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Posts Tagged ‘Righteousness’

I frequently hear in election cycles these days a repeated phrase that sounds something like the following: “This is the most important election of our life-time.” I think the purpose of the statement in its various forms is to stir certain emotions and resolves toward rushing to the polling place and casting a vote to stop this madness. But like the 100th artillery shell to fall near your trench, you become numb to the effects of these dire predictions. Either the effects of this election will end life as you know it, or it won’t, and there is little to be done about it. We are “election shell-shocked”. That does not mean that there is less danger because we are insensitive to the falling declarations of disaster, but only that we can no longer respond to it as such. But the situation is grave for the continuance of our free society and it causes me to think about the first verse of a hymn:

“Once to every man and nation,
comes the moment to decide,
in the strife of truth with falsehood,
for the good or evil side;
some great cause, some great decision,
offering each the bloom or blight,
and the choice goes by forever,
‘twixt that darkness and that light.” (1)

“One salient point of this hymn is the burden that it places, not only upon the individual man, but upon nations as well to obey God and to honor His Law. If decisions to obey God are made in the hearts of the people of a nation, that nation will also follow in like obedience to that Law. If we find that our beloved nation today has gone from following God to following after the world, it is because our ministers and churches have failed to call her citizens to repentance. When we begin to see national laws that forbid sin to be repealed, and those laws converted to the side of evil, then we shall know the extreme danger of our national condition. There is only one great decision – to follow God!” (2)

Take note about the conclusion to this quote about the hymn. It does not say panic and run off doing some Herculean task. It says “follow God”. That is a daily, in the trenches, persistent, long-term repentance. It matters not what shells of destruction fall around you. You continue about your duties to your ruler. Live a life different from the world that pushes and pulls others, even a society toward God.

Furthermore, though the hymn verse is grave, the situation is not yet so grave as the hymn talks about. Later verses speak of “by the light of burning martyrs” (3) and “Tho’ her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong”. So, I think that in reality there are many choices on the road to hell, not just one great decision. There comes a time certainly when God says enough is enough. When the Israelites turned away from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 13 and 14) and God made them wonder in the wilderness for 38 more years until “your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness”, (Numbers 14:32) there was a “Once to every man and nation.” But this judgment had been building, for God says in His first response after Moses pleads that God not immediately destroy them, that “none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.” (Numbers 14:22-23) Did you see it? Not once but ten times they spurned God. As He says in Hebrews 3:16-19: “For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” It was not merely a single act of rebellion but a condition of unbelief revealed through continued rebellion over time.

So, where are we as a nation? At the time of this writing, purposefully so, this is prior to the election. I do not know the outcome or the ramifications of that outcome. Regardless of the outcome, repentance, trust in God, and perseverance in right living are far more important than what the result of this election will be. God may again be gracious to us and prolong our prosperity, or He may gives us what we deserve, and our demise will be swift, but we must turn to God for the good of our nation, our neighbors, our family, our posterity, and our world.

What is the hope for a nation over whom destruction has been declared? In the case of Israel, it was God’s mercy for the children, for He says, “But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness.” (14:31-32) God may yet be entreated by a repentant people, just as He was by Nineveh (Jonah 3:10).

May God give us “a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.” (Deuteronomy 29:4 says He had not yet done so for Israel.)

1. Hymn: “Once to Every Man and Nation” by James Russell Lowell in 1845

2. http://www.faithfulcenturion.org/AOCBlog/Hymns/Hymn%20519%20-%20Once%20to%20Every%20Man%20and%20Nation.pdf#:~:text=%E2%80%9COnce%20to%20every%20man%20and%20nation%2C%20comes%20the,by%20forever%2C%20%27twixt%20that%20darkness%20and%20that%20light.

3. Surely this is a reference to Nero using Christians as torches in his garden, though many others were burnt at the stake over the centuries.

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I read the book of Titus recently and came away reflecting on the contrasts of our sinful past, our God altered present, and our glory bound future. Paul speaks some ugly things about Cretans, but makes it clear that all we sinners share the same ground. The difference for believers is that Christ, “to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.”* Paul wanted Titus to silence the “empty talkers” and “liars” who “deny Him”, so that they will not “upset whole families” on the one hand, and “be sound in the faith” on the other. This reminds me that we must stop soft peddling the Gospel because it is not true to God or His Word and because sinners need to hear the truth of the desperation of their condition in order to be saved. The following poem came slowly with much labor, but I think the result communicates the essence of the passage (Titus 1:10-16, 2:11-14).

Lazy and rebellious
You know the kind
Hateful and pugnacious
A good one hard to find

Foolish, godless, enslaved
And such were we
Deceivers and deceived
Who truth refuse to see

Defiled, unbelieving
Claim to know God
Worthless for well-doing
Perverse things get the nod

God’s grace has now appeared
Salvation come
Ungodliness denied
We more righteous become

For blessed hope looking
Glory of Christ
Savior and God stooping
His redemption sufficed

From every lawless deed
To purify
For Himself His own breed
Ardent good works thereby

*from the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

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Preachers love “p’s”, because there are such a variety of meaningful words, and particularly theological words, that begin with p’s for those three point sermons. One of those very memorable “triple p’s” concerns the progress of salvation in a person’s life that is summarized in Romans 8:28-30. Salvation has sequential nature to it.* My experience of salvation is past, present, and future. At the moment of my believing in Jesus, God justified me. Now He is sanctifying me. In the future He will glorify me. In the Romans passage, Paul speaks of all three of these in the past tense. I think there are two possible reasons for the past tense. For one thing, these events are so certain that they are completed even though not presently carried out. Secondly, it seems like to me, that since God is eternal and timeless, He sees the whole progress of the salvation He is bringing about in us as one event. He has accomplished it, it is complete, and it stands fast. Frequently this sequence of salvation is taught as God saving us from the penalty of sin in the past, the power of sin in the present, and the presence of sin in the future.

As I was reading in the Scripture yesterday, this triplet of penalty, power, and presence came afresh to my mind. Then I paused for a moment and reflected on the fact that this view of the work of God centers on His process to remove sin from us and us from sin. That is a good emphasis and right. But with what was it replaced, I mused? The answer is not hard; it is righteousness. And how might we think of His imputation of righteousness to us in terms of the progress of salvation?

In the past, we were saved for (by) the provision of righteousness. “ He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) This verse most clearly communicates the great transaction, the glorious transfer. Jesus provided me with His righteousness, therefore, I am justified in His sight.

In the present, we are saved for (by) practice of righteousness. “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13) As God is at work, he calls us to work along side Him in the power that He provides. He gets all the glory and we get the benefit of being changed and participating. As one of my pastor’s favorite** verses says, “…seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3) Perseverance of the saints is not merely hanging on by fingertips, but the ability to fully succeed as a believer.*** God and we are active in our sanctification.

In the future, we are saved for (by) perfection of righteousness. “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1 John 3:2) If you want to understand better what glory and glorification will be like, dwell on Jesus. (John 1:16-18) This realization is a great motivation to live a more godly life, as the next verse in 1 John 3 confirms: “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (v.3) God will one day glorify us so that we may see Him (Matthew 5:8).

In summary, and more concisely,

     I am saved from the

            penalty of sin (past),

            power of sin (present),

            presence of sin (future),

                         and

     I am saved for (by)

            provision of righteousness (past),

            practice of righteousness (present),

            perfection of righteousness (future).

*I do not say a “time element” because God’s predestination before time and our life in Him for eternity are timeless. However, there is both an order (sequence) and a time element to the moment of salvation, the process of sanctification, and the inception of glorification.

**And it is quickly becoming one of mine, given the great encouragement it gives that God cares and has already cared enough to provide all that we need to please Him and succeed.

***Those few who would shame Him by consistently only surviving are disciplined. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32)

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