Tag Archives: Righteousness

Moral Image

Studies in Genesis 1

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. (Genesis 1:26 ESV)

People are conscious of their surroundings and themselves, capable of knowing their own thoughts and remembering with detail their experiences. But, people also have a conscience, knowing the difference between right and wrong, or between what is good and what is not good. Each person has a moral compass and this moral knowing is integral to the image of God given.

God uses the word “good” seven times in the first chapter of Genesis. He declared what He had done, what He created, as “good,” fulfilling His standard of excellence. Before He began shaping the universe out of the material He initially created, He formed “light” and separated from it, darkness. Physical light is a type of moving energy necessary for life. Darkness is the absence of light and is detrimental to life. God created both darkness and light and by implication determined darkness not good when He judged, or declared light, “good.”

God has an objective standard for “good.” This standard is based upon Himself and His eternal characteristics. There is no other creative force in the universe.  When He created all things and began shaping all things, He designed the universe and all in it with function and purpose. By declaring what He created “good” He declared His created design and purpose fulfilled His eternal intentions.

Part of the image of God in Man is the ability to consciously know the difference between right and wrong and to know what is good. Man cannot create in the same sense God created but Man can make and fashion objects with specific function and purpose. Man’s standard of excellence is not found in himself but in God. With the image of God embedded in people they will know when what they have done is good and meets God’s rule of excellence.

God’s image in Man gives everyone the tools needed to know what is morally good and excellent. As created by God, people are also given the absolute ability to fulfill their created function and purpose in a righteous and holy manner. Yet, as we will discover, because of sin none do or want to do that which is righteous.

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Righteous Judge

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. [Matthew 5:25 ESV]

Your adversary is the one who has collected and examined the evidence against you and is ready to present this evidence to the judge for determination of guilt or innocence. In many places throughout Scripture our adversary is Satan, the accuser. Here, our adversary is the prosecuting attorney who is God and all of the evidence of our sin shows guilt. What is the evidence the Judge will examine? This Judge peers into the heart, knows the thoughts of all and sees everything whether done, possible, probable, hidden or blatant. He sees and knows the absolute corruption of sin.

Sin has bent away from righteousness the thinking of the hearts of those made in His image. Just as God wants to have a relationship with the complete person so too, Satan, the world and sin wants to corrupt the whole person. We associate the world with sin though sin is internal, coming from within the person, and not external. Eve was tempted by the Serpent when she “saw that the tree was good for food” and that the food “was a delight to the eyes” [Genesis 3:6 ESV]. Her adversary used the pleasures and attractions of the things of the world to tempt her internal self to rebel against God.

God made nothing which wasn’t good, declaring all He made “very good” [Genesis 1:31 ESV]. This includes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and its fruit. As part of the world this tree, like every other tree and its fruit, was good. It was not sinful. There was nothing in and of itself which made the fruit of this tree poisonous or bad. It was made delicious. And it looked delicious. But the fruit of the tree was forbidden to them as food. Adam was told to not eat the fruit from this tree.

When we cling to the world we become vulnerable to the temptations of the world. Not everything in the world is wrong or sinful. It is our desires, when attached to the things of the world as having more personal value than they should rightfully have which develops sin in the thinking of our hearts. Rebellion is a condition of the thinking of the heart, not just the “thinking” which is the intelligence and not just the “heart,” or the moral emotional self. Living in the presence of the forbidden demands we obediently trust the Object of faith. That which is forbidden by God, whether a thing or person, may not of itself be sinful. It is desire which uses the thing or the person as a catalyst to bend us away from obedience to God’s command which is sinful. Desire unencumbered by discipline, responsibility and obedience twists our motivations, encouraging disobedience, which causes distrust, which kills faith.

Is desire wrong? Are we not created with desires? Desire to love, be loved, have meaningful relationships? Desire for anything forbidden by God is not automatically sinful. Yet, desire moved to action gives birth to sin which grows and takes over life and is stopped only by death. Eve’s desire was to have what God forbade. She had everything else. Sin and rebellion destroys relationships between God and others.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. [Genesis 3:1-6 ESV]

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions — is not from the Father but is from the world.

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. [1John 2:15-17 ESV]

God is the eternal Judge with authority to render sentence against all who rebel against Him. He sees the evidence of disobedience and has published the sentence for sinful rebellion. He then placed that sentence upon His Son and executed sentence fulfilling His eternal just and righteous requirements.

Now His command is all eat from the tree of Life and live. God’s will is all receive the grace given through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. Rejection of His grace is rebellion, sinful, and brings judgment and sentence.

Just and Unjust Judges

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. [Matthew 5:25-26 ESV]

Do we have to stand before a Judge before admitting when we have done something wrong? Are Judges known for being compassionate? Do they forgive offenses, willful acts, crimes against men and the state? Is it not their responsibility to look at the evidence and determine culpability? Are they not charged with upholding the law which constrains them? What Judge is going to set aside law for personal preference? If they do then they are not a Judge but as much a criminal as those standing before them. Those Judges who are just will agonize over their decisions because they want truth and compassion, justice and righteousness.

Christians are faced with unjust judges daily. All those around us will judge our actions and words against their arbitrary standard or a predetermined measure. They will assess not only what is right and good but every wrong. For the unjust Judge will build a case regardless of the facts, no matter the evidence. Those being accused of doing something wrong may not have done anything wrong. Christians who suffer for righteousness’ sake face accusers who are judging them because of their relationship with Christ. In fact, they have probably done everything right.

However, I do not think this is what Jesus is speaking about in these verses.

I think he is telling us to judge ourselves against God’s standards so that those who do accuse us have no evidence to substantiate their claims. If they do have evidence because we have done something wrong then we are responsible for righting the wrong. Jesus is using the world’s unjust system as an illustration for God’s justice. We cannot expect non-Christians to act like Christians.

We can expect Christians, or those who say they are Christians, to act according to God’s known will. We must say sin is sin. Jesus is direct in His statements about a brother confronting a brother about sin.

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. [Matthew 1815-17 ESV]

Again, I do not think this is what Jesus is speaking to in these verses (Matthew 5:25-26), though they are related. I think He is telling us to admit when we are wrong, confess sin, repent and turn away from sin, before being hauled in front of a Judge. We should not have to be told when we are wrong. A Judge will not be nice. God is loving and compassionate but not nice.

One of the underlying principles of the Sermon on the Mount is the desire of God to make those who are His whole. For the individual, wholeness means being remade, recreated by God into the likeness of His Son. We are created in His image, bent and corrupted by sin, then recreated by His Spirit and fit for here as witnesses and for eternity as citizens. God changes the person immediately but takes His time disciplining and developing the person for eternity. He makes the person whole intellectually, morally and emotionally and willfully. He molds those who are His into people who act obediently as His servants.

I hate the process for it demands I see myself as God sees me, as Christ sees me and as the Holy Spirit sees me. God sees me covered with the blood of Christ. Jesus sees me as one He is willing to die for and did. He who lives in the Christian, the Holy Spirit, sees me as a citizen-student being fit by Him for eternity.

This is important. Christians must not view themselves as they see themselves in the world. God trains us, when we are obedient, to see ourselves as He sees us, covered with the blood of Christ. We stand before Him, and before the world, in His grace.

Have you ever tried to defend, rationalize or excuse your wrong actions and attitudes before an impartial Judge? He will not let you. Either we judge our sin or God does and He may use a human judge which will carry much pain. There is an eternal difference between remorse and repentance.

Worship of the Heart

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [Matthew 5:23-24 ESV]

Jesus continues illustrating the characteristics of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven by stressing the thinking of the heart in right relationship with God. If we are right with God then we are right with those around us. They may not be right with God or us. Jesus tells us to focus on the thinking of our hearts and not theirs. If someone has something against us it is because of something we have done to offend them, not because our position before God in Christ as righteous offends them.

Do not read these verses thinking Jesus is speaking only about a touchable sacrifice on a solid altar. When Abel and Cain offered their sacrifices is was not the physical sacrifice God cared about but the thinking of their hearts. We know Cain was “angry” and his face was downcast or fallen. We know God did not accept his sacrifice. Sin had bent him toward anger and wanted to control his whole being. We know God warned him to not allow sin control. Death and separation followed Cain’s refusal to heed God’s warning and discipline. Cain’s thinking held murderous intent and contempt for both God and those created in the image of God.

Pride and covetousness stops any capacity to worship. If pride and covetousness does not immediately kill worship then it strangles it. Even a little pride, a little covetousness, completely robs love from any act declared worship.

We are given His Spirit so we might worship Him in spirit and truth. “God is sprit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” [John 4:24 ESV]. When we give to God our gift is an act of love because we give that which is most valuable to us just as He gave what was most valuable to Him to redeem us. Our gift must be nothing less than our selves. Our giving must be done with the thinking of our hearts devoted to the One who has redeemed us. We love our God “with heart and with all your soul and with all your might” [Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV].  We show our love for Him not only through sacrifice but through obedience which is sacrifice.

Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. [1 Samuel 15:22-23 ESV]

Our gifts or sacrifices are not prescribed by law but by the indwelling Spirit. Our altar is not made of stone but of living flesh. Our gift has eternal value and encompasses the whole self. Our attitude, the thinking of our hearts, our whole person, must show love for God for the gift of ourselves to be acceptable. Our worship is a spiritual gift. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” [Romans 12:1 ESV].

Knowing this further helps understand what Jesus is proclaiming in Matthew 5:22-23. His illustration pierces to the center of the thinking of my heart. I am undone.  According to Paul and my own experience my body is a slave to sin while my spirit is a slave to righteousness. If my gift to Him is pure and acceptable it is only because I have been enabled to give, to offer worship in spirit and truth, by the One receiving the gift.

I still sin. And I must continue baring responsibility for the immediate, temporal consequences of my sin. Though my relationship with God can never be severed it can be momentarily compromised. In addition, my sin frustrates and obstructs my relationship with my “brother.”

Though the eternal consequences of my sin the sentence of death and eternal separation from God has been lifted and placed on Christ, I still have a body of sin and I will still physically die. I still suffer the immediate and temporal consequences of my sin and the sin of the world. My sin affects the Body of Christ, the Church, and those around me.

Never does God say He will not accept my gift or sacrifice. However, He demands obedience. We love Him by obeying Him. We love Him by loving those created by Him.  When I sin my brother is affected and my person is compromised and my gift or sacrifice is not given in love.

God will not leave such sin unknown.

Judgment

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother (some manuscripts insert “without cause”) will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. [Matthew 5:22 ESV]

I know no one who is not quick to judge. Even the quiet non-judgmental types make spur of the moment judgments. All judge the actions of others assuming they understand their intent and motives. Often we judge another’s intellectual ability based upon our judgment of the motives behind their actions. All of these judgments are measured against our personal standards and expectations.

That’s a judgmental statement.

We learned the standards we use from those who raised us and who influenced our thinking. They are still our own standards. Because of the absolute corruption of sin our judgments are bent toward evil though we say they are good. No one judges according to God’s eternal standard without His direct intervention. We cannot. Our quickness to judge will itself be judged by the Judge. Our actions and intents, our motivations and judgments will be exposed by Him.

Read Paul’s assessment of both those declared righteous by God and those who are self-righteous.

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man – you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself – that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. [Romans 2:1-11 ESV]

Jesus has told us unrighteous anger brings judgment equating it to murder. Unjustly taking another’s life is an offense against God who created that person in His image. He created both the murdered and the murderer in His image and as Creator has the eternal right to judge according to the standards found within Himself. We usurp His authority when we judge another using our own standards and not His. Jesus condemns denigrating comments and thoughts which are not true that we hold against another, which place us over them and which make us the ultimate judge and not God.

We do not have the right to insult anyone. An insult is defined as “the act of leaping upon” in order to abuse, to treat another with contempt in order to triumph over them. It connotes raising oneself up, over or above, by lower another. Jesus uses the word raca, which means “empty one” and “worthless.” It is a word borrowed from the Chaldean, maybe left over from the exile and may have been considered a curse. Raca carries the idea the person has no value intellectually and thus no ability to add to society. In fact, the person insulted is considered a drain, taking away from society as a whole.

Jesus’ remarks not only encompass unjustified judgment of a person’s intellectual abilities and value to society but their moral character. When anyone judges the moral character of a person based upon sinful, arbitrary standards, they are pronouncing sentence without having the authority to execute sentence. They have tried to wrench away from God something which is only His prerogative. Declaring someone a “fool” is a moral judgment based upon the evidence of their lives as measured by the arbitrary standards of the individual. Worse is listening and believing the judgments pronounced by another without having actually witnessed the evidence of the life judged. Such a far reaching pronouncement of a sentence endangers the eternal place of the person judging before the God, the Judge. “Whoever says, ‘You fool’’ will be liable to the hell of fire” [Matthew 5:22 ESV].

Does any of this mean we are to not judge? We are given the Holy Spirit who “will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” [John 16:13 ESV]. We are commanded to focus our attention on Christ and the promptings of the Holy Spirit every moment of our lives. We need constant awareness of what we are thinking, how we are feeling, the words we speak and our actions, allowing God to continue to change us into the likeness of His Son, as He prepares us for eternity. We are still His witnesses before this world.

Who is in Control?

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. [Matthew 5:21-22 ESV]

From where does murderous intent come? Does not such intent begin with the imagining of unreasonable expectations which becomes a demand, a law the person requires of others? In the Hebrew Scripture the first sin recorded was not murder. In fact, God does not list all of the sins Adam and Eve committed before Cain was born. God never give a litany of a person’s sins. He reveals some but mostly He documents that they sinned.

After Cain, the first born, and Abel offer their sacrifice God comes to Cain and speaks with him and warns him about the battle raging within his heart. Cain wanted to worship God the way Cain wanted to worship, not the way God wanted. It was not the actual act of worship God spoke to Cain about but the intent of his heart. “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” [Genesis 4:6 ESV]. Cain was angry. God had not met his expectations. This is because, even without knowing Cain’s exact expectations, we can suggest they were unreasonable.

Cain carried his emotion in an obvious way. However, no one else saw Cain’s struggle but God and He see everything. Perhaps, Cain had not yet learned to hide his emotions from himself. Before this would happen Cain had to train himself to allow his anger to control his expectations. He excused his sinful thoughts and unrealistic emotions which were contrary to what God had originally designed. He was made in the image of God but carried the bent to sin. God gave him his image. His parents gave him, and all who follow him, the bent toward sin. Sin is an unnatural inheritance. We all have this bent but we all struggle against it because of the natural godly image within our being. God wants control. So does sin. “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” [Genesis 4:7 ESV].

Cain chose to allow sin to control his life. Could he have chosen differently?

Here is a conundrum faced by all Christians. God holds us responsible for our sins even though we can identify sin as an unnatural inheritance, a controlling force in our lives, coming down from Adam and Eve to everyone who has ever lived. Except Christ. We have been taught we have no choice but to sin. We have been taught everything we do is sin. We have also been told Christ covered our sin with His righteousness so we are no longer under God’s judgment for sin. But we still sin while we have been taught God expects holiness and righteousness from us. It is impossible for us to reconcile the two positions. They are in conflict.

God told Cain he must control sin by ruling over it so it would not control him. Does He not tell us the same thing? Sin wants us. We must recognize the assault of sin and steadfastly fight to not allow sin control over us. We do not belong to sin but to God. Sin owned us but He bought us back with the eternal price of Christ’s blood. Our fight begins, not with sin but within ourselves. God never lost His fight with sin. We must be willing to allow God to show us what is truly happening within ourselves. We must honestly confront ourselves and the sin which assaults us, recognizing it as sin and not excusing it as natural and expected.

Sin began outside of us, has become an integral though unnatural part of us, and God has given us the tools, strength and grace to combat it. But first we must recognize our own powerlessness and His power in us. James addresses our conundrum.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for ought when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. [James 1:12-15 ESV]

Practice What You Preach

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. [Matthew 10:24-25 ESV]

Jesus has harsh words for hypocritical teachers. “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you – but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice” [Matthew 23:2-3 ESV]. He tells those who listen to recognize the authority of God represented by their position and listen to the words of God taught through them, but to not do what they do. They are hypocrites, not doing what they say should be done and doing what should not be done. Having lied to themselves about their position before the people and assumed authority because they are teachers they believe they are more important than others.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! [Matthew 23:13, 14, 15, 23, 25, 27, 29]

Seven times (and more) Jesus pronounces woe, condemnation, upon them, calling them hypocrites and blind. His words are for everyone so do not think or feel absolved because you do not have the position or consider yourself a teacher. We are all teachers and students.

A hypocrite is an actor, someone who puts on a show for those observing. They are one way when alone or with certain people but a completely different when before an audience. They might consider God their audience and try influencing His thinking about them through their actions and words. They may try to earn their way into His grace, cheapening grace and inviting His disdain. However, most hypocrites act godly and knowledgeable before people to impress them not God. People they can touch and manipulate. God they can neither touch nor manipulate.

Actors are hypocrites, taking upon themselves the characteristics and personality of a fictional person in order to fool or entertain. Trained and experienced actors are believable. So, too, training and experience helps the teacher who wishes to instruct and disciple their pupils. Many teachers have learned to put on a show to empress their students or give them something to remember. Mostly, actors, hypocrites, want their audience to remember them.

We want to believe those who are formal teachers impart instruction from knowledge and righteous motivations. They are teachers by profession or decision and carry the weight of authority behind the knowledge they have gathered, processed and retained. Teachers are smarter than we are, so many think, and their teaching should never be questioned, except by other teachers. Those who belong to a professional association may have academic freedom but are still encouraged to follow the guidelines of their associates. This is important to maintain their professional standing and recognition. So, the scribes and Pharisees belonged to their professional association and dare not think against the standards imposed for fear of being rejected. Nothing has changed.

Scripture places tremendous responsibility upon teachers. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” [James 3:1 ESV]. Those who are formal teachers will be judged by a greater standard than those who are not recognized as teachers. But God has made us all teachers and we are all held to a greater standard, God’s standard.

Sin makes us all hypocrites. We all try to show others we are something we are not, hoping they will not see our true selves. We all try to fool God and only fool ourselves, even believing the lie we tell ourselves. Those who think they can earn or buy righteousness have missed the first demand of God, poverty of spirit. God demands, never asks, the sinner recognize and own their sin. He demands, never asks, they realize the consequences of their sin, which is separation from Him. He demands, never asks, they submit to Him unconditionally. Doing these three things will drive a person toward God. They will hunger and thirst for righteousness and will love Him.

Every person, as they live and breathe and act and speak, leaves evidence for what they hunger and thirst. Do they hunger and thirst for righteousness or unrighteousness? Are they self-righteous or given righteousness by God? Those who have studied God and His Word who then refuse to listen to what He is saying and revealing, changing the Word’s meaning and message into something they control, are hypocrites, not students of His, and face His wrath. Conversely, those who submit to Him and listen to Him and obey Him are called His.