Saturday, January 31, 2015

God the Father invented missions

Genesis 3:7-9 "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. 8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

When it comes to considering missions in the Bible, where is the first place to look? Many would rightly point out Matthew 28:18-20, which is called by many "The Great Comission" by Jesus to His church. Others may point back much earlier to Genesis 12:1-7 wherein God is calling forth Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees to be a blessing to all the nations and thus laying the ground work for the Abrahamic Covenant. Indeed both of these texts are fundamental when it comes to understanding missions and evangelism in the Bible. Both Genesis 12:1-7 and Matthew 28:18-20 demonstrate that God's missionary heart runs from Old to New Testament. However there is one text that I would suggest gives us the very first mention of the great commission, a text that features God as the first and lone missionary - Genesis 3:7-21. 

God the Father invented missions
Genesis 3:8-21 presents the tragic scene of Adam and Eve right after their epic rebellion in the Garden of Eden. The following pattern witnessed in Genesis 3:8-21 gives us a general pattern for which we see God's master plan missions throughout the Bible.

1. God seeks sinners. Genesis 3:8-14
God as the Person of the Father pressed further into the garden with the idea of having a face to face conversation with his now estranged created son and daughter. The Hebrew of this text suggests that God is persisting in His efforts, with the Spirit of God blowing away the path directly to fallen man. The Father ever sends forth His Spirit to engage the heart of sinners, and that initial pattern is what we see here. Genesis 3:8 depicts the man and his wife going into hiding and shame from God. Thus we see that it was not man who invented missions - but God. The Father's first missionary effort involved Himself seeking after a lost son - Adam. 

As one scan the remainder of the Old Testament, we can see this pattern time and time again of the Father initiating the effort to seek after those who are lost and whom He has set His affection. Abram was such a man in Genesis 12 whom God called out of Ur of the Chaldees. Though Abram was lost, an idolater and foreigner to the things of God (Joshua 24:1-2), yet God called Him forth out of darkness into light. Or how about Abraham's descendants some 430 years later. God called Moses to call them and lead them out of Egypt. After they left Egypt, God then gave instructions to Moses for the construction of the tabernacle. The Father desired to be in the midst of His people and thus tabernacled Himself in a tent. 

Is it no wonder that Jesus told the famous parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, featuring a father and not just one but ultimately two estranged sons. The Apostle Paul would later write in 2 Corinthians 5:18 "Now all these things are from God,who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." The Father's will and the Son's will are not at odds, but rather are in perfect unity. The origin of missions began with the Father. The Apostle Peter reminds us in 2 Peter 3:9 "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." God as Father is the One who seeks after sinners. But notice secondly...

2. God speaks the Gospel. Genesis 3:15
Genesis 3:15 has been termed by some as the first mention of the Gospel or the "protoevangelium". It is the first time God sets forth the promises of a redeemer who will defeat Satan. The "seed" of the woman will defeat the Serpent. This Gospel was stated by God and is developed in progressive, revelatory detail throughout the Bible. The "seed" promised in Genesis 3:15 is reitterated in sharper detail to Abram in Genesis 12:7. Through His bloodline is promised an ultimate seed who will bless the nations. A millennia later the "seed promise" is even more specified to King David in 2 Samuel 7:13-16 by means of the Davidic Covenant. Jesus of course is the fulfillment of both covenants in a specific sense as traced out in the opening genealogy of Matthew 1:1-17. Whenever we read 2 Corinthians 5:19, we discover God the Father making his appeal through the church: "namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation." So God as Father seeks after sinners and speaks the Gospel. Now notice the third pattern of God's invention of missions in Genesis 3:8-21...

3. God sends grace. Genesis 3:16-20
What is grace? Grace is God doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. In Genesis 3:16-19 we see how utterly helpless man is in repairing the covenant of works that was broken. God had issued forth commands to the man and his wife, and they chose not to heed that original covenant. Thus the man and his wife were naked both physically and spiritually before God. When Adam calls his wife "Eve" in Genesis 3:20, that is his "confession of faith" with regards to her role as a life giver. Adam had heard the first mention of the Gospel and God's promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15. 

The terms by which God chose to deal with man was going to be grace alone. No effort of man would be adequate to bridge the infinite chasm between himself and Holy God. Thus the salvation needed by man needed to come from God. God's dealings with man had always been by grace, even prior to the fall. God revealed His word - an act of grace. God placed Adam and his wife in a lush garden - an act of grace. Despite their rebellion and well deserved penalty of death, God chose to extend grace by means of the Gospel and thus the official covenant of grace. Adam's response of faith was a product of God's graceful dealings. Salvation from Genesis 3:15 forward would be totally from God, by God and for God. 2 Corinthians 5:20 reminds Christians of their role in God's great mission - "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."
So God seeks sinners, speaks the gospel and sends grace. The pattern being almost complete requires one final element from God the Father on behalf of his estranged son and daughter, namely...

4. God supplies a substitute. Genesis 3:21
Genesis 3:20-21 records the first blood sacrifice in the Bible - "Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living. 21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them." Unless innocent blood had been shed on behalf of the guilty, Adam and Eve would had to have borne the penalty due to them in the Garden. The resulting shedding of innocent blood and the covering of our original parents' nakedness provides a riveting picture and foreshadowing of what God had planned in the sending of His Son. 2 Corinthians 5:21 states - "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Other texts could be cited to demonstrate how God supplied the subsitute, Jesus Christ, on behalf of sinners. (John 3:16; 1 Peter 3:18 and many others)  

Closing thoughts
The point is clear, God the Father invented missions, as seen in the four following ways from Genesis 3:8-21

1. God seeks sinners. Genesis 3:8-14
2. God speaks the Gospel. Gen 3:15
3. God sends grace. Genesis 3:16-20
4. God supplies a substitute. Gen 3:21

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Bible's greatest missionary

As we consider today the greatest missionary in the Bible, we need to ask two questions: What is a missionary? Who is the greatest missionary in the Bible?

To answer the first question, a missionary is one who is sent to communicate a particular message to a particular people on behalf of the God of the Bible.  The word “mission” itself comes from a Latin word “missio”, which in its most ancient meaning referred to artillery that was “shot out” to a given target. Thus in the Old Testament, oftentimes the prophets were the ones sent by God to speak forth the message of salvation and repentance to the people. The term "prophet" in the original Hebrew refers to one "bearing forth" a message. In the New Testament, the original twelve disciples came to be called "the apostles" or the "sent ones" as the word translates from the Greek. These "Apostles of Christ" were directly called by Jesus, had witnessed His earthly ministry and post-resurrection appearances and did miracles in His name. (2 Corinthians 12:12) Though "Apostles of Christ" were a restricted group including the twelve and the Apostle Paul, another class of "sent ones" were called "Apostles of the church" and correspond to missionaries today who are laying new ground and expanding the frontiers of the Gospel. (see 2 Corinthians 8:23)

With regards to the second question: Who is the greatest missionary recorded in the Bible?  some may say the Apostle Paul, who wrote two thirds of the New Testament. Paul was declared to be the “Apostle” or “Missionary“ to the Gentiles (that is, the non-Jewish Nations).  Others may try to argue for the Apostle Peter, since he preceeded Paul's ministry and dominates the first 12 chapters of the Book of Acts and was the inaugural preacher on the day of Pentecost. Peter's sermon resulted in the salvation of 3,000 souls, so surely he would qualify. Still others may name a prophet like Moses, who was “sent” to the Jewish people in Bondage in Egypt. God used Moses to proclaim the Gospel to them, and by God's power Moses divided the Red Sea and the Children of Israel walked across on dry ground.

Though these are good suggestions, they are not even close.  The greatest missionary in the Bible is none other than God Himself. 

The first mention of missions in the Bible is found in Genesis 3:8-21.  The circumstances in the text follow the great rebellion of Adam and Eve against God’s command to them to “not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil”.  This command is the foundation behind what Bible teachers call “The Covenant of works”.  It was an arrangement given by God to man whereby Divine blessing and eternal benefits would be granted conditioned upon man’s obedience.  If Adam and Eve would had fulfilled the Covenant of works, they could had eaten from the tree of life, and entered into eternal communion with God.  Instead they chose to heed the voice of the serpent, and the Covenant of works was broken.

What was needed was another covenant, another arrangement.  God would have to be the one to do the work.  Man would never and could never attain right relationship with God through obedience.  It was going to have to be a covenant of grace, whereby God would extend Himself to man, with man receiving such grace by faith alone.  It is in this context we find God, the great missionary pursuing man.  Below is a brief outline of what God did, and is still doing today in His great missionary activity in this world.  Genesis 3:8-21 provides the seeds for understanding the missionary activity of God throughout the rest of scripture. 


1. God seeks after the sinner Genesis 3:8-14
Notice how the man and the woman hide from God.  God is the one calling after them.  God is the One who comes down to them.  They are lost, needing to be found. Man blames God.  Man has no interest in reconciling with God.  He is content to remain where He is.  God is the one needing to affect the reconciliation

2. God states salvation to the sinner  Genesis 3:15
This verse is the first verse we see referring to God’s promises of a Redeemer.  “The Seed” is a term that when traced throughout the scriptures, leads to Jesus Christ. Genesis 3:15 also points to the great conflict between the people of God saved by Grace alone through faith alone and those who persist in their rebellion and unbelief.

The salvation that begun in a garden would find its resolution in another Garden, the Garden of Gethsemene.  In the first Garden Old Adam failed and refused to allign with God's will.  At Gethsemene the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, alligned his human will with the Father's Divine will and agreed to pay for our salvation.

3. God sends Grace to open the sinner’s eyes Genesis 3:20
Adam calls his wife “Eve”, the mother of living, in response to the promise given through her in Genesis 3:15.  This is what I term his confession of faith
The Bible is pretty clear that faith is a gift given by God, whereby we are set free to freely trust in Christ and confess with our mouth Jesus is Lord (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 10:9)

4. God supplies a Substitute to die in the sinner’s place  Genesis 3:21
God provided coats of skins from two animals He killed in place of Adam and Eve.  This sets the pattern of the innocent dying for the guilty and the blood being the payment in appeasing the wrath of Holy God.  God’s clothing of Adam and Eve meant He reckoned to them the fitness to be in His presence due to the innocent life of those slain in their place.  This is what we called “imputed righteousness”.  This is the cornerstone of salvation.  God’s declaration of this truth over us the moment we believe is what is termed “Justification by Faith”.

As we close out this post today, let us say: "Thank you Lord for being the Great Missionary!"

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The belt of truth & breastplate of righteousness

Ephesians 6:14 "Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness."

In our last post, we completed our study of the four kinds of righteousness spelled out in the Bible. To review, let the reader be reminded of what those are:
1. God's righteousness
2. Christ's righteousness
3. Credited righteousness
4. Practical righteousness

As we labored to explain these major types of righteousness in the scriptures, we discovered that the first two are absolute and belong to God and then specifically to the Lord Jesus Christ. These first two types of righteousness (which in all reality are equal) is the only type of righteousness deemed acceptable by God. For the Christian, unless they have by faith received the righteousness of Jesus Christ (as so credited or imputed unto them by the Father), no other righteousness (self-righteousness, works-righteousness) will be adequate. We then concluded the series by noting that practical righteousness is the Christian's daily Christian life flowing from Christ's righteousness that was credited unto them in salvation. 

Understanding such truths aid us in in heeding the command to "put on the full armor of God". The spiritual armaments listed in Ephesians 6:10-18 would had corresponded to the accoutrements worn by Roman soldiers. The aim of today's post is to unpack the meanings of two of them: "the belt of truth" and "the breast plate of righteousness". 

What is meant by the "belt of truth"
The phrase "belt of truth" corresponded to the piece of the soldier's equipment that held everything together, which could also be termed a "girdle". Adam Clarke notes in his commentary: "The girdle went to the loins and served to brace the armor tight to the body, and to support daggers, short swords and such like weapons which were frequently stuck in it." 

Christians need to be those who are all about the truth. Whenever we study the necessity of truth in the scriptures, we discover the following:

1. Truth is the priority of the Christian
-Priority in conversion 2 Thess 2:13; Jas 1:18;

-Priority to our walk 2 Peter 1:12; 1 John 2:27;

-Priority for our joy 2 John 4; 3 John 3

2. Truth personified by Jesus
-Isaiah 11:5; John 1:18; John 14:6

3. Truth promotes spiritual health
-Lk 12:35; 2 Cor 6:7; Eph 5:6-9; 1 Pt 1:13-15

So that's the belt of truth. Now let's consider the second piece of the spiritual armor - "the breast plate of righteousness".

What is meant by the breast plate of righteousness?
As we mentioned earlier in this post, Paul's metaphor of the spiritual armor corresponded to Roman armament. Other sources of antiquity describe what a Roman soldier would had worn in terms of a "breast plate". The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia, Volume 1, Page 320, has this to say about Ephesians 6:10-18 and the ancient literary evidence that would had been available from the Greco-Roman world:

"Polybius (6,22 and 23) describes the Roman soldier as wearing such a helmet, a breastplate of brass or chain mail (lorica) to cover especially the heart and greaves; and as carrying a javelin, a sword hanging from the right side of the waist, and a shield, either one circular or one about two and a half feet by four feet in length. This description compares favorably with Paul's metaphorical statement (Ephesians 6:14-17) about the Christian armor...".

In thinking back once more on our previous lessons on righteousness, the question is: which type of righteousness composes the breastplate of righteousness? Truly just as the literal breastplate served to guard the soldiers heart, lungs and vital organs, there needs to be a righteousness that can serve to guard the saints heart and vital faith. 

The only type of righteousness that can perform such a function is that righteousness credited to the believer in salvation - namely Christ's righteousness. The New Geneva Study Bible has this insightful comment on this point: 

"Believers are protected by the righteousness of Christ imputed to them (Rom. 4:6–11; Phil. 3:9), and they can stand up to the accusations of the devil; devil in Greek means “slanderer” (Rom. 8:31–34). Simultaneously, Paul sees believers taking on the righteous character of Christ (4:25; 5:9), while their growing conformity to His image gives them confidence in resisting temptation."

Paul himself daily donned the breastplate of Christ's rightousness that had been imputed to him at salvation, as seen in Philippians 3:9 

"and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."

Closing thoughts
Today we considered the two pieces of the spiritual armor found in Ephesians 6:14 - the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. May we as Christians put on the whole armor of God and be all about the truth and ever in dependance upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ, our salvation. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How credited righteousness (justification) and practical righteousness (sanctification) are related

Romans 1:17 "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Practical righteousness
When people read or hear of the truth of justification by faith alone (i.e credited righteousness), the complaint brought forth is that such teaching is pure fiction. If God so declares something to be what it is not (declaring an unrighteous sinner righteous), is that not tantamount to a myth and fairy tale? Furthermore, does credited righteousness require fruit? Such questions are addressed in scripture. 

James writes in James 2:17 “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” Faith is a gift given by God to the sinner in His saving work in acting for them and in them. (Ephesians 2:8-9; James 1:18). Once the sinner responds to the call of salvation, they are justified or declared pure, innocent and acceptable to God. The righteousness of Christ is credited to their account and they are deemed reconciled and at peace with God. (Romans 5:1).

Credited righteousness is the root and God's declared beginning point of the Christian life. As with all living plants, the root evidences itself as living by the trunk or stalk put forth, the branches or leaves springing forth from the trunk or stalk and then the flowers or fruit that follow. Practical righteousness is the progressive, cooperative effort that exists between God and the saint following that initial act of justification by faith. The Bible uses a term that summarizes the believer’s practical righteousness – sanctification. Romans 6:22 states for instance – “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”

Justification and sanctification, though intimately and inseparably related, are nonetheless distinct graces in the Christian life. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 describes justification: “Justification is God's gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. Justification brings the believer unto a relationship of peace and favor with God.” Justification is a one time act, done by God.

Sanctification, on the other hand, is an ongoing process that entails cooperation between the Spirit of God and the believer. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 defines sanctification accordingly – “Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God's purposes, and is enabled to progress toward moral and spiritual maturity through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. Growth in grace should continue throughout the regenerate person's life.” Philippians 3:12-13 explains this cooperative effort between the Holy Spirit and the believer in sanctification – “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Justification is the root of our Christian life whereas sanctification is the ongoing trunk, branches, leaves and fruit of the Christian life. Justification is totally of God whereas sanctification involves both the saint and God. Justification centers on the righteousness of Jesus Christ credited to me by faith alone whereas sanctification entails my practical righteousness depending upon Christ’s righteousness as it works out saving faith. Justification sets the sinner free from sin’s penalty while sanctification sets the saint free from sin’s power.

Now why labor over these distinctions between justification (i.e “credited righteousness”) and sanctification (i.e “practical righteousness”)? Because the Gospel not only deals with getting a man saved but it also serves to describe what life should be like after one gets saved. Practical righteousness must be present and flowing from the credited righteousness of Jesus Christ. 

To illustrate, the watch I wear is one of those “Atomic Watches”. The watch itself has its own power supply and regular watch circuitry. However, there is a small radio circuit in that watch that receives periodic updates from the master atomic clock in Colorado. The master clock ensures that my time piece keeps the right time and to within a degree of a small fraction of a second. We could call the watch “the slave” and the clock in Colorado “the master”. Now the question is: which is keep the time? Certainly the watch ticks on, day by day. However by itself it will eventually become inaccurate, which is why it depends upon the master clock.

When we begin to understand how the Christian life works, Christians are certainly to live out the Christian life in the exercise of their practical righteousness. However that practical righteousness is based upon the Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose Absolute righteousness informs the believer’s practical righteousness. Will Christians at time falter? Yes. However the Spirit of God transmit and reminds the believer through the scripture to look to Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-12). Jesus is the Lord of the believer from justification onward. He is ever the Master and we are the slaves. (Romans 6:12-13)

Closing thoughts:
The aim of this series of thoughts has been to introduce the reader to the four main types of righteousness found in the Bible. It is hoped that this set of teachings have illuminated and informed the reader as to the richness of salvation and the Christian life. We defined righteousness from word studies and various scriptures as: “a life and conduct that is pure, innocent and perfectly pleasing with and before God.” We also considered the four main types of righteousness we find throughout the Bible:

1. God’s righteousness

2. Christ’s righteousness

3. Credited righteousness (justification by faith alone)

4. Practical righteousness (sanctification that entails faith at work)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The importance of credited righteousness or justification by faith alone

Romans 1:17 "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Credited righteousness
Romans 4:3 gives us a profound statement on how one man, Abraham, was deemed acceptable, pure and innocent in the sight of God: “For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” The Apostle Paul of course is getting into the heart of the Gospel by unfolding to us the doctrine of justification by faith. Contrary to what some may teach, the Old Testament does not teach one way of salvation and the New Testament another. Paul’s whole point in explaining how the righteousness of God is brought down to the sinner at saving faith is to show how such truth was communicated in the Old Testament, beginning with the Book of Genesis. 

In Genesis 15:6, we read the same identical words: “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” Whenever we survey the Old and New Testaments, we find this central theme of the Gospel of “credited righteousness” or what is also called “Justification by faith”. (Psalm 32:1-2; Habakkuk 2:4)

Now we have already labored to define the term righteousness, which again I will remind the reader: “a life and conduct that is pure, innocent and perfectly pleasing with and before God.” We have also labored to show that God’s righteousness, which is also in the same league as the righteousness of Jesus Christ, is the only acceptable righteousness before God. So then, how does that righteousness become my own? For we know from scripture that self-righteousness or any attempt to gain salvation by our own efforts falls far short of the purity, innocence and perfection that God and Christ have. Romans 3:20 states – “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Galatians 3:11 echoes similarly – “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.”

Notice how often we see the terms “justified” or “credited” or “reckoned”. These terms explain how the righteousness achieved by Jesus Christ in both His life, death and resurrection are transferred to the sinner’s account. Whenever a person writes a check and gives it to another as a gift, what happens is that the monetary amount written on that check is coming out of someone’s account. It was earned by labor or some other way. Whenever they give that check as a gift, the recipient must receive it in order to place it in their account. Once the person brings the check to the bank, the bank teller looks at the check and looks at the person who signed the check on the back and applies it to the recipient’s account. What has happened? The bank has regarded that money as the recipient’s own, even though the check clearly came from another person from the outside.

This illustration serves to aid in understanding how the righteousness of God and Christ is applied to sinner’s at salvation. Faith alone is both necessary and sufficient. Faith is the means by which the righteous merit of Christ’s life, death and resurrection is applied and received. The cross of Christ is the grounds and the choice and calling of God to that sinner is the beginning point of such salvation. The righteousness demanded by the law and yet unattainable is the same righteousness promised by the Gospel that is received by faith and credited to the sinner.

Such “credited” righteousness is sometimes described by term “imputed righteousness”, meaning that the work of another outside of myself is credited to me as if I had accomplished it. David in the Old Testament states in Psalm 32:1-2 “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered!2 How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!” Though Christ had not yet come into the world, nonetheless what He would achieve was of such great value that it not only reaches forward into time today but was also the same righteousness credited to Old Testament believers who looked to the promises of God by faith. 2 Corinthians 5:21 summarizes this “credited righteousness” or “imputed righteousness” (both meaning the same thing) – “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

So in this series we have seen three types of righteousness thus far in the Bible: God’s, Christ’s and credited righteousness. There is one more type of righteousness described by the Bible that is necessarily connected to and flowing from the righteousness credited or imputed to the sinner in justification, which will be our focus tomorrow...namely practical righteousness.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Taking a closer look at Christ's righteousness

Romans 1:17 "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Christ’s righteousness
Jesus Christ the Son has always existed as Fully Divine along with the Father and the Spirit.  When we speak of Christ's Deity in relationship to righteousness, the Son is in and of Himself absolutely righteous. The Son came to this earth and by way of the virgin birth conception became God in human flesh. As the Person of the Son came to express Himself as a human being, His life and conduct were 100% righteous before and with God. Again let me remind the reader of our definition of righteousness: “a life and conduct that is pure, innocent and perfectly pleasing with and before God.” We know from the testimony of scripture that the Savior needed to be without sin, which Jesus alone was and is. (Hebrews 7:24-25; 1 Peter 2:21-22)

If Jesus Christ had not been sinless in His humanity, then He could not had born the curse of the law on sinners’ behalf. (Galatians 3:10-13) Jesus Christ’ lived and died an innocent life. In accordance to the law of God, Jesus Christ was without spot and without sin. (John 1:29; 2 Corinthians 5:21) As Jesus began His earthly ministry, He aimed to demonstrate that as the sinless Savior, He alone could live a life that was perfectly pleasing to God. Jesus' entire time here on earth demonstrated that He in His humanity was and still is in perfect relationship and fellowship with God. 

When He was baptized by John the Baptist in Matthew 3:15, Jesus stated that it was necessary for Him to fulfill all righteousness. Thus the necessary righteousness that alone could please God in terms of purity and innocence was fulfilled by the Person who alone was perfect in His humanity and undiminished in His Deity – namely Jesus Christ. As fully Divine, the Person of the Son is absolutely righteous in the Divine sense - hence possessing God's righteousness. As fully man, Jesus Christ, the Son of God in human flesh, is the only righteousness that God will ever let live with Him throughout eternity.

So then we see God’s righteousness and Christ’s righteousness. The question is: how can anyone else be ever right with God if in fact no one can ever hope to attain the purity, innocence and perfect pleasing life and conduct required by God? Moreover, if the only righteousness deemed acceptable to God is His own righteousness and thus the righteousness of Christ, how then can any sinner have any hope of being deemed acceptable by God? These questions strike at the very core of the Gospel, thus leading us to the third kind of righteousness in the Bible which will be the focus of tommorw's post, namely "credited righteousness".

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Understanding God's Righteousness

Romans 1:17 "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

Four types of righteousness in the Bible
Having discussed yesterday the definition of righteousness in the Bible, we once again put forth our working definition of this important concept: “a life and conduct that is pure, innocent and perfectly pleasing with and before God.” It is vitally important to grasp the fact that the Bible refers to four main categories or types of righteousness: God's righteousness, Christ's righteousness, Credited righteousness and Practical righteousness. There are of course secondary categories, but for our purposes the four above cover virtually every square inch of the issue. Today's post will consider the first of these.

God’s righteousness
God is His own standard of righteousness, that is to say, He is absolutely pure, innocent and perfectly pleasing in and of Himself in His own life and conduct. Jeremiah 12:1 “Righteous are you, O Lord, when I plead with you; yet let me talk with you about your judgments.” Ezra says of the Lord in Ezra 9:15 “O Lord God of Israel, you are righteous”. Psalm 71:19 states plainly – “Also, your righteousness, O God, is very high. You have done great things.” We read in Matthew 6:33 one of the central statements in Jesus’ sermon on the mount: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness”. The achievement of Jesus on the cross demonstrated God’s righteousness, as stated in Romans 3:25 – “whom God set forth as a propitiation (i.e satisfaction) by His blood through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God passed over the sins that were previously committed.”

As we think on righteousness as being central to the character and activity of God Himself, we must necessarily ask how Jesus is related to the righteousness of God? Jesus Christ is asserted repeatedly to be equal to God (Mark 2:7; John 8:58; Hebrews 1:3-4); sharing equally in the very Divine nature with the Father (1 Corinthians 8:6) and the Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20; John 1:1-3; 2 Corinthians 13:14) and being eternally God who came to take upon Himself human flesh. (John 1:14; Romans 9:5). The reason why Jesus, touching His Divinity, can demonstrate the righteousness of God is because He Himself is God. This point is very important, since it leads into the second type of righteousness described in the Bible, which we will look at tomorrow....

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What is righteousness? Why is it important?

Romans 1:17 "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”

What is righteousness?
Today’s post is going to survey what the Bible has to teach about the concept of “righteousness”. When Paul refers to "it" in verse 17, he is referring to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that he mentions in Romans 1:16. When it comes to understanding the Gospel or “Good News”, the idea of “righteousness” lies at the core of its meaning. Romans 1:17 expresses most clearly the centrality of righteousness in the Gospel: “For in it (the Gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written: “the just shall live by faith”. So what is meant by this term “righteousness”. The most common Hebrew word behind the English word translated “righteousness” in the Old Testament is defined by one Hebrew scholar as: “a thing examined and found to be in order, right; a person found to be unobjectionable, morally upright, innocent.” In the New Testament, the most common Greek word behind the English word “righteousness” deals not only with the state of something or someone before God, but also their conduct and deeds.

In attempting to define the word righteousness, we can offer the following basic definition: “a life and conduct that is pure, innocent and perfectly pleasing with and before God.” The proposed definition of righteousness touches upon three interrelated truths that pertain to the Gospel of salvation and the character of God Himself. 

First, to say that one is righteous in terms of purity deals with the spiritual and moral dimension of one’s life before and with God. Righteousness is what properly describes God Himself, since God is without sin, cannot lie and thus cannot tolerate the sight of sin in His sight. (Habakkuk 1:13; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18)

Secondly, when we say that righteousness or a righteous life is one that is innocent, we are speaking of a life that is without guilt and accusation in the eyes of the law of God. To be righteous before and with God means to be legally “right” and thus innocent before His sight.(Hebrews 7:26) 

In addition to righteousness having to do with moral and legal purity and innocence before and with God, the third element of our definition touches upon the relational dimension of righteousness. God in and of Himself is righteous because He in and of Himself relates perfectly and pleasingly as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When someone is righteous in God’s sight in the relational sense, they are acceptable in His sight and are deemed an adopted son or daughter. (Genesis 15:6; 17:1; Job 1:8; Romans 4:3).

This introductory discussion today has aimed to offer a definition of righteousness in general. With regards to how a person is deemed righteous in God's sight, as well as what type of righteousness is involved in salvation, before and after, we will take the next several posts to consider the different types of righteousness discussed in the Bible. 

More tomorrow....

Friday, January 23, 2015

The God of all comfort for those in need of comforting

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ."

The God of all comfort
As I write this post today, I am in the midst of a time of my life where I am grieving over the loss of my dad. Anytime I speak of my dad or any other saint of God who has went on to be with the Lord, I refer to them in present tense, rather than past tense terms. Such a choice reminds me and communicates to others that those who depart this world in death, in Jesus, are still very much alive in their spirit/soul in Heaven. My father is enjoying the glory of the Lord while eagerly awaiting the time of resurrection at the Lord's return, wherein he will be reunited with his physically, glorified, resurrected body. 

Admittedly, the pain of grief is a reality that recedes and proceeds like the tides. There are moments that feel absolutely crushing, and then the "tide" will go back out. It is in those moments that I turn to such passages as 2 Corinthians 1:3-5. 

The words we read here in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 describe the God of scripture and of every person who has by grace through faith placed their trust in Jesus Christ. Jesus as the Divine Son came to earth to become God in human flesh. As the Incarnate Son, He visibly explained and expressed the reality of the invisible, unseen First Person of the Trinity - The Heavenly Father. Who is this Person, the Father? What is He like. For me, as a man who is without his earthly father, such questions have become freshly and highly important in a seasons such as this. 

Whenever we read such scriptures as 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, we discover the power of the Father manifest in situations that are much like my own - situations and times of intense pain, and sorrow.  In this season of my life, I believe there is unlimited power and Grace already made available by the Father to Christians due to the fact He has sent unto them the Holy Spirit in His Son's name. Paul describes this activity of the Father on the believer's behalf as His activity of being  "The God of all comfort". Hence in today's post I want to list out in short order this particular comforting ministry of the Heavenly Father to His people. I pray you the reader will find this helpful, as I know it aids me greatly in a time where the comfort of God is the only comfort that can suffice:

1. God's comfort is a blessed comfort
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3 "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ....". When God chooses to bless His people, He is manifesting the overflow of His power and presence in their life. The blessing of God is the favor of God and thus every Christian already has the power of God at their disposal. Thus I can say with this verse that I am blessed by God because of His favor on my life. His favor is made possible by Jesus' once for all death, burial and resurrection. As the believer's advocate, Jesus the Son has ascended and is seated at the right hand of the Father and because of His constant pleadings, the blessed comfort of the Father is distributed by His Spirit in the Christian's life. Notice the second thing about the Father's comforting ministry....

2. God's comfort is a tender comfort
Again we turn to 2 Corinthians 1:3b "the Father of mercies and God of all comfort." The word translated "mercies" is a rarer word in the Greek language of the New Testament. The word speaks of tender, personalized, compassionate mercies, much as a parent consoling a weeping child. Lamentations 3:22-25 states - The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,For His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him." Think of how God the Father has new mercies available every day of the Christian's life. He knew the day of my father's death for instance, and He had grace and tender mercies already available to be used by my family and me. God's comfort is a tender, personal comfort. It is crafted and custom fitted to each saint and each situation that the saint finds himself or herself experiencing. Others may ask: "I don't see how so-and-so is able to do what they are doing with all they have going on.". The only answer to be given is: "The comfort of the Father". 

God's grace and comfort exceeds the need of the moment. His comfort is there, we just need to avail ourselves, step into it and walk it out. In some cases, the comforts of the Father spoken of here carry us. So the comfort of God is blessed and tender comfort, now notice thirdly...

3. God's comfort is an empathetic comfort. 
Consider 2 Corinthians 1:4 "who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." Let me be candid - I now know and understand what it is like to lose someone close, someone cherished. To empathize literally means to have the ability to step inside the shoes of that person and identify with their plight. Sympathy, though similar, is one step removed in that we can theoretically, emotionally and by analogy identify with that person. However empathy has that added extra dimension of "I have experienced what that other person has experienced." 

I know that as I walk with the Father through this time in my life, and He with me, there will be the healing that comes to the wound inflicted by death. Only the resurrection power of the Son can remedy the laceration administered by the cold, hard steel of death's sword. As the Spirit of God works internally in my heart, there will come forth, I'm sure, empathy, experience and ability to be used by Him in ministering to others. 

The Father's purposes are not thwarted by death. There are others that need to be embraced by the Father of Heavenly lights with whom there is no variation nor shifting of shadow. (James 1:17) That day or those moments will come and have already begun as even now, God brings other hurting people my way. God's comfort is blessed, personal and empathetic. However without this last trait of the Father's comfort, the first three characteristics would not be possible, namely...

4. God's comfort is experienced through Christ
2 Corinthians 1:5 states "For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ." When I was a younger man, I would read this verse and quite honestly, it puzzled me. I had understood of course that Jesus had already suffered once-and-for-all for sin, the just for the unjust. (1 Peter 3:18) Yet I wondered to what degree Jesus could still be experiencing suffering in His exalted, ascended state?

Now please track with me for a moment. The achievement of redemption for His people is a one-time event, never to be repeated. However we must not forget that Jesus Christ retained His human nature when He ascended into heaven. By still remaining man, the Son is connected to the humanity of the people of God by the Person of the Spirit of God. Moreover, being that the Person of the Son is ever fully Divine, He is able to experience by the same Person of the Spirit the experiences of His people here on earth as He intercedes with the Person of the Father with whom is  co-equal. When Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after His resurrection, He did not go with the idea of spending the next 2,000 years being unaffected and untouched by the pains and sorrows of His people. 

The anguish and sorrow experienced by all Christians - whether the death of a loved one, the pain of sickness, the brokenness of relationships or martyrdom, is fully experienced by Jesus, even now, as he ever lives to intercede. Jesus Christ as both fully human and fully Divine, chooses to experience with every generation of His church their sorrows, their tears, their triumphs and their agonies. Hebrews 7:25 states - "Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them." 

Because of Jesus Christ, the comforts of the Father are administered directly to each Christian in the measure they need. Without the Mediator, Jesus Christ, no man could be saved and no saint could be comforted. 

Closing thoughts
The aim of today's post was to point our attention to the God of all comfort. Even though the primary Person of the Father is in view, we discovered that the Person of the Son and the Person of the Holy Spirit are also included when we speak of the One God of all comfort. We saw four truths about the comfort of the Father to His people:
1. God's comfort is a blessed comfort 

2. God's comfort is a tender comfort

3. God's comfort is an empathetic comfort. 

4. God's comfort is experienced through Christ

Thursday, January 22, 2015

God's provisions, your needs

Deuteronomy 25:1-3 “If there is a dispute between men and they go to court, and the judges decide their case, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. He may beat him forty times but no more, so that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these and your brother is not degraded in your eyes.

In today's blog we want to look at a principle I find frequently throughout the Old and New Testament: "God's provision before the need".1 

How is it that God provides before the need?  How was it that He provided for His people, Israel, back in the Old Testament concerning their needs? Furthermore, how do the provisions recorded in passages such as Deuteronomy 25-26 reveal the greatest need of mankind: salvation?  To answer these questions, I want to first of all list mankind's three ultimate needs, followed by the specific provisions for specific needs in Deuteronomy 25-26, with a final section showing how God was going to meet man's ultimate need through His ultimate provision - Jesus Christ. 

Mankind's Ultimate Needs
The Bible tells us of three ultimate needs for everyone born into this world:
1. Payment for sin.  Romans 3:23, 6:23
2. Personal Savior. Matthew 1:21, 1 Timothy 1:15
3. Promise of resurrection. Job 14:14; Heb 2:14

Specific Provisions  in Deuteronomy 25-26
Now just tuck those ultimate needs in the back of your mind, because in a moment we will return to them.  In Deuteronomy 25 we want to highlight three provisions God was prescribing for His people.  These laws may appear random and irrelevant, however all scripture is Divinely inspired and is profitable. (2 Timothy 3:16). 

The first provision is a legal provision (Deuteronomy 25:1-4).  The need was going to be for a justice system in the promised land once the Jews crossed over after Moses' death.  How would they know how to punish offenders, and what standards would they use to exercise justice?  God spells that out by not allowing criminals to be beaten with more than 40 lashes (one of the chief punishments in the ancient world).

The second provision was a relational provision (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).  Lets say you were a woman who had not born a child for your husband. Suddenly he dies, leaving you a widow.  In a culture where carrying on a person's name meant everything, God prescribed that the nearest male relative to the dead husband marry the widow to carry on the dead man's bloodline.  The Book of Ruth illustrates this prescription most clearly, with Ruth the Moabitess losing her first husband, and later on being wedded to that man's nearest of kin - Boaz.  This relational provision, spoken of elsewhere in the Old Testament, is what we call "The Kinsman Redeemer".  Such a provision ensured the continuation of a man's name and bloodline, as well as ensuring the widow provision and protection.

The third provision is a promise provision, found in Deuteronomy 26:1-11.  God had promised Abraham and his descendants the land of Canaan as an inheritance.  Once Moses died, those descendants would cross the Jordon River under Joshua's leadership into the promised land.  In order to demonstrate to themselves and to others that they were heirs to God's promise, God prescribed the "law of the first-fruit".  Simply put, whatever crops they grew, the first stalks of corn or wheat would be brought to the priest at the temple.  After rehearsing the redemptive account of God's delivery of their ancestors out of Egypt, the people would have proof from that "first-fruit" of God coming through on His redemption of them, and that better days for them were to come. 

So with these legal, relational and promise provisions, the Jews would be ready for their new lives in the promised land.  Understand that these provisions were granted by God before the people entered into the promised land.  This pattern of God's provision before the need also revealed God's plan of salvation through provisions to meet man's ultimate needs.

God's provisions meet the ultimate needs of man
Man's first ultimate need is payment for sin.  Whenever you read that legal provision in Deuteronomy 25:1-3, do not dismiss it as a random law.  Its purpose was to be in place and to point to what Jesus would do in meeting the need for payment of sin.  Jesus was flogged in preparation for the cross.  Isaiah 53:5 predicts - "But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed." 2 

Man's second ultimate need is a Personal Savior.  God prescribed a personal provision ensuring the continuation of man's bloodline by means of his near of kind marrying his widow.  The book of Ruth illustrates Deuteronomy 25:5-10 most wonderful with the story of Boaz' redemption of Ruth and his loving marriage to her.  The outcome?  Read the end of Ruth and you will find a genealogy leading to King David! What's the big deal?3  God's provision of an immediate need in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 prepared to meet the ultimate need of sinners - the Personal Savior. 

Now what about man's third ultimate need - Promise of  resurrection? Will death have the final word? Men like Job in Job 14:14 ask the perennial question: "if a man dies, can he live again? All the days of my struggle I will wait until my change comes." Recall how God had made a provision of promise for His people in Deuteronomy 26:1-11 by way of the "first fruits".  They could testify God's promises to them both then and for the future were true and real because of the evidence of crops.  For the Christian, how can it be determined that the Bible is true and Christ is who He said He is? Furthermore, what tells the sinner that the salvation being offered to them is genuine, life-giving hope? Twice in 1 Corinthians 15:20,23 we are given the answer: Christ's resurrection from the dead is His first-fruit, evidence for the promise of resurrection and eternal life.  Moreover, Christians themselves are termed "first-fruits" or "previews" of better things to come in Christ. (Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 16:15; James 1:18; Revelation 14:4).

God's provisions of these laws give us language whereby we can understand and appreciate the New Testament provisions of payment for sin, Personal Savior and Promised resurrection.  For every New Testament doctrine there is at least one, concrete Old Testament parallel.  Without Jesus Christ, the Bible would be another religious book.  However because of Christ, the New Testament in the Old is enfolded, and the Old Testament in the New is unfolded.  Scripture is God's Living Book!   It is God's Word, period! May you and I see that God indeed provides before the need arises. 

1. Whenever you read through sections like Deuteronomy, you have to keep in mind that Moses was preaching a series of three sermons and a final set of instructions to a new generation of Israelites. Moses was in the final month of his 120 year lifespan, making one final appeal to the people of God before his death and their entryway into the promised land.  Deuteronomy's many laws, instructions and historical references may on first glance appear irrelevant to the 21st century saint. However whenever we see the verses of the Old Testament as pointing the way to Jesus Christ, rich gems can be mined. 

2. Isaiah wrote those words 700 years after Deuteronomy 25:3 and 700 years before Christ's flogging recorded in Matthew 27:26. Coincidence? Hardly! Christ received injustice at the hands of wicked men to satisfy the justice of God. (Acts 2:24; Romans 5:6-10)

3. Matthew 1:1-17 gives us the full bloodline of the Savior, starting with Abraham, down through people like Boaz and Ruth, through David to Christ Himself.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The appeal of Heavenly glory

Revelation 22:16-17 “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” 17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost."

Introduction & Review
These past several days have been devoted to unfolding the Eternal Heavenly Glory that we find in Revelation 21-22.  In many ways as I write these posts, I feel like I am trying to describe the Grand Canyon by way of a simple post-card! Nevertheless the scriptures are sufficient and alone are the reliable source for grasping these truths by faith.1  Dr. Wayne Grudem has listed the following observations about the passages we have been exploring:

1. Heaven is a place, not  a state of mind

2. The physical creation will be renewed and we will continue to exist and act in it.

3. Our resurrection bodies will be part of the renewed creation

4. The New creation will not be 'timeless' but will include an unending succession of moments

5. The doctrine of the New creation provides a great motivation for storing up treasures in heaven rather than on earth

6. The New Creation will be a place of great beauty and abundance and joy in the presence of God.1

We have thus far seen the description of  everything that will be included (and not included) in the New Heavens and Earth, as well as how the New Jerusalem will be superior to the current place called "heaven" or "the third heaven". We also have looked at the details of the New Heavenly city of New Jerusalem and have commented on how it relates to us today.  In today's post we want to see how The Triune God appeals to sinners to come by grace through faith so as to occupy this future place.

Final Invitation to Eternal Heavenly Glory 22:6-21
As we consider this final invitation by God in the Bible, we can note that the visions given to John by Jesus have concluded.  Like a great evangelist, Jesus is drawing in the net and extending an invitation. We can see a three fold movement of this final invitation, with each part featuring a prophetic statement of appeal made by Jesus Himself.

A. Appeal to heed the invitation 22:6-9
In this first part of the invitation, Jesus is stating that every word that has been written in the Apocalypse is true and worthy of acceptation.  Those who read and hear the book being read, taught or preached need to be sure they heed its words. Perhaps one  of the finest statements of the Bible's inerrancy ("every word is true) and infallibility ("and faithful", incapable of failure) is made here in by Jesus in Revelation 22:6. Clearly this is an invitation that must be heeded, but also notice...

B. Warning to those who refuse the invitation 22:10-13

The wording of the Revelation 22:11 is worth noting: "Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy.”  This part of the invitation is being communicated to those who refuse to pay heed and who choose to remain where they're at.

Throughout the prophetic scriptures we see God executing the worst form of judgment imaginable - giving people exactly what they want! This way of communication is what I call "let them alone" language. Passages such as Jeremiah 15:1-2; Ezekiel 3:27 and Daniel 12:3 uses such sentiments to communicate to unrepentant sinners: if you're going to be a sinner, be a good one, for whatsoever a man sows, thus will he reap! (compare Galatians 6:7)

Romans 1:24-28 is perhaps one of the clearest New Testament references that features this style of communication.  After giving sinful man the light of general revelation and being gracious with him, when man continues to reject God's efforts in common grace, the worse form of judgment is to hand mankind over to his base desires. We may wonder why Jesus would use this form of communication in this final invitation of Revelation.  In short, it is to escalate the urgency of the appeal.  There is no such thing as apathy.  Either people will remain as they are and perish (which would be their own fault) or respond to the appeal of Jesus (which can only be credit to the Spirit's drawing grace). So what happens if there is a listener or reader who says: "wait a minute, I don't want to keep doing wrong, being filthy and risk remaining in my sins, I want to be made right with God through Jesus Christ!" What does Jesus have to say to such persons? Notice the final part of this grand invitation...  

C. Blessing for those who welcome the invitation 22:14-21

Notice how in this final part of the appeal, Jesus, the church and the Spirit Himself are all present.  Truly the point is made- lest the Spirit is at work in the sinner's heart, there will be no response, no faith, no repentance. The final verse of Revelation 22 speaks: "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen". Grace is what draws us, persuades us to genuinely express faith and repentance and keeps us in Jesus. For all who by grace through faith respond to this final invitation, it is a blessed and glorious salvation that is received!

1. Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. Zonndervan. Pages 1159-1164


1. No silly books on the market today that feature visions and post-mortem scenes of people who have gone to heaven and come back can ever replace, supplement or even complement the scriptures.