Judge Yourself (and Others) as You Would Like God to Judge You

I hadn’t planned to write any more about Paul’s teachings on the topic of self-judgement. I only found three passages on that topic, after all; what more was there to say? But after I received a request from a reader to keep studying that topic, I prayed about it and these verses came to mind:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Mark 12:31; Leviticus 19:18, WEB

Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you.

Luke 6:31, NET

At first glance, these principles don’t seem to have much to do with judgement. But then I remembered my study about what “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” teaches us about the positive aspects of self-love. Perhaps something similar is going on with the idea of judgement. Paul only talks about judging ourselves a few times, but he spends quite a bit of time discussing how we are (and are not) to judge other people. It would make sense that if you’re going to judge others in certain situations that you should be judging yourself similarly, and we’ll see from looking at Jesus’s words in the gospels that this is the case. We can take what we learn from Jesus’s instructions to treat others how we want to be treated and apply it to this topic of self-judgement.

How You Love Yourself

It’s been four years since I posted a study on the idea of how you love yourself, so let’s do a quick review. When Jesus says to love your neighbor as you love yourself, it implies that we know how to love ourselves. Many of us feel guilty about the idea of loving ourselves since it sounds selfish, but it’s not when we love in the correct way. As I wrote four years ago,

Real love never stops with yourself. If you’re the only object of your love and you always put yourself first, then you have a problem. That’s what it means to be selfish and self-centered. But avoiding selfishness doesn’t mean you refuse to take care of yourself. We’re to offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice, not abuse ourselves. If you never meet your own needs or do those loving things mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13 for yourself, then you’re going to burn-out. And God loves you way too much to want that.

“As You Love Yourself”

Jesus tells us to agape others the same way we do ourselves. Agape is the word most often used of God’s love for people. It’s unconditional, benevolent, and always seeks good things for the person being loved. The better we understand how God loves us, the better we’ll treat ourselves, and the better we’ll understand how to love others properly. Having the right kind of love for ourselves helps us know how to love other people the way God loves both them and us. And because love is foundational to the types of relationships God has with us and which He wants us to have with other people, understanding love helps us understand all the other interpersonal topics we can study in the Bible, including judgement.

How You’ll Be Judged

In relation to judgement, Jesus gives us a similar principle to “Treat others in the same way that you would want them to treat you” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Here’s what He says on the topic during the sermon on the mount:

Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but don’t consider the beam that is in your own eye? Or how will you tell your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ and behold, the beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam out of your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5, WEB

Judging others properly must first start with judging ourselves. Judgement, particularly of others, should be done cautiously, always keeping in mind that we’ll receive the same type of judgement that we show other people. It’s so important that we judge correctly that before telling us how to judge, Jesus warns it’s probably better not to judge at all. Especially for us human beings, who don’t have the perfect perspective needed to understand other people’s motivations and actions, it’s better to error on the side of mercy than judgement. As James says, “judgment is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (2:13, WEB).

Jesus’s words here in the sermon on the mount show that the way we judge others is directly related to how we’ll be judged by God. It is also related to how we judge ourselves. We have a big problem if we’re eager to judge others but never turn that examining, critical perspective on ourselves.

Image of men having a discussion with Bibles in foreground, with text from Romans 14:10-12, WEB version: " But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written,

“‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘to me every knee will bow.
    Every tongue will confess to God.’” So then each one of us will give account of himself to God."
Image by Claudine Chaussé from Lightstock

Paul on Judgement Within The Church

Echoing Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount, Paul also counsels his readers to examine themselves and consider the things which they might need to remove from their lives. As Jesus did, Paul directly relates this idea to the topic of how God will judge us.

But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

1 CORINTHIANS 11:31-32, NET

As I mentioned when we looked at this verse a couple weeks ago, “examined” is translated from diakrino. In this verse it could be translated “if we took a proper view” or “formed a just estimate of ourselves” (Zodhiates’s dictionary entry G1253). It involves the idea of separating, making distinctions, and judging thoroughly. Paul encourages a type of self-judgment that involves seeing ourselves accurately rather than seeking to condemn anyone. When used properly, this type of judgement works alongside God’s accurate judgement of us to help make us more and more like Him.

Interestingly, Paul makes this point in the same letter where he most directly addresses the topic of judging other people. In 1 Corinthians, one of his reasons for writing the congregation is to tell them they need to deal with a sin-problem in their group. One of the men in the church was sleeping with his father’s wife. The church tolerated this sin and even became arrogant about how they handled the problem. In no uncertain terms, Paul told this church group they needed to put that person out of the congregation because we have a responsibility to judge those within the church (1 Cor. 5). God is in charge of ultimate judgement, but because we have His holy spirit there are certain discernment-based judgements we can make, such as not allowing an unrepentant sinner to continue fellowshipping with the group. The key there is “unrepentant”–those who acknowledge their sin, repent, and turn back to God should be shown mercy immediately and welcomed back with love (2 Cor. 2).

Judge Yourself First

So how does all this relate to self-judgement? The first thing that comes to my mind is that since there are certain things Paul says we can judge others for, then we need to make sure we’re judging ourselves on those things first. As Jesus said, we can’t see clearly enough to help another person with their problems when we’re blinded by our own flaws and faults. In keeping with this, Paul has some scathing things to say about people who judge others without examining themselves.

Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. For on whatever grounds you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things. And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance?

Romans 2:1-4, NET

We need to keep in mind that God is judging us today and He’ll pass judgement on our lives at the end (1 Pet. 4:17). That knowledge should remind us to examine ourselves carefully and be cautious when judging others. As in other areas of our lives, we need to balance love and truth, justice and mercy the same way that God does. We need to pray for an accurate view of ourselves in the light of God’s truth, yet also show ourselves mercy once we’ve repented and started to change (much as Paul did by not judging himself). Self-examination and self-discernment are important tools God gives us to help keep ourselves rightly aligned as we live in relationship with Him.

Featured image by Inbetween from Lightstock

Compassion: A Month-Long Scripture Writing Study

I have another scripture writing list for you all today, along with a continuation of the study we started last week with “God’s Parental Compassion.” As with my other Free 30-Day Scripture Writing Plans, I started out by studying all the words in the Bible (English, Greek, and Hebrew) related to the topic. I narrowed that down to about 50-60 scriptures, then started praying and stitching them together to get the 31-day list that I’m sharing here for the month of December.

If you write all these verses out, then go back and read through them they should form something like a narrative. It made me so happy to see that emerge; as I’ve talked about many times before, I love to think of the Bible as a “love story” that God is sharing with us and using to invite us to live with Him as part of a great narrative He’s composing. The fact that story arcs within scripture connect so well is one of the greatest proofs that the Bible is a cohesive “God-breathed” text. For example, I start off this study with these three scriptures:

But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. …Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”

He said, “He who showed mercy on him.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:33-34, 36-37, WEB

But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow Christian in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?

1 John 3:17, NET

A traveler came to the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to prepare for the wayfaring man who had come to him, but took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

David’s anger burned hot against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As Yahweh lives, the man who has done this deserves to die! He must restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity!”

2 Samuel 12:4-6, WEB

Jesus’s parable, John’s reminder, and David’s reaction to the prophet Nathan’s story all highlight the same idea–God places a high value on His people showing compassion. Compassion is one of the things that shows whether we are or are not becoming more like God. And if we learn (as David did) that we’ve failed to show compassion we ought to repent and ask God for His compassion, as David does in the next verse on my list:

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your loyal love.
Because of your great compassion, wipe away my rebellious acts.
Wash away my wrongdoing.
Cleanse me of my sin.

Psalm 51:1-2, NET

Compassion is one of God’s most prominent character traits. It’s closely associated with His mercy and His loyal, covenant love. We benefit so much from God’s compassion. The more we realize how much compassion He shows us, the more motivated we should be to show similar compassion to others. Ultimately, I think that’s what this study of compassion is about–learning more about God’s compassion so that we can properly appreciate what He does for us and model that character trait in out own lives. I hope you’ll consider joining me for this month-long study.

Click here to download a printable scripture list:

Featured image by Corey David Robinson from Lightstock

Song Recommendation: “Great is Thy Faithfulness”

God’s Parental Compassion

I started studying compassion this week and discovered something that seemed a bit odd at first. There are two main Hebrew words translated “compassion” in the Bible, and one of them is also translated “womb.” For example, these two verses use the exact same word:

even by the God of your father, who will help you,
by the Almighty, who will bless you,
with blessings of heaven above,
blessings of the deep that lies below,
blessings of the breasts, and of the womb (rachum).

Genesis 49:25, WEB

Yahweh, remember your tender mercies (rachum) and your loving kindness,
for they are from old times.

Psalm 25:6, WEB

To English speakers, “womb” and “compassion” are entirely different words. We might associate compassion with feminine traits, but other than that there’s not much connection. In Hebrew, though, this word describes love you feel deep in your guts. Racham (H7356), along with closely related words like raham (H7355) and rachum (H7349), are all part of the same word-family (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament [TWOT] 2146). They refer “to deep love (usually of a ‘superior’ for and ‘inferior’).” It’s the sort of love/mercy/pity/compassion that people feel for each other because “they are human beings (Jer 50:42) and which is most easily prompted by small babies (Isa 13:18) or other helpless people” (TWOT).

Love for the Little Ones

Racham and related words are only rarely used “of men” (TWOT), though it does describe the type of love that a mother has for her children (1 Kings 3:26). Far more often, this word is used to describe how God feels, particularly as a parent toward people who owe their birth to Him (Is. 46:3-4). That’s all of humanity, really–He’s our Creator even if we’re not yet in a parent-child relationship with Him. He sees us as children who belong to Him.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Yes, these may forget,
yet I will not forget you!

Isaiah 49:15, WEB

God feels towards us the way a good mother feels towards her children. Even though God always presents Himself as male, women are also made in His image and many traits that we think of as “feminine” are traits of God. His love is perfect and far surpasses even the best parents.

Like a father has compassion on his children,
so Yahweh has compassion on those who fear him.

Psalm 103:13, WEB

Note that in this verse, the Psalmist specifies that “Yahweh has compassion on those who fear him.” It’s similar to how we’ve talked in the past about different types of love that God has for people. Though He has agape for everyone–benevolent love that always seeks good things/outcomes for the people loved– He only has phileo–familial affection based on shared interests–with those who’ve responded to His invitation to enter a relationship with Him (see “Not All God’s Love Is Unconditional: How To Become A Friend Of God”). We’re all little children in God’s eyes and, for those of us in relationship with Him, we’re recipients of a special, familial love that invovles reliable compassion and mercy.

Love that We Can Count On

One of the things that makes God’s love so precious is that we can count on it never to fail. His compassion and mercy aren’t going anywhere and we have abundant evidence in the Bible (and often from our own lives as well) that this is true. He even considers this character trait part of His name (Ex. 33:19; 34:6; Deut 4:31). One example of His rachum can be found in God holding Himself back from destroying ancient Israel no matter how many times they betrayed and forsook Him (Neh. 9:17-19, 27-31). There’s even more evidence in the Psalms, where the writers speak of God’s mercy, recall times when He had compassion on them, and ask for more mercy when they miss the mark (here’s a link to Psalms with rachem words).

It is because of Yahweh’s loving kindnesses that we are not consumed,
because his compassion doesn’t fail.
They are new every morning.
Great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23, WEB

This is still true for us today. Already, we’re the people Hosea prophesied of “who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” (Hos. 2:23; 1 Pet. 2:9-10). And if we’re in distress, even if we’ve done something He tells us is wrong, we can count on Yahweh’s great mercies (2 Sam. 24:13-14; Ps. 51:1). That’s a promise backed-up by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who came to earth bringing the most incredible proof of our Father’s deep mercy and compassion (Luke 1.76-79; Eph. 2:4-6; Tit 3.4-7).

Just like a little child can trust in a good, responsible mother or father, so we can trust in God. In fact, we must be like little children if we want to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 8:2-4). The more we grow to see Him as our Father and ourselves as completely dependent on Him, the more easily His compassion and mercy flows toward us.

Featured image by Shaun Menary from Lightstock

Paul on the Topic of Self-Judgement

 I was chatting with some friends at church last week, and we started trying to figure out what Paul meant when he said he didn’t judge himself. Bible-readers know a lot about Paul’s history, and we can come up with plenty of reasons why he might have judgmental, condemning thoughts about himself and his past actions. He persecuted the church of God! Shouldn’t he judge himself for that? And yet it seems that he didn’t.

What did Paul mean when he said “I do not even judge myself”? And what might that mean for us as we look back on our own past sins and failures?

Judicial Investigation of the Self

Paul spends quite a bit of time in his epistles talking about judgement–judgements we’re supposed to make as we exercise discernment, judgements we shouldn’t make since we’re not permitted to condemn others, and judgements that God will make of us at the end times. There are only three passages that I’ve found where Paul specifically addresses self-judgement. We could perhaps include passages about self-examination, but that seems to be a separate concept.

The three passages we’ll look at all use the Greek word krino or one of its derivatives. This word means “to judge, to form an opinion after separating and considering the particulars of a case,” and it can include the passing of judgment as well (Zodhiates’ Word Study Dictionary, entry G2919). A related word, which Paul uses in the passage where he says he doesn’t judge himself, is anakrino. This word means “to judicially investigate,” “examine accurately and carefully,” and “to question in order to pass a judicial sentence” (Zodhiates, G350).

So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged (anakrino) by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge (anakrino) myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges (anakrino) me is the Lord. So then, do not judge (krino)anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

1 Corinthians 4:3-5, NET

For context, Paul has been talking about divisions in the church (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 2:1-5; 3:1-9) and the need for individuals to take responsibility for their own spiritual journeys (1 Cor. 2:6-16; 3:10-23). We belong to God and ought to follow Him, not some human no matter how impressive his qualifications. So now here in 1 Corinthians 4:1-21, Paul is talking about the apostles’ ministry using a courtroom analogy. He doesn’t care if others presume to “judicially investigate him,” and he doesn’t do that to himself either–that’s something he leaves to God because He’s the one with the perspective needed to pass an accurate and righteous judgment. Finally, Paul gives us warning not to judge (krino) anything before the Lord comes and reveals “the motives of hearts.” 

Image of scales, with text from 1 Cor. 4:3-4, CJB version: "And it matters very little to me how I am evaluated by you or by any human court; in fact, I don’t even evaluate myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against me, but this does not make me innocent. The one who is evaluating me is the Lord."
Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Taking a Proper View of Ourselves

Later in this same letter, Paul returns to the idea of judging ourselves when he’s talking about Passover. This is one of the self-examination passages I mentioned earlier (1 Cor. 11:26-30), but it also talks about self-judgement. Paul starts wrapping that discussion up with these lines:

But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

1 Corinthians 11:31-32, NET

“Examined” here is diakrino, and Zodhiates says that in this verse it could be translated “if we took a proper view” or “formed a just estimate of ourselves” (G1253). More generally, it means “to separate thoroughly, discriminate, make to differ, judge thoroughly.” It seems from these verses that there is a certain type of self-judgment Paul encourages, but it’s one that involves seeing ourselves accurately rather than seeking to condemn. It works alongside God’s accurate judgement (krino) to make us more and more like Him.

When Paul says he doesn’t judge himself, it doesn’t mean he ignores who he is. He knows he persecuted the church and is only an apostle by God’s grace (1 Cor. 15:9-10; Eph. 3:8). He realizes that he needs to keep moving forward in faith with Jesus’s righteousness applied to him, not become complacent (Phil. 3:8-14). But he doesn’t let a realistic look at himself lead to getting stuck in self-condemnation. Paul knows he has received God’s grace. He knows he has righteousness that comes from Jesus. That’s what lets him say he doesn’t judge himself and isn’t aware of any charge against him. 

For us, this seems to indicate that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over past mistakes. When God says He has removed our sins and forgiven us, He really means it (Ps. 103:12; Rom. 3:25). He’s not going to say our sins are gone, covered and paid in full by Jesus’s blood and then hold those over us in a judicial examination of our character. We need to have a realistic view of ourselves and not forget the things that we once did (so that we can learn from them, not do them again, and appreciate the magnitude of God’s forgiveness), but we’re not to keep judging ourselves for things in our pasts. 

Avoiding Judgmental Doubt

The final passage where Paul talks about self-judgement is found in Romans. For context, this is the section in chapter 14 where Paul is discussing mutual respect in the church. He exhorts readers not to judge others, but rather to take a close look at their own lives. “Each of us will give an account of himself to God,” and we ought to care more about that than pointing condemning fingers at God’s other servants. It’s our responsibility to “be fully convinced in” our own minds about the choices we make and act in a way guided by faith. (Rom. 14:1-12). We’re also to respect when people make other choices in matters where God hasn’t given clear guidelines one way or the other (the example Paul uses here is eating meat vs. eating only vegetables). Whichever choice we make, though, we need to be careful we don’t act in a way that causes others to stumble. Indeed, we ought to refrain from doing anything that would harm other believers (Rom. 14:13-21).

The faith you have, keep to yourself before God. Blessed is the one who does not judge (krino) himself by what he approves. But the man who doubts is condemned (katakrinio) if he eats, because he does not do so from faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Romans 14:22-23, NET

Since it’s linked to doubt, it seems here that not judging yourself is basically the same thing as not letting doubt take you to the point where you aren’t even walking in faith anymore. If we take self-judgement to an unhealthy extreme, then we could be so caught-up in it that we can’t live the vibrant lives of faith that God has planned for us. That leads to being “condemned;” another derivative of krino. It means “to pronounce sentence against, condemn, adjudge guilty” (Zodhiates G2632) and “to judge worthy of punishment” (Thayer).

It’s not easy to live a life of faith if we’re constantly second-guessing and beating ourselves up. Self-examination is vital, and when we discover something in ourselves that isn’t in line with God’s righteousness a certain amount of self-judgment can be productive if it brings us to repentance. But constant self-judgment–condemning ourselves for sins Jesus has already removed or questioning every choice over and over–is not productive. We don’t need to keep tormenting ourselves with past mistakes. Focus on actively engaging in your relationship with God, striving to follow Jesus’s example, and faithfully repenting when you miss the mark. Then, as Paul did, leave the judgement on your life in God’s hands.

Featured image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Living With Jesus’s Righteousness

I wasn’t planning to write another whole blog post about Paul’s letter to Rome. But I started studying “righteousness,” and didn’t make it out of Romans so here we are.

There’s a lot of talk in the Bible about righteousness. Scripture is full of how we ought to behave righteously, what happens to those who aren’t righteous, and the righteousness of God. Today’s world doesn’t spend much time thinking or talking about righteousness, but when we turn to God’s word the pages are filled with this topic. It can be overwhelming to try and understand it all, and it would take a far longer article than this one to cover the whole topic in depth. But we can get a good understanding of God’s take on righteousness just from this one letter by the apostle Paul.

God’s Righteousness Comes First

The first time Paul brings up righteousness in this letter, it’s in relation to the gospel revelation of God’s righteousness in contrast to humanity’s unrighteousness. This lays groundwork for an analogy he’ll use later to explain the relationship between righteousness, law, and grace.

For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness

Romans 1:17-18, NET

Immediately, Paul sets up a stark contrast between the righteous God and those who practice unrighteousness (particularly the ones who ought to know better [Rom. 1:32]). He makes some strong accusations against the readers, too, challenging them to check if they’re following righteousness or unrighteousness using this test: “it is not those who hear the law who are righteous before God, but those who do the law will be declared righteous” (Rom. 2:13, NET). Paul is laying an expectation on us that results from God’s righteous character. Listening to God’s words doesn’t do much for us, but putting them into action can. That’s not enough on it’s own, though.

Image of a man reading the Bible, with text from Romans 3:9-11, NET version: "we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, just as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one, there is no one who understands,
there is no one who seeks God."
Image by Anggie via Lightstock

The Pivotal Righteousness of Jesus

One reason it’s so important to read scripture in-context is because there’s often more said on the subject in the nearby chapters and verses. Nowhere is that more true than in Romans, where Paul continues adding on to his teachings about righteousness. If we stopped at 2:13, we might think that doing the law is enough to make us righteous. But Paul goes on to say “there is no one righteous, not even one,” and “no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law” (Rom. 3:10, 20, NET). God’s law is a good thing, but it can’t make us righteous; it can only tell us where we don’t measure-up to God’s standard of righteousness. And transgressing the law even once means we justly fall under condemnation from the perfectly righteous God. We’ve all sinned, we’re all unrighteous, and we can’t fix that problem by our own power (Rom. 3:4-20). God would be well within His rights to condemn us, but He very much wants us to accept the alternative He offers.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (although it is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed— namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.

Romans 3:21-26, NET

We can be righteous because God chooses to apply Jesus’s righteousness to those who believe in Him. Jesus’s faithfulness and righteousness meant He could be–and was–the sacrifice needed to fulfill the righteous requirements of God’s law and redeem us from the consequences of sin (Rom. 6:23).

Before moving on to the next part of Paul’s argument we must, as Paul did, take the time to clarify a potential misunderstanding. Paul makes clear that “we uphold the law” by teaching righteousness through Jesus rather than (as some wrongly suppose) nullify the law through faith and grace (Rom. 3:31). We need to look at Paul’s whole teaching on this subject, and make sure we don’t jump to conclusions about his overall theology based on a single part of one verse like “you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14-15).

Image of a man reading the Bible, with text from Romans 10:9-10, NET version: " if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation."
Image by Matt Vasquez via Lightstock

Compensation, Reward, and Credit

Paul continues to build on his explanation for how righteousness works by bringing in a money analogy. Chapter 4 breaks down the example of Abraham, to whom faith was “credited” as righteousness even before the law was given at Sinai. This shows righteousness was never about trying to keep the law perfectly; as if God would then “owe” you righteousness as wages for your works. Righteousness is something God “credits” to believers in response to their faith (Rom. 4:1-12, 20-25; the Greek word logizomai can “refer to deliberations of some sort” or “charging up a debt” [NET footnotes]). By sinning, we earned death because “the compensation due sin is death” (Rom. 6:23, LEB). However, Jesus’s actions on the cross credit us with righteousness that cancels out that debt.

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. …

God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath.

Romans 5:1-2, 8-9, NET

Righteousness by faith isn’t incompatible with law keeping (it would be strange if it was, considering how often scripture links obedience, love, and faith). Rather, Paul is showing that righteousness comes from God, not our own efforts. If we’re trying to make ourselves righteous–even by doing a good thing like obeying God–then our “zeal is not in line with the truth.” Righteousness only comes through God in response to our belief (Rom. 10:1-13).

Obligated to Walk in Righteousness

Image of a woman looking up at the sky with the blog's title text and the words "we can't make ourselves righteous on our own. Rather, righteousness is credited to our accounts through Jesus's sacrifice, as Paul explains in his letter to the Romans."
Image by Brightside Creative via Lightstock

After explaining the method by which we can be credited with Jesus’s righteousness, Paul then explains what a life of righteousness looks like for someone justified by faith. Because we’re under grace, we must not permit sin to take mastery over us again by presenting ourselves as “instruments to be used for unrighteousness” (Rom. 6:12-14, NET).

Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. (I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.) For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

Romans 6:16-19, NET

Having established that we’re credited with righteousness as a result of Jesus’s life and death–not our own efforts–Paul now highlights that we still have a choice to make. Jesus’s righteousness applied to us covers over our sins, but it does not give us license to keep sinning (though if we do sin, He covers those sins as well after we repent and turn back to Him). Jesus’s righteousness frees us from being slaves of sin to become slaves of God, following His holy, righteous commandments (Rom. 7:12).

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4, NET

As children of God, “we are under obligation” to live in the spirit rather than in the flesh (Rom. 8:12-14). It’s the same kind of obligation that’s inherent in covenant grace, which early Christians like Paul teach is both relational and reciprocal. We don’t follow the law in order to become righteous, but once God applies Jesus’s righteousness to us we keep the law as a result of aligning our lives spiritually with God’s righteousness. Now, we get to live with Jesus’s righteousness as a part of us, covering over the parts of us that don’t yet look like Him and enabling us to grow more and more like Him the longer we walk in His spirit.

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Song Recommendation: “Your Great Name” by Krissy Nordhoff and Michael Neale

Overcome Evil With Go(o)d

There are a lot of terrible things in this world. If your phone isn’t letting you know about them in news story notifications or you don’t find out when watching TV, a quick Google search or a trip to a news website is all you need to realize the world’s not in a great place right now. As I write this, the homepage for BBC world news has stories telling us the UK and France are fighting over fishing rights, it’s impossible to estimate the death count in Sudan following a coup, global “battles” over climate change continue, and (earlier this week) China forced Amnesty International out of Hong Kong.

When we see stories like this we often feel overwhelmed–overwhelmed by a desire to help, or by the problem being so big it seems impossible to help, or by the sheer number of terrible things. We may think of the verse that tells us to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21), but wonder how we could possibly do enough good to overcome the evils of oppression, wars, persecution, slavery, famine, disease, and more.

Fighting the Evil One

I’ve written before about a little pocket devotional by Chris Tiegreen that I really like. On Day 232, he points out that evil is the result of “a relentless, malicious intelligence,” not simply an “abstract principle” or a “force in this world.” This observation comes straight out of scripture, and it’s accompanied by an interesting implication.

“When the Bible tells us to overcome evil with good, it is not speaking about abstracts. It means we are to overcome the evil one with the Good One.”

Tiegreen, p. 199

If we’re trying to overcome this world’s evil simply by doing good things in hope of tipping the scales so good outweighs bad, then it’s no wonder we feel overwhelmed and burned out. We’d be trying to fight an enemy that’s out of our league without armor or backup. In order to be part of overcoming evil with good, we need to understand that overcoming doesn’t happen on our own. It means combatting an evil one with the power and support of the Good One.

You Have Overcome

When John writes to believers, he encourages them by saying, “you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:13-14, WEB). This is made possible by us staying in close relationship with Jesus, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world” by faith “that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:4-5). This same Jesus told His followers, “In the world you have trouble; but cheer up! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, WEB). He has already proved He can overcome the evil in this world.

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.

1 John 4:4, WEB

With God on our side, no power in the universe can stand against us (Rom. 8:31-39). That fact ought to humble us while also giving us confidence. Without God we have no hope of overcoming, but so long as we stay with Him there’s no risk of us failing. All that “extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Cor. 4:6-10, NET). The only possible outcome in the battle between good and evil is that, ultimately, the Good One will overcome the evil one. When the Father and Jesus dwell in us and we’re staying faithful to them, we can be overcomers as well. As Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13, WEB).

Continue Overcoming with God

Paul reminds us several times that we’re part of a battle between good and evil. It’s not a battle we can–or should–try to fight alone. To do so would be foolish, especially when God is eager to fight alongside us and equip us for battle.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.

Ephesians 6:12-13, NET

The evil forces at work in this world are powerful and can seem overwhelming, but only when compared to us human beings on our own. God’s power totally eclipses anything the evil one can do and He is already giving us victory through Jesus (Rom. 8:37; 1 Cor. 15:57). It is His power and His love for us which enables us to overcome the forces of evil during spiritual battles. It is also His power which enables us to combat evils we deal with on a personal, day-to-day level.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:18-21, NET

Though we’re part of a large, cosmic-scale fight against evil, we also deal with it on a personal level as well. Part of overcoming the evil one with the Good One involves choosing peace and goodness in our actions. We might not be able to stop others from doing evil, but we can choose not to contribute to the wickedness of the world. By aligning ourselves with God and choosing to act according to His goodness, we fight against evil getting a foothold in our lives. And we do make the world a little bit brighter by shining Jesus’s light into dark situations.

Featured image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

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