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

Diversity and Ministry

“The devil studied the nature of each man, seized upon the traits of his soul, adjusted himself to them and insinuated himself gradually into his victims’ confidence—suggesting splendors to the ambitious, gain to the covetous, delight to the sensuous, and a false appearance of piety to the pious—and a winner of souls ought to act in the same cautious and skillful way” (Ignatius of Loyola, 1491-1556).

from The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations, compiled by Mark Water (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000).
St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), whose feast day is on July 31. Painting by Peter Paul Rubens (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

Some churches try to make “one-size-fits-all” Christians. They dress alike. They all listen to the same kinds of music. They all avoid the same “worldly pleasures.” Perhaps you know the kind of church I am talking about. Perhaps you currently attend a church like that.

One positive feature of such churches is their ability to take a united stand against certain sins. However, they run the risk of being blind to their own sins. Almost 30 years ago, I visited a church where the pastor delivered a sermon about addictions. He ranted against probably 15 or so addictions: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, television, etc. The congregation shouted “Amen!” each step of the way (I do not think anybody went outside to smoke right after the service). However, the pastor was noticeably overweight, and did not mention food addictions. There are plenty of Bible verses that address gluttony, but that might be uncomfortable to confront in some churches.

Humans are comfortable surrounding ourselves with people who are like ourselves. It is easy to get comfortable surrounding ourselves with people who share our interests, habits, and opinions. As 16th-century theologian Ignatius points out in the quote above, Satan often has us beaten. He welcomes diversity in his domain. He will ensnare people in sin any way he can. Some of us have absolutely no interest in drugs: You can offer me all the cocaine in the world, and I would not be interested. It would be no temptation at all. However, it is an overwhelming stronghold for some. It has destroyed many lives. (Don’t worry; I have my own temptations to deal with, but I will do my personal confession elsewhere.)

Satan is thrilled to ensnare us however he can. If he can lure us through drugs, he is happy. He will gladly grab us with sex, alcohol, money, success, popularity, food, entertainment–anything that will keep us from seeking God’s will for our lives.

As we minister to others, recognize that there is some wisdom there. God has created each of us with a unique blend of strengths and attributes. Some are naturally outgoing; others are more reserved and introverted. Some are relationship-oriented and want to spend time with people; others are task-oriented and want to accomplish goals and projects. Some are leaders; some prefer to be told what others expect them to do. None of these qualities are necessarily “right” or “wrong”; they are part of who we are and how God has molded us. Satan might manipulate them for his own purposes.

Let us recognize that God has made each of us unique. Let us embrace that uniqueness and yield it to be used for His glory and the benefit of His people.

Stained glass window at Dublin Christ Church Cathedral (Ireland). Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, is in the middle. The seven surrounding figures depict different Bible characters, representing a variety of Christian virtues. A complete description appears here. Photo by Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons.

Let us also recognize the strengths, interests, passions, gifts, and other qualities that God has instilled in our brothers and sisters and encourage them to be all that God has called them to be. They do not have to be like us; God is calling them to minister to those whom we cannot reach, to share the Gospel with those who will not hear us, and to do the work we are not capable of doing.

Let us reach out to the lost as they are. Some are seeking peace; introduce them to Jesus, the Prince of peace, who offers the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Some are seeking a reason to live; others are asking, “What is truth?”; some are seeking a sense of direction in their lives; they need to know Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). While He is the only name under heaven by which people may be saved (Acts 4:12), He invites us to Himself by whatever means draws us to Him.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (First Corinthians 12:4-13, New American Standard Bible).

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, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jesus, Family, and Grandparents

The parents of Mary, traditionally believed to be named Joachim and Anne, are commemorated in traditional churches on July 26.

This blog have been extra quiet for the last few weeks. Every year, my wife and I take a road trip from our home on Long Island to visit my son and his family in Springfield, Missouri for about one or two weeks. That vacation occurred during the first two weeks of July, and we are still trying to get back into a normal routine since we returned. However, normalcy is a little hard to accomplish, since my wife’s family is visiting from Florida and Oregon. We still have plans to visit my mother in a couple months. It may take a while before we can settle back into a routine, but family is important to us.

Family is also important to God. He came up with the idea of having a man and a woman come together to bear and raise children. When He became man, as Jesus Christ, He became part of a family with Joseph and Mary, along with the children they had after Him (I believe in the traditional Protestant belief that the brothers and sisters of Jesus, mentioned in Mark 6:3, were born after Jesus and conceived in the usual way). In fact, Jesus even had grandparents.

The child Mary with her parents. At Church of the Immaculate Conception, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Photo by Nheyob, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We usually do not think about Jesus’ grandparents. Their only mention by name in the Gospels occurs in the two genealogies of Jesus, where two different people are named as the father of Joseph. Some people think one of those two—either Jacob (Matthew 1:16) or Eli (Luke 3:23)—is actually Mary’s father. That theory would require some real acrobatics with the words of Scripture. I believe Joseph could have been adopted; perhaps his parents died when he was young and he was raised by another family. Although I am not aware of any theologians who share this view, I think it resolves the discrepancy between the two different genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke without trying to twist the plain wording that both list Joseph’s lineage or assuming that one is incorrect, while accepting a plausible set of circumstances allowing for Joseph to have two “fathers.”

The Roman Catholic Church believes that Mary’s parents were named Joachim (derived from a Hebrew name that means “Yahweh prepares”) and Anne (the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Hannah,” which means “grace”). The Book of Common Prayer commemorates them on July 26 simply as “The Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

Whatever their names were, perhaps they deserve a day of commemoration. Joseph and Mary must have been remarkably godly people. Mary had found favor with God (Luke 1:30), so much so that He trusted her to bear His Son. Joseph was a righteous man (Matthew 1:19), one who would make the difficult, probably scandalous, decision to raise a child who was not really his own simply because God told him to do so. Such persons are a testimony to their upbringing. I believe Joseph and Mary were fully prepared to raise the Son of God because their own parents had successfully raised them to be people of faith and servants of God.

So, although we cannot be certain of their names, we know their legacy. We can be certain of the impact they had on the world.

Whether you are a parent, hope someday to become a parent, are already a grandparent, or play an active role in helping friends or family members raise their children: Remember the legacy of Jesus’ grandparents. We may not know for certain who they were, but God does. We may not know all we would like to know about them, but we know how their children and their Grandson changed the world. Build your legacy. “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, NASB), and continue to build your legacy to future generations.

Family is important to God. Perhaps eternity will measure your impact not so much by what you accomplished, but by what was accomplished by those whose lives you molded.

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, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Family | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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