NORTH MINNEAPOLIS PRAYER BLOG 11/13/17: RIGHTEOUSNESS (Part 5)

 

ISSUE: GOD'S WILL-RIGHTEOUSNESS

We continue our study of righteousness. Tonight's focus is on the righteous works that must remain and the relationship to Final Judgment and one's Justification. There are different views on whether or not we are secure when we are justified by faith or if justification is dependent on one's entire life. Can you lose you salvation? Is your salvation eternally secured even if you reject Jesus as Lord later in your life? My hope, and prayer, is that we will worship God in spirit and in truth as we seek to understand God's righteous works in the believer throughout the life of faith. Please pray for North Minneapolis as you are led tonight.

PERSEVERENCE: SAVED FOREVER, SAVED UNLESS YOU TURN, OR A THIRD OPTION?

There is a debate in Christianity that has greatly divided people. A part of the great number of denominations are due to a disagreement on whether or not you can lose your salvation. I believe the heart of this argument rests on one’s view of justification and especially on what it means to be righteous in God’s sight. When God declares you righteous, is that true forever regardless of one’s actions or can you walk away or be cast out of God’s sight due to sin? We addressed this a bit above, so I won’t go into great detail again here, but it is crucial to understand the relationship and purpose of all the texts that warn of action that seem to be related to God’s final declaration on Judgment Day. Can one be declared righteous and prove to be unrighteous to the point of being cast into Hell? Is there a conditional requirement from God on His people or is there not?

The first place we need to look is again to how one is declared righteous. All people will not be saved. Only those who believe. God’s promise of eternal fire for those who do not turn to Christ for salvation will prove true, just as His promise of a death sentence to Adam.[1] All men die, but not all men will live again in the presence and favor of God in Heaven. There is no universal salvation for mankind. Either God is a liar because Jesus and the Word (The Bible) teach most men will die and go to Hell, or Hell exists and Judgment will be administered as God has promised. Universal Salvation is as much a lie from Satan as the belief that there is no God. God is not a liar.[2] But just like the enforcement of the death sentence on Adam, “The LORD is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”[3]

What should we do with texts that seem to call us to work in order to avoid judgment that will result in casting us out of the new community that will enter Heaven? Here are a few I have in scope:

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.” -Mark 9:43. Some argue that Jesus seems to say we have an ability to avoid Hell by acting (cutting off the part of the body that leads us to sin) with our free will.

“The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.” -Ezekiel 18:20. Some argue that Ezekiel seems to say righteous people have a righteousness of their own they will be credited, as is the same with the wicked. Again, this hinges on the belief of our free will to do whatever we want to do. The righteous are righteous because they choose to do righteous things and the wicked are wicked because they choose to do wicked things.

“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” -Hebrews 6:4-6. Some argue the text means to state that you can truly taste the gift of the Holy Spirit in one’s being, then fall away, and thus lose your salvation. Best I understand it is to say the Holy Spirit can be removed from you after it has been received.

“For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.’” -2 Peter 2:20-22. Some argue the text says you can come to a knowledge of Jesus that is salvific and head back into sin and lose your salvation.

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” -HEBREWS 10:26-28. Some state the text says you can receive knowledge of salvation which saved you and then keep sinning, lose your salvation as a result, and go to hell.

There are several other texts that can come into question when we study this very crucial and life-giving subject. The issue gets a bit more complicated when you add in texts that seem to say the opposite:

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.” -John 10:28-29. The text seems to say if God saves you, nothing can keep you from salvation. Some use this to argue that you can die in a continual state od a backslidden life, even going as far as to reject Jesus or the general belief that God exists, and remain saved due to a point in their life where a confession of sin and repentance was made. In recent history, this has been tied to salvation by a one-time prayer of faith.

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” -John 6:37. The text has been used to justify salvation regardless of sin because of the guarantee that seems to be given by Jesus.

“And who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” -2 Corinthians 1:22. Some argue all who believe are sealed and cannot lose their salvation regardless of sin.

Like those who argue salvation can be lost, those who argue salvation can never be lost (a type of once saved, always saved teaching) have several other texts they use to argue their position. But what if there is a link in the way all of these texts relate that does not affirm either simple assertion? What if these texts have a purpose in context that leaves us some mystery in order to accomplish the intended result it was written for. What I mean is, what if the intent of the author when you read one of those texts in context is to appeal to a specific desire or need and not to make a flat statement on eternal security or the lack thereof? In all of this there may be no lie or confusion, but simply a limited presentation, and in many cases a misrepresentation by the teacher, of what the text actually says. My advice for those who engage this study is to first begin by reading the text slowly in context (what comes before and after it in the book it is contained in) and don’t make it say what it doesn’t. Second, consider the rest of the Bible on the matter. The best way to interpret and understand a passage of Scripture is in light of Scripture as a whole. Scripture interprets Scripture.

I also appeal you to consider another option. There is a third option that does not affirm simply being saved without respect to a future lifestyle of unrepentant sin. Nor does it affirm the absence of eternal security and instead affirm the potential to lose one’s salvation due to an unrighteous life of sin. The best way I have heard it summarized is “once saved, always persevering”. In this view, all who truly believe are changed in such a way that they will naturally persevere in Godly passion driven, Holy Spirit empowered obedience. Those whom God saves will not turn to a life of unrepentant sin and unbelief, but will instead endure until the end because God accomplishes the work of salvation by entering the believer and doing the necessary work to sustain them. The direction comes from understanding how texts that seem to conflict actually relate. Here are a few verses to add to what you read above:

“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” -1 John 3:6-9. The text teaches that it is impossible to make a habit, or practice, of sin if you have been truly saved. Why? Because God’s seed is living inside you and will not allow sin to make its home there.

“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,” -1 John 2:3-4. The text teaches that those who know (not knowledge alone, but an intimate, personal relationship) Jesus love them and, therefore, keep His commandments. If you know Jesus, really know Him, you will love Him and this love will flow out in obedience. On the opposite side, a lack of obedience proves you do not intimately know Jesus. What you think you know about Jesus isn’t true knowledge, but a corrupted, false knowledge.

Matthew 7 and 25, when read together, present two pictures of knowledge worth considering which add to the richness of the Christian life. There are two groups standing before Jesus. Jesus separates the members of the body. On one side are those called lambs. Jesus says He knows them and explains His knowledge by informing them that their loving actions towards His people were actually done toward Him. They are simple acts of love like visiting the sick or incarcerated, giving water to the thirsty, and clothing the naked. The other group claims to have lived clear lives of knowing Christ by doing miraculous things like preaching, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Their argument is their powerful, mighty works prove they know Jesus. Jesus responds in this manner: ““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”[4]

There is a point here that needs to be made. You can have a knowledge that is dead and without love. It is superficial like the seed that is not planted in the good soil.[5] For many reasons, this short rooted (or no root at all) faith will not last and will prove insufficient. This is because the plant was never sown in the true garden of God where the good soil is. It is outside of the Kingdom.

But we must also consider what Jesus is saying when He makes the judgment based on His knowledge. There is a different knowledge beyond whether or not someone knows who Jesus is. This knowledge comes from Jesus. It is knowledge He possesses, not the person being judged. Jesus knows His sheep. He knows His people. His eyes are on them. Those that are not His can say whatever they want and claim as many miracles as they desire to in front of Him, even adding they did them in His name, but in the end, Jesus says He does not know them. In one sense, He does know them. He calls them workers of iniquity, or evildoers. Jesus can know you, but at the same time not know you in a way that leads to salvation. Jesus does not know evildoers who do works, even in his name, in a relationship that leads to salvation. Why? They didn’t bear fruit that comes from His presence. When His people had need, it was He who had need, and they did not act. Why? Because their hearts weren’t prepared by God to receive the good seed of faith. The good seed bears good fruit, as judged by Jesus, because it listens to Jesus’ teaching and follows it. These wolves, also called goats, follow a different teaching which arises from a different lord who is no true LORD at all. True teaching loves our brothers and sisters in Christ and desires to act on behalf of others, not acquire and store up goods and followers for one’s self.

Like Egypt, they have been warned by God of His holy wrath and the destruction that awaits them if they disobey, but they never believed in Him as Savior nor followed His teaching. They don’t see the beauty of His life and the way it shines forth the righteousness of God which is unattainable by man. They instead trusted in their own righteousness, or mighty abilities and the results they sought. They expect to stand before God and boldly proclaim their successes and faithfulness. They say, “Did we not…” Meanwhile, those who Jesus knows are simply loving others and trusting in His finished work. They follow His teaching and the pattern of His life.

Then there are two stances, or postures, of the groups when they come before Jesus. These postures flow forth from two very different hearts when they enter before the throne of the Good Judge Jesus. The people who will be declared righteous on Judgment Day do not exhibit a heart that is set to proclaim its own righteousness as a plea before God. They seem to be surprised by Jesus’ words in their favor. Those who are deemed wicked, or unrighteous, are those who, in unison, proclaim their deeds and works to the King. They come across as surprised as well. There seems to be an assumption that Jesus would confirm them as what they believe they are. Their appeal to review their works points to an assumption that their works are worthy of confirmation. They are rooted in self-justification whereas the righteous seem to be unaware that the works they did were worthy of even speaking or remembering. God opposes, or resists, the proud, but shows favor, or gives grace, to the humble.[6] We must examine our faith and see if we are resting in Christ’s righteousness or trusting in knowledge, skills and abilities, or the results we believe are a sign of our righteousness, as though they are worthy of merit before Jesus. If we are, I urge repentance and to turn to trust in Christ alone.

If you repent, you can be assured God has done His work to keep you. If you continue to trust in anything outside of Jesus, then you will find you never really knew Him. He doesn’t require a merit level to love you and save you. He gives it freely. You can’t buy the bread and wine He gives.[7] To do so is to underestimate the cost of that bread and wine. This is what it means to fall short. We cannot afford the gift He offers. To think we can is a grievous misunderstanding of the cost and value of grace and is ultimately making light, or little, of the extreme cost and weight of our sin. Not only does it prove we are unrighteous, but it also proves we don’t understand holiness. “whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”[8] This includes poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, the hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking, and persecution that flow forth from understanding the spiritual truth Jesus has supplied. It results in spiritual fruit as well as the promises given to those who have the gifts of character God gives. They do relate to our actions, but actions done from the flesh versus those from the spirit come from different sources and yield different crops that will be judged by God.

But what of the works mentioned? Those righteous people did do works which were recognized by Jesus, right? They did. They acted on behalf of those with need. What if the prideful group also visited the sick, clothed the naked, took in the stranger, fed the hungry, and gave water to the thirsty? It still goes back to posture. Posture is revelatory of the heart and God judges the heart. Works alone do not merit salvation. God is in the business of conforming His people into the image of Christ. You cannot change your heart. God has to give you a new heart with His law written on it and put His Spirit within you.

You might also ask about how you could satisfy God, but to seek to satisfy God is the wrong question altogether. Instead, it is worth considering how God uses works to confirm those who have Christ’s righteousness. Let’s look at one passage (among many) that clearly gets at what is going on. “Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”[9] First, we see that there is a relationship in place. The context tells us this is a body of believers who spent time with the speaker. They are called “dear friends”. The text also explains that these dear friends were with the speaker and obeyed while they were there. Jesus spends time with His disciples and His disciples spend time with Him. They know Him and listen to what He asks. In the absence of Jesus’ physical presence, we are not without a guide for we have enjoyed and stored up His Word and His way of life. Though Paul is the author of this passage, he is following a pattern of Jesus.[10] Jesus came and spent time with His disciples. He taught them and did so, many times, through commands which they obeyed under His authority.[11]

We are also called to act, or to do righteous works, but notice something about this often misquoted, misapplied passage: God is the one who is working in the person doing the action. He does this through two means. The first is by giving us a desire to act. The second is by giving us the power to please Him. We have a want, a desire, to do what God wants given not by ourselves, but by God who is working in us. And He gives us the power to act on that desire to accomplish it. This is why Paul can proclaim, “No, I worked harder than all of them-yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”[12] And in order to make it clear that these works do not originate from himself, but from God, He states that very thing before addressing his hard work. There is a glory that shines forth from a life of discipleship in Christ, but it is not our glory that is revealed, it is the glory of Christ who lives in us by His Spirit. We are simply broken pots that shine forth the glory of God.[13]

Let’s take a step back and look at the whole verse. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”[14] What Paul is teaching is consistent with the rest of Scripture. God enters man by the Holy Spirit, which is a free gift, a seal, and His presence is active in the lives of those in whom He dwells, or lives. This is the active grace of God. That presence of life, the Holy Spirit, brings forth life externally in the actions of the one whom God has saved and secured for the day of redemption.[15] Salvation is a free gift that cannot be lost because God goes as far as to live inside the person to bring about His will and all that He commands by creating a passion to love Him and others.

The presence of the Holy Spirit is confirmation of the new birth. The reborn man, therefore, cannot exist in a practice, or lifestyle, of sin and unbelief because the God who is in them fills them with a true knowledge, a saving knowledge, that is astonished by God’s goodness and mercy. This saving knowledge includes a right, or correct, understanding of sin. If you understand sin, you will not desire to take part in it. You will desire to be cleansed from it. Sin is an act of rebellion against the good and holy God.[16] It also understands God’s mercy and kindness and goodness and love.

True knowledge, or wisdom, cause the believer to overflow in worship. This worship can be seen in simple acts of love, but the act itself is not the source of worship.  The heart is the source. When you rightly understand God as the source of all your good works, you do not desire a claim of value to be made in your name or those work’s to be held in others’ minds as one’s own doing because you want God to receive His just due and for those that experience His goodness to call Him Lord and to enjoy Him forever as you are. The heart that has been changed by God does not desire personal praise, it values and enjoys the weight of God’s mighty act of salvation and daily grace in their life. There is an awareness of the spiritual poverty one brings. There is nothing to truly offer God except the ever-increasing revelation of one’s great need. This happens as God exposes sin in our lives and expels it from His holy presence. He cleanses us from the inside out not because we are worthy, but because has made us His Temple, His Holy Dwelling.[17] God cannot dwell with darkness.[18] The righteousness that manifests in our lives is, therefore, still not our own, but God’s. Where God is, His holiness is. Where Jesus is, so too is His righteousness. Jesus is God. You cannot separate God from His righteousness. It cannot be removed and God is in the business of displaying His glory. Often, we are just too blind to see and appreciate it.



[1] Regarding man’s promised death: GENESIS 2:9; 3:17-19; ROMANS 5:12-19. Regarding the promise and presentation of the reality of Hell which is the spiritual equivalent of the physical death of man: MATTHEW 7:21-23; 10:28; 13:42, 50; 25:41, 46; 2 THESSALONIANS 1:9; 2 PETER 2:4; JUDE 1:7; REVELATION 19:20; 20:13-14; 21:8.

[2] NUMBERS 23:19; HEBREWS 6:18

[3] 2 PETER 3:9

[4] MATTHEW 7:21-23. Read also MATTHEW 25:31-46

[5] MATTHEW 13:1-23; MARK 4:1-20; LUKE 8:1-15

[6] JAMES 4:6; PSALM 138:6; PROVERBS 3:34, 29:3; 1 PETER 5:5

[7] ISAIAH 55

[8] MATTHEW 13:12

[9] PHILIPPIANS 2:12-13

[10] JOHN 13-19; MATTHEW 28:18-20. Paul is imprisoned and will eventually be crucified in Rome after being handed over by the Jewish authorities. He has obeyed the Great Commission and is walking the same road as Christ Jesus. He commands those he lived amongst and discipled to follow in His footsteps as He follows Christ (1 CORINTHIANS 11:1)

[11] MARK 3:15, MATTHEW 10:1, and LUKE 9:1-6 shows us Jesus delegated authority to the disciples to act in the manner He had acted. If we look in Luke 9, Jesus gives authority to cast out demons, heal the sick, and condemn those who did not accept them, but we also see Jesus fed many and cared for the lodging and physical hunger needs of those who had come to learn from Him. There is more to following Jesus than being a prophet, casting out demons, doing miracles, and condemnation. There is also a compassion for the needs of His followers. The passage also teaches us that the life of a disciple of Christ mirrors His life in that it is the life of carrying a cross. It is not a life that seeks to save itself, but one of sacrifice for the needs of others.

[12] 1 CORINTHIANS 15:10b

[13] 2 CORINTHIANS 4

[14] 1 CORINTHIANS 5:10

[15] EPHESIANS 1:13-14; 4:30; HOSEA 13:14; ROMANS 8:11,23

[16] DEUTERONOMY 9:7, 24; EXODUS 23:21; NUMBERS 17:10; PSALM 78:8; ISAIAH 48:8

[17] 1 CORINTHIANS 3:16

[18] 2 CORINTHIANS 6, especially note 6:14-18. Paul follows with an urge to cleanse one’s self of unrighteousness, but this too is preceded in 6:1-13 by an explanation of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Paul has confidence, not in the ability of the Corinthians to cleanse themselves because of ability, but because of the Holy Spirit who dwells in them. He and the apostles have been marked by this cleansing. He is confident the Corinthians will also share this mark. Paul’s teaching here is not in conflict with his teaching in Philippians 2:12-13. It is because of Paul’s faith in God’s work that he can be sure a plea to the Corinthians will result in acting on the desires with the supplied power. We, too, are called to be confident of God’s work and supply of desire and power by the Holy Spirit and thus should act.