Posts Tagged ‘righteousness’
There has been an outpouring of grief and shame following the horrific pictures of a Syrian child lying drowned on the shore of the Mediterranean. If you think those photographs are painful, read the account of the father who tried to fight his way through the surf to the beach, losing his wife and then his two sons to the waves, one by one. It is truly agonising. Many have agonised.
It has prompted a spurt of sympathy for the flood of refugees pressing into Europe from various points east. News footage pummels us with insights into the horrific sufferings of their previous lives and their often-incredible journeys. We are stirred by video of them arriving in ‘free Europe’ to the acclaim of cheering crowds who pour out their affection verbally and practically. Nations are – to use the dry rhetoric of government – increasing their refugee quota, spurred on by the feeling of the populace and their knee-jerk reaction to what they have seen.
This is not a comment on the appropriateness, or otherwise, of offering refuge to some or all of these men, women and children. It is not a question about whether or not the flood of refugees contains a trickle of terrorists. It is not in any way an attempt to dismiss the gut-wrenching misery suffered by people made in the image of God, or the gut-wrenching grief we feel as those made in the image of God when we see that suffering before us. It is not a comment on compassion fatigue or our almost voyeuristic fascination with suffering.
But I wonder how long such a response will last, and what kind of investment it will sustain? It won’t be long before those refugees, if they are permitted to stay, are no longer wrapped in the warm embrace of liberal sentiment, but facing the cold reality of life in foreign countries which will not prove to be the Promised Land. They will quite likely be living in enclaves where either they are banding together for security, or among – even surrounded by – others who quite possibly resent them and will manifest their resentment. Even many of those moved to tears by their sorrows and sufferings will find those tears drying up as the realities of life bite and time passes. The tears will be stimulated again by fresh atrocities but the old ones will quickly drift away. Many will feel much and do nothing.
I wonder if the same thing has happened or is happening with the Planned Parenthood videos. Remember those? Yes, just a few weeks ago many were up in arms because of the footage of those who work for Planned Parenthood negotiating the transfer for gain of the body parts of murdered children. Even many of those for whom abortion per se is no issue were stirred by the graphic nature of some of the pictures and the callous nature of the conversations. But again, the consequence has not been the sustained mobilisation of a great mass of committed humanity against the murder of the unborn. Rather, we are troubled by the gross appearance of the thing. Doubtless, if it can be tidied up and carried out in a ‘humane’ way – because there’s nothing like a properly humane murder to assuage the conscience – then we shall go on quite content with the fact of abortion. Sentiment will be assuaged, and life can go on as normal.
I wonder if we could go back even to the slave trade. There is, it seems, little doubt that the primary opponents of the slave trade used powerfully emotive arguments to raise the profile of their cause and enforce their principles. The appalling testimonies of ex-slaves, the diagrams of human beings packed like sardines into the squalid interiors of slaving vessels, the protestations of ex-slavers, some of them converted – all of these served to further the cause. But the cause itself did not advance because of this, nor was it eventually won because of this. It was advanced and won, under God, by men and women who were moved by more than sentiment. It was carried forward by those who were governed by principle.
Reasonable sentiment need not in itself be sinful, but it is not always substantial. Sentiment can be swayed, one way or the other. Sentiment in one direction can be turned back by an opposing sentiment that seems equally reasonably. Sentiment tends to be reactive; it is rarely proactive. It bubbles up in a moment and melts away just as quickly. The sentiment that wishes to find a home for poor refugees might be overcome by a different sentiment when they move in next door. Principle – especially Christian principle – should be grounded in enduring truth. It is anchored in such a way that tides of sentiment or waves of feeling (whether that be weariness in pursuing principle or opposition to the principled) will not carry it away. Principle stands against pressure. Principle identifies and reacts to the fundamental issue, not the peripheral and perhaps unpleasant phenomena surrounding the issue. Righteous principle takes full account of misery, but it is moved by a regard for fundamental reality – matters of truth, mercy, justice, peace, righteousness. Righteous principle acts proactively out of allegiance to God in Christ. Christians need to be a people of principle.
Mere sentiment can be dangerous. In the unprincipled – and, once we have abandoned any notion of enduring, fixed, eternal truth, truth grounded outside of our experience and feelings, we have no real basis for true principle – sentiment can move individuals and groups far and fast. It can even leave them horrified by what they accomplished under the influence of sentiment and in the absence of principle. Principle can also be dangerous if it is the wild-eyed conviction about things that are foul and vile. Then unrighteous zeal can drive a person or group to truly terrifying extremes. But principle grounded in divine truth, with appropriate sentiment yoked behind, can and should accomplish much.
So, we will, in this fallen world, hear or see many things that horrify us. Many of them should horrify us. But they do not properly and persistently move us because principle is lacking. Perhaps we also hear and see things that ought to horrify us and move us, but do not because principle is lacking. How many vile things do we see – perhaps even enjoy – without a proper feeling reaction? Principle is not unfeeling; it actuates and directs feeling in proper channels. When faced with a moral challenge, we would do well to ask not only, “What do I feel?” but “What should I feel and what should I then do?” We must dig down to and stir up righteous principle. Reasonable sentiment might galvanise and stir us, but only righteous principle will guide and sustain us.
A nugget from Robert Bolton’s Some General Directions for a Comfortable Walking with God (London, 1626):
By walking with God, I mean, a sincere endeavour, punctually and precisely to manage, conduct, and to dispose all our affairs, thoughts, words and deeds; all our behaviours, courses, carriage, and whole conversation, in reverence and fear, with humility and singleness of heart, as in the sight of an invisible God, under the perpetual presence of his all-seeing, glorious, pure eye; and by a comfortable consequent, to enjoy by the assistance and exercise of faith, an unutterable sweet communion, and humble familiarity with his holy majesty: in a word, to live in heaven upon earth.
May we, by grace, pursue this more and more!
“No one is more holy than anyone else.” That was the statement I heard in a recent sermon. At first, I thought I must have misheard it. But, I had not. The point being made to the congregation was clear: abandon your ‘self-righteousness’ and recognize that you are no holier than the person in the pew next to you.
For why this is nonsense, read the rest.
Prodigal 8 6. 8 6. 8 8
Do you indeed speak righteousness,
You mighty ones on high?
And do you judge with uprightness,
You men who soon must die?
No: from your wicked hearts there flows
A weight of violence and woes.
They turn against the Lord from birth,
And quickly go astray;
They rage and poison in the earth,
With lies in all they say;
Like serpents deaf, they stop the ear,
The charmers’ voice they will not hear.
O Lord, break out the lions’ teeth,
Defend their helpless prey;
Sweep them aside, their weapons sheath,
Their arrows cast away;
The wicked melt and are undone
Like stillborn child who sees no sun.
Our God will swiftly still their voice,
His storm of wrath come in;
The righteous humbly will rejoice
When God avenges sin:
Surely the righteous see reward,
And he who judges is the Lord.
Advance, our conquering Prince of Peace,
Hurl down each tyrant throne;
Let every rival kingdom cease,
And reign supreme, alone:
To multitudes grant liberty
From sin and sinners’ tyranny.
See all hymns and psalms.
Via Ray Ortlund, Bruce Waltke’s thought-provoking notion of the counterintuitiveness of righteousness, a readiness to disadvantage oneself for the advantage of others. This one bears more chewing over:
‘Righteousness’ is a social term signifying that people do right by each other as defined by God’s covenants with Israel. In a nutshell ‘righteousness’ means ‘to disadvantage oneself as necessary in order to advantage others,’ and ‘wickedness’ means ‘to disadvantage others in order to advantage oneself.’ A student who takes a reserved book out of the library to get an A, leaving the rest of the class to get a lower grade, is wicked (i.e., a fool). By contrast a student who resists the temptation to check out a rare book from the library so that his or her classmates have the opportunity to read and write an ‘A’ paper, even if it means he gets a lower grade, is righteous (i.e., wise). Righteousness, the disadvantaging of oneself to advantage others, is counterintuitive. Jesus Christ is the supreme example of wisdom according to this definition.
Bruce K. Waltke, “Fundamentals for Preaching the Book of Proverbs, Part 3,” Bibliotheca Sacra 165 (2008): 261-262.
Most of us like to think that we are good people. After all, there are so many other people who are much worse than us. We think we know what is right. We often want to do what is right, but it is hard to do the right thing. Why do we do things that we know are wrong? And why do we feel bad inside when we do things that we know are wrong? How do we measure goodness? And how good is good enough?
The Lord God, who made you and takes care of you, has told us what is right and wrong. One day we will all have to face Him. He will judge everything that we have done, everything that we have said, and even everything that we have thought. Jesus said, “Be ready, for the Son of Man [Jesus Christ] is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24, verse 44). How can you be ready? Will you be good enough?
Take a moment to read God’s Ten Commandments:
1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
5. Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbour’s.
How do you compare to this standard? You might think you can make fun of the standard: “I’ve never coveted anybody’s ox or donkey!” You might think it easy to point to the things that you haven’t done: “I’ve never murdered anyone”. But Jesus taught that the Ten Commandments go much deeper than we imagine. They are as much about our thoughts, our hearts, our attitudes, as they are about what we physically do (if you have a Bible, you can find this in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 5, verses 17-30). Jesus said, “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matthew 5.22) and “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5.28).
No wonder the Bible teaches that “there is none righteous, no, not one” (the letter to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 10). We have all broken the Ten Commandments: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). Is any one of us good enough for God? No!
But that is not the end of the story. Why did God write these Ten Commandments if none of us can keep them? The Bible answers this question. God says that the Ten Commandments – God’s holy law – is our “tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (the letter to the Galatians, chapter 3, verse 24).
How does Jesus Christ fit in, and what does it mean to be justified by faith?
Jesus fits in because “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians, chapter 4, verse 4). Jesus Christ, being both God and man, obeyed the law of God perfectly. He lived according to the law, and is the only man who never broke one of God’s Ten Commandments in his thoughts, words, or deeds. Read the accounts of His life in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and you cannot find one instance when He sinned: He was never less than perfect in all that He thought, said and did. But what does that have to do with us?
The Bible teaches that we all have a sinful nature. After all, nobody needs to be taught how to do wrong things – it is the way we are, and we act in accordance with it. But the Bible promises that “through one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5.19). That verse is talking about Jesus, and means that somehow sinners like us can benefit from the perfect and sinless life that Jesus lived.
If we are to face God in judgment and not be damned for our sins – condemned for all the things that break God’s law – then we need the holiness and perfection of Jesus. This is what it means to be justified: for God to declare us to be right in his sight. For that we need a perfect righteousness. How do we get this righteousness? Through faith in Jesus Christ, his righteousness is put to our account. Then, “justified by faith, we have peace with God” (Romans 5.1). Peace with God! If your conscience tells you that you have done things wrong, and must one day face God, what would you not give to know peace with God?
Don’t try and have peace with God by trying to be better, by trying to keep God’s Ten Commandments better. We cannot keep God’s law: “No one is justified by the law in the sight of God” (Galatians 3.11). That sends us to Jesus Christ for the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” God’s answer is this: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” This salvation is “by grace . . . through faith” (Ephesians 2.8). “By grace”: it is the gift of God, and not something that we can earn or deserve. “Through faith”: repenting of our sins, and trusting completely and only in Jesus Christ. He lived the life that we should have lived, but could not. He died the death that we deserved, being punished by God for the sins of His people.
Examine your life, examine your heart. Consider the standard of God’s Ten Commandments, and compare yourself to it. Listen to your conscience. Then repent of your sin, and ask God to save you through Jesus Christ.
Ephraim 7 7. 7 7
Offer now your gift of praise
On this glorious day of days,
Thank God for his boundless love:
Raise your voice to heaven above.
To your Lord a tribute bring:
Praise his Name, give thanks and sing.
On his blessings ever dwell –
Know that Jesus loves you well.
Bow before his throne of grace;
Gaze in wonder on his face;
Let his love your song inspire:
Praise Christ with the heavenly choir.
Shelter now beneath his wing;
Joyful hallelujahs sing.
Having died to bring you peace
Will not Christ your joys increase?
Thank him for his Word of peace.
Glorify his righteousness.
All your vows of love renew,
Knowing that he first loved you.
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