Blessed Are The Hungry Ones

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Matthew 5:6

There is a progression in the beatitudes. We acknowledge our spiritual poverty before God which leads us to mourn our sin which produces humility of heart. Then we begin to hunger and thirst for a righteousness outside ourselves – the very righteousness of God.

Righteousness has to do with relationship. God, in his relationship to us always does everything perfectly right: he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness. PS 9:8

We’re not righteous in our relationship to God: “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.” Romans 3:10-12. We may think we aren’t that bad, but in God’s sight, We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment… Isaiah 64:6

When we compare ourselves with others, we don’t seem that bad, but when we get a glimpse of God’s holiness we’re laid low like Isaiah: And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Isaiah 6:6

One Halloween when I was a teenager, my neighbor answered the door in her costume wearing white pancake makeup. I’d always thought her teeth were white, but when she smiled, compared to the white makeup, her teeth were three shades of yellow! When we compare our righteousness to God’s, ours is filthy.

HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS

Hunger and thirst are intense desires. When the Holy Spirit begins to work in us he causes us to hate sin and long to be pure in God’s sight. Years ago I went three days without food or drink. All I could think about was my thirst. I was consumed by it.  It was the most intense desire I’d ever had.

THEY SHALL BE SATISFIED

We receive God’s righteousness as a gift when we trust in Jesus, who lived his entire life perfectly obeying his Father. He never committed a single sin in thought, word, or deed, but on the cross, God clothed Jesus in our filthy rags of unrighteousness then crushed him so that when we turn to Jesus, God places his shining robes of righteousness on us. Not because of our work but as a gift!

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness Romans 4:4-5

What joy! What satisfaction! What rest! Like when you’re starving and you eat a great meal and you’re just stuffed. Satisfied!

ONGOING HUNGER AND THIRST

Yet there’s an ongoing hunger. Jesus didn’t say “Blessed are those who at one time hungered and thirsted,” He said blessed are those who hunger and thirst – present tense.

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? Ps 42:1-2

The Christian life is a rhythm of being filled with the Spirit, then longing for more. Feasting on joy then asking for more. Drinking in God’s love, then waking the next morning thirsting for more. God will continue to satisfy us throughout our lives till drink in the sight of his glory in heaven.

Anybody thirsty?

Why Justification Isn’t Enough for the Christian Life

Remaining sin is the ultimate guerrilla warrior. Though defeated, it still clings tenaciously to its former territory, attacking when we least expect it and hiding where we never thought to find it. It is a shape-shifter, sometimes masquerading as godliness and other times disguising itself in the most innocent of pleasures. It never rests. It will never make peace. It is opposed to every good thought, word, or deed we attempt.

Wow. Just writing that makes me tired.

If you’ve been a Christian for very long, you know that the battle against sin never ends. The good news is that, because we are justified by grace, the guilt of this remaining sin will never be charged against us. Christ has already paid the debt for our greed, our pride, our selfishness, our lust. That is tremendously good news, and encourages us in the fight. But (as heretical as this may sound) the good news of justification by faith alone isn’t enough to live the Christian life.

What? Are you turning legalistic on us, you ask? Isn’t justification – being freed from the guilt of sin – all we need? I’m convinced the answer is no, justification is not all we need to know and it is not enough for the Christian life. Here’s why.

Justification is a marvelous gift, and I must continually remind myself that all my guilt has been washed away by Christ. But the problem is sin doesn’t only make me guilty legally; it also pollutes me morally. Even if I certain that I will not face God’s wrath for my impatient words to my wife, I still want to grow in being more patient! Remaining sin, though forgiven, still dishonors God, hurts me, and hurts other. How is this pollution removed? Are we left to climb the mountain of sanctification by the sweat of moral self-exertion?

Thankfully, no. Sanctification, just as much as justification, is a gift of God in Christ Jesus. For every Christian, the pollution of sin is now and will one day totally be eradicated from our hearts. God does this by not only imputing Christ’s righteousness to us legally (pronouncing us “not guilty”), but also by gradually infusing Christ’s righteousness in us ethically (conforming us to Christ’s image). To use a gardening image, in sanctification God plants the seed of Jesus’ own holiness in our hearts by the Spirit, then waters, tends, and watches over the seedling until it grows into full maturity. The work won’t be completed until Christ returns, true. But an unfinished work is not an unstarted work. If you are a Christian God is conforming you to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29), one day and one degree of glory at a time (2 Cor. 3:18).

Let’s bring this close to home. Are you battling sin today? Has your pride made you defensive? Have your eyes wandered? Were your words harsh? Did you covet your neighbor’s new car or salary? If so, here is the good news of the gospel for you. The guilt of each of those sins is gone. And the fruit of holiness you long for – humility, purity, gentleness, contentment – is yours in Christ. He is perfectly holy and righteous, untainted with any of these sins and possessing every positive grace, and his holiness and righteousness is gradually becoming ours. So confess the sin. Fight with all your strength. Put to death sin and cultivate every gracious impulse in your heart. Because behind every battle God is slowly but surely conforming you into Christ’s image.

“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).  

Image  by Renaissance Chambara

 

You Already Have An “A”

“At every college and university, students study hard to get an “A” at the end of the course. When I was a student, I did the same thing. But I had one class that was different. It was a senior level course taken only by physics and chemistry majors, and there were only four or five students in the class. The first day of lectures, our teacher surprised us with the following announcement: “You don’t have to worry about your grade in this course—you all have an ‘A.’ Now we can just settle down and enjoy the material.”

Now, this is exactly what God does in justification. God gives us an “A” at the beginning of the Christian life! We do not labor to merit eternal life at the end of our course; we have eternal life.”

–Charles Leiter, Justification and Regeneration

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come…For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  (2 Corinthians 5:17, 21)

Isn’t it a great feeling to know that Christ took our old report card and God credited us with Christ’s perfect card of straight-A righteousness?  Now we can get to work for God BECAUSE he has justified us not in order to be justified.  We aren’t saved by good works, but salvation RESULTS in good works, which God created beforehand for us to walk in.

In Court With The Accuser Of The Brethren

I’m sitting in a courtroom at a table near the judge’s bench.

Someone says ‘All rise’ and everyone stands. Suddenly there is lightning and thunder, smoke and fire as the Judge enters the room. The Judge is the most terrifying, frightening, glorious being you have ever seen.  Winged beings fly around him, covering their faces while crying, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” Everyone in the court room falls to the floor in abject fear. Then the Judge sits down, slams his gavel on his desk, and says, “Let the proceedings begin.”

Now the prosecutor stands. My blood runs cold as I see that the prosecutor is none other than the ancient Serpent himself.  He is trembling and I see the fear in the yellow slits of his eyes as he nervously inches forward toward the Judge’s bench and summons up the courage to speak.

“Your Honor, you are the righteoussss Judge,” he hisses.  ”All justice is in your hands. And I – I demand justice this morning. You see, the defendant” – and he turns slowly and looks right at…ME, with his terrible eyes.  And he slowly points a long, gnarled finger at me – “The defendant is guilty of breaking your holy law and has violated divine justice. He has rebelled against you, ignored you and spit in your face. He has failed to thank you for all your blessings, and he has worshipped false gods. These crimes must be punished! Give the defendant to me – let me take him where he deserves to go.”

There is silence in courtroom. Every eye is on the Judge. And my heart is sinking because every accusation of the prosecutor is true.

Suddenly the silence is broken and I hear someone say loudly, “I OBJECT Your Honor!”  Every eye turns to see the defense attorney standing beside me.  How had I not seen him before?

“I have paid for the defendant’s crimes – every one. Remember, I took his place and his punishment and satisfied your justice on the cross.”

“Objection sustained!” says the Judge.

“But Your Honor,” snarls the prosecutor, “Even last week the defendant had over a hundred ssssselfish thoughts in his mind. The defendant doubted your goodness and hated someone in his heart.  You said that’s the same as murder. He must be punished!”

“Objection Your Honor! Again, I paid for those sins as well.”

“Objection sustained!”

“But Your Honor…” I think I detect a note of desperation in the prosecutor’s voice.  ”Not only has the defendant committed willful crimes, but he has failed to love you with all his heart, soul, mind and strength from the day he was born.  That’s the great commandment.  And he fails to love his neighbor as himself, the second greatest commandment, every day.”

“Objection!  Your Honor I not only paid for all the sins he actively committed, but I paid for all he failed to do as well. I paid for all his failures with his children. All the times he’s failed to love his wife.  I paid for every failure.  And you have decreed that once sin is paid for it does not need to be paid for a second time.”

“Objection sustained!”  Shouts the judge slamming his gavel down on his desk.

“But Your Honor…”

“Sit down Mr. Prosecutor.  I’ve heard quite enough from you. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I declare this man to be not guilty in my sight. And I declare him to be righteous in Christ.  Court dismissed!”

“But Your Honor…”

“Michael!  Please escort the prosecutor out of the court room.”

What About All Those Things We Should Do But Fail To Do?

Christ died for all our sins.  Every single wicked thing we’ve done.

Every command we’ve broken – every violation.  Every sinful thought, word and deed we’ve done – every “sin of commission.”

But he died for even more than these.

Christ also died for all the good things we should do but fail to do.

Every “sin of omission.”  Like loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.  Anybody done that today for 15 minutes straight?  Or loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Anybody pray as much as he should?  Sacrifice as much as she could for Jesus?  Give as much as he could to the poor?  Any husbands out there who always love their wives as Christ loved the church? Anybody out there who never fails to rejoice – ALWAYS?

Jesus died for all the acts of kindness we neglect.  All the times we should speak up for Jesus but don’t for fear of man.  All the times we should serve others but give in to laziness.  All the times we should love others but just don’t.

That’s why when God justifies us, he not only declares us to be “not guilty,” but God declares us to be “righteous.” Not guilty of the sins we’ve committed because Jesus paid for them.  But positively righteous because Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience, which God credits to us who believe as a gift.

Justification is sometimes explained God looking upon me “Just-as-if-I’d never sinned.” But that’s only half the story.  The other half of justification is that God sees me “Just-as-if-I’d always obeyed.”

It’s not our own righteousness.  It’s a righteousness from God:

“…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— “(Philippians 3:9).

Paul didn’t plan to wave his own righteousness before God on judgment day.  He counted on God welcoming him into heaven because of Christ’s righteousness.

But, you ask, if God sees us as righteous, what’s the point of doing anything good?  Good question. Scripture says God’s gift of righteousness doesn’t make us passive.  In fact, we’re to run hard after righteousness.

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.  (1 Timothy 6:11)

How can we who have received God’s righteousness live for unrighteousness?  That’s insane.  Romans 6 says believers are slaves of righteousness (v18) – propelled by righteousness,   possessed by righteousness. We serve righteousness.  We do what righteousness dictates.  So we pursue righteousness, but when we fail to pursue it perfectly, when we fall short of loving the way we should or serving with a joyful attitude like we should, we don’t sink into despair, because God has counted his own perfect righteousness to us.

Our hope is always in Christ’s performance, not ours.

Now that’s good news!

Glaring Blind Spots

Did you know Jonathan Edwards owned slaves?

“It should be noted that Edwards was able to accomplish as much as he did in part because he bought into the viability of slavery. This is a massive stain on the reputation of a great Christian man. Though Edwards did treat his slaves well, and though he believed in and talked about the spiritual equality of all people before the Lord, he failed to adequately apply spiritual truths to his everyday life. Even so faithful a Christian and so biblically concerned believer as Edwards has his blind spots–some of them, like slavery, shameful in great measure.”  – Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards, Lover of God

Reading this passage made me wonder what massive blind spots I have in my life that others see now or will be someday be glaringly obvious to others when I’ve died.   How many ways have I failed to apply spiritual truth to my life?

I’m so grateful for both aspects of justification — forgiveness of sins and the righteousness of Christ.  Not only does God see believers as “not guilty” because of Christ’s sacrifice, but he sees us as positively “righteous” because he credits Christ’s lifetime of flawless obedience to us as a gift of his grace. We need both–atonement for sin, and a positive record of righteousness–in order to stand before God.

Even Jonathan Edwards, as zealous as he was for the Lord, could not enter heaven based on his performance. If he presented all his sermons, teaching and books, all the hospitality he and his wife practiced, and all the people he helped as worthy of heaven, God would say what about the massive blind spot of slavery? What about this gaping deficiency?

But Edwards, trusted in Christ, so God viewed him not only as if he’d never sinned, but as if he’d lived Christ’s perfect life of obedience.

“To [Christ’s] righteousness is the eye of the believer ever to be directed; on that righteousness must he rest; on that righteousness must he live; on that righteousness must he die; in that righteousness must he appear before the judgment-seat; in that righteousness must he stand forever in the presence of a righteous God.” — Robert Haldane

Praise God for justification by faith!

photo by elmago_delmar