Old Righteousness, New Righteousness

image

Old Covenant:

“It will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us. Deuteronomy 6:25

New Covenant:

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; Romans 3:21-22

The Purpose of the Old:

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. Galatians 3:24

Now What?:

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. Galatians 3:25

____
Questions we are all free to ask ourselves:

When I became a Christian, what was the reason for my decision?

Did I come legitimately in acknowledgment of my own failure to be righteous, seeing my need for a Savior to rescue me from my wrong-doing, or did I come for one of the many illegitimate reasons being billed as “Christianity” today?

Now that I’ve come legitimately, am I now living by faith in Jesus, or am I still trying to find personal righteousness before God?

Do I try to grow by keeping rules?

Am I in charge of maintaining my righteous standing before God or is Jesus in charge?

Do I feel far from God when I fail, and if so, why?

Am I responsible for initiating and getting God to respond to me? Or do I respond to Him as I get to know Him better?

Last but not least:
How do I know, right now, that I have eternal life? Do I know this with absolute certainty?

Old Man Winter’s Religion

winter_religionWe just came out of winter in the midwest, USA. I suppose it’s the same every year — by early March, people start to crack. They become unhinged.  Social media is hot with pictures of the tropics and friends can be heard exclaiming, “I’m sick of this!”

Seriously, people go crazy here just before the end of winter. It’s a predictable phenomenon.

It’s easy to understand, really. It starts out nice. There’s the pre-winter celebration at Thanksgiving when things are starting to get really cold and a bit dreary. Days are shortening and cold rain falls, but we have family, food and good times. Then there’s Christmas – more of the same, but it’s even better because we give and get things. Following that is the New Year’s celebration — typically on New Year’s Eve. Then there’s the First of January. And that’s it for the fun folks! Now there’s a good two months of managing the cold to be done.

From there on out, every morning we pile on layers of clothing. We plow the streets. Shovel the driveway. Endure the bitter cold. Hope the blizzard misses us. Learn to deal with it. Learn to endure. Take extra time for travel, or don’t travel at all. Cough syrup. Frozen pipes. Shivering day in, and day out. By the time March rolls around, we’ve given up. We stay in, trying to stay warm. We can’t handle it anymore. We dread going out. We’re done, finished, kaputt.

It occurred to me recently that Winter is like my own experience with the Christian religion. It started out great, I was introduced to and enjoyed the company of a new family, I got gifts and served others, and I celebrated the new life. Then came my First of January. This is the day I learned to be religious. Or really, it’s the day I discovered my religiosity. The joy stopped. That’s the day I decided to endure the misery . It was the day I learned to manage the old life.

My story is a story I’ve heard countless times from others. It’s common. It seems to be an almost predictable phenomenon. Sure, there are some hard-liners out there. The tough types. You know, those who use pickle juice for communion. But I’m convinced that Jesus didn’t come into the world to offer us a Winter Management Plan.

God is greater than our winter. Winter is snow-covered death, not life. And if that’s all we’ve got, this Winter Management Plan, then friends, we don’t have much at all! Seriously, there’s absolutely no need to establish marketing campaigns to the world to Come to Our Winter and Be Healed. The world is smarter than that. They know we’re just managing blizzards. There’s more for us and for them. And many of us are missing it.

God has something better for us in Christ, and it’s the End of Winter. It’s that day when suddenly the cold air is replaced with warmth, the birds chirp, the sun shines down with it’s amazing heat and we throw our arms up and out exclaiming “Yes! Finally! Winter is over — It is Finished!” In Christ, we have new life, and this new life is not like the old life! It’s the real good life! It’s not about managing the cold wet snow that covers our death. It’s about birds chirping, flowers growing, trees budding, the smell of grass in the air, heat emanating, short shadows, long days, glorious sunrises, hot dogs and hamburgers and coconut cream pie.

We go through stuff, that’s for sure. Our Father let’s us have our own personal winters so that when we’re ready, we can step into the warmth of the Son and be filled with joy, knowing we don’t have to manage the cold. Somebody has already plowed our streets and shoveled our driveway. A new day has dawned!

Friends, whatever is holding us back and holding us down today — that stuff belongs to the winter. We have new life now. Depression, anxiety, worry, pride, self-absorption, man-made religion, apathy, antipathy, “good” works, faithlessness, bitterness — all that stuff is old stuff. Religion doesn’t cure that stuff, because it can’t. New life replaces the old life, it doesn’t manage the old life! We walk in the new life by faith. We believe, and we walk. You’re not alone if you’re scared because sometimes it’s scary — as our faith is stretched, the ‘unfaith’ in us is afraid. But we have a secret weapon: Jesus Christ. God’s Spirit is there with us and we’re really just hanging on to Him and the faith of Christ. Our faith doesn’t have to be big, because it’s Christ’s faith that really counts, and His was enough to make it into the throne room where He intercedes for us. So today, when we walk, we only need small faith, little faith.  Our faith is just enough to connect us to Him, His faith and faithfulness.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ (Isaiah 41:10)

And the real joy, in this life of Spring with the Spirit, is that wherever we go today — since God’s will for us is a wide open plain in which we’re free to roam and discover — we have the pleasure of dropping fruit that comes from Christ in us, wherever we go and in whatever we do.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;” (Galatians 5:22–23)

Losers Win

loserAbraham was called out by God to a land that would later be shown to him. He grew old, and he and Sarah were far beyond the time of having children. In all of their efforts so far, they were unable to produce fruit, to have children.

Moses wanted to serve his God and lead His people. But it didn’t work for him. He went into the wilderness, grew old and developed a speech impediment. He became a nobody, a desert dweller, a hermit. He was a man on the run, hiding out, disconnected from society, living in the original BFE, having Bailed From Egypt.

Jesus went to the cross, and from all appearances, the devil had won. The eternally living Son of God had died, and there was no restoration of the kingdom. The Romans were still in control. The rabbinical priesthood had won. Jesus failed.

So here we are with three terrible examples, the greatest being our Lord’s. What do we see? Failure. Inability. Outcasts. They were Nobodies with nothing to offer to no one. Losers.

Imagine the disappointment. Abraham was called out, but there they were — old and dried up like raisins. Moses had prestige and honor, living in Pharaoh’s house. But one impetuous act assigned him to nothingness for the rest of his life. And what about Jesus’ disciples, how would they have felt after following Him for 3 years, expecting the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. These guys had had a one-track mind for the Kingdom and just didn’t get it when Jesus said he would have to suffer. Three years wasted! It all looked so good and so promising, but in the end, they were duped. It had all been for nothing.

But God.

Abraham was childless. But God promised Abraham that he’d have a son and be the father of many nations. And then he had son with Sarah and became the father of kings.

Moses was a stutterer who could barely speak. But God spoke to Moses. And then Moses led God’s people.

Jesus was dead. But God raised Jesus from the dead. And then Jesus established His kingdom in the power of the Spirit of God.

This is the way God works. He chooses losers with failed plans to do His great things. God is not looking for winners. He is not looking for great people. Why? Because winners are great people doing great things, and they just can’t help but trample on God’s glory.

“For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,”  (1 Corinthians 1:26–28)

God chooses and uses the Not Wise, the Not Mighty and the Not Noble. He’s looking for the Foolish, Weak and Despised.

We all know that’s D-U-M-B! If you want to win a war, you pick the cream of the crop for soldiers – everyone knows this. Even children, when selecting teammates for sports know to pick the best players. It was always the little one, the one who couldn’t shoot, aim, run, skate or fight well who was last to be chosen. Sometimes we even argued over who had to take the worst players. Right? You take him! No you take him!  We know instinctively how this works! The strong survive, and the weak fall behind and become McPlatter for the wolves. It’s the law of the jungle out there.

Here’s why God chooses the foolish, weak and despised:

“so that no one may boast before him”(1 Corinthians 1:29)

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

He did it so He could get the credit for putting us in Christ, and so that Jesus could be our man.

“so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)

So what will we walk in and present to the world today? Will we present our greatness, our accomplishments, ourselves — to God and to the world — or will we point to Jesus and tell the world to look at Him, so that God gets glory? Is our ongoing testimony a spiritual selfie or a portrait of Christ?

What will you be? Will you be a winner? Or will you be one of God’s losers so that Jesus can be the Winner?

The Severity of Severance

severance

Romans speaks of being severed from the law in union with Christ in His death, so that we can be united with Christ in His life.

“But now we have been released [severed] from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:6)

This is a hard fact for some to get. Many Christians assume exactly the opposite is true – that once saved from wrath, we now grow by obeying the law. God’s Spirit breathed out the scripture that was written by Christ’s appointed messenger to the Gentiles (Paul, in this case), and the God-breathed message from the Christ-chosen apostle is firm: we are severed from the law, having died to that which we were bound.

To reject this truth is common. So common in fact, that the rejection seems normal. It seems, by observing the majority of Christian teaching, books, commentaries, radio shows, television shows, etc., that the normal Christian life is to live by rules, precepts, principals – law.  But friends, normal is the wide gate.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” (Matthew 7:13)

Normal is not God’s way. It’s man’s way. All religions, including the Christian religion, have one thing in common: humans perfecting self to obtain something from God. This way is the wide gate. Jesus is the narrow gate, and it is through Him that we have our access to our Father.

“for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:18)

Perhaps it seems harsh to class Christians who live by rules and precepts with unbelievers of other religions. After all, this is the age of tolerance, is it not? But this is Paul’s doing, and if we desire to be obedient to Christ’s message, sent through one of His chosen apostles, as opposed to our books, TV shows, radio shows, commentaries, schools, pastors, churches, bishops, elders, popes, then we must repent – change our mind – and form a new opinion that is aligned with God’s opinion. It may seem harsh, but that’s because the consequences of legal living are severe.

Regarding tolerance of the many opinions and teachers within Christendom, Paul chided the Corinthians with a little sarcasm when he said this:

“I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.  Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!  In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!” (2 Corinthians 11:16–21)

As for the consequence of the Christian’s legal living, Paul wrote this:

“You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)

This is harsh and intolerant language, and it is both of these things because the consequence is dire! To seek to be found worthy before God in rule-keeping is to be severed from Christ.

Look, if we vacation in the Middle East and are found by ISIS, and they sever our body from our head, we won’t be coming home to tell our friends about our experience. We won’t be coming home at all. Severance un-joins what was once joined.

Just as the head has no benefit any longer for the body once it has been severed, so  it is also in union with Christ. We are, through our reliance on rule-keeping, severed from Christ and He is no longer of any benefit to us:

“Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” (Galatians 5:2)

And if we think Paul is speaking only of our experience, we have to consider why he also wrote, “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19). To live by the rules apparently shows that we missed something so great that we may need to examine ourselves to see if we are indeed in the faith. We cannot be both in the faith of Christ and in the religion of Christianity. The two are mutually exclusive!

So while Romans speaks of being severed from law in union with Christ in His death, Galatians mirrors that truth and speaks of being severed from Christ in trying to live the Christian life by law.

Seeking to be justified [made righteous, blameless] in Christ cannot coexist with seeking to be blameless through adherence to rules, commands – law. Justification is not only about coming into faith initially, but also about continuing in faith in living out our lives. Man’s theology makes the doctrine of justificationsalvation event. But for Paul, justification was an “any time” event that always had to be based in Jesus. Justification is for now!

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Galatians 3:1-5)

So we find then two truths that are paramount to our life in Christ, as well as our experience of that Life.

1. Union with Christ in His death = severed from the law.
2. Walking in law after being united with Christ = severed from Christ.

Who is the Least among Us?

Sheep

Things I wonder about…

“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:28)

Luke records Jesus speaking of John the Baptist and how great he was — that no one was greater than John, except the one who is least in the kingdom of God.

Every time I read or think of this passage lately, I can’t help but wonder who the “least in the kingdom of God” is, exactly. We all know that the greatest ‘man’ in heaven is Jesus, but who is the least? The obvious answer is that it’s any believer alive after the establishment of the New Covenant via the death of Jesus.

Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if when we get to the other side of eternity and have chance to take a roll call and filter out the Greats, the Mediocres, the Not-So-Greats and the Leasters, that we find — least among the least — Jesus.

Before the rocks start flying, hear me out.

Who is the greatest of us? Isn’t he the one who has become servant of all? (Luke 22:26-27) Isn’t God’s way of measuring greatness wrapped up in meekness? (Matt 5:5) Is the Messiah only the Lion, or is He also the Lamb of God? When we read the prophecy of the Messiah in Isaiah 53, do we find Happy-Smiley-Calvin-Klein-Model Jesus, or do we find that he’s normal in appearance, in fact, nothing special in appearance, and even that people are so ashamed of Him, they look away.

And what did Jesus do for us? Didn’t He become sin, so that we would become the righteousness of God in Him? (2 Cor 5:21) He took our curse and became a curse for us. (Gal 3:13) He died a shameful death for us, in our place. And, isn’t the message of the cross foolishness? (2 Cor 1:18) Isn’t God’s wisdom foolishness? (1 Cor 1:25)  Didn’t the spotless lamb take our spots and our burden for us?

After reading scripture, we have to conclude something about God — something very strange to us — that He often works ‘backwards’, doing things that make absolutely no sense to us at all!

So, I wouldn’t be surprised if we get to heaven and find Jesus there, in the place of the least, and when we see Him, we fall down in front of him, casting our crowns of righteousness at his feet, saying with John the Baptist, “Behold the lamb of God who took away the sin of the world!” And in honor, we prostrate, lowering ourselves in His presence and exalting Him to be the greatest of all, the One who is worthy.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we go loose in the knees seeing how God’s economy works, because God is great that way… in the way that He is so magnificent beyond comparison yet humbles Himself below what some deem respectable. Good people say stop right there, enough is enough, retain some dignity for yourself Son of God! But God goes Low! So low that He didn’t consider being an angel but a lowly man, and not just a man, but a baby. And he wasn’t a baby in a King’s house, but in a house shared with farm animals on the outskirts of a little village that didn’t even have a Starbucks.

This is what the world doesn’t understand when it mocks Him; they see God as a bully, demanding and punishing when He doesn’t get His way. But for those who have come to know Him, His way of doing things, His backward way, is exactly the thing that breaks us — the thing that finds its way into the dark crevices of our hearts and explodes inside with joy and love and kindness and humility — great things. Lowly things. Things that make hurt go away. And in this we are filled with a growing knowledge of Him that is both able to be known and at the same time so great that it’s inexpressible. We look at our Servant who has become the least among us and we cry out immediately in contradiction, “No Lord! We will lower ourselves and exalt you, for you alone are worthy!” (Rev 5:8-12)

“But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
(Luke 22:26–27)

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
(Matthew 5:5)

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:1–12)

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
(2 Corinthians 5:21)

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE” —”
(Galatians 3:13)

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
(1 Corinthians 1:18)

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
(1 Corinthians 1:25)

“And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!””
(Revelation 5:8–12)

Be Weak!

Want to walk in Power? Boast in your weakness!

… in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh … I pleaded with the Lord to take it away … But he said to me …

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

What was Paul’s weakness? It was likely a bodily weakness, and many students of scripture think it was a problem he had with his eyes, and maybe even that this problem could have resulted from his vision of the Lord when the great light shone about him, knocked him off his horse and interrupted his plan to imprison and murder Christians. (Acts 9:2-7; Paul was the original ISIS before Christ took hold of him).

After that event, he was blinded for a time. Later he signed his epistles with extremely large letters (Galatians 6:11), so that lends credence to the speculation that he had vision problems. He was also physically disfigured, perhaps even from the same event (Gal 6:17), and probably nobody took pride in him because of his physical appearance (2 Cor. 10:10).

Paul continued talking about weaknesses in 2 Cor. 12:6-10 and gives clues to the kinds of things that are on his mind, but doesn’t specifically explain what the thorn in his flesh was, other than it was a messenger of Satan and it was allowed to be there to keep him from exalting himself. Here are the other things he mentions — weakness that he will boast in because they make Christ strong in him — insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties. (2 Cor. 12:10)

All who desire to live godly will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12). Even when you walk in peace, your desire to be devoted to God will expose darkness in others, and some won’t take that kindly! If things go well, perhaps all you will suffer will be insults. Likely, you won’t be included in every event that your co-workers attend after work-hours. But take heart in these things! These prove you to be children of God!

“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets” (Luke 6:22–23)

These persecutions are allowed by God as a form of training for you:

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.” (Hebrews 12:7–8)

What are your difficulties, your handicaps? Are you handicapped? I hope so! Find your handicap and boast about it. Don’t glory in your strengths. Don’t parade your pride through the streets, trumpeting how great you are! Whoop, holler and revel in your handicap, because then Christ’s power will rest on you!

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)