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Posts Tagged ‘righteousness’


I have been a Christian who holds to the theology expressed in the 5-Points of Calvinism (a response to the Arminians) for approximately 20 years.  It was a view that grew out of my reading of Scripture, but the puzzle became clear when I read R.C. Sproul’s Chosen by God.

You can imagine that I’ve heard a few objections, theological and philosophical over the years.  There are also practical objections that are common raised as well.  One of them is that the Reformed doctrine of election undermines personal holiness or righteousness.  It is an important objection, though I think an unfounded objection.  Sure, there are people who are confessionally Calvinists but who are either in great obedience or are counterfeit Christians.  Rightly understood, the biblical texts regarding election point us in a very different direction.

Let’s start in Genesis 18.  God is speaking of Abraham.

19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.” (NIV, 1984)

The Hebrew for chosen here is ‘yada’ which means to know.  It can mean to know intimately.  As such it is often used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse.  It can also mean to discriminate or distinguish.  This is the meaning the majority of modern translators use.  God knew Abraham and chose him.

Here we see one of the purposes tied with the great promises of Genesis 12.  He was to direct his children in the “way of the Lord”, a way that means doing what is righteous and just.  Abraham was not chosen because he was righteous and just, but so that God would make him righteous and just.

In order to be a blessing to the nations, Israel had to be righteous and just.  To be righteous is to live in conformity to the law (which is a reflection of God’s character).  It is about our actions with respect to the law.  To be just is to act toward others with respect to their actions with respect the law.  I give them what they deserve.  Just people protect the oppressed and bring the oppressors to account for how they exploit others.  Our sin and injustice curses others.

Righteous and just communities are formed by families that are righteous and just.  Those families are not accidental, but have parents (particularly fathers) who instruct their children in God’s ways.  This is the point of Deuteronomy 6:6-7.  Godliness usually begins in the home.  Proverbs was written to instruct children in godly living- which starts in that commitment of faith the book calls them to in the early chapters.

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A recent sermon was on Abram’s encounter with the mysterious Melchizedek.  Since it was a sermon, I just briefly mentioned that he was a man who was a type of Christ.  He was not, as some have thought, the pre-incarnate Son of God.

I had a question about that.  I did some more research, particularly on the Hebrews 7 passage at the crux of the issue.  I also went back to my unpublished work on the priestly ministry of Jesus.  Here’s what I said there (sorry the footnotes are incomplete):

The author then begins to explain what he meant all the way back in chapter 5.  He feels compelled to remind them of who this man was since he is such a mysterious figure.  Who he was has been greatly discussed over the course of history.  There has been no limits to the speculation some have engaged in.  We do well to heed Turretin’s warning about “the silence of Scripture imposing silence upon us here in a certain manner and checking our curiosity.”[1] We will find by the way the Apostle describes him that he never thought that Melchizedek was the pre-incarnate Christ as some have supposed.  Neither are we to suppose that he was actually the Holy Spirit, or Shem, the son of Noah.

This man, at the time of Abraham, was a king of what was probably Jerusalem[2].  In addition to his duties as king he was also a priest.  In the midst of great paganism we find a priest to the Most High God, Jehovah.  Like Abraham, Melchizedek was a worshipper of Jehovah.

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I’ve got to stuff all of Galatians 2 into one sermon.  Oh the madness and folly of it all!  One of my favorite works on Galatians is Luther’s commentary.  I don’t agree with all he says, but there are some great things in there.  He had … a way with words.   Let’s see some of it.

“The truth of the gospel is that our righteousness comes by faith alone, without the works of the law. The corruption or falsehood of the gospel is that we are justified by faith but not without the works of the law.

I like how he reminds us that most false gospels do not deny the need for faith, or Jesus.  What they deny is the sufficiency of Jesus’ work for us.  This is why they are so dangerous, there is an element of truth to be found in them.  Satan uses a little truth to float big lies.

“…we will suffer our goods to be taken away, our name, our life, and all that we have; but the gospel, our faith, Jesus Christ, we will never allow to be wrested from us.”

Martin points to how precious this gospel is- it is more valuable than our possessions, reputations, and even earthly life.  This is why Paul fought so vigorously for the “truth of the gospel”.

“We therefore make this definition of a Christian: a Christian is not one who has no sin, but one to whom God imputes not his sin, through faith in Christ. That is why we so often repeat and beat into your minds, the forgiveness of sins and imputation of righteousness for Christ’s sake.”

Imputation is a necessary element of the gospel.  Our sins are no longer imputed (or accounted) to us AND Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.  We must remember both.  We cannot bring both our own righteousness and Christ’s to God.  It is one or the other.  We need constant reminders of this truth because our default mode is to try and earn SOMETHING.  We want to contribute something (besides our sin) to salvation.  Jesus, save us from our pride.

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Things take an ugly turn in Job 9-14.  Job’s friends continue to claim he suffers for his sin.  Job continues to declare his innocence.  This does not mean he thinks he is perfect- just that there is no sin he has hidden from God, no sin which he has refused to confess.  He upholds the righteousness of God, knowing he cannot argue (successfully) with God.  All he can do is plead for mercy.

Then we see an inkling of something:

“I despise my own life.” (9:12c)

“I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.” (10:1

Job has something of a death wish.  On the one hand he wants vindication.  On the other he fears that God will destroy him.

Zophar the Naamathite chips in with the incomprehensibility of God, … and Job’s obvious sinfulness.  If Job will just repent God will let up and restore him.

Job essentially responds, mockingly, “you are the man, and all wisdom will perish with you.”  He laments his lousy group of counselors.  “Come on, Zophar, show me my sin!”

Finally he returns his comments to God.

“If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me until you anger has passed!”

Job basically wants God to finishe him off.  He can no longer bear the pain of this hardship and wants God to hurry up and end his life.

Have you ever felt that way?  No, not suicidal.  This is not Job wanting to take his own life.  This is Job wanting God to end his pain by ending his life.  Job is hitting bottom, and it is scary.  His patience and perseverence are on the verge of collapse.  He isn’t sure how much more he can take.

Thankfully, God doesn’t honor this request.  His plan is not to destroy Job- but to show that Job loves Him even when life isn’t grand.  He’s out to show that Job loves God more than he loved his kids, wife and possessions.  And Job is struggling with this, just like the rest of us.

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I got back to my reading of The Path to True Happiness by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones this afternoon.  He was talking about when Jesus cleansed the Temple in John 2.  He used this to address the church’s relationship to the state.  When this becomes confused, the church loses its real power and the whole nation suffers.

“The church is not here to tell statesmen what to do.  She has a much bigger, a much deeper, calling …  Nor is it the preacher’s task to appeal to world leaders to make peace and banish war.”

Interesting words as much of America, including our President, celebrated the visit of the Pope.  Popes seem to know how to do little else but speak to world leaders.  Sorry, but hugging a sexual abuse victim when the Church of Rome has allowed this sin to fester unhindered for decades is ample evidence of what church’s should not do.  The point: churches lose their moral authority to speak to society if they are not addressing the sin in their own communities first and foremost.

Lloyd-Jones had watched the church in England forfeit its voice for decades.  He was frustrated with a holy frustration.

For it is the tragedy of the hour that the church is telling the world what to do when the question is: Is the church in a fit condition to do so?  I suggest that it is not surprising that the world does not listen.

In tracing this idea through biblical history the Doctor notes:

But the moment there was a declension in the temple worship, deterioration invariably followed in the life of the people: like priests, like people. … Take another verse: ‘Righteousness exalts a nation (Proverbs 14:34).  Not possessions, not wealth, not material power, but ‘righteousness.’ … When things go wrong in the Temple they will go wrong everywhere.  The key to everything is our relationship to God.

The Doctor is not blaming “those damned heathens” for the moral ills of his society, and neither should we.  He blamed the church because she had not lived up to her calling which opens the door to rebellion based on hypocrisy.  A vibrant church, which is pursuing righteousness, will change the shape of a nation far more than preaching against the ills of that nation.

Well so often in Israel the first thing that went wrong when they lost the living Spirit was that they turned the temple worship into something formal and external.  … The formalizing and externalizing of religion is a great curse.

We know some of this here in America.  Our churches have been infiltrated by materialism and consumerism (the whore of Babylon).  We pursue success and access, not righteousness.  We condemn non-Christians instead of applying the gospel to our own wicked hearts.  Often our churches are used by the political parties to further their agenda (this happens on both sides of the aisle, folks).  The problem is not the political parties, but the pastors and denominational leaders that bow down to them and fail to protect the flock.

The need is not for something to happen in the state, but for something to happen in the church.  Why are the statesmen ignoring the church?  Because the church has no power (he means spiritual power). … if you and I are genuinely concerned about the world and its state, our first duty is to pray for revival in the church.  It is not to say things to the world, but to seek this power which will enable us to speak to the world in such a manner that it will tremble as it listens to us.

The business of the church is to bring men and women to God and to keep them in communion with him.  The church should be filled with such power from God that everybody, in a sense, will be forced to listen. … The first prayer is to plead with him to come into his Temple, to manifest his glory, to show us something of the might of his power and to fill us with that power.

May King Jesus do just that, manifesting His glory in a people being transformed by grace.  As His church becomes healthier and exhibits spiritual power more will be converted and transformed, thus changing the character of cities, counties, states, regions and a nation.

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In chapter 3 of The Future of Justification, John Piper pretty much dismantles N.T. Wright’s views concerning law-court dynamics and the meaning of God’s righteousness.

Wright tends to prefer  that justification, and the law-court imagery, refer primarily, though not exclusively, to the final law-court.  He does tie this to what has happened in Christ.  The issue revolves around his distinction between the righteousness of a judge and that of the defender.  Wright points to 4 senses in which the Judge is righteous: “his faithfulness to his covenant promises to Abraham, his impartiality, his proper dealing with sin and his helping of the helpless.”  So, for the Judge it refers to His actions.  Wright does not go deeper into His character that produces those actions.

With regard to the defendant, righteousness is a status- that one is a part of God’s family.  It is not status in terms that one is righteous (in the greek, righteousness and justice are the same word group, and context determines the meaning).  So, Wright writes “it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendent.  Righteousness is not an object, a substance or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom. … To imagine the defendent somehow receiving the judge’s righteousness is simply a category mistake.”

I would agree, to a point.  The defendent is receiving the righteousness of the Substitute, the Representative.  His righteous actions, according to all Paul belabors in Romans 3-5, are imputed to all who believe, or trust in, that Representative.  The Judge declares us righteous because we are united to the Righteous One.  It is Wright who makes a profound “category mistake”.  He misleads through his use of the law-court imagery, not the imagery itself.

Piper focuses on the issue of God’s righteousness, asserting that Wright’s understanding is too superficial as I noted above.  He summarizes his argument from his book The Justification of God (very good, but very technical book).  “The simple way is to say that God’s righteousness consists in his unswerving commitment to do what is right.”  What is right?  “‘Right’ actions are those that flow from a proper esteem for God’s glory and that uphold his glory as the most valuable reality there is.”  Piper then goes on to show how this fits Paul’s argument from Romans 1-3, showing Paul had this view in mind.  As a result, we find that this view of righteousness creates a problem for covenant faithfulness, in that we have become idolators, and God should bring covenant curses on our heads.  While sins went unpunished, it seemed like God didn’t value His glory.  “When he justifies the ‘ungodly’ (who have treated his glory with contempt, Rom. 1:18, 23; 4:5), he is not unrighteous, because the death of Christ exhibits God’s wrath against God-belittling sin.”  Sin has a big part Paul’s notion of justification.

In the basis of Romans 3:5 & 7 (parallels) Piper shows that it is righteous for God to show wrath for his own glory.  This is something Chalke wants to deny, which is why Wright’s endorsement of his book is problematic.

As Piper works through Romans, he asks that we do that same thing with his definition of righteousness that he did with Wright’s: does it work in the whole text?  Remember, Wright’s didn’t make sense in many parts of Paul’s argument (part of the same context, so we’d expect it to have a similar if not identical meaning).  Piper’s makes much more sense.  The implications of this will be explored more fully in his fourth chapter.

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“If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied.  It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world.  Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”  John Piper

“If we do not discipline our desire, we will crowd out the hunger for God through which we find our blessedness.  Self-indulgence, even in seemingly harmless things, can slowly lead us away from the place where our soul truly longs to be.”  Cameron Lee

Both quotes are from Unexpected Blessing by Cameron Lee

We often expected to be satisfied NOW.  But Jesus, in the Beatitudes, teaches that our gratification is going to be delayed.  We hunger and thirst now.  We struggle with mixed longings as well as mixed motives.  The belief that we get it all now, and experience no such longings for personal, imparted righteousness (as opposed to imputed righteousness) and that we have all we could want, is an over-realized eschatology.  It over-estimates the ‘already’ portion of our salvation, forgetting that there are “not yet” aspects.  We live as pilgrims

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