Soli Deo Gloria

Introduction

The Protestant Reformation can be summarized with five Latin phrases known as the Five Solas: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria (By grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to Scripture alone to the glory of God alone). Over the past few months we have studied Sola Scriptura and Solus Christus, and today we are starting Soli Deo Gloria: To the glory of God alone.The most famous of all questions within Protestantism comes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism: What is the chief end of man? In other words, why is mankind on earth? What is our purpose? That’s not just a protestant question, but a universal question that nearly every thinking person wants to know: why am I hear? Why do I exist? What’s the point of my life? The answer: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Or as John Piper would say: To glorify God byenjoying Him forever. Piper’s most famous saying and the motto of his life is “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

As we begin this study of glorifying God, I want us to get a grasp of the enormity of what we have been called to. We are going to look at a few texts of Scripture, with Romans 11.36 being our main text. I want us to then see these texts for their truth as doctrine, as theology and see that clearly living with the purpose to glorify God is orthodoxy (right doctrine), but then my hope is to give some orthopraxy (right living) as well. All theology should be practical. To do that, I am wanting to show you the texts around these initial texts because usually in these texts that declare God’s glory, the question of how is generally answered. But before these, I want to explain what it means to glorify God. So, we will start with the explanation of glorify, move on to the expectation to glorify, and finish with the expressions that glorify.

The Explanation of Glorify

When we think about glorifying God, it is easy to think that God is missing something. He is missing glory or He is in need of more glory that we can bestow upon Him. But that is not what we mean or what the Bible means when we talk about glorifying God. God is not deficient in anything. God didn’t create us because He was lonely and needed a relationship. He wasn’t lonely. He had perfect communion with the Son and Spirit. He had the greatest of all relationships with them. God didn’t create us because He needed or desired more glory than He already had. This is what Paul meant when speaking to those at Mars Hill: 

The God who made the world and everything in it—He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things, (Acts. 17.24-25, HCSB).

God is all powerful and so He needs nothing. He doesn’t need us to give Him advice: “For who has known the mind of the LORD? Or who has been His counselor,” (Romans 11.34, HCSB)? God isn’t one to be in need and be in our debt. This is often how health and wealth, prosperity preachers present God (though they would probably never say it this way). If you give just such and such amount, God will heal you or God will give you wealth untold. Or sow a seed of only so much money and watch as God has to give you so much abundance in return. “Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid,” (Romans 11.35, HCSB)?  

So to glorify God doesn’t mean to provide something that He doesn’t have or to provide something that has depleted or to provide Him with that which will need to be repaid as if He is the one indebted to us! This was the opening of Paul’s remarks in Romans 11.36: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen,” (HCSB). Everything comes from Him. This entire created order with all the planets and stars and moons and asteroids and comets and plants and animals and bodies of water and people all come from Him! He created it all. In fact, beyond that, James wrote, “Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning,” (1.17, HCSB). All that is good and right that happens to us is directly affect by God. All things are from Him!

All things are through Him. In other words, He is not only the cause of all things, but He is the instrument in how all things word made and sustained. “In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature, sustaining all things by His powerful word,” (Hebrews 1.2-3, HCSB). John also wrote something similar: “All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created,” (John 1.3, HCSB). God has the power to create everything we can see and even the things we cannot see. He also has the power to sustain it all.  

Does it really seem like God is missing anything? Where is there even a possibility that He is deficient in glory? There isn’t one. Here is the issue: All things are to Him. In other words, everything that has been made has been made to the glory of God or another way of saying it is as the NIV would say “for him,” for His glory. What does it mean then to glorify God?

The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament for glory meant weight or heavy. God is weighty; He’s heavy. The idea is God is important: supremely important. The New Testament word that is often used for glory means brilliant or shining as though beautiful and attractive. So, then the idea of glorifying God is to see Him as supremely important and brilliantly attractive. He already is supremely important. Without Him we all cease to exist, not just because He wouldn’t have created us, but because He also sustains us. He already is brilliantly attractive to the point that words are unable to describe Him. Ezekiel, Isaiah, Daniel, and John all tried to describe the brilliance of God as best they could, but had to settle for similes and metaphors. He is like this; He is like that. Yet no word would do justice to His beauty and brilliance. Thus, to glorify God is to see and acknowledge and live as though He is supremely important and brilliantly beautiful. Even now, some of us might be thinking: I’ve never really thought of God in those terms.

The Expectation to Glorify

Having looked now at what it means to glorify Him: supremely important and brilliantly beautiful, we need to move on to the magnanimity of what it is we have been called to. Every moment of our lives are to be spent showing that God is supremely important and brilliantly beautiful. That was why we were created. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” We were created for the purpose of bringing Him glory and that glory is to be given forever. At the end of what we call this doxology comes the word Amen. Amen means “so let it be” or “so it is.” To Him be the glory forever, and so it is. Glory is forever His. Forever and always and therefore in everything at all moments.

Which is why we find that Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory,” (1 Corinthians 10.31, HCSB). Even in moments as small as eating and drinking, we are to reflect that God is supremely important and that He is brilliantly beautiful. We’ll talk about how we can do that in a few minutes.

The idea of glorifying God in everything at all times is daunting. It sounds impossible. And in fact, it is impossible. Yet it is what we were created to do. But none of us do this. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3.23, HCSB). It isn’t that we haven’t been able to attain God’s glory for ourselves, but that we haven’t been able to show that God is supremely important and brilliantly beautiful. Other things get in our way. We begin to desire less important things. We want uglier things. And we put those things on pedestals over and against God. It is not bad to want less important things. It isn’t wrong to want uglier things. It is when we treat those less important and uglier things as if they were supremely important and brilliantly beautiful. It’s when those things take God’s place.  

We have all done this. That doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t even take away the guilt that comes along with it. This is where we go back to C. S. Lewis’ quote: 

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (The Weight of Glory, p. 26).

This was what Paul meant in Romans 1:

For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles, (vv. 21-23, HCSB).

God requires of us and created us to display the fact that He is supremely important and brilliantly beautiful and yet we don’t, and instead have become darkened in our minds, and rather than seeing God as our top priority in life, we see other creatures, whether human or non-human, animate or inanimate. We see these things as having greater beauty and draw than God Himself. We exchange God’s supreme glory for lesser-glory.

There are those who will live their lives falling deeper and deeper into this darkened state, but there are others who will turn from this depraved thinking and be saved: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3.23-24, HCSB). Christ died to buy us out of darkness and futile thinking that we may once again live as we were meant: to the glory of God. As Piper wrote,

By requiring of His Son such humiliation and suffering for the sake of God’s glory, He openly demonstrated that he does not sweep sin under the rug. All contempt for His glory is duly punished either on the cross where the wrath of God is propitiated [satisfied] for those who believe, or in hell, where the wrath of God is poured out on those who don’t.[1]

So we who believe have been redeemed so that we can now glorify God as we were created to do, not perfectly, but purposefully. We cannot do this ourselves; it is only through Christ alone that this happens.

The Expressions that Glorify

But then the question always is asked, “How do we glorify God? What am I supposed to do now?” I want to provide you with two principles that you can utilize as you live your life seeking to glorify God: to make God supremely important and brilliantly beautiful.

Give yourself completely over to God. Because of arbitrary chapter divisions in our Bibles we often shut off our brains when we finish a chapter as if the next chapter has nothing to do with what we just read. But often times they do!

 Romans 11 ends with “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” But chapter 12 starts with a therefore. And as they hammered in Bible College, “when you see a therefore, find out what the therefore is there for.” “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12.1, HCSB). Since God has created you to bring Him glory, give yourselves fully over to God. Sacrifice yourself.  

Does that not make sense? If we were created for God’s glory, then ought we not forego our plans and give ourselves to Him to do as He wills with us? Growing up, my dad would always instruct me to use the right tool for the job. I’m sure it was aggravating to him when I used a rubber mallet to hammer a nail or when I used channel locks to hammer a nail or used needle nose pliers to. . .well, hammer a nail. I would get frustrated using the wrong tool for the job, but be too lazy to find and use the correct one. He would be frustrated because I’m using his tools for something they were never meant to be used for, and end up breaking them or damaging them.

If we were made for God’s glory, and we seek to live outside what we were made for, we end up frustrated with ourselves and we end up frustrating God because we will inevitably break ourselves. And sometimes we become so broken that we cannot be fully fixed this side of heaven. We are using our bodies, the tool God has given to us to bring Him glory wrongly if we do not live for His glory. We use His tool for something it wasn’t meant to be used for.

That’s one of the reasons we were redeemed: to use God’s tool God’s way. That’s why Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God,” (Romans 12.2, HCSB). I was trying to conform my dad’s mallet, channel locks, needle-nose pliers, and a bunch of other tools into a hammer. It took many years of me being told, “use the right tool for the job” before my mind wrapped itself around the idea that different tools do different jobs differently. My mind had to be renewed. It had gotten into the idea that I can hammer anything with anything and it will all work out in the end. My mind had to be transformed and when that happened hammering a nail became a lot easier, and when there was something beyond hammering that needed to be done, I didn’t have a broken tool with which to fix it.

There are many Christians seeking to live for themselves and for their desires rather than offering themselves to God as a living sacrifice. Every morning, and throughout the day, we ought to be saying, “Don’t you know that your body is the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body,” (1 Corinthians 6.19-20, HCSB). I’m Yours, Lord. Mold me and make me after Your will. The first thing is to give yourself completely over to God.

Having given yourself to God, give yourself to others. If you are serious about glorifying God, then you must do it by giving yourself to others. You are God’s tool. Tools don’t work for themselves. They work on behalf of those in need. Hence we see right after Paul wrote that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can know God’s will, he immediately starts telling the Roman church to live for each other. “For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one, (Romans 12.3, HCSB). So he explains that we are members of a body working together and for each other.

If we go back to 1 Corinthians 10.31 we see something similar: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory,” (HCSB). But look at the context. The context is about eating meat from the market. If you don’t know anything has been sacrificed, eat without asking questions. Be thankful to have food. However, if there is a brother in Christ with you and he tells you it has been sacrificed to idols, don’t eat it. Why? Not for any other reason than it could cause our brother to stumble. Your action, or in this case inaction, is not for self, but for your brother in Christ. We don’t glorify God by dismissing the feelings of our brothers or sisters. We don’t glorify God by saying, “I am free in Christ to do such and such, and I don’t care what you think or how you feel about it.” Hence, if we eat we take care that eat to God’s glory by being sure that we are not doing so in defiance or without the consideration of those around us. The same when we drink. If our brother is a “teetotaler” and we are not, and we go out to dinner only to find out that he would be highly offended by our ordering a glass of wine, then we are to refrain from the wine or order good ol’ fashion Welch’s Grape Juice. The same when we do anything. That’s the second principle: give yourself to others.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest command, He responded: 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands,” (Matt 22.38-40, HCSB).

What does it meant to glorify God? It means to give yourself fully to Him and to others. Another way to say it is to love Him and love others.

Take-Aways

Since it is Mother’s Day, I want to end by giving moms some practical ways to be moms that glorify God. I am going to take these two principles: giving self to God and giving self to others and apply them to motherhood.

Love God more than you love your children (or husband) and so first give yourself to Him. Let me give you two ideas on how to do this:

Give your bodies to God every morning before getting out of bed (for mothers of young children whose feet have hit the floor before actually waking up, do it the night before). Let your prayer be something like: God my mind is yours. Let me think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. My eyes are yours. Let me see your workmanship in my children and in my husband and in my own life. Let me see You as supremely important and brilliantly beautiful. My ears are yours. Let me hear your voice in the midst of my chaotic day. My tongue is yours. Let me give life with the power of my tongue, and may I not bring death. My hands are yours. Work through them to touch with grace and discipline in love. My feet are yours. May I always be ready to share your Word, your gospel, your peace. May I always be ready to go, wherever you may send me.

Renew your mind. Be careful what you put into your mind. Garbage in, garbage out. Fill your mind first with God’s Word. Meditate on it and pray it. Again, for moms with young kids, you may not have a lot of time to read a lot of God’s Word. Let quality be your goal, not quantity. If you only get one or two verses read in the morning, let those verses sink in. Think about them and pray them. Read your verses, having prayed for God to show you the wonderful things from His Word. When a verse hits you, take a picture of it. Set a reminder in your phone for three or four times throughout your day to look at the picture of those verses and think about them. Pray over them quickly if need be. Quality, not quantity.

Other things you can do, if you have the time: read Christian books. For every secular book you may read, read 2 good books by good biblical authors. They don’t have to be parenting books or books on being a good wife. If that’s what you want to read, great, but they don’t have to be. Just grab a book and read. If you don’t have time to read, put on an audio book and listen while your work.

Listen to Christian radio or podcasts. I love talk radio. I listen to podcasts constantly. I listen to Bott radio if I’m not listening to my podcasts. It is good to get Christian music into your mind, but don’t forget to get good sermons in your head.

Give yourself to your family. Only after you have given yourself to God through giving of your body and putting some quality verses in your head, can you be prepared to give yourself to the never-ending needs of your family. But let me show you ways in which you can give yourself to your family so that God is glorified in you as a mom.[2]

Love your husband first. God created woman from the man because it was not good for man to be alone. He created her to be a help fit for the man. Thus He created woman first to be what man is not and cannot be. Jerry Maguirewas not lying when he said, “You complete me.” That is what a wife ought to do: complete her husband.

Model godliness. That means living intentionally. Let your children (and husband) see you reading God’s Word. Let them see you praying. Pray with them. Let them see you wrestle over decisions and ask them to pray for you and with you over them.

Teach them. Not every parent was made to homeschool. But every parent was made to teach. It can be done passively by children watching more of what you do than what you say, or it can be done actively (thus giving to your children) with words and actions that reinforce those words. “These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up,” (Deuteronomy 6.6-7, HCSB).

Discipline your children. God disciplines us as His children because He loves us. Discipline is different than punishment. Discipline comes from the same word as disciple, one who learns. When you discipline you are seeking to teach your child hard truths. You are not seeking simply to punish them in anger, but to teach them even if it means pain that they were wrong and that there is a right way that they must choose next time.

Encourage your family. Moms, you know your children better than anyone, second only to God. Encourage your children and also encourage your husband. Encourage them to do what is godly for sure. But also encourage them in a way that builds them up in life. Pick words carefully so that you can encourage and not discourage. “A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand,” (Proverbs 27.15-16, HSCB). Remember that life and death are in the power of the tongue. I’m not telling you to lie or stretch the truth, only to find ways that you can encourage rather than exacerbate.

Let your family go. Remember that they are God’s. You are only a steward. You have given yourself to God, you’ve given yourself to them, now let them go. Give them to God daily. Remind yourself that they are God’s. You cannot change their heart, but you can speak to it. You cannot determine their future, but you can prepare them for it. In the end, it is God who changes the heart and determines their steps. Trust God and let them go.

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From Sacred Worship to Sacrilegious Whims

Under King David the tribes of Israel were united like no other time before.  Solomon, his son, expanded the territory of Israel in ways that were once unimaginable.  Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, tore the kingdom apart in just a few days.  The people felt over-taxed and over-worked.  They asked Rehoboam for a little relief.  After speaking with both his father’s advisors and his friends, he sided with his friends, and taxed the people more and worked them harder.  Ten tribes broke away from Rehoboam and set up Jeroboam as the king of Israel, while Rehoboam ruled Judah (only the tribe of Benjamin stayed).

God had promised Jeroboam (the 10 tribes’ king) blessings if he would follow God and do as he said.  Sadly, Jeroboam did anything but follow God.  What we see in 1 Kings 12:25-33 is a shift that Jeroboam led Israel through: from sacred worship to sacrilegious whims.  What we see in 25-27 is the doubting of God’s promises.  God promised blessings, but Jeroboam couldn’t understand how those blessings could come if the people were tied to Jerusalem.  “Jeroboam said to himself, ‘The way things are going now, the kingdom might return to the house of David.  If these people go to offer sacrifices in the LORD’s temple in Jerusalem, the heart of these people will return to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah.  They will murder me and go back to the king of Judah’,” (1 Kings 12:26-27, HCSB).  Jeroboam focused on the circumstances he was facing at one moment in time rather than the promise of God.  He was focused on his own following rather than following after God.  So often we tend to do this very same thing within church.  We focus on a following rather than following.  We focus on the immediate and urgent, rather than on God’s faithful promises.  When that happens bad choices follow.  Jeroboam’s solution was to fuse sacred worship with pagan practices.

Jeroboam, having sought counsel (though not godly counsel), had two golden calves built.  “‘Going to Jerusalem is too difficult for you.  Israel, here is your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ He set one in Bethel, and put the other in Dan,” (1 Kings 2:28-29, HCSB).  This would remind any Bible student of Aaron’s great sin, as high priest leading the people to worship an idol.  Here the king does the same.  However, many believe that Jeroboam was not making a graven image, but more of a seat.  He was simply replacing the Ark of the Covenant with these pedestals.  God was invisibly seated or standing upon them.  He set one in Bethel near the border of Israel and Judah and one in Dan one of the most northern cities in the kingdom.  This made worship easy.  No one had to travel far to sacrifice, and even then they only needed to go on special occasions, seeing that Jeroboam also set up high places for regular days.  Everything seemed harmless enough, but a little leaven leavens the whole lump.

So often we tend to do this very same thing within church.  We focus on a following rather than following.  We focus on the immediate and urgent, rather than on God’s faithful promises.

God had stated exactly how He was to be worshiped.  It was to be in Jerusalem at the temple with sacrifice and incense and such.  It was not to be on high places and not to be in Bethel or Dan.  It was not to be on any pedestal but the blood was to be sprinkled on the mercy-seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  A little change here, a little change there.  Yet the change was sin because it was opposing God’s direction and law.

It was also confusing.  Baal was depicted as a bull.  The Canaanites worshiped Baal, not Israelites.  To have the bulls as pedestals (or idols if they were), would be too much for either Israelites or Canaanites.  The worship of God was looking way too secular for both peoples.  There was nothing holy–sacred or different–about the worship of God.  The sacred worship was being taken over by the sacrilegious whims of Jeroboam.  Everyone would be suffering and sinning because of it.  “This led to sin; the people walked in procession before one of the calves all the way to Dan,” (1 Kings 12:30, HCSB).

A little change here, a little change there.  Yet the change was sin because it was opposing God’s direction and law.

The syncretistic nature of Jeroboam quickly turned into false worship.

Jeroboam also built shrines on the high places and set up priests from every class of people who were not Levites.  Jeroboam made a festival in the eighth month on the fifteenth day of the month, like the festival in Judah.  He offered sacrifices on the altar; he made this offering in Bethel to sacrifice to the calves he had set up.  He also stationed priests in Bethel for the high places he had set up.  He offered sacrifices on the altar he had set up in Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month.  He chose this month on his own.  He made a festival for the Israelites, offered sacrifices on the altar, and burned incense, (1 Kings 12:31-33, HCSB).

There were no true priests, no true festivals, and no true sacrifices and so there was no true worship.  It began with a doubt.  He doubted that God would do as He promised to do if Jeroboam would obey Him.  Jeroboam felt the need to make worship easier, closer to home, more interesting, more palatable.  In the end, worship wasn’t worship and the sacred became sacrilegious.

It would seem many churches are taking their lead from this king rather than God’s Word.  It is easiest to point fingers toward those churches that seem to have more of a rock concert than a worship service or those churches that forego having Communion.  But it is also in churches that are “traditional” in nature.  Many of the tradions are not biblical traditions, but secular traditions.  Their traditions may date back to the 500s, the 1500s, or to 1950s, but not to the text of Scripture.  What is often decried by “traditional” churches as the secularization of the church is true, but as the old 90s Just Say No commercial pointed out they “learned it from watching you.”  It is difficult to remember how syncretistic the churches were in the 50s and 60s because at that time, the young members and new churches were simply trying to reach the lost.  The problem for everybody–Christian and non (or churched and unchurched?)–is the confusion of what is sacred and what is not.  What belongs in worship and what does not.

Jeroboam felt the need to make worship easier, closer to home, more interesting, more palatable.  In the end, worship wasn’t worship and the sacred became sacrilegious.

For the record, I am not against “contemporary services” or “traditional services.”  I am simply saying that we use extreme caution in our pursuit to express our worship.  It is not so much about our likes as it is God’s likes.  If we were to cook a meal in honor of our spouses, we would hopefully choose foods that they enjoy eating, not what we enjoy eating.  Whether or not we like the way the meal is prepared or food that is placed in front of us, we can at least enjoy the company we have.  If we were to throw a party for one of our kids, we would not seek to decorate with our delights, but with the delights of our children.  We wouldn’t decorate with “over the hill” balloons for our 4 year old, but rather Jake and the Neverland Pirates or My Little Pony balloons.  We go to worship–not our selves, but our God.  Let us give and do what delights His heart.

The problem for everybody–Christian and non (or churched and unchurched?)–is the confusion of what is sacred and what is not.  What belongs in worship and what does not.

Passion Week (Part 5)

There is the righteousness that I we saw that comes by obedience to the law.  It’s how God is going to judge us.  It’s not how we judge ourselves.  So thinking that we haven’t done anything wrong may make us feel better, but it has no legal bearing.  God will look at our entire life and judge us according to His law.

That being said, there is another righteousness, that we can be judged on.  Paul brought it up: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law,” (Rom 3.21a, ESV).  There is this other way of being judged in the right.  It isn’t about doing this and not doing that.  It is not a matter of obedience to the Ten Commandments or any other moral law.  “although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it,” (Rom 3.21b, ESV).  So while this new way of being declared righteous, in the right, is not actually utilizing the law as its guide, it is alluded to in the Old Testament.  In other words, Paul isn’t just making this stuff up.  It was talked about and written about long before Paul ever got on the scene.

So what is this new-fangled, old-fangled way of getting right with God?  “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe,” (Rom 3.22a, ESV).  No longer is it a righteousness of obedience to the law, but rather it is a righteousness of faith.

What Paul said about it being in the Law and Prophets, in essence the Old Testament, can be seen in Habakkuk 2.4, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by faith,” (ESV).  Here Habakkuk is telling us of two types of people.  There are those who think they’ve got this thing figured out and can do it on their own.  They don’t need God; they don’t need His laws; they don’t need anything that has to do with him.  These people are puffed up; they’re arrogant; they’re prideful.  There is another group of people.  These people are those who live by faith.  These people are called right.  They are in the right with God.  They are not in the right with God because they are obeying God’s laws.  They are in the right with God because they have faith.

This is the very verse that Paul keeps repeating in Romans and elsewhere.  He said in Romans 1.16-17,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith,” (ESV).

Notice that faith is mentioned multiple times in these two verses.  “Everyone who believes.”  “From faith for faith.”  “The righteous shall live by faith.”

So there are two ways to see God’s righteousness: the Law which includes the Ten Commandments, and the gospel.  Everyone that can read or hear can go back to the law and see what being in the right looks like to God.  It is never putting anything ahead of God.  It is never trying to put God into something we can manage.  It is never blaspheming God.  It is always honoring the Sabbath.  It is always honoring our parents.  It is never getting angry with someone or murdering them.  It is never lusting after someone or committing adultery.  It is never taking anything that doesn’t belong to us.  It is never telling a lie. It is never wanting what we do not have, or wishing others didn’t have something because we don’t have it.  That’s easy enough.

However, the second way, the gospel way, reveals God’s righteousness from faith.  Without faith the gospel makes no sense.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For the word of the cross (the gospel) is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Cor 1.18, ESV).  Until you believe, you cannot even begin to see God’s righteousness in the gospel.

But let me say this: The righteousness of the law is an impossible righteousness.  We’ve already seen that.  We can’t always do what we are always commanded to do, nor can we never do what the law commands we never do.  We break the law constantly.  So we must have the righteousness that the gospel reveals, the righteousness that is apart from the law: the righteousness of faith.  We all must have it to be “in the right” with God.  “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom 3.22b-23, ESV).

There is no one who hasn’t sinned, in a real and tangible way.  Every single one of us has sinned.  Like Seneca once said, “All vices are in all men, though all vices do not stand out prominently in all men.”  We may like to point out that we aren’t as bad as someone else, but we only do that because we are not comparing ourselves fairly.  We aren’t comparing vice to vice, but rather a vice that stands out prominently in them, versus one that doesn’t stick out in us.  So we may see a co-worker who has an affair and say we are better than they are, but in reality, we are lusting after a woman or a man.  The vice is present in us, but just not as glaring.  We are all in the same sinful boat.  We are all in need of a righteousness apart from the law.

To be continued…

Passion Week (Part 4)

Righteousness is a word that might sound complicated, but in reality it’s not.  It simply means to be “in the right.”  But when we see in in biblical terms, we have to make sure that we understand what it means to be “in the right.”

So if we just for argument’s sake say that there is a Creator who made this world, including its plants and animals and human beings, with land and water, atmosphere and solar system, stars, moons, and planets within the entire galaxy and universe, then it would be logical that he made each item with a purpose.  He set up laws that this universe abides by such as the law of gravity: what goes up, must come down.  There are many others, but that’s the easiest one for us to recognize.  At the same time there are moral laws for those beings that contain a moral code embedded deep within them, specifically: humans.  The easiest of these to look at would be the Ten Commandments.

Now, let’s take the natural law first and let’s say we were playing a little pepper.  We take the baseball and throw it up so we can hit a soft grounder to first base.  But when we throw it up it never comes back down.  There it hung, right in front of our eyes, never falling.  We’d just stare at it in bewilderment trying to figure out how the law of gravity just got broken.  Meanwhile, our son, who’s waiting for the grounder shouts out, “What’s wrong!?”  The ball is what’s wrong.  It has broken the law of gravity.  As long as the ball goes up and comes down, it’s in the right.  We could say that it’s a righteous ball.  But the moment the ball stays in the air and will not come down, it is in the wrong.  It’s unrighteous.  It’s a wicked ball.

Let’s go back to the moral law.  God has given us, for argument’s sake, ten moral laws to abide by.  Do not have any other gods before Him, don’t make any idol, do not take his name in vain, remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, honor our parents, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, and don’t covet.  As long as we are obedient to those laws, we are in the right. We could be considered righteous.  But the moment we break one of those laws we are in the wrong.  We are unrighteous, or a synonym would be that we are wicked.

So the moment that we cheat off of someone’s test in school we have stolen answers.  The moment that we lust after a woman or man, we have committed adultery according to Jesus.  The moment we get angry with someone we commit murder in the heart, according to Jesus.  The moment we find someone or something that we love more than God we commit idolatry.  The moment that we say, OMG, we have taken God’s name in vain.  So there is no denying that in some way we have all broken a moral law, and thus in some way we have all been shown to be unrighteous.

God has said, this is the right way to live.  This is the right way to go about your life, and He gave us his laws.  When we do not go in the way He has commanded, we prove that we are unrighteous.

Once we are unrighteous, there’s no going back, at least not on our own.  Imagine eating spaghetti in a white shirt.  You drop a meatball on the shirt and stain it.  Later on you take the shirt off and throw it in the dirty laundry.  A couple of days later, you’re sorting your clothes to wash them, and you see your white shirt.  It still has the stain on it!!  How can this be!?  The shirt has no ability on its own to remove the stain.  An outside agent, you with a bottle of bleach, must remove the stain for the shirt.

So it is with us.  We are stained, forever stained in the wrong, unrighteousness, wickedness.  We have no way of removing that stain on our own.  It doesn’t matter how hard we try to obey the rest of the laws.  It doesn’t matter how much we try to make it up to God.  We are forever stained.  Our record of unrighteousness follows us everywhere we go, just like a prison record.  It cannot be expunged on our own.

But what if there was someone on the outside, who came and took the stain away?  Who could expunge our record of unrighteousness? There is, and that’s why we celebrate Resurrection Sunday.  As we look at Romans 3.21-26 these next few days, we will see exactly how it all has come about.

To be continued…