Why bother with righteousness? Why do we desire it and why are we as believers dissatisfied without it?
Loving righteousness and sensing the lack of it is not natural, that is, the flesh isn’t motivating us. Even if we could see moral beauty, we still wouldn’t want it. We have no innate desire for or ability to do righteousness.
Wanting righteousness and mourning the lack of it doesn’t even come from Scripture. God’s Word reveals the standard of righteousness, it illustrates it, and it promises blessings or judgments according to man’s relationship to it. But the Bible by itself has never made any man righteous. In fact, the law makes men more unrighteous by stirring up new desires for disobediences.
The only way to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to pursue it, and to enjoy it is by God’s Spirit. The Spirit does more than give better definitions of right. He does more than make the case against our wrongs. He convicts us and then changes our affections so that we want holiness.
God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3–4, ESV)
The Spirit is the only one who can make our prayers of confession meaningful. He is the only one who can get down into our hearts and work His way out through our prayers and decisions. This is part of the advantage for us in Jesus’ ascension: He sent the Helper to convict the world (John 16:8). Our dependence on the Third Person’s help to acknowledge our sin is part of our worship of the Triune God.
Yesterday was the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the usual time to begin the advent countdown. It also happened to be the first day of December, so we sang a number of carols to start our recognition of the season. For our Lord’s Table meditation we considered Christ’s coming and its relation to communion, which is also the plan for the following three Lord’s Days.
How does the incarnation encourage us? First, the incarnation means that, in Christ, God came. God took on flesh and it was His idea. He initiated and He travelled. He did not wait for us to draw near to Him but He clothed Himself with frail humanity.
Our salvation is not the result of any long pilgrimage on our part to some holy place, it is the result of the Son’s sojourning among unholy people. We do not globe-trot or cross galaxies to get to God. He covered the distance. We could not reach Him, but we can also not get too far away from Him that He cannot reach us.
Eternal life draped Himself with a body so that mortal flesh could put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53). Heaven came down and glory fills our futures. “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us” (Matthew 1:23). We give thanks for salvation and fellowship we enjoy with God because He came.
One slander against the early church regarded their Lord’s Supper celebrations. Those outside the church heard words such as “love feast” (a term used in Jude 12) and figured that the Christians were doing all sorts of inappropriate things when they got together. What else do you do when you’re jealous? You make it sound as if the other person who has what you want doesn’t deserve it or isn’t using it right.
Our weekly communion makes men mad. They think, usually to themselves, “Hey, we want to eat with God, too.” They say, “You should not be so comfortable doing it so often.” Or, “This is not supposed to be a time of gladness no matter how thoughtful you claim to be.” Or, “Certainly some will abuse it and participate unworthily.” These criticisms often come from those who wish they could have the gladness they criticize.
We do not eat and drink joyfully because we deserve it or because we have it all figured out or because we refuse to be serious about our sin. We eat and drink joyfully because God has dealt seriously with our sin, putting our judgement on His Son, and inviting us to believe the good news of eternal life. We eat and drink joyfully because of grace we cannot manage. It is fearful how much He loves us, and it is wonderful. If that opens us up to slander and hatred, we should not be surprised and we should tell them that they can have it too by faith in Jesus.
It is extremely difficult not to take on the worldview of the world around us. Not only do we live in the world, we used to be of the world, and the gravitational pull of some orbits are hard to break. As Christians we are being transformed by the renewing of our minds and this is part of the reason why our worship is so important. It gets our heads out of this world.
Take, for instance, the matter of authority. God made the world the way He did and He arranged it so that some men have authority over other men. God defines the idea of authority and He created the relational spheres where authority belongs. Those who want everyone to be equal everywhere–a common lust in our culture–fight against the authority of God Himself who made a different system than the one they wanted. These levelers are actually idolators, wanting a different god.
It is, however, possible to love authority because God said it and still be a practical idolator. We are reflections of God, so if we do not bear authority in the way He does than we bear the image of some other god, maybe Zeus, or Jupiter if you prefer Latin, Odin, Thor, or maybe just the idea of being the “boss.”
Jesus said that the Gentiles, those who don’t know God, lord their authority over men (Matthew 20:25-28). Solomon wrote about those who have power over other men to their hurt (Ecclesiastes 8:9). Authority embodied (in Jesus) said it should not be so among us. True authority takes responsibility and gives service rather than taking service and giving responsibility. We are guilty when we deny authority by our politics and by our practices. We must continue to be remade in our worldview as we see the Beloved Son love us into something better.
The hardest part about Thanksgiving is actually being thankful. It is much easier to imagine ourselves being thankful than it is to be thankful. When we imagine sitting down to dinner on Thursday, we imagine that everyone got a good night of sleep, that everyone is getting along, that everyone fully appreciates all the work that everyone else is doing, and that the turkey is hot and moist and done just when Martha Stewart promised. Coordinating all of that to work together perfectly only works in the editing room of the Hallmark channel.
Future gratitude always hits the mark because it doesn’t require real work. We are all great visionaries when it comes to our behavior in certain circumstances, especially when we get to pretend the circumstances, too. We are rarely realists about circumstances and hardly ever realists about how stridently we demand that those around us get their lines right before we will step out of the dressing room. We are gratitude divas.
Today is the day of thankfulness, and Thursday is as well, even when the rolls won’t be finished for another ten minutes and the three year old fidgets with her silverware during your bumptious devotional about the pilgrims. Be thankful now for what God has given and those He has given and where He has you. If you cannot be thankful now, then a dream of your future thanks may be just that, a dream.
The Lord’s Table will be sweeter the last time we taste it than it was the first time. The apostle John recorded the Lord’s rebuke to the Ephesian church that they had lost their first love. But he didn’t want them to go back to the limitations of love’s beginnings, he wanted them to go back to the intensity of what was fresh.
Each week we discover fresh reasons to love. Each day brings hundreds of new graces to us, undeserved gifts. Counted by flock, or considered in the universal church, how could we calculate the new mercies of every morning for every Christian? And what about the addition of new believers into the Christ’s Body every week?
A thousand years ago in Britain they made a scarlet dye from whelks (small mollusks or sea snails), said not only not to fade as it aged in the sun and rain, but the dye became bolder and more beautiful in color. The gospel is the same. As we eat and drink today we have more reason to rejoice than last week. Think of how much fruit has grown since the first supper the night that Christ was betrayed. It may be true that familiarity breeds contempt, but it will be a long time before we’re truly familiar with the full price or final profit of the cross. Think of how many haters have been won by His conquering love. Think of how much sin in your own heart He has loved out of you. It is more now than ever and, even if hatred increases, it is because haters have more to hate by God’s grace.
The problem with eternity is that it still won’t be long enough to develop every deep hue of Christ’s loving sacrifice. But it will still be good for us to watch and we will always have fresh reasons for intense love.
As Christians we know that we are in the world but not of it. Navigating this relationship requires more than quoting a great verse, it requires applying great wisdom. How do we know when we are appropriately in while also not being inappropriately of? How do we live here without living like here?
We can’t address every particular right now, but we can say that worldliness is a sin that should be addressed. Many professing Christians, Christian organizations, and churches deliberately adopt worldly behavior for sake of evangelism, sometimes behavior that didn’t even belong to their own pre-Christian days. Their philosophy of ministry aims to show the world how much Christians are like the world. While specific turns along the way are important, we should at least acknowledge that we can’t be going east and not-east at the same time.
Loving to be loved by the world is part of what it looks like to have the love of the world. In other words, unwillingness to stand out from the world is worldly. The world talks about non-conformity, but only to be conformed to the cool group talking about non-conformity. Christians who blur the lines of Christian doctrine and obedience are acting like the worldly blurrers, not believers.
Thinking that we can be friends of Christ and friends with the world is worldly, not obedience. Jesus’ half-brother James wrote, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). The apostle John commanded believers not to love the world (1 John 2:15) and said, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).
We will have enemies. We will be at odds either with God or with those who are at odds with God. To the degree that we compromise our loves with the world we need to confess that as sin to God. He will forgive us, cleanse us, and conform us to the mold of His Son.
Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4 in 1 Corinthians 2:9. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” Paul uses Isaiah to point to the work of God’s Spirit who teaches us and helps us to understand all the things that are freely given us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12).
We enjoy a variety of endowments freely given us by God, but near the roots of His grace is our justification by faith. We celebrate Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenburg 496 years ago last Thursday, a document that lifted up the principle of sola fide, salvation by faith alone. And boy do we need that.
In the context of Isaiah 64 and all the things that God has prepared, two verses later, and the reason we usually turn to this chapter, the prophet says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (verse 6).
This affects our attitude at the Lord’s Table when we think both about what plagues us and about the things God has prepared for us. We don’t come to this table in miserable guilt. We do not work ourselves into a lather of bad feelings because our best bad feelings are like filthy rags. We cannot dig conviction deep enough to make ourselves worthy to eat and drink. We will not get our lives, like leaves, into a shapely pile with the leaf-blower of shame and keep them arranged. We couldn’t if we wanted to because the gusts of sin blow too strong.
We come to this Table remembering all the things that God has prepared for us including God-given righteousness. We come by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We come in joy because no one else has a God like this. The things He has prepared for those who love Him include His potent love which cleanses us and forgives us and frees us for eternal fellowship. He replants us and enlivens us by the cross, not by demanding that we chase down all our guilt with a bigger rake.
Last Sunday was Orphan Sunday. It’s not a holiday, though many churches observe it in the United States and in other countries. For that matter, November is National Adoption Month, at least here in the States. In both cases, the point is to make special effort to heighten awareness of year-round needs throughout the world.
As a church we support Andrew Schneidler and the Children’s Law Center of Washington. He is a lawyer helping make permanency possible for families that don’t have financial resources. We give him money each month and make supplication for him almost every Sunday. As a church we also took up support for the Good Shepherd’s Children Home in India through Kidstown International. Likewise, we send money and make prayers for the kids and for the leaders of that orphanage.
We’ve promoted (and run) in the Adoption Run for Antioch Adoptions. Some of us even organized an event a few years ago to cut adoption costs for a family desiring to take kids into their family. Last Sunday night we also made a large statement through a small party on behalf of the Hall family who are closer than ever to bringing in to their home some kids who don’t have a home, kids who don’t have a place or parents to parent them.
In less brochure-able ways, we are involved in orphan prevention. We do have the obligation according to James 1:27 to help widows and orphans. We also have the obligation to love our wives, respect our husbands, and not exasperate our children but raise them in the culture of Christ worship. It may be too dramatic to call that orphan prevention, but it is not too dramatic to call it obedience to God our Father. We are to lay down our lives for one another, for others, including little others.
From our homes, to Western Washington, to other continents, God created us to love others, especially those who are weak and needy. If we only love those who earn our love, those who make it easy for us to love them, then we do not realize how potent love like God’s is.
What is the single most important thing you can do to grow into God’s image? Do you remember when the apostle Paul wrote about believers being “filled with all the fullness of God”? Is that even allowable? It’s an inspired description, so it must be. But how does that happen? What is the process? We’re naturally too weak to do it on our own, therefore Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers that they:
may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18–19, ESV)
The single most important and humanly impossible need is for us to know the love of Christ. It’s not that we need to love Him more, though we will. It’s not that we need to obey for 70 years or by strength 80, though He may enable us to do that. We will be deified–filled up with all God’s fullness–as we come to have His love wrapped around our heads.
John Bunyan wrote an entire book on these two verses, The Saint’s Knowledge of Christ’s Love, recently published under the title, All Loves Excelling. Near the end he asked,
Couldst thou (sinner) if thou hadst been allowed, thyself express what thou wouldst have expressed, the greatness of the love thou wantest, with words that could have suited thee better? (Knowledge, 37)
In other words, could you have imagined, let alone asked for, a better love than Christ’s? Satan hates for you to know this goodness. He hates for us to come to the Lord’s Table set with the symbols of Christ’s love spent for us, the body and the blood of Jesus. Christian, remember His death on the cross, His burial, and His resurrection three days later. Abide in His love. Come, eat and drink it represented in this communion meal. It fills you with all God’s fullness.