Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Paul is purposefully using a type of word play in much of this chapter that I didn’t include above. His words are meant to shift the focus of familiar concepts and challenge thought processes about how we interact with God.There were two things I read in preparing for this post that were helpful to me.One was a line from The Message version of Romans 3; “Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.”The second was from one of John Piper’s writings about this chapter where he referred to the Law as a track, not a ladder.
Ladder-thinking regarding God, sin, obedience to the Law, faith and justification seems to be part of human nature.I know my own tendency is to want a list to check items off so I can move on to the next rung.Instead God has provided reality.Life is filled with either/or’s, if/then’s and hide & seek’s. It’s like a track where the same laps must be repeated over and over in order to achieve the desired goal.That is exactly why Paul’s challenge from Romans is so important today.
• Sin hides us from God.
• The Law of self-preservation hides us from grace.
• Self-preservation hides us from obedience of the heart.
• Christ reveals the truth of the Law and obedience of the heart
• Obedience of the heart reveals faith
• Faith reveals grace
* Grace reveals justification • Justification reveals God’s righteousness.
These realities are a vital part of our relationship with the Sovereign God of the universe through Jesus Christ.There is not a ladder, only a track.Repeat laps as needed.
I Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. [ESV]
I’ve Been Healed – by Shirle Bedient circa late 1980s
It’s lonely Lord, with people all around when no one knows what’s really deep inside.Give me the courage not to hide my hollow life from you for by your wounds my lonely heart is healed. I’ve been healed, I’ve been healed, praise the Lord for by His wounds I have been healed.
The guilt I bear is heavy on my heart.I want to hide my sin and shame from you.Lord, I’m not worthy but forgive me, show me once again that by your wounds my sins have all been healed. I’ve been healed, I’ve been healed, praise the Lord for by His wounds I have been healed.
My spirit Lord is sometimes very low, for I forget just where my strength comes from.Remind my heart to sing your praises all of my days, for by your wounds my spirit has been healed. I’ve been healed, I’ve been healed, praise the Lord for by His wounds I have been healed.
Earlier this Spring a little-known Gospel trio, The Followers, had their 40-ish reminiscence reunion and we recorded this song, from the “old” days. I hope you ‘ll listen to the audio file all the way to the end because it’s the very end that inspired the object lesson of this post. Many years have passed since I wrote this song but the lyrics still reflect truth; hiding, guilt and anxiety are realities of everyday life but “praise the Lord, for by His wounds” we can be healed. Jesus has given us access to an optional ending.“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” [and this is key] to guarantee every day our life could be “returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul…that we might die to sin…” That is the daily process the Lord has provided to teach us how to”live to righteousness.” That’s the reality that makes healing and laughter the “optional” ending to a life of hiding, guilt and anxiety.
√ Re·new·al: the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken
Romans 2 [NIV]
13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous…15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.
18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?
• What “if you know his will and approve of what is superior BECAUSE you are instructed by the law” written on your heart, not a list of do’s and don’ts.
• What if the “requirements of the law” include internal instruction about judgment and renewal for those who are “righteous in God’s sight?”
• Then the accusation of judgment becomes the instruction of the law within us that bears witness to our conscience and the needs of our heart.
• Then our renewal becomes the evidence within us of God’s own defense of our heart as He directs our thoughts toward His righteousness.
“If you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth.“God is “bearing witness’ to your thoughts through those requirements of judgement and renewal.What is written on your heart is His best option for the renewal of your mind and His best defense of your righteousness.“You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?
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.