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Judgment, Justification, and a Witness against Us

“Listen to me, my people, and I will speak — Israel, and I will witness against you; I am God, your God.”

(Psalm 50:7)

The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:33: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” Indeed! Who can do so? Only God himself! And this is exactly what we find God doing here. His people have been disobedient in their actions and with their words and God is bringing them to task within this psalm. In particular, the verses that follow will chastise the people for bringing offerings out of habit and routine rather than out of a desire to offer thanksgiving. Secondly, God will chastise them for using the words of liturgy without submitting to their authority. These things God hates.

How often churches fall into habits and patterns of going through the motions and doing things just because that is the way people always remember doing them (of course, memories are always fallible). How often spiritual disciplines become routine and are not done from a spirit of thanksgiving to our God. How regularly God’s people do not know (or really care to know) the God they profess to worship. How often the people of God read the Scriptures but never apply those scriptures to themselves or seek understanding therein. Woe to the church today, for the condemnation that God brings in this psalm is as applicable to the church today as it was to ancient Israel in the days of David.

And thus God comes in judgment…and he has the right to stand in judgment over his people. Why? Because He is God and he has elected his people for himself. One might ask, if the people were not part of the covenant, would they not be under God’s judgment? The answer is no, for God is the creator of all that is and the standard of all that is good, thus He is the judge of all creation. Further, we don’t get a say in the matter. God has chosen us; we did not choose him. It doesn’t matter what we think we might want, God elected a people for himself from before the foundations of the earth and he will effectively bring his people to himself through his Son, Jesus Christ. And he will do so if he has to bring us to faith kicking and screaming. He is God; He has the right to do so. Praise the Lord that in the process, he changes our hearts so that we can see the wonder and beauty of his Son. Yet, when we rebel against the Covenant that God has graciously brought us into, he stands over us in judgment, which is a frightful thing.

And so, where are we left? As believers we are left with the rest of Romans 8:33. Yes, none but God can bring charges against God’s elect, but Paul also tells us why this is the case. “It is God who justifies.” Because of the completed work of Christ, God declares us to be righteous as to the Law, not because we have done it, but because Jesus has done it on our behalf, redeeming us from our condemnation. Does that mean we can live however we like? No, most certainly not! What it means is that we have been delivered from the morass of sin by the sacrificial and substitutionary work of Jesus and praise be to God, we are called to live like it. 

Righteousness from God dependent on Faith

“And that I might be found in him, not having my own righteousness from the Law, but rather through faith in Christ — a righteousness from God that is dependent on faith.”

(Philippians 3:9)

“Therefore, having been justified as a result of faith, we have peace toward God through our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

(Romans 5:1)

This is one of the most theologically significant verses in Scripture when it comes to the nature of the righteousness we have in Christ. Paul is making it very clear that the Christian does have a righteousness … a righteousness that comes not from the works of the individual (for our works are surely dung) but instead that comes from Jesus himself — the works of Jesus imputed to the believer. We might even say, on the basis of this text, that this righteousness is a sign that genuine faith has been given to the believer (a sign of rebirth).

I think that it is worth clarifying a distinction here between Paul’s language in this verse and the language he uses in Romans 5:1…namely the distinction between righteousness dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosune) and justification dikaio/w (dikaio’o). We should note that both are related words, the first being a noun and the second being a verb. They also both deal with a legal standing that one might have before a judge or a court of law. The verb, dikaio/w (dikaio’o) — “to justify” — refers to a pronouncement made by a judge that a person is righteous. The noun, dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosune) — “righteousness” — refers to that actual righteousness that a person has which is the basis for the pronouncement by the judge.

Why is this important? It is argued by some (incorrectly so) that the reason those justified are righteous is because of the pronouncement that they are righteous. Yet, that presumes righteousness to be an adjective and not a noun, and thus a description and not a thing. Yet, when the term dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosune) — “righteousness” — is used in Paul (and also in the LXX), it is a term that refers to the actual righteousness of the one coming under judgment.

Are we splitting hairs here? At first, it might seem like it, but let me explain a little further. If righteousness is something that is based on the declaration of God as judge, then it has been argued by some that the personal nature of salvation becomes something that God does for a group or a body of people — God declares the church to be righteous…further, your standing before God then relies on the standing of the church and not your own standing before God.

While Jesus did establish the church, our righteousness does not come from the church or our relationship to it. What Paul is teaching here is that God pronounces us to be justified because we are righteous. And why are we righteous? Certainly not because of our own works … they are dung … we are righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. God gives rebirth, generates saving faith within us which imputes to us Christ’s righteousness, and then he declares what is so — that we are righteous…not by works of the law, but by the work of Christ. And faith, which Paul writes is the basis on which righteousness stands or falls, comes from and finds its power in Christ.

And folks, that is good news because our works are dung and the church has often misled, falling far short of what Christ instituted it to be. That does not mean that we abandon the church as some in the emergent movement have sought to do, but simply that we recognize that our standing before God is not built on the church. Yet, as people who have been made righteous, we are to work as the church to be salt and light, to disciple the nations, and to tear down the high places that this world has set up to rail against God. We have work to do as the church, work not done in our own strength, but in the strength that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit…and work that is done righteously not because of our own righteousness, but because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.

Our Lifeblood

“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always been obedient, not only in my presence alone, but now also even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for God is the one working in you, even to will and to work for satisfaction.”

(Philippians 2:12-13)

The word, “His,” is often inserted before the word “satisfaction” in this phrase, which clearly is the meaning in context, though the word is only implied and not present. That stated, it should be noted that when we are in Christ, that which satisfies or brings God good pleasure ought to be that which satisfies us the most. Thus, as God the Father is most satisfied in his Son, we too are only truly satisfied when we are deeply in relationship with the Son as well.

Now, sometimes people get a little hung up on the language of working out your salvation…in this context, Paul is referring not to our justification, where we are made right with God through the atonement of Jesus Christ…we do not contribute to that work … but to the ongoing process of sanctification where we participate alongside of the Holy Spirit in seeking to grow in grace. The clincher, though is found in the language that immediately follows… “for God is the one working in you.” He does the real work both in justification and in sanctification, the question is whether we will be submissive to the work of the Spirit in us or whether we will kick and fight against the goads in that process.

The key word is obedience. Sometimes I wonder whether Americans still understand the word or instead see it as something that is archaic and out of fashion. Obedience is a willing submission to the authority of another. It is hearing what that person in authority says, remembering it, and acting upon it. It seems that people in our culture detest such a notion with every fiber of their being, so whether from God or from men. Yet, as a believer, we are called to be obedient to the Word of God. As Moses commanded, these words are our very lifeblood (Deuteronomy 32:47). All too often people in our culture want what they want and they sometimes even become violent rather than appealing to the authority of scripture, seeking to submit to its wisdom. In a world filled with ideas, it seems that no one wants to critically evaluate them. It seems that instead of wanting to communicate, all people really want is a “bully pulpit.”

Sanctification (1 Corinthians 15:2)

“and through which you are being saved. if you hold to the words which I preached to you—assuming you did not believe in vain.”  (1 Corinthians 15:2)

 

 There are two things in particular that I want to highlight about this verse.  The first thing is the word sw/◊zesqe (sozesthe), which is the passive form of the verb sw/◊zw (sozo).  The verb means “to save” or “to deliver.”  Yet, Paul very clearly uses this verb in the passive form which then means “to be saved.”  Why do I make an issue about this?  It is simply because salvation is something that is worked by God, not us.  It is God’s grace and God’s grace alone.  Too often we like to think that we bring something to the table in the work of salvation—even if we limit it to our own choice of God, but we must not do so, for were we to contribute to our own salvation, to use the words of Paul, grace would no longer be grace (Romans 11:6).

At the same time, given that this verb is in the present tense, the implication is that the saving is ongoing.  This is one of the thematic things that you will see not only in Paul but throughout the New Testament.  We often speak of this as “the already and the not yet.”  Jesus sometimes speaks of the Kingdom of God being here (Mark 1:15) and sometimes speaks of it as yet to come (Luke 17:20ff).  This verse is another example of this theme; at times scripture talks of us being saved (Ephesians 2:8 ) and at times, as in this verse, the scripture speaks of being saved as if it is an ongoing process.

Jesus, through his life and death on the cross, inaugurated the end times.  Things were begun in the sacrifice of Christ, yet will not come to consummation until his return.  Why is that?  God is still gathering the elect from the nations through history.  God’s patience, as Peter puts it, means salvation for all of the elect (2 Peter 3:8-10).  In other words, the kingdom is here in the church right now, but until Christ returns in glory, the fullness of God’s kingdom will not be revealed.

On a scaled down level, the same thing can be applied to our own salvation, and for this we have two important Biblical terms:  justification and sanctification.  Justification is the already.  When God brings us to faith, he declares us justified because of the work of Christ.  In justification, Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us (note the language of “impute”—Jesus’ righteousness is not imparted to us for we do not own it, rather it is imputed to us in a declarative way—we stand before God’s judgment seat in the robes of another).  Sanctification is the not yet because it is ongoing.  It is the language that Peter uses when he speaks of working to “make your election sure” (2 Peter 1:10) and Paul speaks of “working out your salvation” (Philippians 2:12).

Sanctification is ongoing and will not be complete until we are glorified with Christ.  God is still doing the work on us in sanctification, just as a potter works a lump of clay into a beautiful vessel, but at the same time, we participate in the process (or seek to resist it).  How do we participate?  First of all, we seek to grow in our lifestyle, putting to death the sinful habits of our life.  Second of all, we seek to learn more and more about God through his word.  That word will reveal more and more about our life that we need to clean out or change for the glory of God, so that we might be able to better enjoy him in this world.  And third, as these things are an ongoing practice, we do so as part of a believing community, being exposed to the means of grace, we rejoice and suffer in fellowship with others.  Lastly, we grow through trial and testing.  This strengthens us in our faith often so that we might assist others better in their sanctification.

Never lose sight of the fact that God has begun a work in you and he will not rest until that work is completed—which means he will not allow you to rest in your own sanctification.  Paul closes this verse with an interesting statement.  What he is implying is that if you are not growing in your faith and sanctification, you may have believed in vain.  Does this mean that you can lose your salvation?  Certainly not!  It does mean, though, that your belief was not genuine to begin with.  Remember the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20).  There are some seeds that do sprout, even though they fall on rocky or weedy ground.  There are some people who will look as if they had a genuine conversion experience for a time, yet, will fall away.  These are those that Paul is referring to.  In a sense, he is pointedly asking the Corinthians whether they are people of stony or weedy soil.

Does this mean that we stop preaching to those whose soil is rocky, that have given evidence of salvation and then fallen away?  Certainly not!  We have been given the task of scattering seed; it is the Holy Spirit who works the tiller in the soil.  Though the soil may be unproductive at one point, we do not know whether, in the providence of God, that the Holy Spirit will later strip the soil of its rocks and weeds so that the world will find a place to sink deep and productive roots.  We are given the joy of participating in the process by scattering seed; we must trust that the Holy Spirit is sovereign in his preparation of the soil.

Justified and Sanctified (Colossians 3:9-10)

“You must not lie to each other, having stripped off the old man with his practices and having put on the new, being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it.”  (Colossians 3:9-10)

 

Did you notice the subtle change in tense that Paul makes with his participles in these two verses?  He moves from “having stripped off” and “having put on” to “being renewed.”  Here we have two past participles followed by a present participle.  Now, while this is not meant to be a lesson in English grammar, or more properly, Greek grammar, this transition is incredibly important for theological purposes.  Here is one place in scripture where we have the framework for the difference between God’s act of justification and God’s work of sanctification.

When God begins to work faith in our heart, first he regenerates us, breathing new life into a sin-dead soul, then he gives us faith, drawing us to himself.  In our coming to Christ in faith, God declares that we are justified in his presence.  This, of course, is legal language reflecting not only that we stand in God’s presence fully pardoned of our sin debit, but we also stand before God’s presence in the righteousness of the one who redeemed us, namely Christ.  This is a declarative act of God.  We did nothing to earn it—that was Christ’s work—and it is not an ongoing process.  God declares it to be so and no one in heaven above or earth below can undo what God has declared to be so.

Beloved, there are many in our culture who would say that you can lose your salvation by backsliding into sin.  They have a theology that envisions you getting on or off the bus of salvation at your own discretion.  Oh, how we should reject those ideas!  Do you think that God is going to allow you to undo what it cost him so dearly to do in the first place?  Do you think so highly of yourself that you consider your own will to be superior to God’s?   Do you believe that while no power on heaven or in earth can remove you from God’s hand, you can yet do it on your own (John 10:28)?  How arrogant is this theology that would hold such things?  What God begins in you, he will bring to completion (Philippians 1:6)—beloved, that is a promise that you cannot undo.

But, do you see what Paul is expressing in these two verses as he transitions from the past to the present.  In God’s act of regeneration, you have put off the old man, and in His justifying act, you have been declared righteous before God.  Both of those take place once in the life of the believer.  Yet, the renewing is a present participle, this is ongoing, it is a continuing work of God that will continue in your life until you pass from this world into the next.  This is the work of sanctification in the life of the believer.  This is the difference between justification and sanctification.  Justification is a once-only act of God declaring us fit for his presence because of the work of Christ and sanctification is the ongoing work of God making us fit for an eternity in God’s presence as the bride of Christ.  What a wonderful theological statement is buried within these verses!

But there is one more note that must be made of a very practical nature.  And that is the command that Paul gives: do not lie to one another.  Oh, how often we fall into this trap.  It so often seems easier to lie than to be honest, but if we are to reflect Christ in our lives, how is it that we can allow lies to pass from our lips?  Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) and if we allow ourselves to be known as liars, then we allow Christ to be identified with Satan by our actions.  Loved ones, flee from lies—even those “little white lies,” for they do not belong to you and they certainly do not belong to the one you serve.  Beloved, let your “yes be yes and your no be no” says our Lord (Matthew 5:37) when dealing with oaths—let it be that you are known for telling the truth in every area of your lives so that you might reflect the truth of Christ in every way.

Living for Jesus a life that is true,

Striving to please Him in all that I do,

Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,

This is the pathway of blessing for me.

O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee;

For Thou, in thy atonement, Didst give Thyself for me;

I own no other Master, My heart shall be Thy throne,

My life I give, henceforth to live. 

O Christ, for Thee alone.

-T.O. Chisholm

Create a Clean Heart in Me: Psalm 51 (part 11)

“A heart that is clean, you must create in me, O God;

and a spirit that is steadfast, you must continually renew in my being.”

(Psalm 51:12 {Psalm 51:10 in English Bibles})

 

Oh, how little man can do on his own!  It is God who providentially equips him to do anything of lasting value.  Artists, composers, architects, writers, musicians, etc… all get their talent from the hand of God—whether they will admit to it or not!  Yet, there is one thing within which man can make no strides of his own—we are not providentially equipped or gifted in this area in any way.  This area God reserves for himself.  And that is the process of saving a man or woman and preparing that person for glory.  Paul poses the question of whether man seeks after God in Romans 3:10-18, and his answer is drawn from scripture, beginning with the words of the psalmist in Psalm 14:1-4.  Does any seek after God?  And scripture gives us a resounding, “NO!”

Oh, beloved, how highly we tend to think of our own actions!  Yet, salvation does not come from our works or from our will, but it comes from the will of God (Romans 9:16) and the exercise of his divine compassion on those he has chosen for his own.  In addition, as we reflect on both parts of salvation—the justifying work of God and the sanctifying work of God—we are reminded that both are again in God’s hands.  One is justified—made right with God in Christ—but only once in life—what God has done and promised to do, he will not relent upon.  Yet, there is an ongoing process of sanctification that is designed to grow us in our holiness, making us more like Christ, to prepare us for glory.  This work is ongoing, and it is a process that will not be complete until you cross over into eternity.  Yes, by seeking to be obedient to scripture and to apply the Ten Commandments to our lives, we participate in the process of our sanctification.  But a tilled field without seeds and rain will still produce nothing but weeds.  It is the Holy Spirit that convicts us of the sins we need to put to death, empowers us to put them to death, and who works in our heart to illumine us toward right living. 

There is a clear recognition of this principle in this verse.  David has two requests of God (they are in the imperative, so do not miss the force of David’s plea to God):  a clean heart and a steadfast spirit.  Yet, the theology of these two requests lies within the verbs.  The first verb is the word, ar:b” (bara), which means, “to create.”  In scripture, this word is only ever used of God and it is only ever used of God’s creative work from nothing.  There are different words that describe when mankind makes something, but creation is limited to the hand of God.  David recognizes that the heart of man is not one that is basically good and just needs some cleaning up.  No!  The heart of man is dark and wretched, putrid and warped.  There is no cleaning up the heart of man, for sin has forever bent it toward evil.  Thus, when God calls a sinner to himself through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, God does not simply go into the heart of man and scrub him out with steel wool, but he tears out that old wicked heart and creates a new heart and implants it into the new believer.  This is a once only act and it is an act that no one but God can do.

The contrast, though, is found in the second petition.  David asks that God would renew within him a steadfast spirit.  Rather than being the standard form of the verb (as we found in the first request), the verb is in the “Piel” construct, which implies not only intensification, but ongoing and repeated action.  In other words, in this verse, David is saying, “give me a new heart and never stop sanctifying my soul.”  Oh, were these things that we sought in our own lives!

The question that may be asked is whether or not David was “saved” prior to the writing of these words, for he is asking for a clean heart (something he would already have were he a believer).  Given the remarkable relationship that David had with God from the earliest days of his recorded life, it is hard to argue that he was not a believer.  Yet, even believers can loose their sense of assurance in the wake of grievous sins, which is what I would suggest we are looking at here.  This psalm is David’s desperate cry to God after one of the most wretched sins that a man can commit (adultery and murder of a friend).  How much we can learn from the saints that have gone before us, even in their darkest times.

Loved ones, may these words of David be your continual cry before the Lord.  In Christ you have been given a new and clean heart, but the old man still wages war against you on this side of glory.  That is why you need a daily, even moment by moment, work of the Holy Spirit in your life, to renew your spirit to the glory of God.  Oh, how dependent we are on the work of God in our lives!  And praise the Lord that it is no other way!

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

Leaning, leaning, save and secure from all alarms;

Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

-Anthony Showalter & Elisha Hoffman