate to Him, as an embryonic, agrarian nation standing out from the rest of the world and remaining distinct from their pagan neighbours. All those things are reflected in it.

Righteousness through Christ: We today (as believers) living in a different world, are not limited to one nation or culture, are mostly not agriculture focused, and now live in the light of the salvation God offers us through Jesus Christ. Righteousness for us is, as the apostle Paul put it, “a righteousness that is by faith from first to last,” (Rom 1:17) righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (Rom 3 :22) so, faith is credited as righteousness,” (Rom 4:5) so, “God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4:24)  i.e. we are declared righteous by God when we simply believe in Jesus as our Saviour who died for our sins and was raised from the dead as proof of that. That is faith and faith is what God uses as the measure that decrees us righteous – living in accord with His will as revealed in and through Jesus.

And So: God always doing what is right – whether in His design of the world or the way He responds to sinners  – is the foundation upon which we can live in total peace and harmony with God, being able to utterly trust Him for all good things. Why, someone might ask, does God not deal with all evil and immediately punish all wrong-doers? Well to take the second part first, if He did that He would be punishing all of us all of the time. We have cited Ezekiel’s declarations on this again and again: “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32 – also 18:23 & 33:11) God’s objective is not to destroy us but to save us (see also 2 Pet 3:9 on God’s ‘delaying tactics’!)

But what about justice? Will unrepentant sinners get away with the evil they commit under God’s benign reign? No, because often there is an accounting later in life which is seen, but there is always an accounting after death which is not seen from this perspective. One way or another, justice WILL be done and (in eternity) seen to be done. God is righteous and that means everything He does is right, as we said above,  whether in His design of the world or the way He responds to sinners. We would do well to understand these things, learn from them, and heed them.  Amen.

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.

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.