A Commitment to Righteousness

From 3rd Sunday in Advent 12th December 2021

Charles Swindoll, an American evangelist and pastor tells this story: The wife of a policeman had a special gift she wanted to get for her husband.  She had a fear that it might be too expensive, but nothing was too good for her husband.  She loved him with all of her heart and wanted this to be special.

She found exactly what she wanted, but it was too expensive for her to buy outright.  She talked with the salesman and told him that her husband was a police officer.  After a bit they negotiated a payment deal that she could afford.  She gave him the first payment and he suggested that the store wrap it up and she could take it home. She was elated! She was so excited that she got her husband to open it that night, way before Christmas!  When he opened it, he was thrilled at her thoughtfulness and covered her with hugs and kisses.

A few days later her husband was working the night shift when he received a call on his police radio.  There was a robbery in progress at a local shop.  Rushing to the scene he arrived just as the suspect was speeding off.  He followed in hot pursuit, but suddenly the suspect stopped on the side of the road.  Seated behind the wheel the robber didn’t move.  The policeman cautiously approached the car.  Suddenly without any warning the driver’s door it flew open and the driver took out a hand gun and from about 3 feet fired at the policeman.

At seven o’clock the following morning, his wife, answered the door after a knock. A policeman stood in front of her and shared that during a robbery her husband had been shot.  Calmly the officer explained that her husband was badly bruised, but alive.

The wife was so happy that her Christmas present was given early.  If she had waited to December 25th her husband would have been dead.  Christmas had come early that year because the policeman had with him the gift of life his wife could not wait to give: his brand-new bulletproof vest.

Swindoll commented, “And that’s why Christ came, to give us a vest of righteousness, to pay the price with his blood, that He might protect us with the shield that sin could never penetrate.”

Charles Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998, pp. 496-497).

Jesus taught that every believer is to hunger and thirst for righteousness.  A righteous person isn’t someone who is perfect, because except from Jesus no one can be perfect this side of heaven.  No, a righteous person is someone who is in right standing with God, they are aligned to Him through His Son.  So, righteousness transforms someone into right living for God through the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Repentance is a part of righteousness (Luke 3:8)

And Repentance is a part of righteousness.  The people of John’s day were in need of what he was preaching… repentance and right-living, or in other words living righteously.  Their need for God was obvious and the prophet was there to point them to the remedy.

John’s message didn’t die when he did.  His message is just as important today.  Our world is still in need of turning from sin and receiving God’s gift of salvation.  The answer to the question; why do horrible things go on in in the world? is Jesus!  If everyone turned to him and lived righteously, i.e. turned from their sin, then the problems and difficulties we experience will go.

John’s message was that Jesus was coming to cancel their spiritual debts and remove their sin.  This was going to be done by all sin being placed on Jesus, and whoever accepts Christ into their life will never have sin held against them.  Why?  Because Jesus Christ died for us and paid the cost for our salvation.

At Christmas we rejoice in the fact that the Messiah, Jesus, entered this world to pay the price for our sin.  The shadow of the cross always lies across the crib scene.

Conviction: A part of righteousness (Luke 3:10)

But there is more.  As the message John preached penetrated the hearts and minds of his listeners, conviction began to seep into their very soul and spirit as the light of righteousness began to dawn on them.

This conviction comes from the Holy Spirit.  It is part of His “job description.”  It produces within us a sense of guilt and condemnation of sin.  As the Holy Spirit convicts, our role is to act upon it and allow God to change sinful actions and attitudes to thoughts and acts of righteousness.

I believe that God convicts individuals of their sins to change their lives, and still God offers more… I also believe that God convicts Christians to be more compassionate, more honest, to be peace makers, justice seekers, integrity lovers, to be morally upright, and so, so much more.

When was the last time you felt God convict you? How did you respond?

Responding: a part of righteousness (Luke 3:15-18)

Listening to John’s message and feeling the conviction of the Holy Spirit — the people had a choice. They could either walk away and do nothing about it or, they could respond and act on the message.  Many in the crowd left, but many responded to his call for change.

Acting on faith in Jesus is required before salvation becomes reality and change is initiated into our lifestyle.

Responding includes reconciliation.  Humanity has been alienated from God because of sin, and Jesus provides the remedy, which He does by removing the enmity that stands between God and humanity.  Paul wrote to the Colossian church:

“But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:22, see also Romans 5:10).

Responding includes obedience.  The bottom line for all believers is that obedience to Jesus’ teaching and God’s commands is never an option.  We are to hear what the Word says and respond according to it.

Responding includes worship. From New Testament times to today, Christians state, “Jesus is Lord.”  Because He is Lord, and sovereign, He is to be worshipped (Luke 4:4-8).  As it was for the early church our focus must be on Jesus.

Jesus is to be the leader of the church.  As members of His church our actions are under the direct order of the Lord’s leadership: we are to fulfil His directives to be compassionate, caring, socially concerned.  But most of all we are to be spiritually oriented to lead people to a saving relationship.

So as God’s people, justified by God’s grace we have been given all we need to live in and under the righteousness of Christ.  This is only achieved through faith in Jesus.  The other world religions base justification on human effort.  Is it any wonder that we worship and praise the living God?

As we continue our journey through Advent may we allow our righteous standing before God to be transformed into righteous living for God through the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Living Thoughts

Read Luke 3:7-18.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand, consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  • Repentance: a part of righteousness, see Luke 3:8.

What do we need to produce in order for repentance to be seen by others?

  • Conviction: A part of righteousness, see Luke 3:10. 

When was the last time you felt God convict you?

How did you respond?

  • Responding: a part of righteousness, see Luke 3:15-18.

Whom do the “wheat” and the “chaff” represent?

How has the good news of Jesus brought righteousness to you?

Prayer Response

Oh Lord, by the power of your Holy Spirit, enable me to live a holy and righteous life so I represent your Son Jesus Christ here on earth in a way that brings glory to your name.

Help me to walk with you in holiness and righteousness so that I will fulfil my destiny and the purpose of my existence.

Lord of righteousness, in this world that is full of violence, selfishness, murder and other evil deeds, teach me the path of holiness, and engrave me to live like Christ in words, thoughts and deeds.

Lord, teach me your word and make it easy to apply it to my life so that I will see goodness all the days of my life.

Lord, give me the spirit of humility so that I will be able to walk with you in holiness.

Lord, engrace me to keep your commandments and take iniquity far away from me, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The Importance of Evangelism: Part 1

Then Jesus said, ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:19-20)

What is a biblical approach for evangelism?

Advent gives us a wonderful opportunity to evangelise.  What a story we can tell in the run up to the Christmas story itself!  We have Old Testament prophets foretelling that the Messiah will come to save us from sin and thus reveal the power and nature of God’s love for us, His creation.

Then there’s John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who came to prepare the way with a call of repentance for “the Kingdom of heaven is near”.  Then there’s the story of how Mary became pregnant, her visit to Elizabeth, her cousin, the mother of John the Baptist.  John’s own conception and birth was a miracle too.  In this rich and vibrant story, full of intrigue, wonder and mystery we see God at work in miraculous and wonderful ways.  Plenty to get our teeth stuck into for evangelism!  A new era was about to break.  How do you greet a new era; with joy, or with fear and trepidation?  This new era is about God sending His Son Jesus to save the lost.

Numerous theories abound on the best way to evangelise the lost.  The best way is to go to the source; Jesus Christ Himself.  Jesus laid out the best method of biblical evangelism as He evangelised those He met while on earth.

When Jesus evangelised the lost, He began by challenging people with the statement “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).  Repentance of sin is the very first step in biblical evangelism.  Those who would come to Christ must first understand that repentance from sin is required.  This means explaining three realities:

  1. the inherently sinful nature of mankind
  2. the holiness of God
  3. the existence of heaven and hell

The only means to escape the punishment of sin is faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  While many Christians begin their evangelistic efforts with God’s love, that is really the second half the story.  The message of God’s love is lost on unbelievers unless they first come to grips with sin, judgement, and punishment.

There is no doubt that God is a loving God.  But He is also a holy and righteous God who hates sin.  Therefore, our sin separates us from Him.  Because He is holy, God is “a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day” (Psalm 7:11).  A crucial element of true biblical evangelism is the understanding of the holiness of God.  Isaiah caught a glimpse of God’s holiness in his vision of angelic beings around God’s throne praising God’s holiness (Isaiah 6:3).  When we understand just how holy God is, we can begin to understand His hatred of sin and His holy wrath against sinners.

Evangelism is helping the unsaved person to accept the fact that they stand in the direct line of fire of the wrath of a holy and just God.  Hebrews 10:31 warns, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  There is nothing anyone can do to appease God’s wrath, nothing of value they can offer to God to mitigate their sin.  No amount of good works or good deeds can bridge the gap that separates a holy God from a sinner.  Every good work that humanity thinks can be done is as “filthy rags” in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6).  No amount of good living will make us acceptable in God’s eyes because the standard is holiness which no one can achieve, and without holiness no one will see God (Hebrews 12:14).

This is why the acceptance of the realities of personal sin and the holiness of God is so important.  Without that the readiness for the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is lacking.  What no one can do is to save themselves, yet the Good News is this: by His death on the cross, Jesus exchanged His righteous, holy nature for our sinful one, making us completely new creations with a new nature that replaces the old sin nature (2 Corinthians 5:17–21).  The truth is this: Christ accomplished on the cross something we can never accomplish by ourselves!

And this is where God’s love comes into play.  Because of His great love and mercy – not because we deserve or earn it – God provided the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin (Ephesians 2:8–9).  Only those whose natures have been changed can escape the wrath of God and experience His love and grace.  If we believe these things, we will live eternally with Him in the joy of heaven.  If we do not, our eternal destiny is hell.

This is the truth, from the Bible.  If we are to truly evangelise people according to the Bible, we have to tell them the whole truth, even if some react badly to it.  This is telling the truth in love, and I spoke about speaking the truth in love last week (see Discipleship 2).  And some people will react badly!  But others will be relieved and grateful.  As Paul said, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16).  Evangelism involves living out the command to be “living sacrifices” through agape love, a self-sacrificial love that works for the benefit of another over the benefit of self.

Evangelism is a challenge, but we have an amazing story to tell of Jesus, how He was born, and that God sent Him so we can be saved!  We are to share how He has changed our own lives, how confession and repentance of sin sets us free to live and love more fully for God, and how this shapes our attitudes about God, His world and our role in it.  By the power of the Holy Spirit we can share the truth, and thus show the love of God by calling others to repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.

Time to think

Read Ephesians 2:1-10 and John 1:6-8 & 19-28.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

  1. Why did John the Baptist and Jesus both call people to repent of their sin?  What does “the kingdom of heaven is near” mean?
  2. People invest time and energy into developing their career, their bodies and relationships, but often neglect the spiritual dimension of their lives.   How do you actively pursue spiritual growth?
  3. How did you establish a personal relationship with God?  Perhaps you could write this down using the following outline: Before–What characterised your life before you trusted Christ. During–How you came to trust Christ. After–How you are different now.

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. What is your concept of God? Do you view Him positively or negatively?
  2. Do you find that faith and spiritual values play a role in your work, day, marriage, perspective on life?  What is the difference between religion and relationship?

Prayer Response

Lord of the Harvest, we see that Your harvest field is ripe and ready all over this nation and the world! We long to see Your kingdom come on this earth, so may we allow you to strengthen us to obey Your commission to go into all the world. May we as individuals, as families and as Your Church allow you to show us how you want us to serve You, to respond to Your command in whatever way You call us, so we answer Your call to go.  Show us how to pray effectively for the protection, boldness, clarity, health, and fruitfulness in your mission and ministry here in our communities. May we actively seek to align ourselves with Your heart so that our hearts would be obedient to the desires of Your heart, and the whole earth come to a saving knowledge of the truth–the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose powerful name we pray.  Amen.

Weeding out sin

Photo by Jamie Cleaver

I was doing some gardening last week, and as I did this I thought how weeds are like sin in our lives.  There are some weeds in my garden that I don’t really deal with.  I ignore them and they have free reign to grow.  There are others that I tolerate and get rid of a few of them.  Then there are the ones I go after all the time.  As soon as they pop their head up, they’re pulled out and on to the compost heap. 

That’s the same with my attitude toward sin.  There are things I don’t deal with, partially deal with and some that I really try and deal with.  But I believe that God wants us to deal with all the sin in our lives, not just the ones we feel we can deal with, or can readily confess.  However, I think that sometimes sorting out the sin in our life needs us to exercise patience with ourselves if we find it hard to sort things out. 

Thankfully God has infinite patience with me.  Yet still I need to confront the sin I have not dealt with.  What I have found is that He waits patiently until I can recognise it, and it’s at this point that I am in a much better place to deal with it through confession.  But I need to do more.  Having confessed I then need to be prepared to receive God’s forgiveness, followed by rebuking the schemes of the enemy that are driving that sin in me and then replacing that sin with God’s beautiful alternative.  As I do this I experience God’s amazing grace for me.

This morning’s Gospel is the parable of the “wheat and weeds”, or “tares”, depending on the version of the Bible you have, (Matthew, 13: 24-30). Of course, Jesus isn’t giving a talk on farming here, and in fact He is most probably speaking to urban dwellers who, while they might have grown a bit of food for themselves, might rely mostly on the wages they earned as day labourers in vineyards or olive groves or on building sites.

Jesus’ audience may have laughed to hear about the plight of the landowner who wakes up one morning to find that weeds have been sown among his crops.  On the other hand, however, if the crop was spoiled, the price of wheat and bread would likely rise, so the poorest workers and their families would struggle and might well go hungry.

In His explanation, Jesus goes on to talk not of spoiled crops but of patience in the face of finding that weeds have been sown among the wheat.  He foresees a time when order will be restored and justice will be done.  Sorting out the wheat from the weeds can’t be rushed, says Jesus, because that would result in too much damage to the wheat and would incur a huge loss.

From my experience of recognition of the sin in my own life, if God expected me to confess all my sin at once it would be too much for me.  Do you remember how Peter the fisherman reacted to Jesus after Jesus had helped them catch a large amount of fish, having fished all night and caught nothing?  He fell on his knees and begged Jesus to go away (Luke 5) because he recognised he was in the presence of such a godly person and he felt that he simply wasn’t good enough to be in His presence.  Peter said this, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

You see, if all my sin is exposed at once it would just be too much for me to cope with, emotionally, spiritually and physically, such is the wretchedness I carry.  However, the truth is this: God doesn’t rush in and pull up the weeds, but tenderly gardens with patience, encouraging me to know and cherish my part in the journey I am making with Him.  In response to Peter asking Jesus to go away, Jesus moves things on – he doesn’t agree with Peter, condemn him by listing his sins he simply said to him, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”  With that Peter left everything and followed Jesus.

Rushing in to pull up the weeds won’t work.  Rather, it takes careful and thoughtful, prayerful and active, participation of journeying with God and Jesus to remove my sin when the time is right in Jesus’ sight.  The truth is this: Jesus came to save and thus give life, and a full life at that.  He did not to condemn.  (John 12:44-50; Luke 19:10; John 3:16-17; John 10:10)

I can know for myself God’s promise to be there with me all the time, as together we do the slow and careful work of restoration that my life needs.  The promise that God will hold my hand as I work at dealing with my sin is enough to give me the courage I need to continue to let Him point out the weeds in my life that need removing.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen.

Based on a sermon first delivered on 19th July 2020