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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Receiving God’s gift of righteousness

But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee. 1 Samuel 13:14

Samuel the prophet and king maker, announced King Saul's rejection for his repeated and wilful incompetence as a King. In his place would come, not Israel’s choice but God’s choice, King David. Saul had built a monument to his own supposed greatness (1 Sam. 15:12), whereas David made himself vulnerable to human vindictiveness, confessing publicly to an entire nation (Psalm 51: 4) his dreadful fall, into adultery and murder.

The psychology of love

In commenting on the verse above (1 Sam. 13:14), Harry Ironside says:

David's songs of joyous confidence in the God of his salvation . . . have been loved by pious Jews and devout Christians throughout all the centuries since.
How, then, can we say - of those who still sing the words of God in the Christian era - that they are not saved? St. Paul said the pious Jew had a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Rom 10:2). This was because he was still seeking to establish his own righteousness and did not trust the name of Jesus as the Son of God, or call upon Him to be saved (Rom 10:9). This is a conundrum. How can someone love the Word of God and not be saved? Is it possible?

St. Paul is saying (in the epistle to Rome) that in the light of all God has revealed in the New Testament, if a person does not love Jesus as His redeemer and saviour and friend, he must be trying to 'get in good with God' by his own efforts, or think himself worthy of God's acceptance, on the basis of his merits. The religious Jew has no sacrifice to offer, no Temple to claim God's presence in, and no Messiah to be his intermediary. Yet, he loves singing the Psalms, apparently!

But, does the unsaved Jew love to sing the Psalms because he loves the secure feeling that following a ritual gives him? Or, because he loves the aesthetics of the liturgy? If he's not saved, then do we not have to say he does not love the God of whom he sings? This makes me ask, What does it mean to "love" something or someone? It is to experience deep affection or intense desire for another, including "to love God." Or in another definition, it is to have an intense emotional attachment to something, as "he loves his house." Yet a third emphasis may mean to be highly or immoderately fond of some art form, as "he is in love with Japanese painting." Is the pious Jew or churchgoer in love with God, when he seems to love singing, or is he merely in love with the experience of being in community, of engaging in moving music, or because he gets a buzz from using a pattern of evocative poetic words?

The Christian and blind justice

The same questions have been asked about Christians too, who seem to love singing hymns on Sunday, yet more or less forget God during the week. The Apostle Paul's resolution of this puzzle, is to say, in effect, 'You don't love God until you hate sin, and search for true righteousness in your life (Rom. 10:3).' 'You don't find that righteousness until you recognise your need for a righteous quality outside of yourself.

The prophet Samuel passed by the attractive sons of Jesse in looking for another King to anoint, because he knew appearances are deceptive, and said,

The LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart. KJV 1 Sam. 16:7
We sometimes hear the saying, “Justice is blind.” It’s a similar thought to Samuel’s. Good looks, influential friends, fashionable dress, outgoing personality – all these may hide rather than reveal true character - best to be blind to all of that! Such qualities may lure a jury into making a superficial and distorted judgement, in favour of a guilty defendant. But not God, He sees us through and through. He knows we need a righteous quality outside of ourselves, if we are going to survive judgement day, some day.

This righteousness from God results from believing Jesus is who He said He is ("My Lord and my God," John 20:28). It comes from believing that He, as the only sinless human, was yet treated as a sinner by His Father and for our sakes (2 Cor 5:21). It results from believing that God raised Him from the dead, in order to show divine approval of His sacrificial death (Rom. 4:25). When we believe these things in our individual hearts, Paul says we receive a quality of righteousness from God Himself - His righteousness - as stated in Romans 10:10

For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Look at the context of Romans 10, and you'll see it's all about God's righteousness versus our righteousness. Oil and water don't mix. Our righteousness doesn't wash with God. We receive His righteousness when we hear this Word, believe it, and receive it ("submit to it" Rom 10:3). In practical terms, we are saved, when we confess it to others, Rom. 10:9. Paul says when we believe this message in the heart, we "receive the Spirit." Gal 3:2. This is the oil of God's anointing, 1 John 2:20. He says the result of this anointing is "the righteousness of the law" will be "fulfilled in us," Rom 8:4. It must be fulfilled in us, because Paul says we have, in the act of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ - in that act we have "become the righteousness of God in him,” 2 Cor 5:21. This is what the preacher John Wesley experienced in Aldersgate St. London, when he found his heart "strangely warmed" by the testimony of Martin Luther, who had made the same discovery.

The gift of righteousness

John Wesley was a good churchman, a missionary, a pious and religious man, and a preacher - yet he had not understood this Gospel!! You may be in the same position as he was. If so, you need to be born again. This reminds me of the godly bishop Handley C.G. Moule (1870) who preached the need to be born again one Sunday morning, and said, "You may even be a deacon in this church, yet not be born again!" For such evangelical words, John Wesley was denied many an Anglican pulpit, because it cast doubt on the teaching that we are born again when we are baptised in water as infants. But, Jesus never meant us to take his words about the new birth as referring to literal water, in John 3: 5.

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
No, He was referring to the moral cleansing which takes place when God's righteousness is received as a gift (Rom 5:18). We are born again, not by water, but as St Peter says,
Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.1 Pet. 1:23
and as St James says,
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth . . . James 1:18a
Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as producing that new birth, and describes His coming on the future day of Pentecost as the experience of an inner living water:
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)John 7:47-39.


This is the Gospel. All else is fake Gospel. Jesus invites us:

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. Rev 3;20.
The door is your heart. When you believe the Gospel about God's righteousness (not yours) - and how you obtain it - you ask the risen Lord Jesus Christ to come in to your heart. Take God at His word: He will. You may not feel any different; that will come later. Confess who Jesus is to you, to your wife, your friend, your neighbour - and the experience will produce a saving relationship, first with God and then with others:
For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. Rom 10:9
Do it today:
Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 2 Cor 6:2.

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