Posts Tagged With: faith

God’s Righteousness and Justice. VI: Righteous Men—Cornelius the Centurion

“They said, ‘Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you’” (Acts 10:22, New American Standard Bible).

St. Cornelius Window, Chapel of St. Cornelius, Governors Island, New York. From Wikipedia, under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Some recent posts on this blog have considered the righteousness and justice of God. Here, we meet a Gentile who is described by his servants as “a righteous and God-fearing man.” Acts 10 is devoted to his conversion.

The New Testament teaches that one can only be righteous by having faith in Jesus Christ and being clothed in His righteousness. So, the above verse raises a question: How could Cornelius be righteous if he was not yet a Christian?

Can a person be clothed in the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus before placing their faith in Him? Is it possible to be saved before one comes to know Jesus? Some preachers and theologians believe that God might count someone as having faith in Jesus even if they did not know who He was because their life and attitude suggest they would gladly receive Christ if they knew who He was. This concept of “inclusivism” is illustrated in C. S. Lewis’ book, The Last Battle, the finale of The Chronicles of Narnia. The Christ-like lion king Aslan welcomes Emeth, a soldier in the enemy army who recognizes Aslan as the rightful ruler, into his kingdom, stating that any righteous acts Emeth had done in the name of his false god would be accepted as having been done for Aslan.

This teaching appeals to many Christians who think about the billions who have lived and died without hearing the Gospel. It is painful to imagine that billions of people could be in hell simply because they were born in an area where no Christians brought the Gospel. I would find it comforting to think that there could be nice people from pagan societies in heaven even though they never knew Jesus’ name. However, Christians must take our guidance from God’s Word:

“… ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:13–14).

Paul began his letter to the Romans by arguing that nobody is righteous and that all people deserve God’s wrath (culminating in a litany of bold Old Testament statements in Romans 3:9–18). It might be comforting to believe people can be saved without hearing about Jesus, but let us not leap to that assumption. Jesus told us to be His witnesses and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18–20). It is our responsibility to preach His Word, and it is God’s responsibility to decide how He will exercise His mercy.

Can God call somebody “righteous” before they accept Christ? Perhaps Cornelius was one of the elect, predestined to become a Christian, and that is why he is called righteous. I am not aware of any passages of Scripture that would guarantee such a possibility. However, since we know that God predestined those whom He foreknew to be conformed to Christ’s image (Romans 8:29), we can safely say that Cornelius ended up being righteous by His standards.

Perhaps Cornelius’ messengers were misguided, thinking in merely human terms. It is human nature to think of some people as “good people” or “righteous individuals.” We all know people whom we think of as good people. They try to do the right thing and treat other people well, so despite the litany about human depravity in Romans 3:9–18, we think of them as “good people,” even if they do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ. When Paul says, “There is no righteous person, not even one” (Romans 3:10), we assume our unsaved-but-really-nice friend is an exception to that rule. Perhaps Cornelius’ messengers thought like that: He tried to treat people well; he used his influence as a centurion to help people instead of taking advantage of them; he gave to those in need. By human standards, he seemed righteous.

A “god-fearer” in the New Testament was a Gentile who had come to believe in One True God. Often, they saw a lot of truth in the Jewish religion and tried to follow many of its laws. They might try to live by Old Testament standards of justice, righteousness, and morality. However, they did not take the leap to fully convert to Judaism by being circumcised and may not have followed all of the ceremonial laws and traditions.

However, God had begun a work in Cornelius’ life before the angel appeared to him. Jesus taught His disciples that the Holy Spirit would convict the world regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8–11). Cornelius had been convicted. He wanted to follow the one true God. God honored that desire by directing him to one who could help him find the right path by faith in Jesus Christ.

God was working in Cornelius’ life before he knew about Christ. Looking back at my own life, I can see how He was drawing me before I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I had been raised in the Roman Catholic Church, but by the time I was a teenager I wandered from that faith. Nevertheless, I could never bring myself to thinking about “God” without associating Him with “Jesus.” So, in my late teens, when I entered a phase of spiritual searching (including dabbling in the occult and studying a few non-Christian ideologies), that foundation stayed with me. One night, I found myself reading the Sermon on the Mount and was impressed that Jesus’ teachings were very practical but also seemed humanly impossible. It occurred to me that Jesus did not come to form a new religion but to create a new kind of person. A few months later, some people shared the Gospel with me, and my heart and mind were ready to receive the truth.

Could I be called righteous before I ended my spiritual search by accepting Christ? I would not have used that phrase then, and I still do not think of my pre-Christian self as a righteous person. (I have enough trouble thinking of myself as righteous after 37 years of following Jesus!) Perhaps one cannot think of Cornelius as completely righteous before he met Peter. Nevertheless, the seeker and the God-fearer are both drawn and inspired by the righteousness of God. This is what draws us to Him, and it should be what inspires us to continue walking with Christ every day.

What do you think? How can one be “righteous” before salvation? Share your thoughts about this or anything else related to Cornelius’ story by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

God’s Righteousness and Justice. IV: Righteous Men—Noah

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:8–9; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“Noah’s Ark Mosaic Iconography.” Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay.

One can grow discouraged contemplating God’s righteousness and justice if we have a wrong perspective. We see words like “righteous” and “blameless” and conclude we cannot measure up to those standards. After all, most of us cannot claim that our official slogan is “I’ve made it,” “I’ve got it all together,” or “I never make any mistakes.” For most of us, our slogan is probably the title of a Britney Spears song: “Oops, I Did It Again.”

I thank God that His Word does not hide the failures of His people. We read that Noah was “righteous” and “blameless.” We hear about how Abraham is the father of our faith. Moses is depicted as one of the greatest men of all time. Scripture honors the great heroes of the faith, but it also broadcasts their sins and shortcomings as loudly as their accomplishments.

The Bible introduces Noah shortly after summarizing the spiritual condition of mankind:

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).

The world was filled with violence (Gen. 6:11), wickedness, selfishness, and greed. It was so bad that Jesus compared the apostasy of the end times with the days of Noah:

“For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:37–39).

In a world that ignored God, where everybody sought pleasure, Noah “walked with God.” Therefore, he found favor (a few translations, including the King James Version, say he found “grace”) with God, Who called him to build an ark and preserve a remnant of living things while God judged the world’s sin.

Depiction of Genesis 9:20-27 in York Minster East Window. Photo by Jules and Jenny from Lincoln, UK,under a Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons.

However, Noah was not perfect. Genesis 9:20–27 tells us that he planted a vineyard after the flood and got drunk on some wine he made afterward. While drunk, he lay naked in his tent and was seen by his son Ham. In response, Ham’s brothers, Shem and Japheth, slipped in with their backs turned so they could cover their father without seeing him. It is not completely clear what the great shame and secret are here. It was not the wine: Shem and Japheth covered their father’s nakedness; they did not snatch his stash of home-brewed booze. Perhaps the Bible is politely not describing something that would have been obvious to ancient readers. Maybe Noah was doing something inappropriate in his drunken stupor. Maybe Ham did something with his father. Sometimes the Bible leaves out some details so that we can focus on our situation rather than critique the choices of the patriarchs. Noah was drunk, and whatever he did at that time would have humiliated the family if they still had any neighbors.

Whatever it was, Noah’s righteousness was not perfection. Great men of God often made big mistakes. Abraham “believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). However, Abraham would go on to lie about his wife, saying she was his sister, risking to have her taken in marriage by another man. Moses committed murder and later made excuses why he could not lead the Israelites. King David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14) and ancestor of Jesus, committed adultery, conspiracy to murder, and other sins and crimes. None were perfect, but all would come to repentance as they grew in faith toward God.

A righteous person is not perfect. It is someone who comes to faith in God through Jesus Christ and desires to walk with Him. We might stumble. We might struggle. We might lose our focus at times. But, we can always return to Him in faith and receive forgiveness and renewal. No matter how you have sinned, simply confess your mistakes to God, repent, receive His forgiveness, and continue to walk with Him. Do not give up.

“Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).

May we all grow in faith, love, hope, and knowledge of Christ Jesus.

How do you think God wants to reveal more of His righteousness through you? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Life Is Not Fair, but God Is Good

“Are You not from everlasting,
O Lord, my God, my Holy One?
We will not die.
You, O Lord, have appointed them to judge;
And You, O Rock, have established them to correct.
Your eyes are too pure to approve evil,
And You can not look on wickedness with favor.
Why do You look with favor
On those who deal treacherously?
Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up
Those more righteous than they?” (Habakkuk 1:12–13; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Life is unfair and can bring doubt and grief, but God is still good and just. Image by Victoria Borodinova from Pixabay.

The Bible and Judeo-Christian tradition make bold statements about God. We believe that He is always present, all-powerful, all-knowing, eternal, unchanging, holy, righteous, merciful, loving, and good. He is perfect in all of these attributes.

However, we see the world He created and governs, and things do not seem right. Wicked rulers enslave millions of people through violence, fear, and corruption. A global pandemic strikes down good people who are taking necessary precautions to protect themselves and others, while violent rioters burn buildings and loot businesses without catching a sniffle. A head-on automobile collision kills a careful driver and his passengers, while the drunk driver who was speeding the wrong way down a highway staggers away uninjured.

Life is not fair. Injustice exists everywhere. It can be easy to doubt God when bad things happen.

This dilemma is ancient. Even the authors of Scripture struggled with it at times. Abraham, the father of the faith, once asked God, “Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25). The prophet Habakkuk uttered the prayer at the beginning of this post while the Babylonians were ravaging the nation of Judah. He understood that the Jews had sinned against God and deserved some kind of judgment. However, the violence he saw seemed to be much worse than they deserved. Furthermore, they were suffering at the hands of the Babylonians, who were more wicked than the Israelites or Jews had ever been.

“God, do You have any idea what you are doing? Do You think this is right or fair? Where are You in this mess?” Do we not all pray like this at times? Throughout the ages, people have asked the same questions: How can a good, holy, righteous, and loving God allow wickedness and evil to prevail? How can such a God use evil people or events to judge His children or otherwise accomplish His will?

These questions continue to nag us, and people have answered the question in three ways.

First, some people conclude that there is no God. For them, there is no conflict. They believe that the universe is not governed by a supremely intelligent being; rather, impersonal natural laws of physics govern the universe. We are merely the random products of billions of years of chemical reactions that led to organic matter, then to living organisms, which eventually evolved into more complex life forms, including humans. In such a universe, right and wrong are merely human concepts, not objective realities. You cannot say “Bad things happen to good people,” because bad and good are just matters of opinion, not facts.

A second solution to this dilemma suggests that God (or several gods) exists, but He/she/they is/are imperfect. Rabbi Harold S. Kushner shared this view in his 1981 bestselling book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. He proposed that God exists and is good and loving but not all-powerful. He might want to heal your horrible disease but cannot do it. Similar worldviews state that God is less-than-perfect in some other way. Maybe He is not perfectly loving or just. Perhaps there are several gods, all of whom are imperfect. Ancient polytheistic tales like the myths of ancient Greece or the Middle East give this perspective. For example, in the ancient Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, a hero named Utnapishtim builds a large ship to save part of humanity during a global flood (similar to the biblical story of Noah). At the end of the flood, Utnapishtim offers sacrifices to the gods, who gather to ravenously receive the offering. One capricious deity had forgotten that all of the gods need to be fed by sacrifices offered by humans, and the other gods and goddesses were not able to stop him.

The response of faith holds that God is perfect, but His ways are beyond our full understanding. In the words of Isaiah:

“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.
‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8–9).

God is perfect. He is all-powerful, holy, just, and loving. When things do not seem to be going right, He is still in control. We may not understand what He is doing, but He knows exactly what He is doing or allowing.

If He does not fully judge evil in this world, He will do so at the final judgment. Although evil men may get away with their crimes in this life, God will hold them to account. We may not see it in this world, but God’s justice will come to fruition.

We will continue to see or experience things that tempt us to doubt God’s goodness or perfection. Do not fear. He will make all things right in His time. Life is not fair, but God is good all the time. Let us continue to trust Him even when circumstances tempt us to ask questions.

Life is not fair, but God is good. Have you struggled with this idea in your own life? How has it played out for you? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

God’s Holiness. II: Holy People for a Holy God

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.’ If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:14–19; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

The previous post in this series introduced the concept of God’s holiness. It is an important attribute of God. The term refers to something that is different, set apart, or consecrated, as opposed to something common or ordinary. We then saw that God calls His children to share in His holiness and communicate it to those around us.

How do we do this? How can we participate in God’s holiness? What does this look like? The discussion in this post and the two that follows it assumes that you are a Christian, who has received forgiveness of sins and everlasting life through faith in Christ.

First, we must admit that we cannot make ourselves holy. The Disciple’s Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1988) has this note regarding 1 Peter 1:15–16:

“God alone is holy. Objects or persons can be classed as holy only by participation in His holiness.”

We cannot make ourselves holy. The best we can do is receive and participate in God’s holiness.

To do this, we must recognize that we are already holy through faith in Christ. Holiness is not something we seek or earn as much as it is something we live out and practice. If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you are already holy. He has already purchased you with His blood and made you His own. 1 Peter 1:18 says that He has redeemed us. We belong to Him. He has already set you apart. God has given us His Holy Spirit living within us.

Most of us have moments when we do not feel holy, though. We know we are not acting holy. Sometimes, our behavior borders on diabolical. To change this behavior, we have to remove the obstacles that are hiding God’s holiness in our lives and let it flow out of us.

The exhortations in the next two posts are not a complete list. Numerous authors have written entire books on holiness in the Christian’s life. Three brief blog posts will not be able to cover everything. This is also not a step-by-step guide to holiness. Finally, I must emphasize that this is not a guarantee of instantaneous sanctification. The Christian life is a marathon, not a 100-meter dash; persistence and long-term obedience to God and fellowship with Him are necessary. Spiritual growth always takes time. Every Christian struggles with his or her own obstacles to holiness. Thus, we may each have to take different steps to grow. However, God has the same purpose in mind for each of us: That we may be conformed to the likeness of His Son (Romans 8:29).

In what ways would you like to see God’s holiness manifested in your life? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, God's Holiness, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nothing Will Be Impossible: Trusting God With the Difficult

“For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

The angel Gabriel said these words after explaining to Mary how she could bear the Son of God, even though she was a virgin. I can imagine Mary’s perplexed look as Gabriel pronounced the news that she would bear the Son of God: “Okay. I know God sent angels to tell women in the Scriptures that they would have great sons, but they were all married. You’re making this sound like I’m going to get pregnant any time now. How can this possibly happen?” Thus, the angel replied:

“And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35).

I still imagine Mary looking confused. “What do you mean, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you,’ and somehow that’s how I become pregnant? That’s not how Mom told me babies are made!”

It is easy for us, after 2000 years of hearing the Gospel and seeing Christmas pageants, to overlook how radical—how insane—how illogical—Gabriel’s announcement must have sounded. The Virgin birth and the truth of the Incarnation—that Jesus Christ is the immortal God who has become a mortal man—are so central to our faith that we can easily forget that they were at one time radical incomprehensible mysteries, and that ordinary people like Mary had to live those mysteries, not merely ponder them.

Omnipotence—that divine quality that means He is able to do all things—emphasizes this truth: that “nothing shall be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37) and its corollary, “All things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). Science and centuries of human experience tell us that virgins do not get pregnant. Mary recognized this. She could sense that Gabriel was leaving her fiance, Joseph, out of the equation. “How can this be?” “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Mary’s response was the purest statement of complete faith in God:

“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38).

Mary still had to tell her parents what was going on, but probably could not even begin to explain how it happened. Nevertheless, she trusted God, so she obeyed Him, even if she could not understand what was happening.

“The Annunciation,” by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This is our responsibility as children of God, to trust and obey, even if we cannot understand what God is doing. Even when circumstances seem impossible, we trust and obey. When life forces us to believe in the impossible, the child of God must do so, because nothing shall be impossible with God.

As I write this article, residents of New York State are urged to stay at home to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The New York City metropolitan area has been called “ground zero” for the disease’s outbreak in America. Some people are afraid. “Will I get sick? Will I die? Will I run out of toilet paper? Can I pay my bills?”

New Yorkers and millions of other Americans are worried about the difficult. Life will be difficult. People will get sick. Some will die. Most of us will survive, but we will face difficult challenges over the next few weeks and months.

Even after the disease dissipates, difficulties will arise, just as they always have. People will continue to battle cancer and other life-threatening diseases, just like they did before and do now. People will face economic hardship. People will lose jobs. Families will endure conflict and chaos. These difficulties happened before, they are continuing alongside coronavirus, and they will remain after the disease has disappeared.

The difficulties are real, but they are not impossible to face or overcome. God has promised us that nothing will be impossible for Him. Can we trust Him with the difficult, when He has already told us that nothing will be impossible for Him? Can we trust Him with the difficult-but-apparently-possible, when He has told us that we can trust Him to accomplish what reason, science, and experience tells us is impossible?

Child of God, trust and obey Him. His Word promises that we can trust Him to do the impossible. Let us at least trust Him with the difficult.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Current events, God's Majestic Attributes, God's Nature and Personality, Omnipotence | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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