Understanding How the God Who Exercises Loving Kindness, Justice, and Righteousness Brings Us Salvation

“I am Yahweh who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for I delight in these things,” says Yahweh.

I quoted this scripture from Jeremiah 9:24 in last week’s post and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. God defines Himself by using these three concepts and says He delights in them. If they’re that important to Him, then they should be important to us.

I feel like we talk fairly often about the fact that God balances justice/judgement and mercy/loving kindness. But sometime we’re puzzled about how exactly that works. Back in Medieval times, theologians wondered how a God of judgement and justice could also be one of mercy. Now we ask how a God of love and mercy could also be one of judgement. I think taking God’s characteristic righteousness into account — as well as studying the Hebrew word meanings — can help answer those questions.

Shapat, justice

We in the Christian churches today often start with the New Testament when trying to understand a concept. It can be useful, though, to start with the Old Testament because that’s the foundation the New Testament writers built on. In Hebrew, words for justice, judgement, government, and ordinances are all interconnected in the root word shapat (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 2443).

We tend to think of judgement/justice as a judicial concept. In Hebrew thought, though, the functions of government were’t divided as we so often do today. The primary meaning “of shapat is to exercise the process of government” in any realm or any form.

When the Bible speaks of God’s judgement or justice it’s also referencing all aspects of His government, not simply judicial laws. To quote TWOT again, “although the ancients knew full well what law … was, they did not think of themselves as ruled by laws rather than by men … The centering of the law, rulership, government in a man was deeply ingrained.” Apply that concept to God, and the notion of justice has to do with Him as the center of true law, rulership, and government. He is the source of real authority and has the absolute right to rule as He chooses.

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Seeking God’s Righteousness

I’ve been reading a book called Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage by Curty Landry and one of his comments about what we’re supposed to “seek first” caught my eye. This book is about how understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity can transform your faith. It’s amazing to me how much we can miss when we read the Bible in English with a Western cultural mindset. And it’s equally amazing how much it can deepen our understanding of God and His ways to dive-in to the roots of our faith.

One of the things Landry talks about is how our interpretation of words and stories in the Bible can change based on whether we approach them through a Western philosophical lens or a first-century Jewish one. An example is how we see the word “righteousness” in Matthew 6:33.

When we read “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” we in the Western world tend to think this means we have to be righteous in the sense of being a “law-abiding citizen” of heaven. But a Jewish person listening to Jesus would have thought of the Hebrew concept of tzedakah, which changes how you interpret this verse. Let’s take a look at that.

Righteousness in Hebrew

Tzedakah is about justice, righteousness, and truthfulness (Brown, Driver, Briggs lexicon, entry H6666). It’s associated with God’s fairness and is also tied to acts of charity and giving. At my Messianic congregation, this word is written on the box where we put tithes and offerings because tzedakah is so closely connected with righteous giving.

In his article “God’s Kind of Righteousness,” Lois Tverberg points out that “tzedakah means more than just legal correctness – it refers to covenantal faithfulness, often resulting in rescuing those in distress and showing mercy to sinners.” It’s quite a bit different than what most of us think of when we think “righteousness,” but it’s very much in line with God’s character.

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Breastplate of Righteousness

When we’re going into spiritual warfare, we need spiritual armor. As we talked about in last week’s post on the Girdle of Truth, God is the one who gives us this armor. He doesn’t invite us to do battle and then leave us defenseless.

take up the full armor of God, in order that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand. Stand therefore, girding your waist with truth, and putting on the breastplate of righteousness. (Eph. 6:13-14, LEB)

The second piece of our armor is a breastplate of righteousness. In a physical soldier’s armor, this is the part of the armor that protects the front and back of the torso. It’s keeping your spine, internal organs, and especially your heart and lungs safe.

Breastplate of Righteousness | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Thomas Quine, CC BY via Flickr

Keeping Your Heart

For us, righteousness serves much the same protective function. In a broad sense, the word dikaiosune (G1343) means being in a “condition acceptable to God.” It also refers to “the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved by God” (Thayer’s Dictionary). Righteousness involves the condition of your heart and state of your character.

Oh that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever! (Deut. 5:29, WEB)

God has always been interested in wining His people’s hearts. That desire is at the core of Him asking us to follow Him in righteousness, which is why Jesus didn’t destroy the Law when He came. Rather, He revealed the full expression and intent behind God’s law — that we might develop His character and become like Him (Matt. 5:17-20, 48).

Armor God Wears

Speaking of becoming like God, the Breastplate of Righteousness is a piece of armor that He actually wears.

He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head. He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a mantle. (Is. 59:17, WEB)

The breastplate we’re talking about isn’t just something God gives us to wear. It’s also something that He wears Himself. This is truly armor of God what He’s sharing with us. Read more

Should You Do What You Think Is Right?

“Always let your conscience be your guide.”

“Follow your heart.”

“Trust yourself.”

Those are the kinds of self-affirming advice we often hear. The basic argument is that most of us are pretty good people and if we listen really closely to our inner guiding light, then we’ll make good decisions.

But as Christians, we’re not supposed to do what’s right in our own minds. We’re supposed to do what God thinks is right. To some, this might just seem like a subtle shift in semantics. Of course what I think is right and God thinks is right are the same thing. Aren’t they?’

Not necessarily. While the holy spirit is transforming us to “have the mind of Christ,” we’re not all the way there yet. That’s one reason why it’s so important to spend time studying scripture — to make sure we know how God thinks and line-up with Him.Should You Do What You Think Is Right? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

What God Has To Say About Your Heart

When God made the choice to destroy everyone but Noah and his family in a flood, He did so after seeing “that every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was continually only evil” (Gen. 6:5, WEB). Even though we are made in God’s image, every single person has sinned and we’re corrupted by the fallen world we live in. And yet even in this state, human’s tend to trust that they know what’s right. But we’re often very wrong.

Yahweh says: Cursed is the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from Yahweh. … The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? I, Yahweh, search the mind, I try the heart, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (Jer. 17:5, 9-10, WEB)

Human being can’t trust their hearts. You might get some things right, but you can’t even really know yourself unless you ask God to share His perspective on you. But that verse in Jeremiah is addressed to the person who’s heart departs from the Lord. What about once you are in relationship with God and making Him the one your trust? What does that do to your heart? Read more

Are We Living A Performance Or Living For God?

I’d meant to just write one post about the Sermon on the Mount. Now here we are three weeks later with a third post on this study. And the first two only got through chapter five! I’m marveling at how much depth there is in such a familiar passage of scripture.

In the first part of this sermon, Jesus focuses on what God expects from those He’s in a relationship with. And it’s not always something that makes sense to human beings. The Beatitudes cover actions and character traits that don’t seem particularly positive from a human perspective, yet Jesus describes them as “blessed.” Then He starts talking about how law-keeping will change under the New Covenant. Walking in the spirit raises the bar higher, aiming for being like God rather than just living by the letter of His law. We end up keeping the law as we live in the spirit. And Jesus sticks with this theme of God’s expectations verses man’s ideas as He continues the sermon.

Are We Living A Performance Or Living For God? | marissabaker.wordpress.com
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Righteous Play-Acting

Jesus tells His hearers not to “do merciful deeds,” pray, or fast “as the hypocrites do” (Matt. 6:1-18, WEB). Those things are good — even essential — but they need to come from the right heart. The word hupokrites (G5273) means a stage actor or player who assumes a character’s role. So if you call someone who’s not on stage a hupokrites, you’re accusing them of playing a role in their lives. These people are living a performance, pretending to follow God while having other motives.

Hypocrites pretend to follow God so they can show-off to other people. But if we do that, Jesus warns “you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:1, WEB). The hypocrites do things for human praise and when they get it “they have received their reward” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16, WEB). If your only motive is impressing people, then that’s all you’ll get out of your righteous play-acting. Read more

Keeping The Law On The Way To Eternity

If you’re a Christian, it’s a good bet you’ve read and/or heard the Sermon on the Mount more than once. And if you’re like me, you probably think you’re pretty familiar with this straight-forward message Jesus delivered during His time here on earth. But in a sermon a few weeks back, the speaker said something that prompted me to take a deeper look.

I hadn’t thought before about what a radical message this must have seemed when first preached. Matthew even tells us people who heard Jesus were “astonished at his doctrine” (Matt. 7:28, KJV). Throughout Jesus’ words a message is woven that tells us our human way of looking at things is wrong. Something that makes no sense to us might be exactly what God is looking for, and the things we’d consider reasonable might not be what He wants at all. This sermon is about showing us a new way of thinking and living.Keeping The Law On The Way To Eternity | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Questions Of Law

Following the Beatitudes (which we talked about last week), Jesus describes people who follow Him as salt and light. All the attributes described earlier are meant to be visible in His people, showing the world good works that will cause them to “glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mat. 5:16, WEB). Jesus then makes a statement about how His teachings relate to the Old Testament Law and Prophets. People often like to take Paul out of context and say Christians today have nothing to do with the Law, but that’s not what Jesus (or Paul, for that matter) taught. Read more