Posts Tagged With: justice

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

Faith, Righteousness, Rights, and Hard Times

“For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:37–38; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

When faith is genuine, it governs our lives. When we have true faith, God’s righteousness will grow in us. We will live by God’s standards of righteousness and justice.

While Christians should be eager to see God’s justice manifested, we cannot afford to make our rights our top priority. Americans stand up for our rights. However, God calls us to do what is right, no matter what. Sometimes, we may need to place God’s glory ahead of our rights.

This is one of the main themes of the letter to the Hebrews. The original readers were presumably Jewish converts to Christianity. When persecution hit, some were tempted to return to Judaism. Returning to their former, more “acceptable,” faith offered a better chance of keeping their homes, jobs, possessions, etc., instead of suffering persecution. The author (probably not Paul, but one of his ministry partners or companions) urged them to remain faithful to Jesus. The rewards of everlasting life are far greater than any earthly possessions or privileges.

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one” (Hebrews 10:32–34).

The early Christians did not expect “your best life now.” While Jesus had promised innumerable blessings to His followers, He said they would not come cheaply. The Christian life begins with repentance. It leads to self-sacrifice. Suffering frequently follows.

“Peter began to say to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You.’ Jesus said, Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first’” (Mark 10:28–31, emphasis added).

How do we measure up? The COVID pandemic has shown how weak we are. People thought some of the restrictions—including mask requirements—were the mark of the beast. Many ranted that we are approaching the Great Tribulation because officials urged us to wear masks in public for the past year and to get a vaccine. Jesus told us that there would be great tribulation in the end times, “such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” (Matthew 24:21). COVID-related restrictions are minor compared to the suffering of Jews in Nazi Germany, Black slaves in the pre-Civil-War south, or countless other oppressed people throughout history. The restrictions of the past 15 months do not qualify as signs of the end times.

The original readers of Hebrews showed us how to respond to difficult times. They joyfully accepted the loss of their property. If they were not the direct victims of reproaches and tribulations, they stood by their brothers and sisters who were. Instead of cowering in fear, they stood with their brethren. When trials came, they accepted them.

Christians today must learn again how to sacrifice. We must learn how to endure trials and tribulations and how to identify and sympathize with those who are suffering persecution or injustice. We should be ready to speak out for justice for all, but we must also be courageous enough to face persecution without a spirit of self-righteousness, rebellion, bitterness, or revenge.

We do not prove our faith by twisting Scriptures to explain why we should be comfortable. Faith is validated when we persevere during trials, tribulations, and persecution. We do not prove our faith when life is easy, claim our blessings, attend church, post Bible verses online, or celebrate our comforts. We show our faith when we remain faithful to God despite hardship.

Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). If we grow discouraged or turn our backs on Him when things get tough, we do not have faith. The readers of Hebrews were tempted to give up—they had not done so yet—under pressures that would have destroyed most American Christians.

Are we strong enough to stand firm in Christ? Can we follow the example the writer of Hebrews sets before us? If not, what can we do to grow in true faith that can withstand hardship?

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, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Line Dividing Good and Evil

“But when Peter saw this, he replied to the people, ‘Men of Israel, why are you amazed at this, or why do you gaze at us, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses. And on the basis of faith in His name, it is the name of Jesus which has strengthened this man whom you see and know; and the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all’” (Acts 3:12-16; all Scripture quotations from the New American Standard Bible).

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

One of the great ironies of the Gospel is that Jesus, the Righteous One, was killed by religious people.

It was not harlots, tax collectors, murderers, drug addicts, sex offenders, or child abusers who led the cries urging Pontius Pilate to “Crucify Him!” It was the chief priests, the teachers of the Jewish Scriptures, and other religious leaders. The people who claimed to know and obey God called for the execution of the Son of God.

Jesus brought life and healing. Religious men brought death.

Jesus brought forgiveness and salvation. Religious men demanded condemnation.

Religious leaders of the people of God mocked Jesus while He died. It took a pagan “godless” centurion to declare, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).

Religion, ritual, rules, tradition, and dogma do not guarantee righteousness. The men who demanded Jesus’ death were seeking God, but they sought Him on their terms, based on their finite understanding of God’s Word. When they encountered Jesus—the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature—they could not recognize Him.

It is easy for us to condemn the chief priests and Pharisees. However, is it possible that we can be more like them than we are willing to admit? Do we really hold to the righteousness of God, or do our own biases sometimes get in the way? Do we sincerely love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Do we truly love our neighbor as ourselves? Or, do we find more entertaining things to lure us away from God? Do we find excuses why the other person might not count as our neighbor?

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of their own heart?” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn).

Photo from imgur.

Perhaps most of us struggle with the same challenge. We start our day well. Maybe, like me, you find time to pray and read the Bible before starting your workday. Perhaps you find ways to serve God and His people in ministry, either through your church or other avenues. Maybe you spend most of your day “doing the right things.” At some point, though, temptation takes over and you live more like the devil than like a child of God. The line dividing good and evil had cut through your heart.

The great message of the resurrection is that Jesus lived a righteous life and then died for our forgiveness and salvation. Whatever evil exists in your heart and life, Jesus offers forgiveness and cleansing. He rose from the grave to conquer death, the ultimate evil.

Today, let us bring our entire hearts to Him—the good and bad, the righteous and unrighteous, the religious and profane—and welcome His cleansing power. He came to give us life and to shine His light and glory through us:

“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:5-10).

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

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

%d bloggers like this: