I delight to do your will, O my God;

your law is written in my heart.

Psalm 40: 8

 

Doing what someone else wills us to do is not natural for most people. We want to be the ones who call the shots and who determine the rules by which we live. Now most of us do give some credence to the authority that a government possesses; at least as long as it doesn’t try to tell me how fast I can drive. The natural person, the one who was born into this world with the weight of sin already flowing in the blood, resists and rejects any and all external authority. This seems to be especially true when that authority is the foundational one that God alone holds.

 

Yet, these words from David’s mouth are the sincere and honest expression of a man who fits the description of this natural man well. He has rebelled against God and lived his life according to the rules and laws that he has deemed most beneficial for himself. These rebellious and self-directed times have taught him a couple of important things. The first is that the consequences that come from his own course setting have been bad at best and disastrous at other times. Next, David has experienced the faithfulness of God who loves him continually and who pours out His grace and redemption upon this wandering son.

 

It is from the perspective of the changed man that David cries out his words of devotion to God. This is the change, the transformation, which comes as each of us encounters and surrenders our life to Christ. The heart-deep acceptance of God’s law of truth does not come about in that natural man of David’s birth, and it does not exist in any other people in our original state. The peace that is seen here comes about as Christ works in our hearts and minds to cleanse and to strengthen us in God’s way of righteousness. Then God’s true law as revealed in His Word and explained by His Spirit will bring about a state of being that allows each of us to proclaim the same sort of delight that filled David’s heart.

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God.

James 4: 6, 7a

 

James is calling for some very serious and real self-examination on the parts of all of us. For there are times when most followers of Christ can say that it seems as if God is not responding to me or even that with the way that things are going it feels as if God is actually against me. I can say with certainty that God does not work in opposition to His people. However, that does not mean that He agrees with everything that we might want or wish in this life. God’s desires for us are well defined, and He works with us when our aspirations follow those desires.

 

In Christ we are granted the most Godly of qualities by way of His righteousness that is poured out upon us. This righteousness that is from Christ is the characteristic that God looks at when He engages in relationship with each of us. So, it is the righteousness of our desires that brings God’s blessing to them and that gains His help in achieving them. Godly righteousness is not a hard-edged, stubborn adherence to rules and laws. Rather, the righteousness that Christ grants to His followers is infused with grace, and it is acted out in love. It continually seeks to reconcile people to God.

 

Living a life that is continually defined by righteousness is not easy. This path through life is that proverbial narrow way. There will be numerous times when we will stumble and even fall off of it during our journey. From my own experience, it seems that most of those painful descents along the rocky sides of the path are caused by my own prideful departure from submission to Christ. These are those times when I proclaim that I’ve got this one on my own, or the tumble is precipitated by the false step that comes about as I stop trusting Christ to guide me safely through and take over the navigation despite the fact that I can’t see the road. Invariably, when the disorientation from the fall comes over me and I start to seek my bearings, Christ is there to lift me up and to set me on His path again. This is love and grace demonstrated in the middle of absolute righteousness.

 

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12: 11

 

Everyone experiences a hard day when what we are attempting, either by our own wish or under compulsion, defeats our ability and will. This sort of thing happens in gym classes, when learning a musical instrument, or while attempting to follow complex directions. These situations are stressful and often embarrassing. However, it is much worse when the issues that we are dealing with involve a collision between the way that we have always thought and acted and the life that God is calling us to live. The impact that occurs at these times can jar the teeth from our heads and fill our world with wreckage.

 

Yet it is in order to avoid these disastrous situations that we endure the sore muscles and the tired minds that result from the hard work of training. Additionally, the discipline of the training that Christ leads His people into is the hardest of all. For it requires that we turn away from ideas and habits that have formed our identities from the earliest days of our lives. Then we are asked to retrain ourselves to act out of the righteousness and the love that God provides while leaving behind the false strength of our former competencies.

 

However, at the end of the day, when I look back at what Christ has done in my life, I can relax and be at peace with where my heart and my mind have come in my journey of growing in the grace of the Lord. My life is very far short of perfection. In fact, it seems to have just started its travels along this road called glory. Yet, as I put my weary feet up and lay my head down for rest, most of the time I can thank God and praise Him for the way that He has successfully guided me through all that has come my way so that I have caused little damage and often have accomplished some good in Christ’s name. So, here is the reward for sticking with Christ’s hard driving program, a good night’s rest in the peaceful certainty that I have done my best to know God, to hear His voice, and to follow His will.

In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of His people, and a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment, and strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.

Isaiah 28: 5, 6

 

God is merciful, and His grace is great enough to accept each and every one of us without regard to the ways that we are living or the things that we have done or even the multitudes of times that we have rejected Him and cursed His name. However, this marvelous grace and infinite mercy is balanced by the Lord’s unceasing desire for righteousness and His relentless demand for justice. Without righteousness, grace has no meaning. Without justice, there is no mercy. In one sense these qualities of God are like the scales that Lady Justice holds in her hand with their unbiased equality. However, in God’s hands there is no give and take of these counterbalancing elements of life. Instead, they are all applied in full and total measure.

 

People who love God are also called upon by Him to love righteousness and to strive to live justly in our world. Our thoughts, our words, and our actions can depict God’s will and desire to our world. The way that we treat those who are close to us and the manner in which we interact with strangers speak loudly about the way that we view this mandate from God. This is one of the hardest aspects of living for Christ. Most of us are either rather good at being accepting, gracious, and merciful, or we readily apply our view of righteousness and seek a sure and absolute form of justice. In either instance there is seldom balance, and deep, lasting restorative relationship suffers.

 

Christ brought living truth into our world. He never failed to note and to recognize the brokenness and the destructive nature of sin. He confronted it in individuals and in the culture. Jesus also embraced the sinner, and He granted His healing touch of eternal acceptance to everyone who would accept it. God wants us to do the same things. He sends us into our world to confront the sin that bathes us in its acid-like wash of corrosive evil. Christ wants us to stand with Him at the gates of our world and stop Satan’s aggression from gaining any more ground. Yet, He wants us to do it in the same way that Jesus did. We need to be willing to suffer, bleed, and die upon the cross of truth, of mercy, and of grace. Christ wants us to sacrifice all for the sake of eternal relationships.

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Malachi 4: 2

 

Leaping like calves. What an image that brings to mind! There are all of those young animals bounding and bucking as they are set free from the confinement of the stall. They have unstoppable energy and the appearance of total joy. How different is this from the scene that our neighbors see as we head out to start our days. This is especially true at this time of year when the days are short, dark, and cold. It is easy to start out the day with a sense of tiredness that is left over from the day before and with dread at the thought of the drain on energy that coping with life is about to cause. As dark mornings give way to black nights and the interval between is gray or illuminated by a heatless sun, it is easy to lose energy and to feel the force and the effects of down or even depressive thoughts.

 

This winter state of being is also the reality of living in a world where the days have been made short by sin and there is a continual cloud of spiritual darkness hanging about. People make decisions that are based upon their ease and comfort. They chart the course of their lives from a point of view that is intended to produce instant pleasure and gratification. The future is too vague and uncertain to entertain and righteousness is too readily defined in individual and personal terms. Too many people are trapped in this winter of the soul. Far too many of them are people who know Christ but who choose to distrust His call to stand firm on the platform of God’s truth. Most of us will encounter people who are living in this place. Everyone is faced with decisions that can lead to it.

 

The answer that Malachi states is a very old one. Yet it is foundational to the way that God interacts with people. Thus it is never out dated and always applicable to each and every one of our lives. To fear God’s name is to hold and to contemplate Him with respect and with a deep-seated sense of humility and gratitude. This requires us to continually focus on who He is and on how the Lord works in our lives. This way of thinking is infused into our hearts and minds as we drink deeply from His Word and open our most intimate places to its instruction. The sort of growth that is involved in this process never stops. It is the calling of a lifetime. It demands to be our primary daily practice, and it promises us that we will gain continual relationship with Christ. The brightness, heat, and empowerment of the Son of Righteousness will be ours constantly. Although the days may be dark, in His presence our spirits can bound like those young calves, and with His truth we can face the storm of broken lives that surrounds us.

 

 

 

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5: 21

 

The idea of righteousness implies separateness. As much of our experience in life involves words and actions that are anything but righteous, this idea seems highly appropriate. This is a characteristic that sifts out people and that often leads them to produce statutes and laws that are just or its absence brings about oppression and biased treatment of some. Unfortunately some people, operating out of a self empowered understanding of righteousness, set themselves up as the holy ones who have a moral right to pronounce judgment upon all of the unfortunate, sinful people who do not measure up to their standards.

 

This is a very difficult and sad way to view the world. God does not intend for people to be the judge of righteousness, and we are not qualified to do this work. Everything that we know and understand about righteousness comes from outside of our natural selves. Humanity surrendered all of its grasp upon this Godly characteristic in our rebellious turn away from the Lord, and we have absolutely no way to get it back on our own. However, God’s perspective on what righteousness is about is different from the way that people often view it. Although God does hold righteousness as a quality that separates, He does not separate Himself from us on account of it.

 

God’s response to our absolute need for righteousness, something that God requires of people in order to enter into relationship with Him, was to come out of His place in Heaven and intrude into the unrighteous kingdom of this world. Jesus, the Christ, not only lived with and among us but, more so, He did this without allowing any of the sinfulness that pervades our space to infect Him. Then, in an act of total sacrifice and infinite love, He took all of the sin that has ever or will ever exist in this world upon Himself so that God could view us as righteous. Thus, as we enter into relationship with Christ and He dwells within us, we become righteous; that is, we are then set apart from the sin that separates us from God. So, I believe that as we are made righteous by Christ in us, we are also called away from being judges and into bringing the truth, love, and grace of Christ into our world.

The fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth.

Ephesians 5: 9

 

There is one consistently true thing about light; that is, darkness does not have much use for it. So, God’s own people are called to stay true to our new identity as children of light. This leads to an endless series of encounters with the heavy cloud of darkened living that Satan tries to use in order to cover our world with his destructive evil. Thus, we are faced with situations and with people who are living in sinful disregard for the universal truths of God’s word. Because of this Christ leads us to act on His behalf. We can not remain safely quiet and look the other way in order to attempt to maintain some sort of human defined false peace.

 

Anytime that darkness is allowed to remain active and persistent in our lives, the presence of sin and the decay of its toxic byproducts will be present. In these situations a process of continuous erosion of righteousness and of living faith will follow. This deathly pallor of darkened living destroys the person who is engaged in it, it infects those who are close to this person, and it works to destroy the peace and the unity of the community of faith. Christ’s only acceptable answer in these circumstances is to respond with the deepest sort of love possible. Just as He did, we need to be ready to sacrifice all for the sake of bringing light into the lives of others.

 

Sometimes the actions of light-bearers cause others to reject, to ridicule, and to rebuke them. People with darkened hearts did these same things to Christ; yet, His love for even them would not let Him deviate from speaking and from living God’s eternal truth. Christ calls on us to bring the light of His Word into this world not so that we can hold a position of superiority or power; rather, He calls us out of the darkness and into His light so that others will allow their hearts to be illuminated by the glory of heaven. This sort of hard work is never accomplished in our own strength. The light that we bring and the strength that is required to carry it are completely provided by Christ. When we are persistent in following His will, the fruit of His righteousness will be bountiful in our own lives and in the portion of His vineyard that He has given to us to watch over.

 

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 14: 17

 

Rules are a good thing. They bring order to our world. In the early days of time God devised a very complex code of behavior when He was preparing His chosen people to enter into a period of dwelling in the land that He was giving to them. Then, over the course of history, God has continued to inspire people to structure our societies into units of governance that are intended to bring order to our lives and that generally promote peace and justice. Yet, in all of this cultural structure there is one essential thing missing, and no human government ever contains this aspect. No words in a charter, constitutional provision, or legislative mandate can accomplish it either.

 

For it is a fact that when we humans are left to our own devices, and God does grant us that sort of freedom; we will always opt for a human king as our ruler. We seem to desire that we can touch and hear the voice of our leader. We want to experience their reign in earthly terms. Unfortunately, that means that we are setting aside the heavenly for the worldly. It causes us to establish rules of law to order our days rather than ordering our hearts and our minds along the lines of God’s path of righteousness. In all of this we are ready and willing to engage in the debate about all manner of external issues; yet, we are reluctant, at best, to speak out for justice for the weak, life for the unborn, and righteousness as our rule of law.

 

In Christ, we are citizens of a greater kingdom than any of the ones that we have created on this earth, for we are adopted into the Kingdom of God. In this kingdom there is only one supreme ruler, and He provides the structure and the order for entering into life in its fullest sense. We do owe allegiance and we have responsibilities to human governments; however, all of this respect for government and its laws is founded upon the principle of following God and His Law. Our true King is very real, and His voice is clear and decisive to people who desire to hear. As the Spirit of Christ dwells in His people, He guides us into living in obedience to the rules of God’s Kingdom. These are the rules of love, peace, joy, and righteousness. It is in them that we find life.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whosoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8: 12

 

Jesus says a couple of very big things in these two sentences. He promises us light that is the purest possible light, for it comes from the source. He also tells us that there is something about this form of living in which we are walking in this light that brings about life. Additionally, this is a form of life that is superior to the one that we are granted at birth. Light and life, life through the light. It is almost as if Jesus is setting out a riddle for us to solve. However, the solution has already been granted to us and it is explained clearly for everyone who wants to know it in God’s Word.

 

Light is the place of safety. It is also the medium by which organisms grow. Light destroys corruption and disease. Light cleanses and it purifies. Light warms our bodies. It provides us with food. It is an essential element in God’s creation of this world. The light that is God and that comes from who God is needed to be upon the earth before everything else could be created. It is the foundation of all that is upon the earth. It is in the light that we live, and it is into the elemental light of God’s presence that Christ calls us. He is the light that was present from creation, for Christ is the elemental light. He is the light that is ever-present, for through Christ the darkness of sin has been defeated.

 

So, Jesus is saying to us that each and every person who decides to truly follow Him will be walking in the light that brings about life. This means that our lives are brought under the restorative rays of Christ’s healing touch. The darkness of our natural souls is also exposed to the pure light of righteousness, but this light doesn’t seek to destroy us; rather, it goes after and destroys the sin-weakened cells in our hearts and minds. The righteous light of God’s truth brings about healthy growth that makes us ever stronger. In Christ and by His Spirit, God’s Word becomes a plentiful source of this light. With Christ we can walk through the darkest passages in this world and our way will be illuminated. Through His presence in us, we become sources of the light that saves lives and that brings about safety and strength.

Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.

Deuteronomy 9: 8

 

Wow! What a statement about the way that God views His own people. It throws some very cold water on the idea of personal accomplishment, and it should cause the hearers to startle awake with its implied question of, “Who, me?” However, God is really addressing me, and He means the statement to convey all of His great love and concern for my well-being and fruitful living. I am personally forced to take as my own story this account of on-going failure to let go of sinful thinking and behaviors and of failed trust in the God who has done it all.

 

God has given me a land, a place in the world that is significant for His purposes. He has not only placed me where I can use the gifts, skills, and talents that He has created in me effectively, He has truly granted me a valid stake in the game. In light of Christ’s sacrifice and victory, I share with God in the ownership of this land. I possess it. It would be easy to start listing all of the reasons why God has chosen me. It would also be very human of me to focus on all that I do for God’s Kingdom and on my righteousness in comparison to this world where I live. It might be easy to do these things, but that listing would be made up of things that are false and infinitely shallow.

 

Whatever righteousness it is that I bring to this life that I live belongs to Christ. Any goodness that I do is the result of His work in me. Conversely, the pain that I inflict and the harm that I cause are brought about out of my stubborn refusal to yield myself fully to Christ’s will and to His way of thinking and acting. Still, God has lovingly entrusted me with much. He continues to be true to His promise to all of His people that He gives us a land where we can live fully, a mission that is rewarding, a glorious eternity that has already begun, and His never-ending presence in our lives. Christ calls to me and He says that He wants me to come and trust Him fully so that I can rest in His assurance of my place in this world, setting aside the sinful ways that I stubbornly hold onto. By yielding to Him, Christ will transform my stubborn brokenness into His great sufficiency.