Dec 042015
 

Exceedingly righteousWe are now in the fourth week of a section of Jesus’ sermon which addressed the Old Testament and whether Jesus had come to abolish it or not. These 4 verses lead into the rest of the sermon and have been hotly debated as to their meaning. I have included the verses below with today’s verse in bold.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

Jesus here highlights to His worried listeners that He is not doing away with their history with God in the Old Testament, but He is fulfilling it. Everything that happened in the Old Testament pointed to Him. The prophecies were about Him, the sacrifices predicted His sacrifice and the regulations were a shadow of what He was going to achieve. The 10 commandments were written on stone, but these new commandments were going to be written on believer’s hearts. No longer a struggle to keep a whole host of rules and regulations but a new heart and desire to do what pleases Him.

It’s important we consider what I said last week about Christians having died to the law. Because we could be inclined to think that these new commands that Jesus is giving, which incidentally are even stronger than the Old Testament laws, are just replacing one set of laws for another. These commands that Jesus is giving are His standards for living and they are achievable precisely because we have a new heart.

What Jesus is saying in today’s passage is that our own righteousness is never enough. To say that their righteousness should exceed the Scribes and the Pharisee’s would have been truly shocking to His listeners because they were ‘super’ religious. Humanly speaking there isn’t anybody who could touch the piety of the Scribes and the Pharisee’s. They even tithed their spice rack for goodness sake! Can you imagine getting the dried herbs from your kitchen cupboards and measuring out 10%? The trouble was, they had created many extra laws than what God had decreed. God had said that you should not work on the Sabbath, but they had taken it to ridiculous extremes. Just for a laugh and actually it is really quite sad, here are some of the stipulations they put in place for the Sabbath:

  • They taught that you should not look in a mirror on the Sabbath because you might be tempted to pluck out a grey hair and that would be reaping.
  • They said that you could only eat an egg which had been laid on the Sabbath if you killed the chicken for Sabbath-breaking.
  • If the lights were on when the Sabbath came (Sabbath began at sundown), you could not blow them out. If they had not been lit in time, then you could not light them.
  • It was unlawful to wear any jewellery or ornaments on the Sabbath, since this might be construed as carrying a burden.
  • It was not permitted to wear false teeth on the Sabbath.
  • You were allowed to eat radishes on the Sabbath, but you were warned against dipping them into salt because you might leave them in the salt too long and pickle them and this was considered to be Sabbath-breaking. The Pharisees actually had discussions as to how long it took to pickle a radish.
  • It was fine to spit on a rock on the Sabbath, but you could not spit on the ground, because that made mud and mud was mortar, and that was work.

There are many, many more besides these. No wonder Jesus got cross with them as they had missed the idea completely. Their piety was external and superficial and Jesus is looking for an inner attitude that is all about pleasing Him.

We can only exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisee’s because we are trusting in His righteousness. Our righteousness is His righteousness and I for one am jolly pleased about that!

 December 4, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Righteousness, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Aug 212015
 

Hunger and thirstBlessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6)

This is now the fourth beatitude and it indicates a slight change of tack. The first three spoke about our desperate position before God. We are poor in spirit due to the realisation of our sin, which then causes us to mourn at our inability to help ourselves and we are meek because we have handed everything over to God. Now this fourth beatitude takes us to the desire that comes when we have submitted our lives to Christ.

The words hunger and thirst in this context don’t just refer to an empty stomach or the feeling that perhaps it might be dinner time, no, these words are powerful; a deep hunger close to starvation and a parched thirst. But does anyone really have that sort of hunger for God? Isn’t that taking our ‘religion’ a little too far? When I speak in these terms you may be tempted to think about religious nutcases and weirdo’s who you cross the street to avoid. Is that what we are talking about? We need first to ask a pertinent question;

What is righteousness?

As you can imagine the bible uses this word many times and on many occasions. It is often used as a description of God himself.

For the sake of time, I’m not going to give a long winded explanation, but try to put it as simply as possible.

Righteousness is being in right relationship with God and also living in the way that He intends. It is a position and an action, a relationship and a lifestyle.

From the very start we encounter a problem and that is:- nobody has a natural hunger and thirst for God. We just don’t. We are all rather selfish and would much rather go our own sweet way thank you very much.

Even the bible agrees with this. In Romans 3 it says in verses 10 to 12

None is righteous, no, not one; no-one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; no-one does good, not even one. It then goes on in verse 23 to say; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

So is Jesus just mocking us in these verses? Is he saying that you will be blessed if you hunger and thirst for God, oh but by the way, no-one will be blessed because you will never hunger and thirst for God, so just forget it!

You may have heard that Jesus came preaching the ‘gospel’, well that word means ‘good news’. The good news is that the initiation has come from God himself. He has given us the hunger and thirst and the means by which it can be satisfied.

The good news tells us how God makes us right with himself (Romans 1:17) (New Century version)

The very next verse after Romans 3:23 where it says that all have sinned and fallen short, it says “and are justified by his grace as a gift.” That’s right, it is a free gift, one you can take right now.

If you are reading this, and for the first time you are starting to feel this hunger and thirst for God, that is because God is doing a work in you right now, He wants to make you right with Himself.

You see, the part where we don’t seek God, where we turn aside and do our own thing, that is called sin and it separates us from God. The good news is that God has bridged that gap. In the book of Ephesians in the bible in chapter 2 it says that we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (v1) It describes how our only desire was to do our own thing and have nothing to do with God. It describes our state then as “Children of wrath” (v3) we were against God, we were actually His enemies. But this all changes from verse 4;

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved

God has satisfied our deepest hunger, a hunger we didn’t even realise we had.

Is that it then? Our hunger and thirst satiated for the rest of our lives? Well yes and no. Yes we now have access to God, our hearts have been changed and our sin and rebellion dealt with, but if we have been truly changed our hearts will want ever more of God. We can’t just add salvation to our life’s ‘bucket list’ and carry on as we were before. God has now set our bias towards Him and knowing Him better should be our daily desire. But it isn’t always is it? Living in this ‘sin sick’ world, our desires can be a bit warped and influenced by our surroundings. A loss of appetite can often indicate that something is not quite right, so to finish this post I’m again going to borrow some excellent pointers from Rick Warren as to how we can maintain this spiritual hunger for God and regain our appetites.

(1) Remind yourself just how much God loves you.

We can often get it the wrong way round and concentrate on our love for God, which can frequently change according to our feelings. The thing that will most influence and stir our emotions is not thinking about how much I love God, but how much He loves me. There are loads of passages in the bible about how much God loves us. You need to soak in them daily. One of the most famous is:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. (John 3:16) also

See what kind of love the father has given to us, that we should be called children of God (1 John 3:1)

Why not see how many you can collect and stick them to the fridge or somewhere else you go regularly?

(2) Stop filling up on junk food

A wise person is hungry for truth, while the fool feeds on trash (Proverbs 15:14) (NLT)

Have you ever been somewhere where there is really nice food, like a wedding reception or a banquet, but filled yourselves up with all the nibbles, crisps and bread rolls before you started the feast? Our lives can be like that. God gets pushed to the edges while everything else crowds in. These are not necessarily bad things on their own but can be bad if we prioritise them before God. Things such as; money, houses, cars, games, sports or even family and friends etc.

(3) Make knowing God your number 1 goal

O God you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1)

The thing you should want most is God’s kingdom and doing what God wants, then all these things you need will be given to you (Matthew 6:33) (New Century version)

(4) Get into God’s word every day

Just like you eat physical food every day (you wouldn’t dream of having just one meal a week) feed on ‘soul’ food as often as you can.

You must crave the pure spiritual milk of the word so that you can grow into the fullness of your salvation. Cry out for this nourishment like a baby cries for milk. (1 Peter 2:2) (NLT)

(5) Be with like minded people

Have you ever noticed, when being around passionate people, that some of their passion rubs off on you? When you spend time with other people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, guess what? Your hunger and thirst will grow too!

Join the company of good men and women who will keep you on the path of the righteous. (Proverbs 2:20) (NLT)

Oct 242013
 

Breastplate of righteousnessLast week we started our look at the armour of God with ‘the belt of truth’.

If you missed it you can catch up here.

This week we move on to ‘the breastplate of righteousness’.

In Roman times the breastplate was a vital piece of the soldiers’ protection.

During hand to hand combat, any thrust of a sword that got past the shield could be fatal.

We saw last week that the belt protected the vital organs around the waist. Well, the breastplate protected the vital organs within the rib-cage, including the heart.

The physical heart of course is vital but so is our spiritual heart, our deepest thoughts, emotions and feelings. It says in Proverbs 4:23:

Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

The devil targets our hearts for special attention. He goes after our emotions, especially through condemnation. He wants to spoil our relationship with God by accusing us constantly. Knowing we stand righteous before God extinguishes every fiery dart the devil throws at us.

It is important to note that it is not our own righteousness that protects us. The bible describes our own righteousness as ‘filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64:6). It is the righteousness of Jesus that becomes ours the moment we commit our lives fully to Him through our salvation by His sacrifice on the cross. This is the righteousness which protects us.

The wonderful thing about this armour that we wear is the fact that it is God’s armour. We are protected by Gods righteousness. Even though we might not ‘feel’ righteous (especially after sinning) the bible makes it clear that we are covered by the righteousness of Christ.

Whatever has gone on in our lives, God looks at us as being ‘In Christ’. We are made pure by His righteousness, whatever we may have done.

One of my favourite verses in the whole bible sums up this exchange wonderfully:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Corinthians 5:21).

Are you wearing a breastplate of your own righteousness which allows condemnation to get through constantly? Or are you putting on Jesus’ breastplate of perfect righteousness which will extinguish every dart of condemnation that is thrown at you?

 October 24, 2013  Posted by at 8:48 pm Armour of God, Righteousness No Responses »
Apr 302013
 

Conscience cleansedGrace not only frees us from sin and guilt but also frees us from the bondage of religious formality

“…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:14)

We can assume dead works are ‘high church’ religious observances – what we sometimes refer to as ‘smells and bells’. We may become rather smug, thinking how free we are. But ‘dead works’ actually means a lot more than this.

As the term suggests, ‘dead works’ are deeds we do which have no life in them, done simply by going through the motions without exercising any faith. We can do all manner of church activities out of habit, or maybe out of a sense of duty because we feel we ought to.

Another example of dead works is ‘presumption’; we simply assume that God is with us. An example of this is in the Old Testament: shortly after the Israelites won a famous battle where the walls of Jericho fell, they assumed they could go to battle against the city of Ai with just a few thousand men in order to give everyone else a rest. However, they failed to consult God first and discovered He was angry with them because of sin in the camp. This story can be found in Joshua 7.

The obvious question to ask is “did God tell you to do it?”. It may seem to be a noble task you are about to undertake, but has God asked you to do it? He has a specific plan for each one of us. This does not mean that we wait for a definite ‘go ahead’ for everything that we set out to do, but it does mean we should pray about our plans. God will clearly guide us if He doesn’t want us to proceed.

In 1 Corinthians 13 the apostle Paul talks about being able to speak in tongues, having great prophetic gifts, and giving everything we have to the poor. But if we don’t have love then these are all dead works too.

If we are at all unsure of our acceptance in Christ, we can quite easily fall into a works righteousness pattern, attempting to impress God or other people. But as we have seen over the past few weeks, grace makes us completely free from having to earn any credit at all. A lovely little verse to hold onto (amongst many others) is this:

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5)

How amazing is that? We don’t work, we trust God, and it is credited to us as righteousness. As I have mentioned before, the more we read God’s word, the more this truth will become a part of us and set us free.

These thoughts have been taken from Terry Virgo’s fantastic book ‘God’s lavish grace’ which I heartily recommend. You can order the book by clicking on the links on the left.

 April 30, 2013  Posted by at 10:08 pm Grace, Righteousness, Salvation 5 Responses »
Apr 252013
 

confused-woman-420x0Over the last few weeks we have been looking at the wonderful gift of God’s grace; Jesus has done everything for our salvation, we could do nothing.

In Romans 5 the apostle Paul talks about sin increasing and grace increasing all the more.

One conclusion could be that we keep on sinning so that God’s grace looks even better. If preached properly, grace should appear scandalous and utterly irresponsible. We are telling people that they can do what they like, it doesn’t affect their salvation at all. This is what Paul is leading towards throughout his letter to the Romans.

However, Paul’s next statement in Romans 6 is absolutely key:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2)

Knowing this truth is crucial to our freedom. We have died to sin.

We are now faced with another question which so many Christians struggle with. It goes something like this: “I know I’m saved but how do I get free from the power of sin”. Reality feels so different doesn’t it? We can know by reading the bible that we have died to sin and yet feel utterly crushed because we continue to sin.

As Christians we can know we are forgiven, yet still feel in slavery to sin.

In his book ‘God’s lavish grace’ Terry Virgo highlights 3 very important steps:

(1) We need to know

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:3)

We need to know that the bible is true. If it is not, simply put, God is a liar and we are to be pitied amongst all people. We need to see that the fact that we are freed from the power of sin is for all of us, not just some elite Christians who have really got their act together. We need to also realise that it is not some future experience that happens when we go to heaven. No, it’s true NOW. If you are still struggling, make a note of some of the following verses. Take them like medicine 3 times a day if you have to, until the truth gets right inside.

(2) Count yourself dead to sin

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11)

This is an accounting term, reckoning, making sure it’s in the ‘right column’.

It is not mind over matter. We consider it true because it is true.

When I go to Spain I set my watch forward an hour. I have transitioned from one country to another, therefore this is now the correct time in my new location. We need to ‘set our watches’. If your ‘watch’ says you are dead to sin, then you are dead to sin. Reckon it so.

(3) Take responsibility

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. (Romans 6:12)

Why does it say ‘mortal’ bodies? Because until we get resurrection bodies, we still have to put up with these old things; “…treasure in jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

Before salvation, our spirits and bodies were happy to sin but now they are at war with each other. We need to take authority over our bodies and make wise choices; where we spend our time, what we allow ourselves to look at etc.

We now belong to a new master and are slaves of righteousness.

So should we carry on sinning? Why would we want to?!

 April 25, 2013  Posted by at 8:15 pm Grace, Righteousness, Salvation No Responses »
Apr 172013
 

Free gift of righteousnessAs we saw last week in Romans 5:17 we reign in life, not only through God’s abundant grace but also through His free gift of righteousness.

We can enjoy God’s grace fully when we become absolutely assured that He has made us righteous. We are not ‘being made righteous’; we are fully, completely and utterly righteous right now. Again, not through our own works but because through His sovereign grace, God has made it so.

As people prior to conversion become aware of their sin, they may try to improve themselves through ‘good works’. Until one day they hear the glorious gospel; that all they have to do is repent, turn and come to God just as they are. However, even before they have finished giving their lives to Christ, the person leading them through the ‘sinners’ prayer’ can start adding a list of things they really should be doing (bible reading, prayer, witnessing etc). Many churches can be found doing this and it is often due to a misunderstanding between “justification” and “sanctification”.

Justification and Sanctification

It is vital we know the difference between justification and sanctification.

Justification is our standing before God. When we become Christians He declares us righteous. We cannot add to it or take anything away from it. It is summed up in one of my favourite verses: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Sanctification is the ongoing process which makes us holy. It is the gradual change that happens through our Christian walk which changes us “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This happens as we spend time with God and other Christians, but it never affects our justification. Some of us are sanctified quicker or slower than others but we are all justified the same, hallelujah!!

In Adam or In Christ?

The apostle Paul’s favourite title for a Christian is someone who is ‘In Christ’.

Before we became Christians we were all ‘In Adam’.

The bible talks about various people in the bible being ‘types’ of Christ. For example, Jonah was in the belly of a fish for 3 days; Jesus was in the tomb for 3 days. Adam is a type of Christ in that what he did had an affect on the whole human race. Because he sinned, we are all considered sinners because we are considered to be ‘in Adam’.

We are saved now because we are ‘in Christ’. He died and rose again so that whoever believes in Him will be saved. We have died to the old life and have now been raised with Christ. We have now been ‘born again’. (John 3:3)

When you were ‘in Adam’, whatever good works you did were never enough to ‘get you out’ of Adam. You can’t ‘get out’ that way. Now you are ‘in Christ’ you can’t ‘get out’ of Christ by sinning.

That’s right – nothing you can do can take you out of Christ because it wasn’t your efforts that ‘got you in’ in the first place. It was all by God’s grace.

Bu that’s scandalous! Yes it is and it begs the question “shouldn’t we keep on sinning then so that God’s grace looks even better?”. This is the question we will look at next week. But this week let us simply enjoy the magnificent freedom of God’s grace!

This blog is a summary from a chapter in Terry Virgo’s wonderful book “God’s lavish grace” you can order a copy by clicking on the links on the left hand side

 April 17, 2013  Posted by at 10:01 pm Grace, Justification, Righteousness, Salvation, Sanctification 2 Responses »