ISSUE: GOD'S WILL-RIGHTEOUSNESS (PART 7)
We continue to delve into some of the depths of righteousness and how it relates to God's Will on earth as it is in heaven. Tonight we look at a portion of a chapter on The Holy Spirit's relationship to our righteousness. To dig into this truth, we go deeper into the idea of covenants. We will look at the covenant promises and God's pattern of work in covenants to ensure blessing His people. The study of covenants under my friend and mentor Dr. E. Michael Rusten is one of the two most influential and life changing classes I took at Bethlehem College & Seminary as part of the Degree Completion Program for a Bachelor of Theology degree. I don't go nearly as deep as he did (and does), but I hope it blesses you. At the heart of your prayers (and ours) tonight for North Minneapolis, we are hoping the people here will move from a general knowledge of God to a special covenant relationship with Him in Jesus Christ. The promises that come with this relationship are needed in every Christian's daily life. They are not new promises. They are promises we have had from the beginning, but what we have now is the gift of the Holy Spirit. We take the Spirit of Righteousness, the Holy Spirit with us as we live in the community and we hope He will fall and baptize many who we gain an opportunity to share the gospel with as a result. Pray for boldness to proclaim the gospel and for help as we work through deeper, more granular parts of our church planting vision and plan.
NOTE: Mike Rusten is a gift to the church and has made so many tools available to the public for free at his website. He is working on updating the site so I will try to add a link once it gets up and running.
THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
We have the Holy Spirit. It is a gift, a needed gift. But what does that mean for the Christian? What does the presence of the Holy Spirit indwelling in men mean to the world? Does it matter? If so, why do we not proclaim the gift of the Holy Spirit and instead focus our attention on the person and work of Christ?
Holiness and Righteousness
The Holy Spirit is holy. The statement could seem absurd to work through because the adjective holy is used in the name of the Holy Spirit. But what does that really mean? Why do we call Him the Holy Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit any less holy than God the Father or Jesus Christ the son? The holiness of the Holy Spirit flows from the same truth we looked at in the beginning of this book. Holiness has to do with uniqueness and separation from all else that exists. The Holy Spirit is one of the three persons in the unique substance God. All three members of the godhead are equally holy. The attributes are shared. It is not simply the Father who is holy. The Son and the Spirit are also equally holy. God is also righteous as are each person of the godhead. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each equally righteous. Righteousness is a good pointer to how the Holy Spirit is in fact distinctly different and set apart from all other spirits and created things. It shows us the uniqueness of God.
Righteousness relates to us in the context of relationship between God and man. The holiness of God is revealed in the righteous relationship of God with man in the relationship of covenant. It’s a personal and very specific relationship. Not all people are in relationship with God in this context. All are under God as Creator and Judge over His creation. The covenant with one people does not exclude any of this judgment authority because all is under Him and subject to his authority and rule. But as we saw in the story of the Passover, though all are worthy of condemnation, not all people receive the opportunity for salvation. Only those He speaks with and interacts with can hear such a message. The covenant is worth discussion here because the Holy Spirit is the source that fulfills what it calls for.
WHAT IS A COVENANT
A covenant is a legal agreement between two kings. Covenants are legal documents that work a lot like contracts do today. Biblical covenants with God are about authority and delegations. One king is the head king or greater king called a suzerain and the other king is a lesser king or submissive king called a vassal. The suzerain sets the covenant terms in place and the vassal accepts or rejects them. In the Old Testament age, there was generally two options: accept the terms in submission or war is declared. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of negotiations that take place in American contracts today. I can’t say that as a scholar of covenants in a general sense, but instead from the understanding I’ve gained by listening to scholars. Negotiations don’t seem to be an important part of the discussions I’ve attended. The key fact to take here is there are two kings and one is asserting authority and delegating and distributing duties in the larger kingdom which would include the smaller king’s jurisdiction.
Covenants have some consistent parts. There is a history of the relationship. There are portions that name the kings and the roles that will exist. There are rules or expectations that are outlined by the head king, the suzerain, that explain what the vassal is required to do. The most major expectation is to recognize the head king as the authority at the top of the food chain and to submit to him. There are other expectations called minor stipulations that outline the day-to-day division of labor and what it means to be in submission to the great king. There are various levels of depth to these rules or expectations. They can get pretty granular. God relates to His people by covenants. This has occurred since the creation of the world with Adam and Eve on. God is the great king and the men he enters into covenant with are the vassals who represent Him. He controls the entire Kingdom which includes all that the vassal is assigned over (their kingdom) as well as other areas outside of that Kingdom either under His direct rule or under other vassal kings.
There are pretty typical benefits to being in a covenant with a powerful king. For one, they offer protection to the smaller king and his people. There can also be resources like land or other necessary things one needs to survive that can be available to the lesser king and his people. If there is a famine, for instance, the great king could give access to a lesser king by providing resources from another kingdom who has more than enough. This is all dependent on the willingness of the king to grant them, but an especially gracious king could be a great ally in times of need. A powerful king who commands armies could also be a benefit when a lesser king’s domain is without an army or structures that could defend it. The flipside is you will likely have to contribute army and supplies like crops if called upon to do so.
Because of the nature of the covenant, there are blessings that are included which outline what obedience will yield and curses as well for disobedience to the covenant. A covenant could secure the wants and needs of the lesser king if they are loyal to the great king. If they are disloyal, they not only face the threats of the outside world, but also the threat of attack or penalty from the great king.
Then there are witnesses to covenants. Most of the kings used their gods as the witness of the covenant. The land and rivers and mountains could be witnesses and stand as enforcers of the covenant. The two kings and their kingdoms would swear to keep the covenant stipulations and the promised blessings and curses. After completing the ceremonies that included taking an oath before the witnesses and both parties a great meal would take place to ratify the covenant relationship. A feast was in order and fellowship was not visible. At the end of it all, the covenant documents would be taken to a place for storage in the event of a lawsuit and often it was in the place where the god or its image was said to live.
What happens if the lesser king would fail to keep the covenant? In the event that the lesser king would fail to remain loyal, the god or witness would be called upon to bring about the curses. This was true for blessings as well, but we need to note curses because it is highly relevant to our discussion. In the event of a king breaking the covenant messengers were sent to warn the lesser king of the transgression and called them back into faithfulness to the terms. God often sent two messengers before declaring war on a nation or city due to their lack of faithfulness to the covenant. War would follow and the king and kingdom would be overthrown unless it was able to defend itself and defeat the great king. The idea of a god as enforcer is a great threat to anyone who might think of breaking the covenant as are the wind, rivers, mountains, and spirits. Not only did you war with a king and his people, but with their god or the land as well. Add in the fact that the oath often included a sacrifice of an animal or animals to be eaten and it can get scarier. Abraham and God “cut” a covenant by dividing animals in half and walking between them. The effect of this action was both parties were saying they would be cut in half like the animals if they broke the covenant.
In our previous discussion of righteousness, I tried to explain how righteousness is a particular state of being. Here is the quote I used to explain the idea of righteousness:
“The concept (righteousness) includes faithfulness, justice, uprightness, correctness, loyalty, blamelessness, purity, salvation, and innocence. Because the theme is related to justification, it has important implications for the doctrine of salvation.”
We also looked at how certain works flow forth from this righteous state of being that align with it. We might call these good, or righteous, works. A simple way of thinking of this is that the righteous person would do the required work of the covenant, which is hopefully also righteous in its being, and would be viewed as pure, faithful, pure works of loyalty without any blame. The relationship of the kings to each other would need to be a righteous relationship for it to work out as the requirements must be completed regardless of the situation. God has shown his being as righteous by always keeping his word and always doing what is righteous. This includes the stipulations of His covenants. He is not unrighteous, or impure or with blame, that He would make covenants that are unrighteous. He is righteous and His covenants are the righteous outworking in relationship with His people. He is faithful to His covenant and those He made it with. He is just to His covenant and those He made it with. He is upright in His dealings with the covenant and His people. He is correct in His covenant and to His people. He is loyal to His covenant and to His covenant people. He is pure in being, covenant, and in relationship to His covenant people. He is a savior of His covenant people and of His covenant. He is innocent in relation to His covenant and His covenant people.
But what does that mean? It means God is good in every way and we see that in how He manages His Kingdom, relates to those He enters into a covenantal relationship, and He always keeps His word. He is the ultimate promise keeper because He is faithful and just. The problem lies, not in God, but in us. We are the ultimate “promise breakers” and fail to keep any covenant we enter with Him. His promise keeping also includes blessings and curses. Some blessings in God’s covenants do not rely on man to receive. There is no stipulation for men to receive the blessing God offers. Others promise curse for breaking the covenant and because He is just and faithful to His word, justice must be administered. He enforces His covenants. He sends messengers and He brings war to rebels against His Kingdom. His power is unmatched and His will cannot be thwarted which is great when He is protecting your city from enemy kings who seek to destroy you, but its not so hopeful when you are the enemy king and Kingdom. He will win. The king will be overthrown and the city will be destroyed.
God has promised several things in the course of His covenants with men and the dealings with them afterwards. In His judgment on Adam and Eve, He enforced the death sentence He proposed when the single stipulation was violated. At the same time, He promised future curses and future hope by sending a seed that would crush the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve in the fall. To Noah and his descendants (as well as all that existed on the earth), God promised never to destroy the world and all mankind by water again. To Abraham, He promised a great nation (people and land) and to make his name great as well as to make Abraham a blessing and to bless all nations through him, not just his own nation of people that would come from him by birth. To David, God promised to keep a king eternally on the throne, active and reigning. The promises of God far surpass any promises human kings can make because God is completely beyond what man is limited to by death, time, human finiteness of mind and strength, and authority. Men are limited to a lifetime, but God exists eternally in the presence of the world which continues to go on after an earthly king dies.
The Law of Moses is a covenant with God’s people, Israel. In it, God promised life for all who keep the covenant and death to anyone who breaks a single stipulation. He has kept his word perfectly and no one has been able to keep the covenant to this day, except Christ Jesus. In doing so, Christ Jesus fulfilled the covenant requirements as King of His people. Because of his righteousness toward God, His people reap the benefits He acquired at death on the cross. This includes life. The life God was promising was not life on earth as we know it, for Christ died. In his death, we learn the truth of Scripture’s teaching on eternal life, the life Adam was cut off from in the garden when God removed him so he couldn’t eat from the tree of life and live forever.
When Christ died as His people’s King, He secured an inheritance, the blessings of God on our behalf. Jesus inherited all things from His Father. He has been given all the nations and every inch of the earth. With this inheritance is the acquisition of rulership and authority over all that exists. Jesus is reigning and promises that all sins, or law breaking is forgiven to those who believe in Him. We are joined to Him by faith in the promises of God. We are sanctified as we are made co-heirs. Though it comes through a new covenant, it is not a new purpose, but God’s purpose from the beginning. Part of receiving the inheritance is based on the covenant stipulations which are grounded on faith in Christ. His law for His New Covenant people is to love others as He has loved us. In this commandment is the grounding truth that it flows out of a love of God experienced and explained in Jesus. In order to love others and Jesus loved the disciples, we have to be aware of how Jesus loved the disciples. We do that by becoming a disciple and experiencing His love in word and deed. All of this has a single purpose, to make the name of Jesus known and recognized. Faith fuels and fulfills this covenant command for it is grounded on the person of Christ as the revealed God in flesh and trusting His promises which cause hope. This includes bearing one another’s burden to fulfill the law of Christ.
Still, we have to consider the reality that God is just and keeps His word. That is true on both sides of the coin. Those who keep the covenant stipulations will inherit the promises. Those who do not keep the covenant stipulations will inherit the curse. This curse is worse than the curse that came with the Old Covenant. Here is a warning of the all-consuming fire that is set to come and burn up those who do not continue in faith in Christ:
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.”38 And,“But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” 39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
Go back and re-read verses 26-31, especially verse 29. This curse will be worse than the judgment that came as a curse upon Christ and all who died under the Covenant from the Law of Moses. It is all tied to sinning, or law breaking, after we have received the knowledge of what God has done (the gospel). Let me explain what this really means. To give up Christ’s sacrifice as your only true saving sacrifice and to step out into salvation another way is to have no sacrifice at all. This is what is referred to as a state of apostasy. The apostate rejects God’s way of salvation in Christ. Let me restate my earlier position before moving forward and explaining God’s work in the Holy Spirit that results in endurance and ultimately salvation for the believer: An apostate was never truly saved. Instead, the belief was not saving faith, but instead something that seemed like faith, but proved to have no real root.With that, let’s look at how God saves us through the Righteousness of Christ applied by the promised Holy Spirit.
 Tremper Longman III, “Righteousness” in The Baker Compact Bible Dictionary, pages 289-290
 GENESIS 3:15
 GENESIS 8:21
 GENESIS 12:1-3
 2 SAMUEL 7:8-16
 GENESIS 3:22-24
 HEBREWS 1:2; JOHN 3:35
 PSALM 2:7-8
 MATTHEW 28:18
 HEBREWS 9:15
 GALATIANS 3:18; ROMANS 4:13-17
 ACTS 20:32
 HEBREWS 6:9-20
 JOHN 13:34; 1 JOHN 7-9; 2 JOHN 1:5;
 JOHN 13:35
 ROMANS 4:13-17
 GALATIANS 6:2
 I refer you back to our discussion in PERSEVERENCE: SAVED FOREVER, SAVED UNLESS YOU TURN, OR A THIRD OPTION?