There’s a thread of thought that ties together the different parts of God’s Word written by different authors. It’s a thread that always emphasizes the contrast between what God is willing to offer and what man in his own spirit is willing to ignore.
Here’s what God is willing to offer: Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” [NIV]
Here’s what man is often willing to ignore: “Romans 1:21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.” [NLT]
Not taking notice of God is not a neutral position at all. The Bible brings that contrast into clear focus with the daunting list of consequences of not accepting God’s offer and the outcome of choosing what man in his own spirit is willing to ignore “Romans 1:26…Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either.” [MSG]
II Corinthians 6:3 We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. 4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
I read through these verses and was struck by how many word comparisons Paul uses just after he writes about weapons so I made a list – but in columns: a left-hand one and a right-hand one. Apparently comparisons are catching and maybe that’s exactly what Paul had in mind. It certainly has made me think.
The left column is clearly filled with recognizable defensive weapons of righteousness. What if all those words in that right-hand column might also be weapons of rightousness? The Holy Spirit revealed our desire for those commendable words in the left-hand column to be a reality our lives at the same time our eyes recognized the words of the right-hand column were a part of that same reality. Doesn’t that make those dismal words pretty effective weapons of righteousness too?
Good Report. Bad Report
We Live On Dying
Not Yet Killed. Beaten
One column wasn’t enough to bring us into the faith of Jesus Christ on that day we came to our senses and returned to His victory and I’m guessing a majority of us would admit our lives still need both columns today. We couldn’t have understood glory if we hadn’t recognized dishonor or desired a good report if we hadn’t been aware of our bad report “then”. You can continue on down the list for yourself and just make the change to present tense: we can’t understand glory if we don’t recognize our dishonor, or desire a good report if we can’t confess a bad report.
The words in both those columns have turned out to be very effective weapons ”of endurance, in purity, understanding, patience and kindness “then” and “the power of God [to arm us now] with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and the left…”
II Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Being an ambassador “…as though God were making his appeal through us” become more real to me this week. I wanted to implore these people I really care about but instead my appeal was full of frustrated emotion and more loaded with the need to persuade than the desire that anyone might be reconciled to God. It’s so easy to spout off when you get your mouth and emotion involved. The fact is being an ambassador for Christ has obligations of grace.
I lost track of the reality that grace at it’s most basic level is God working to give me time to change. My motivation was more of the problem than my words were, and I blew it. I disappointed myself, and my two best advocates, Christ and my husband. It’s been a reminder to me of the obligation of, and my need for, grace AND it’s purpose.
Forgiveness has bound me to these people and grace in a new way AND loosed me to transformation “so that in him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God”…together.
James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds… 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
The big debate about his book has always been verse 24: “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” James has taken a lot of flack for those words. The very human temptation is to make faith and deeds a competition of either/or but here’s how I fit that debate into my √ list of traits for the followers of Christ. I think James is addressing personality.
Personality is the fabric of our lives. The weaving of that fabric is the key here for me. The process of weaving is always the same: two distinct sets of yarns or threads [like faith and deeds] are laced together at right angles to form the strength of the cloth. It’s Christ’s righteousness, not ours, that turns those threads into something more than a loose pile of strings when he weaves both faith and deeds into the fabric of a unique personality of one of his beloved.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
NIV Philippians 3:7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.
Thankfully most of us would never have to say we’ve “lost all things” to gain Christ. It’s likely we weren’t as successful as Paul was at keeping the rules in our old life, either, but we were certainly trying. Many of us would say we just “went along to get along” confused about the relationship of success and righteousness. That same confusion that left us unsure what to put our faith in was there back in Paul’s day too. Was righteousness only about right behavior and obeying the right rules?
Paul came to consider his list of successes as “garbage” but it was that old confusion that became our “garbage.” Christ became the contrast that showed us this reality; trying to figure out what we could make of ourselves was “garbage” compared to what God had in mind for us; “the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”
Philippians 1:14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
Have you noticed how similar the words change and chains sound? Paul only mentions chains but he’s making a pretty clear connection between chains and “change” in this verse. That’s what started me thinking and looking in a topical bible to find references to those two words. What I found out was interesting. Chains were shackles for those who were imprisoned BUT they were also ornamentation [jewelry] for princes, priests and even camels.
Paul’s chains were meant to constrain him but instead they’ve become like jewelry to him. They are the visible evidence that reminds him, and others, “most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” They’ve become chains that led to change.
Now about that word “change.” Oddly I didn’t find any direct references in my topical Bible to “change” but that word made me think of changing clothes and this part of Job 29:14. “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me…” It’s interesting to think how much emphasis I put on how I’ve changed as a believer. I’ve got the right clothes now but did I forget the right jewelry?
Is it possible that God has changed those very chains I was so happy to be rid of into the jewelry meant to become ornamentation for my new clothes? Is that jewelry visible evidence that allows my brothers and sisters to see how Christ can turn chains into change for them too?
I’m confident along with Paul that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Jesus has the power to turn chains into eye-catching jewelry to accent the beauty of being dressed in his righteousness.
NIV Romans 10:6 & 7 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
MSG Romans 10:6 & 7 But trusting God to shape the right living in us is a different story—no precarious climb up to heaven to recruit the Messiah, no dangerous descent into hell to rescue the Messiah.
There are two points of Romans 10 for me; seeking righteousness … and finding faith. Verses 6 & 7 fill the gap in-between these two important points. I’ve read them before but apparently only as a convenient bridge from one big idea to the other without giving much thought to them in particular. That’s my alert to re-read them in another version like the Message. I want it all to be important.
Seeking righteouseness … and finding faith are big commitments. Commitments take work, and work involves time and effort. It’s pretty easy to forget in the midst of trying to live those big commitments, you can’t cross that gap without that bridge in place. It’s important to pay tribute with my words to what I see as the big ideas but I don’t want to miss the “main” point.
I want righteousness that comes from God √. I want faith that comes from God √. No matter how much time and effort I commit to those two big ideas can bridge the gap between them. No words I write can give life to a Messiah that can save me or anyone else. Not even my best success at seeking righteousness … and finding faith could rescue Jesus from the death he endured on my behalf to fill that gap.. It just can’t happen without the bridge. Thanks God!