Posts Tagged With: righteousness

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).

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

God’s Righteousness and Justice. IX: Putting on the New Self

“… {A}nd put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

My last article looked at Isaiah 11:2–5, which tells us how Christ bore God’s righteousness and faithfulness like a belt. This verse reminds us of the whole armor of God, which includes the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14).

The Bible has many images to describe our relationship with Christ. We are members of His body, much like our limbs and other organs are members of our bodies. We are “in Christ,” and He is in us. The whole armor of God, Ephesians 4:24, and several other passages remind us that we are to “put on” Christ or the “new self” in a sense of “clothing ourselves” with Him. The clothing imagery sometimes speaks of clothing ourselves in Christ or clothing ourselves in righteousness.

“I will rejoice greatly in the Lord,
 My soul will exult in my God;
 For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
 He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,
 As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
 And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

“The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:12–14).

This clothing imagery appears throughout Scripture. It is an active, conscious choice that we make. For many of us, one of the first decisions we make every day is what to wear. We make a thoughtful decision on what to wear each day; we do not aimlessly walk out the door wearing whatever we wore to sleep. We usually make a decision based on the day’s activities. Even though I work at home, I ask myself whether I will be in a Zoom or other virtual meeting before picking my shirt for the day. My wardrobe decision will be much different for a lazy Saturday morning than for church on Sunday.

Are we as decisive with our spiritual wardrobe? Do we conscientiously choose to put on the Lord Jesus Christ, or do we just mindlessly go through our day?

Many Christians, myself included, observe Lent. This is a season of prayer and fasting, offering us an opportunity to reflect on our relationship with Christ. This year, I have felt convicted about how easy it is to slip into a neutral gear in my spiritual life. Having focused on the fast itself, it is easy to lose sight of how it points me to Christ.

The focus of Lent should be on Christ, not solely on the fast. This year, I have caught myself getting lazy about one of my fasts. While I have avoided donuts and cakes pretty well, I have not kept my word to God that I would abstain from playing computer games during Lent.

Does God really care that much if I play solitaire on my computer? Probably not: people do far worse things online. However, I have found myself playing games when I could be reading the Bible or devotional books. Sure, I can make excuses: Lent has been particularly challenging the last two years. The pandemic has forced many of us to forego human interaction and social activities—even in-person church events—while also giving up favorite foods or hobbies. The battle is real, and it is intense, but as the “whole armor of God” imagery reminds us—Christians are always at war. You cannot afford to get lazy when the enemy is ready to attack.

Let us avoid complacency. Let us renew our commitment for the next few weeks. Lent is not merely about giving up chocolate, cookies, donuts, video games, etc. It is a time to deepen our focus on Jesus. It is also a war game to prepare ourselves for the real battle: to lay aside the deeds of darkness and the old nature so that we can put on Christ. It is a conscious decision. Fasting in specific areas of our lives during Lent can be a form of practice for facing real battles. It will be easier to battle hardcore sin when we have triumphed over the Boston crème donut.

When all is said and done, we should be clothed in Christ so that His glory is revealed through us. Let that be our goal.

Do you have anything to add or any thoughts that come to mind about clothing yourself in Christ? 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, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Righteousness and Justice. VIII: Clothed in Christ’s Righteousness

“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And He will delight in the fear of the Lord,
And He will not judge by what His eyes see,
Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins,
And faithfulness the belt about His waist.” (Isaiah 11:2–5; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

A Roman soldier’s belt, holding a dagger for battle. Photo by Elliott Sadourny [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.

When we think of righteousness, we should think of Jesus. When we think of justice, we should think of Jesus. Since the fullness of deity dwells in Him (Colossians 2:9) and He dwells in His disciples, we should manifest God’s righteousness and justice, following Christ’s example. A few thoughts about this are worth considering.

First, when Jesus judges, He judges in righteousness, not by appearances. We can say much about this—perhaps too much for a brief article like this. Jesus knows our hearts. He knows our motives. He does not make mistakes.

However, most importantly, He does not jump to conclusions. If we want to be like Him, we have to avoid the temptation of allowing our emotions and impulses to guide our reasoning. We allow fear, distrust, suspicion, prejudice, and self-righteousness to guide our thinking. We see that a wrong has been committed, and we assume that we know who caused the problem and what motivated them. We can be wrong, but we will not admit that. This may be part of the reason why Jesus said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Even when we think we are helping the other person, we might be working from false assumptions. Christian author Bill Perkins recently wrote the following:

“God never gets angry about a perceived injustice. He never flies off the handle because of an imaginary wrong. We, on the other hand, may do just that. In fact, I suspect we get angry at perceived wrongs or irritations, more often than real ones. That’s why we should anger slowly—as James said, our anger never ‘achieves the righteousness of God’” (Bill Perkins, “Jesus Got Angry Four Times“).

Second, righteousness and justice are not only things Jesus does: They are essential parts of who He is. Jesus could not simply choose to be righteous for a few minutes and then move on to something else. He could not bring Himself to it: His holiness, righteousness, justice, and every other attribute were not things He merely chose to do and be when it was convenient.

In Ephesians 6, Paul spoke of the whole armor of God. You can find an entire series about this topic and the subject of spiritual warfare on this website. Two vital pieces of that armor are the breastplate of righteousness and the belt of truth. As committed Christians, we should wear this armor constantly. We should “put on Christ” and wear Him wherever we go (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27). Jesus wore righteousness like a belt around His loins. Likewise, we should be armed and ready to bear His righteousness and truth to the world.

How do we stand against temptation? We clothe ourselves in Christ: In His life, His forgiveness and grace for us, His resurrection power, His indwelling Holy Spirit, and the whole armor of God. His righteousness in us will give us victory in life.

How can you manifest Jesus’ righteousness to those around 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, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

God’s Righteousness and Justice. VII: Christ our Merciful and Righteous King

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

An Ash Wednesday cross on a worshiper’s forehead. Photo by Jennifer Balaska, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Many Christians began observing Lent this past week. In some churches, pastors marked congregation members’ foreheads with a cross-shaped mark using the ashes from burned palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. The pastor generally accompanies this marking by saying, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lent reminds us of our mortality and our need for forgiveness. It reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “{T}he wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

In Lent, we are reminded of our unrighteousness and that Christ’s righteousness and mercy are our only hope. During the last Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, many churches will commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which was prophesied in Zechariah 9:9 (Matthew 21:5 quotes this verse as he describes Jesus riding a borrowed donkey).

Jesus’ arrival must have been a dramatic sight. For three years, He had preached and performed miracles. People got excited, convinced that He was the Messiah, the coming Great King of Israel who would overthrow the Roman authorities. Jesus had even at times said enough to confirm that He thought He was the Messiah.

The Triumphal Entry, artist unknown, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

And now, just a few days before Passover, as Jewish pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire were flooding Jerusalem, Jesus rode into the ancient capital city of Judea. He sat astride a colt, as if He was a king, while His followers shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9).

There was no mistaking His intentions now. In the past, He might have hinted that He was the Messiah. Now, His actions shouted it. He consciously chose to ride on a donkey, thereby fulfilling Zechariah 9:9.

Stained glass window depicting the triumphal entry of Jesus, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Albany, NY. Photo by Nheyob, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

However, His actions also shouted what kind of king He was. A conquering king would enter the city on a horse as if ready to do battle. When a king came in peace, he would ride a donkey. Jesus was contrasting Himself with many of the kings the Jews had seen in recent years. Greek rulers and Roman Caesars had come to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus was now coming so that the people could have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

God’s justice intertwines itself with His other attributes. He comes not only to exercise His justice but also to reveal His humility and mercy as He brings salvation. The Jews suffered persecution and domination for centuries. God’s Great King would come to deliver His people. Zechariah 9:1–8 tells us how God would judge the nations that afflicted His chosen people.

Yet, “He will speak peace to the nations” (Zechariah 9:10). Jesus’ goal is not to destroy, but to save and redeem. He comes to destroy the works of the devil, but He comes to deliver people from Satan’s rule. Jesus’ justice and mercy mingle. Are we willing to receive His offer of peace, or do we choose to remain at odds with Him? He comes in peace to establish His righteous and just kingdom. We decide whether we will accept His terms of peace or rebel against Him. No matter which we choose, He will reign triumphant.

What do you think about Jesus’ righteousness, justice, and mercy? 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, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: