“Who Is the One Who Will Condemn?”

Sometimes, I’ll come across something during Bible study that makes me sit up and think, “Oh! That’s what that means.”

I suspect this is one of the ways God keeps me humble; by reminding me that I haven’t figured anything out yet, even things that in hindsight seem obvious. It’s also one of the ways He keeps me interested in Bible study; I’m not very motivated to keep studying something after I’ve figured everything out, and thankfully that doesn’t happen when you’re studying scripture.

So, Romans 8:34 typically reads something like this: “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (WEB).

One thing I’ve learned studying Greek and French (the two languages other than English I’ve spent the most time with) is that sentence structures don’t always translate well from other languages into English. Word orders are different in many cases, and sometimes you need to add or rearrange things to get the same intention in English as there was in Greek. Figuring out how to do that is complicated by the passage of time. If we have a harder time guessing what Paul meant here because we can’t talk with him or anyone else who used this particular Greek; they all died centuries ago.

That’s a long, rambling introduction to saying that this particular sentence structure kinda makes it seem like Christ is the answer to the question, “Who is he who condemns?” We know from context that Paul is not saying Jesus condemns us; he’s saying the opposite. It still seems odd the way it’s setup in English, but I just read over it and didn’t really think about why it looks odd and if there might be a translation that would make more sense to me.

Image of a Bible laying on a deck in the sunset, with text from Romans 8:34-35, 38-39, NET version: “Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? ... I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Image by Lamppost Collective from Lightstock

Setting Up A Contrast

I started reading the NET Bible a few years ago, and I’m still finding translation choices that make me notice verses in a slightly new way. It’s one of the best translations I’ve found for balancing a desire to stay as close to the original languages as you can with transferring the sense of the original into English. I particularly like reading the New Testament in this translation. For Romans 8:34, the NET translators make it extra clear that Paul is setting up a contrast here rather than saying that Christ is the one who condemns.

What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.

Romans 8:31-34, NET

In other words, verse 34 continues the exact same pattern as the previous sentences. Do you think anyone can stand up against us or charge us with wrong doing? Don’t worry–God is for us and He’s the one who justifies His people. Do you worry about people who might condemn us? No need–Jesus Christ died for us and He’s interceding on our behalf with God, so we’ve got nothing to worry about. With Jesus mediating for us, not even the “the one called the devil and Satan … the accuser of our brothers and sisters” can condemn us (Rev. 12:9-10, NET).

Image of a woman looking up at the sky, with text from 1 John 3:19-22, NET version: "And by this we will know that we are of the truth and will convince our conscience in his presence, that if our conscience condemns us, that God is greater than our conscience and knows all things. Dear friends, if our conscience does not 
condemn us, we have confidence in the presence of God, and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him."
Image by Brightside Creative from Lightstock

No Condemnation

Paul addressed the topic of condemnation earlier in this same letter as well, just a page or so farther back in our Bibles. It’s part of a point he’s been building up to through the whole letter of Romans about how we relate to God’s law in the New Covenant.

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

Paul is not contradicting Jesus’s statement that He did not “come to abolish the law or the prophets.” Rather, Paul is clarifying what Jesus meant when He said, “I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. … whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:17-20, NET). Jesus removes the condemnation that the Law placed on us as sinners by taking our sin away and paying the penalty for it Himself. Now, we’re free to keep God’s law by living in the Spirit, fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law as God’s grace covers our mistakes.

Image of a man reading a Bible, with text from Romans 5:17-18, NET version: "For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ!
Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people.”
Image by Matt Vasquez from Lightstock

Salvation and Belief

There’s a delicate balance in how we understand God’s grace. I think we often error toward one extreme or another. On the one hand, we might make the mistake of thinking grace means we don’t have to obey God’s law and He’ll just give us salvation no matter what we do. On the other hand, we might stray too close to an idea of “salvation by works” and think our actions play a bigger role in salvation than they really do. The truth is something much more amazing.

Image of  a woman reading a Bible with the blog's title text and the words "We can live lives of righteousness with confidence, knowing all we need to do if we make a mistake is repent. There is no condemnation when we have Jesus interceding for us."
Image by Pearl from Lightstock

For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.

John 3:16-18, NET

God offers us salvation that we had nothing to do with; we cannot save ourselves. In return, He asks for life-changing belief. There’s a reciprocal aspect to grace. It’s part of a covenant agreement God offers us and if we accept this covenant we also accept our role as lovers of God who want to become like Him and follow His commands.

When we enter a relationship with God, we can trust that He is all-in with His commitment as well. He’s already demonstrated this in a spectacular way with Jesus dying for our sins. Moreover, He continues to demonstrate it today with Jesus acting as our mediator and advocate “who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34, NET). We can live lives of righteousness with confidence, knowing that if we make a mistake all we have to do is repent and ask forgiveness. There’s no condemnation for us when we have Jesus interceding for us.

Featured image by Aaron Kitzo from Lightstock

Song Recommendation: “Our God” by Chris Tomlin

Cultivating Lives of Peace and Joy

Joy is a topic that intrigues me. It’s not the same thing as happiness, which is much more situation-dependent. Joy is an enduring quality that people can have even when things are going bad and there’s no apparent reason for happiness. It’s also something that feels elusive. Some people seem to radiate joy, but for many of us it’s harder to grasp.

I don’t think of myself as someone who’s typically or consistently full of joy, but I suspect that having it is related to inner peace. It’s hard to have joy when you’re anxious and worried about things, but shalom–the peace that comes with knowing God has made you whole; nothing missing and nothing broken–is an antidote for that anxiety.

Of course all the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) are related to one another so closely that Paul calls them just one “fruit.” We need to keep that in mind when we’re separating out joy and peace for closer study. They don’t stand on their own, but we can focus today’s discussion on them and try to learn more about how we can have both peace and joy in our lives.

Click here to download a 30-day scripture writing program to support your study of Joy.

Joy Following Peace

I suspect that you can start feeling peace without feeling joy, but it’s pretty hard to have joy without peace. Maybe that’s just my perspective, but I see peace as the opposite of frantic worry. If your mind is scattered, latching on to all the things that you have to worry about, it’s very difficult to shift over to joy without first finding some peace.

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:6-9, NET

That sounds to me like a good foundation for joy. Training our minds to shift off of anxious thoughts and onto whatever is true, respectable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or praiseworthy makes it possible for us to have the perspective that joy requires. The God of peace can bring things about in our minds that surpass all understanding. He makes it so we can have peace even if there is trouble around, and joy even if there are things happening that could make us unhappy. Joy comes when we follow God’s example of peace and peacemaking.

Peace Comes as We Learn to Trust God

There aren’t a whole lot of Bible verses directly linking peace and joy. This one we’re about to look at in Hebrews doesn’t directly say that joy comes along with peace. Instead, it points out that things which don’t seem joyful at the time later produce peace and righteousness.

Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed.

Hebrews 12:11-13, NET

This verse indicates joy doesn’t typically come before peace. Peace comes after we get experience going through trails with God’s help. Experiencing His faithfulness through those trials lays the foundation for a joy-filled life. The author of Hebrews also says righteousness is developed right alongside peace. That link with righteousness is particularly interesting in light of what Paul says here in Romans:

For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people.

Romans 15:17-18, NET

Joy, peace, and righteousness exist together in maturing Christians who press on faithfully toward the kingdom of God. As we learn to take refuge in God, find our peace in Him, and see Him faithfully aid us over and over again, we also realize how many reasons we have for joy (Neh. 8:10; Ps. 5:11; 16:11; 71:22-23; Is. 12:2-4; 61:10-11). Joy develops as we go through a refining process (Luke 6:22-23; Col. 1:10-11; Jam. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:6-9; 4:12-13). As we cultivate greater peace and joy in our lives, that lays the foundation for a perspective that can say even if everything else in my life is going badly, “yet I will rejoice in Yahweh. I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” (Hab. 3:17-18, WEB).

Peace and Joy for Today and Forever

I live in a country where the founding documents say people here have the right to “the pursuit of happiness.” Far better than that is the promise in the “founding documents” of the Lord’s Heavenly Country where I now claim citizenship. God says joy is part of what we get when He gives us His spirit. He promises us joyful lives. There might be moments when we feel joy is elusive and need to pray alongside David, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Psalm 51:12, WEB). But the overall trajectory of our lives is heading toward peace and joy that we can experience now, and which will be fully realized when Jesus returns.

For as the rain comes down and the snow from the sky,
    and doesn’t return there, but waters the earth,
    and makes it grow and bud,
    and gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
so is my word that goes out of my mouth:
    it will not return to me void,
    but it will accomplish that which I please,
    and it will prosper in the thing I sent it to do.
For you shall go out with joy,
    and be led out with peace.
The mountains and the hills will break out before you into singing;
    and all the trees of the fields will clap their hands.

Isaiah 55:10-12, WEB

We can relax into God’s promises, knowing He’s there working to give us joy and peace. We can also be intentional about cultivating peace and joy in our lives. For example, in Paul’s closing remarks for Romans, he prays God would fill his readers with “all joy and peace,” then in 2 Corinthians he instructs his readers to “rejoice” and “live in peace” (Rom. 15:13; 2 Cor. 13:11). As with so many of God’s gifts, we can ask Him to give them and also do our part to make the most of these blessings.

If you look back on the verses we’ve read and referenced today, you might notice that joy and peace are connected to righteousness and salvation (Ps. 51:12; Is. 12:2-4; Rom. 14:17-18, for example). These words show up again and again in scriptures talking about joy and/or peace. That’s no coincidence. Salvation is the biggest reason we have for joy. Knowing that God loves us, forgave us, and redeemed us to welcome us into covenant with Him is a reason for joy that isn’t affected by anything happening outside us. Our relationship with God is the main reason we can have real joy. It’s also something that produces righteousness in us because the closer we stick to God, the more and more we become like Him. As we focus on cultivating peace and joy in our lives, we do well to remind ourselves of the precious gift of salvation and to pursue righteousness (Matt. 6:33; 2 Tim. 2:22). As we put God’s kingdom first, seek His righteousness, and embrace His peace, our lives will fill up more and more with joy that no one can take away from us.

Featured image by Jess Foami from Pixabay

Who or What is the “Morning Star”?

A comment on last week’s post about names got me thinking about “Morning Star” as a title for Jesus Christ. Many of His titles are easy to interpret. They make a lot of sense–of course He’s called Savior, Redeemer, Lord, High Priest, and Lamb of God. We have tons of evidence for and explanations of those titles and roles. In contrast, Morning Star isn’t quite so easy to define.

I’ve studied Jesus as the Light before, and touched on the Morning Star title in those posts (see “The Sun of Righteousness” and “The Light From The Beginning“). I haven’t dug deep into this particular title, though, or addressed the fact that there’s also a verse describing Satan as a “morning star” (though that depends on which translation you’re using).

The phrase “morning star” is used infrequently through the Bible, and not always of Jesus. To understand how this title is used, we need to understand how the Bible talks about stars and which Old Testament passages inform the New Testament verses saying Jesus is the Morning Star. As we’ll see, this title has to do with Jesus’s authority, His light, and His role understanding God’s ways.

Morning Stars in the Bible

“Morning Star” isn’t only used as a title for Jesus. The words show up in other verses as well, and looking at those can help give us a feel for what Morning Star means when used as a title. Let’s start with looking at the Hebrew words in the Old Testament.

In the story of Job, God shows up in-person to answer Job’s questions with some questions of His own. He asked, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? … Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4, 6-7, WEB). This verse uses the Hebrew words kokab (H3556, “star”) and boqer (H1242, “morning, break of day”) (definitions from BDB lexicon). It’s the only time in the Bible those two words are used together. There’s other talk of stars in the Bible–both literal stars and as figurative language for spiritual beings–but this is the only place in the Old Testament that really narrows in on the idea of “morning stars.”

Other phrases translated “morning star” in English versions of the Old Testament use different words. When Job “cursed the day he was born” and said “Let its morning stars be darkened” (Job. 3:1, 8, NET) the Hebrew word translated “morning” more often means “twilight” (though it can be evening or morning twilight, H5399). It’s not the same phrase as God uses later in Job 38:7. Similarly, the verse in Isaiah talking about Satan’s fall is sometimes translated “morning star, son of the dawn” (Is. 14:12, NIV). However, a more accurate translation of heylele (H1966) would be “shining one.”

How you have fallen from heaven, shining one, son of the dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, “I will ascend into heaven! I will exalt my throne above the stars of God! I will sit on the mountain of assembly, in the far north! will ascend above the heights of the clouds! I will make myself like the Most High!” Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the pit.

Isaiah 14:12-15, WEB

This passage is talking about one who shone like the dawn and arrogantly thought he could exalt himself “above the stars of God” (that word in v. 13 is kokab). I don’t want to spend too much time on this point, but the question “Aren’t Jesus and Satan both referred to as the morning star?” does come up from time to time and can be confusing. Though the titles may have some similarities, the comparison highlights the differences between these two beings. Just like Jesus as the Lion of Judah is far more powerful than Satan as a roaring, ravenous lion, so does Jesus as the Morning Star and Light of the World outshine Satan’s former glory as a shining one.

The Star of Jacob

The clearest connection between an Old Testament prophecy and Jesus as the Morning Star comes from a section of scripture that doesn’t include the word “morning.” This prophecy was delivered by Balaam, a prophet hired by Balak, king of Moab, to curse the nation of Israel. God did not permit him to speak curses over them, though; he was only allowed to speak blessings (Num. 22-24).

“Balaam the son of Beor says,
the man whose eyes are open says;
he says, who hears the words of God,
knows the knowledge of the Most High,
and who sees the vision of the Almighty,
falling down, and having his eyes open:
I see him, but not now.
I see him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob.
A scepter will rise out of Israel,
and shall strike through the corners of Moab,
and crush all the sons of Sheth.
Edom shall be a possession.
Seir, his enemy, also shall be a possession,
while Israel does valiantly.
Out of Jacob shall one have dominion,
and shall destroy the remnant from the city.”

Numbers 24:15-19, WEB (emphasis added)

This is the only Old Testament passage I’ve found that explicitly identifies the promised Messiah as a star. That being the case, this prophecy is likely something Peter was thinking of when he wrote these words:

For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: “This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.” When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

2 Peter 1:17-19, NET

Here in these verses, Peter chooses not to use the standard Greek word for star (aster, G792). Rather, he uses the word phosphorous , which means “light bringing” (G5459). The reason that it’s translated “morning star” is because it’s often used of the planet Venus as the “day star” (Thayer’s dictionary). It is also is “a Hellenistic word that was sometimes used of emperors and deities” (NET footnote). This strengthens the connection back to Numbers 24:17 by connecting to the authority Jesus has as the scepter-carrying Star of Jacob. 17

What Peter’s doing here is connecting his audience back to prophecies in the Old Testament scriptures that point to Jesus as the Messiah, then he references one of those prophecies while drawing a parallel between Jesus as the Morning Star and Light that shines into our minds. That connection is made even more explicit through Jesus’s own words at the end of Revelation (though He uses aster) .

“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify these things to you for the assemblies. I am the root and the offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.”

Revelation 22:16, WEB

The Morning Star Dawns in Us

If we look back at the verse in Peter’s letter, we see he’s talking about how the Bible (specifically the “prophetic word”) is something we ought to “pay attention to … as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” There’s a connection between Jesus’s title Morning Star and the way that truths of His word dawn on us. He is the great light shining into the world’s darkness; “the dawn from on high” who visited us (Matt. 4:13-16; Luke 1:76-79).

Even if our Good News is veiled, it is veiled in those who are dying, in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them. For we don’t preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake, seeing it is God who said, “Light will shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6, WEB

From the Old Covenant times until now, the righteous have been associated with light, dawn, and the sun (Ps. 112:3-5; Prov. 4:17-19; Is. 62:1; Dan. 12:2-3; Matt. 13:43). God is light, and if we walk in His ways (i.e. live righteously) then we will shine with His light (1 John 1:5-7). It’s because of Jesus shining into us that we have the chance to shine with God’s righteousness. This idea of Jesus dawning understanding into us may be why His letter to the church at Thyatira says this:

He who overcomes, and he who keeps my works to the end, to him I will give authority over the nations. He will rule them with a rod of iron, shattering them like clay pots; as I also have received of my Father: and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.

Revelation 2:26-29, WEB

It’s sort of a weird phrase. Based on what we’ve studied on this topic, Jesus giving people “the morning star” may be connected to understanding, righteousness, and/or authority. It’s hard to tell for sure, though. Like so many things in the Bible, “morning star” is something we could study over and over again, and probably find a deeper understanding each time. I’m not sure where we might take this study next, but I feel it’s still at the beginning stages. Who knows, maybe we’ll come back to it again in another two years (that’s about how long it’s been since the last post I wrote which touched on the Morning Star).

If you have thoughts on this study or it inspires you to dig into the topic of stars in the Bible, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear what you think and learn about this!

Featured image by Bruno /Germany 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.

Featured image by Pearl via Lightstock

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

The Beatitudes, Part Eight: Blessed Are Those Who Have Been Persecuted

This last beatitude is probably the most difficult one to hear. The need for humility as we recognize our spiritual helplessness is something we can wrap our mind around. We know that mourning and grief are part of being human, and we welcome God’s promise of comfort. Gentleness is a fruit of the spirit and a character trait of Christ, so we know that it’s a good thing for us to learn. A hunger and thirst for righteousness is like a hunger and thirst for God. Giving and getting mercy and forgiveness is a familiar theme through scripture. We also know that we’re supposed to become like God, who is pure and perfect, so it’s no surprise that the “pure in heart” are blessed. And God loves peace so much that it seems natural for Jesus to call peacemakers children of God. But then we come to this last one.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 5:10, WEB

For many Christians around the world and throughout history, the idea that they’ll be persecuted for their faith is not shocking. In fact, Christianity is among the most persecuted religions in the world. Just last year, one report stated that “Christian persecution ‘at near genocide levels'” in certain countries (BBC News, 3 May 2019). More recently, the 2020 World Watch List report released by Open Doors found that “1 in 8 believers, worldwide” “experience high levels of persecution” for their faith in Jesus Christ (click here for more information).

Here in the US, though, we have not experienced anything like this. Moreover, Western Christians in the modern world seem to have a sense that we shouldn’t be persecuted; as if somehow we deserve an exemption because we live in such evolved, democratic societies. And even if we don’t feel like that, persecution is frightening. It may even make us wonder if following Jesus is worth the cost. Perhaps that’s why this is the one beatitude that Jesus immediately elaborates on.

Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:11-12, WEB

If we are persecuted (or worry we may be persecuted), this is the sort of thing we need to hear; a reassurance that we can hold tight to God and that He’ll take care of us. None of us are alone. God’s people don’t fit in with the rest of the world, and from the very earliest Bible records those who follow God faced opposition from the world. But they didn’t face it by themselves and neither will we, because God is on our side. Not only that, but we have a future goal to look forward to which is amazing enough to make whatever happens to us in this life seem like it really doesn’t matter.

Faithful and Righteous

The Hebrews 11 faith chapter comes to mind while reading about those who are persecuted and blessed. All the people listed there were faithful and righteous, and most faced persecutions of some sort. Abel was murdered. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not get along well with everyone they met, and some stole from or cheated them. Joseph was sold into slavery. Moses suffered abuse for Christ (Heb. 11:26, NET). David was hunted by Saul.

Others were tortured, not accepting their deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Others were tried by mocking and scourging, yes, moreover by bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned. They were sawn apart. They were tempted. They were slain with the sword. They went around in sheep skins and in goat skins; being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering in deserts, mountains, caves, and the holes of the earth.

Hebrews 11:35-38, WEB

I don’t much like reading this passage. The whole “sawn asunder” (v. 37, KJV) thing especially bothers me. But I think, like the people these verses are talking about did, we need to focus on this part: “That they might obtain a better resurrection.” Or, to quote a translation I recently fell in love with, “to obtain resurrection to a better life” (v. 35, NET).

The Beatitudes, Part Eight: Blessed Are Those Who Have Been Persecuted | LikeAnAnchor.com

When We Suffer, We’re Being Like Christ

Jesus promises that God has a reward for those who face persecution “for righteousness’ sake.” This isn’t a concept you hear much about in the world today, but righteousness is a key part of scripture. In a broad sense, Thayer’s dictionary defines it as the “state of him who is as he ought to be” (G1343, dikaiosune). God is righteous and He’s the one who models and defines righteousness for us. It involves obedience to God, personal integrity, “purity of life,” and “correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting” (Thayer).

Peter talks about the idea of suffering for righteousness several times in his first epistle. He says that “it is commendable” if you patiently endure suffering you don’t deserve “because of conscience toward God.” That is, after all, what Christ did (1 Pet. 2:19-25). Jesus suffered for our sins and if we suffer for following Him and doing God’s will, well, that’s better than if we were to suffer for doing wrong (1 Pet. 3:17-18).

But in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. But do not be terrified of them or be shaken. But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you.

1 Peter 3:14-16, NET (Old Testament quotes bolded in original)

When Peter wrote this epistle, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was thinking back to something Jesus told him and the other disciples at His last Passover here on earth. Jesus said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. … they will do all these things to you for my name’s sake, because they don’t know him who sent me” (John 15:20-21).

Count The Cost

Suffering as a Christian is pretty much guaranteed. If you aren’t persecuted for righteousness’ sake, scripture makes it seem like that’s actually more unusual than if you are. That’s one reason we’re told to count the cost before following Jesus; because this life demands commitment and sacrifice (Luke 14:25-35). When Paul counted that cost, even with all the persecutions he suffered (2 Cor. 11:23-28), he concluded that nothing else mattered as much as knowing Christ and that the rewards for following Him will be so amazing the suffering seems as nothing (Rom. 8:18-30).

Yes most certainly, and I count all things to be a loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith, that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death, if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:8-11, WEB

Paul says here that he “suffered the loss of all things,” and that’s in addition to all the direct persecutions he talks about in other epistles. But when he counted the cost of following Jesus, he still came to the conclusion that it was all worth the effort. He, like those in the faith chapter, “looked for the city which has the foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11: 10, WEB). He knew the reward for following God far outweighed any downsides.

Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

The reward mentioned in this beatitude brings us full circle in our series of posts. “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said at the beginning of this sermon on the mount, “for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:5, WEB). The New English Translation puts it a little differently: “for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

When John the Baptist and then Jesus came preaching, they both said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Matt. 3:1-2; 4:17). Throughout Matthew’s gospel (other writers use the phrase “kingdom of God”), this emphasis on the kingdom of heaven continues. Jesus told us who would and would not enter the kingdom of heaven, taught us to pray “Let your kingdom come,” and shared analogies for what the kingdom is like (click for verse list).

One of the things Jesus said is, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21, NET). Just a little earlier in the same sermon where He makes this statement, Jesus gives us a succinct guide in the form of Beatitudes to some of the ways we can align ourselves with God. This is what righteousness is about — not being “experts in the law” but going beyond that and learning to truly be like God (Matt. 5:18-20), even to the point that the same people who hate Jesus will also hate us because we are so much like Him. Yes, that may mean we are among “those who are persecuted for righteousness,” but “the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” And I think Paul is right when he says getting into that kingdom and being with God forever is worth whatever we might have to give up or go through in this life.

Featured image credit: Magnify Studio via Lightstock

The Beatitudes, Part Four: Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst For Righteousness

I’m trying to remember the last time I heard someone use the word “righteous” in a positive way, outside of a sermon or a Bible-study discussion. Most of the time in the modern world, this word is paired with “self-righteous” and used as an insult. Righteousness, like many other character traits that are closely associated with God, is not really seen as a good thing in today’s society.

As with many of the traits Jesus talked about in the Beatitudes, though, God has a different view on this than the world does. he says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6, all quotes from WEB translation). As we talked about in the second post of this series, “blessed” means fully satisfied by God, which is a very concrete image when we talk about feeding someone who’s hungry. 

Filled With More Than Food

This fourth Beatitude is not the only time God uses imagery of filling His people’s hunger to make a larger point about what we desire and how we relate to Him.

“Hey! Come, everyone who thirsts, to the waters! Come, he who has no money, buy, and eat! Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which doesn’t satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in richness.” (Is. 55:1-2)

God is committed to filling our needs with good things. The same word used in “they shall be filled” is used for the people who ate loaves and fishes after Jesus multiplied food for the multitudes (Matt. 14:20; 15:37). It means filled to satisfaction, even gorged, on abundant food (G5526, chortazo). But, as we have seen, He doesn’t stop at physical food and drink.

Jesus answered her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

The satisfaction that Jesus and the Father offer for our hunger and thirst goes far deeper than one meal. They are filling us with their holy spirit; with their power and presence.

Craving Righteousness

The people spoken of in this beatitude are hungry and thirsty for a specific thing: righteousness. Though its importance is overlooked or scorned at by the world, righteousness is a pivotal concept for the people of God. Later in this same sermon, Jesus says, “seek first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). There is a blessing in this seeking, for God promises to fill us with more than “just” righteousness.

and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth. (Eph. 4:23-24)

When we seek for God to fill us, He responds by sharing all His character traits with us. He’s making us part of His family, and growing in righteousness is a key part of that.

If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1 John 2:29)

We all know that having a close relationship with God is a central part of our Christian faith, and becoming like Him is a core part of that. He does not expect us to get things right all the time, but He does expect us to keep growing and learning and trying to be like Him. To do that, we need to actively practice His character traits, including righteousness, which is defined as having integrity, virtue, and “correctness of thinking,” all while living in a way that is “acceptable to God” (G1343, dikaiosune, Thayer’s dictionary).

Hunger For God

Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is essentially a hunger and thirst for God. One of His Hebrew names is Yahweh Tsidquenu — Yahweh our Righteousness (Jer. 23:6; 33:16). Along these same lines, Paul wrote that Jesus “was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). It is in Him that we can “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:11)

Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled.” When He fills our hunger and thirst for righteousness — for Him — He makes us capable of producing righteousness as well. Our Father is glorified when we bear much fruit (John 15:18), and that includes the fruits of His righteous character. As we commit to seeking Him and His righteousness, He will fill our desire to draw nearer to Him.

Featured image credit:  Igor Link from Pixabay