Monthly Archives: August 2021

Thoughts on the Love of God by St. Augustine

“Incomprehensible and immutable is the love of God. For it was not after we were reconciled to him by the blood of his Son that he began to love us, but he loved us before the foundation of the world, that with his only begotten Son we too might be sons of God before we were anything at all” (St. Augustine of Hippo).

All St. Augustine quotes are from The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, compiled by Mark Water (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).
A young St. Augustine with his mother, St. Monica. Painting by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858), photographed by Johann Dréo from Chartres, France, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

August 28 is the Feast of St. Augustine in some churches. The following thoughts commemorate him while also providing an introduction to a forthcoming series about God’s Love.

St. Augustine (born November 13, 354; died August 28, 430) is arguably the most influential Christian author since the apostles passed away. His writings not only influenced Roman Catholicism, but also perhaps the two most significant Protestant reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin. If you follow the teachings of Luther or consider yourself a Calvinist, you are a de facto Augustinian.

Some may find his theology heavy-handed; his views about morality were strict, perhaps legalistic. Raised by a Christian mother and pagan father, he spent his youth as a rebel. During early adulthood he sought truth: followed Manicheeism (sort of a proto-New-Age fusion of Christianity and Eastern mysticism), had a son out of wedlock, became a professor of rhetoric, and eventually became a Christian. Interested readers may want to check out his biography, the Confession of St. Augustine. Although he lived over 1600 years ago, it is easy to relate to him. His Confession reminds us that times may change, but people are essentially the same.

In the coming weeks, I will share a few thoughts about the love of God. The Bible tells us that “God is love” (1 John 4:8); it is one of His most important attributes. If we do not have the love of God in our hearts, our faith is not genuine.

I would like to close with a few more quotes by St. Augustine about God’s love. Reflect on them and rejoice in the incomprehensible, unchangeable love that God has for you!

“O Love ever burning and never extinguished caritas, my God, set me on fire.”

“God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love.”

“People are renewed by love. As sinful desire ages them, so love rejuvenates them.”

“The single desire that dominated my search for delight was simply to love and be loved.” (Augustine sought satisfaction in several premarital sexual relationships before surrendering his life to Christ. Like many people today, he found that he was “looking for love in all the wrong places,” as a popular song from the 1970s said.)

I would like to hear from you. Does one of Augustine’s quotes really speak to you in a special way? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Three Kinds of Righteousness: 3. Christ’s Righteousness

“… {A}lthough I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…” (Philippians 3:4-9; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image by rsand24 from Pixabay

As we have seen in our last two posts, neither self-righteousness nor legalistic righteousness meets God’s standards. Many Christians desire to live a righteous life, but most admit that, even after years or decades of following Jesus, we are prone to miss the mark. Let us not grow discouraged. There is a form of righteousness that we can all attain. In fact, if you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, you already have it.

That form of righteousness is one that theologians call imputed righteousness. Jesus is righteous, and He dwells in you. Therefore, God the Father imputes Jesus’ righteousness to you. He treats you as though you have Jesus’ righteousness. It is, as Paul writes in Philippians 3:9, the righteousness “through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”

This righteousness begins on the inside and works its way outward. We do not become righteous by doing good deeds that make God want to like us. We obtain the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, and He begins to mold us to be more like Him.

We can see the conflict between legalistic self-righteousness and the righteousness God desires in the following parable by Jesus:

“And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted’” (Luke 18:9-14).

Notice that the Pharisee was praying “to himself.” He verbally addressed it to God, but his prayers were actually centered around the one he truly worshiped: himself. His prayer glorified his ego. The tax collector, on the other hand, had the eyes of his heart fixed on God, even if he could not bring himself to raise his physical eyes to the sky.

There was not anything wrong with the things the Pharisee was praying. We should be grateful to God for the ways He has protected us from sin. Thank God if you are financially honest and trustworthy, or if you treat everybody fairly, or if you are morally pure. God does not want us to be swindlers, unjust, or adulterers. Fasting is good; more Christians should consider fasting as an act of worship to God. Tithing is good. However, the egotistical attitude corrupted everything the Pharisee prayed. “God, You are so lucky to have me on Your side. I’m awesome! Where would You be without me?” Listening to the Pharisee, God probably thought, “If I tried to speak to him, he would not listen. He insists on talking about what he thinks is so great about himself. He talks about everybody else’s sins. He can’t hear me.”

However, hearing the tax collector, He must have thought, “I can do something in his life. He knows he misses the mark. It sounds like he wants a way out of that life. I can show him the way.”

The tax collector’s prayer is the cry of a heart that hungers and thirsts after righteousness. It is the foundation of the “Jesus prayer,” popular in some Christian circles (including some Eastern Orthodox churches), which says “Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I know people who have received deliverance from different kinds of addiction through that prayer. It is a prayer that pleads for forgiveness and a new start, making it the kind of prayer God is eager to answer.

Do you want to be a “good Christian?” If so, you want the righteousness of God to be manifested in your life. It will not come by trying to be better than everybody else, by looking down on others, judging their sins while ignoring your own, or by following a set of rules. It will come only by recognizing that you need the righteousness of Jesus in your heart, believing that He can show His righteousness through you, and yielding to Him.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Three Kinds of Righteousness: 2. Legal Righteousness

“… {A}lthough I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…” (Philippians 3:4-9; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image by rsand24 from Pixabay

In the previous post, I mentioned that there are several different ideas about righteousness. One false kind of “righteousness” is self-righteousness. The person assumes he is always right. A second kind can seem better, but it is still insufficient.

This second kind of righteousness is legal righteousness. A closely related attitude is “legalism,” which focuses on rules and personal effort as ways to gain God’s favor.

A person with a spirit of legal righteousness or legalism can be very different from a self-righteous person. Often, they are trying hard to please God. They might be keenly aware of their shortcomings. Their brand of righteousness may be producing depression or despair in their lives as they cannot live up to expectations. The person who is pursuing legal righteousness is committed to following the rules and will create even more rules.

The Old Testament had Ten Commandments, which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. There were more laws in the Old Testament, mostly expanding on the Ten Commandments or giving guidelines for worship: In total, the Old Testament had 613 laws.

However, this was not enough for some people. Jewish rabbinic tradition added even more laws. For example, the Old Testament prohibited people from boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk (Exodus 23:19; 34:26). However, to this day, many Jewish people take this even further: an observant Jew will not eat meat and dairy at the same meal. They will not eat cheeseburgers, nor will they drink a glass of milk while eating a steak. To avoid breaking the rule, they have added new rules.

Likewise, the Ten Commandments say that we must not take the name of the Lord in vain. This means that we should not misuse God’s name or speak it with disrespect. It certainly prohibits using God’s name as a form of profanity to express anger. It would also include using God’s name frivolously: perhaps taking an oath in His name that we do not intend to fulfill, claiming “God told me so” to justify your opinion or naming and claiming a “blessing” in Jesus’ name that does not appear in the Bible.

However, the Jews took that one even further as well: Many Jews in Jesus’ time, and in the centuries preceding Him, would not even say the name of God. Instead of saying the name of God, “Yahweh,” they would refer to Him as “the Lord” or speak of “the Name” or “heaven.” Being so cautious to avoid accidentally mispronouncing God’s name, they would not say it at all. (Some of my Jewish friends spell His name as “G-d” on Facebook, in keeping with this custom.)

The two examples above can seem pretty innocent. After all, maybe there are health benefits if we avoid eating meat and dairy at the same meal. Yes, we should respect God’s name. However, other “new rules” can completely miss the mark. When I lived in Missouri, I encountered several Christians who would avoid using God’s name as a curse word by saying something like “Dag-gummit!” I think God probably knows exactly what they meant and was not fooled by the new jargon. None of these people were invoking the name of the late United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold.

But we can get carried away with other new rules. The Bible says “Do not get drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5:18). Many Christians take that even further to mean, “Don’t drink alcohol at all” but become addicted to Coca-Cola instead. The Bible prohibits sexual immorality and lust; in response, some churches prohibit dancing, television, or movies. We expand a simple biblical instruction to be a much stricter demand, perhaps prohibiting things God never forbade and Jesus even did. Sometimes, we end up claiming that people who break our new rules cannot possibly be Christians.

A rubbish pile in Angola. Paul wrote that his righteousness under the law was like rubbish, but he probably meant something even more unsightly than this. Photo by Paulo César Santos under a Creative Commons license, via Wikimedia Commons

The apostle Paul had achieved this high level of legal righteousness. He had mastered the rules. He could say that “as to the righteousness which is in the Law,” he was “found blameless.” Nevertheless, he considered this kind of righteousness to be “rubbish.” The Greek word he uses here is pretty strong: It is more than mere “garbage.” Some Bible translations use the term “refuse” instead. I am pretty sure St. Paul is in heaven, eagerly awaiting the publication of an English Bible that will translate it to read “bullshit,” since that word really captures what Paul was trying to say.

Legal righteousness and legalism are deceptive traps, even for the committed Christian. Sincere Christians want to please God. We want to obey Him. Sometimes, we might slip into a misguided belief that we have to play by strict rules to make God happy. This is not true. It is not hard to convince God to love you.

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Three Kinds of Righteousness: 1. Self-Righteousness

“… {A}lthough I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…” (Philippians 3:4-9; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image by rsand24 from Pixabay.

Since October 2020, most of the articles on this blog have discussed God’s righteousness and justice. These traits are so closely intertwined that we would be wise to think of them as a single attribute of God. This topic took on a life of its own as I studied it. When I started this series, I thought it would last just two or three months. It has taken about 10 months to complete this journey.

We are now reaching the end. As we approach the end of the series, it is good to remember that people have very different ideas about righteousness, and many Christians exhibit different kinds of righteousness. Some are better than others. In this post and the two that will follow it, we will look at three kinds of righteousness.

The first kind of righteousness is self-righteousness. This is the false righteousness one claims when they act like they have everything under control. They act like they do no wrong. They always find somebody else to blame when things go wrong. If they are caught doing something wrong, they will blame somebody else: their parents, another person, society, etc. They will never admit that they are wrong; they do not apologize; and they are better than you!

Some traditional churches observe a sacrament of confession. The believer specifically states the sins he has committed. It goes beyond saying, “Of course I sin; nobody’s perfect.” The person who is confessing states that “in recent weeks/months I have sinned in these specific ways….” Here is a powerful antidote to self-righteousness: taking the time to reflect on our thoughts, words, and actions, comparing them to God’s Word and will, and acknowledging how we have failed, remembering that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

If you cannot say “I’m sorry” or “I’ll try to do better next time,” it is not because you are super-spiritual. It is likely that you are bound by a spirit of self-righteousness. The only antidote is hardcore confession.

Self-righteousness may stroke the ego, but it will not save your soul. Many people turn to religion for a solution. That does not always work either, as we will see in the next post in this series.

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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