Results tagged “righteousness” from Reformation21 Blog

Media Motives Matter

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In this social media age, the Christian would do well to remember Christ's warning, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 6:1).

"Sound no trumpet," Jesus says, when you give (Matthew 6:2). It is quite an illustration Jesus offers. Here is a person who gives, but before they do so they blow a horn. That will gather some attention! They desire to be seen. They want to be thought well of. They long to be honored.

We don't sound trumpets (that seems a little over the top) but we have other means in our day of being recognized--especially on social media. Many master what has been called the humble brag: "I am so thankful for so and so's thankfulness for me." We are so humbled that we retweet their thankfulness! Virtue-signaling may be the greatest temptation. Of this we have we have made an art-form. It seems the louder and more recognizable, the better. Beware, Jesus warns us, be careful that you aren't doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

Motives matter. Jesus warns that doing the right thing for the wrong reason is what marks the life of the hypocrite (o how that stings!). It is the hypocrite, Jesus says, who does righteous deeds to be praised by others (Matthew 6:2). Jesus is concerned with a false righteousness that is no righteousness at all. The motive proves wrong. "Give me applause. Honor me. Celebrate me." We all know that pull, because we all feel it at times and given into it at other times. The desire for the praise of others dominates like few other desires.

Here there is great danger. Here is a trap many fall into and never recover from. The praise of men, like a black hole, pull one deeper and deeper into it. Its gravitational pull is hard to break. And it has no bottom and it provides no light. Let us run from it with every fiber of our being.

Notice, that the hypocrite possesses a religious life. He/she looks alive but there is in fact no life there. Like a corpse prepared for a funeral visitation--everything is in its place. The face has been painted, the skin reflects color, the outward appearance looks living, but there is no life within. Many live such a life on social media before a watching world. We know it is watching and we live for its applause.

Let us not live for the praise of others. Others celebrating us is no sign that God celebrates us as well. Motivation matters. God cares not about the quantity of our service if it is not quality service. And doing good deeds for the praise of others, even on social media, fails to pass the quality standards of God. It proves to be false righteousness. A person living in this way is but a shell of a Christian and the acts they are doing are but a shell of Christian acts. It is all hollow on the inside.

Let it instruct us that Satan doesn't hate or work against the person who makes a show of godliness; he opposes those who are truly godly. What Satan hates, we are to love. What he loves, we are to hate. He had no problem with Balaam as a prophet or Judas as a disciple. In fact, he welcomed their professions. And he welcomed their deeds. But God did not.

Practicing righteousness before others in order is self-serving and is in fact an unrighteousness. And for this Jesus says we will receive no reward from God (Matthew 6:1).

Yet, Jesus says there is a reward. "Truly, I say to you they have received their reward" (Matthew 6:2). Those making a show of righteousness are paid in full. They received a receipt written in bold letters--paid! They should expect and will get nothing more, for they have already been paid in full. With what? Jesus answers, "The praise of men." And what a poor payment that is--a payment fleeting and vapid. And how much was lost!

What God thinks of us not only matters more than what men think of us; it is the only thing that matters. Labor for the rewards above. Set your mind on things above. What this world offers proves too fleeting and what we lose is too great. Let us not practice our righteousness before men for the approval of men, even on social media.

The Statement on SJ&G Explained: Article 3, Justice

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[Editorial Note: This is the third post in a series of posts in which we have invited the authors of "The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel" to expound upon the statement's affirmations and denials. We encourage our readers to take the time to read through our prefatory editorial note at the beginning of the first post prior to reading through subsequent posts in the series.]


Article 3: Justice

WE AFFIRM that since he is holy, righteous, and just, God requires those who bear his image to live justly in the world. This includes showing appropriate respect to every person and giving to each one what he or she is due. We affirm that societies must establish laws to correct injustices that have been imposed through cultural prejudice.

WE DENY that true justice can be culturally defined or that standards of justice that are merely socially constructed can be imposed with the same authority as those that are derived from Scripture. We further deny that Christians can live justly in the world under any principles other than the biblical standard of righteousness. Relativism, socially-constructed standards of truth or morality, and notions of virtue and vice that are constantly in flux cannot result in authentic justice.

Justice is, of course, a major theme in Scripture. In fact, it's a much larger concept--and more central to the Gospel--than most people realize. In both Hebrew and Greek, the words translated "justice" and "just" are the same words normally translated "righteousness" and "righteous." No distinction is made in the original text of Scripture. The biblical idea of justice encompasses everything the Bible says about righteousness.

In English, when we use the word justice, we normally have in mind evenhanded impartiality (especially in the realm of law and civic affairs). The dictionary defines justice as "maintenance of legal, social, or moral principles by the exercise of authority or power--including the assignment of deserved reward or punishment."

Righteousness denotes virtue, uprightness, moral rectitude--godly character.

Because we differentiate between the words and use them differently, we tend to think of justice predominantly as a legal standard or civic paradigm, and righteousness as something more personal. Again, Scripture makes no such distinction. In the Bible, justice and righteousness are the same thing, encompassing all the legitimate connotations of both words.

How comprehensive is this idea? God Himself is the embodiment and the touchstone of true righteousness. The moral principles spelled out in His law describe what human righteousness looks like. In fact, when Moses delivered the tablets of stone from Sinai to the people, he said, "It will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us" (Deut. 6:25). Jesus exposed the rigors of this standard even more clearly when He said, "You ...must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48).

But now you are talking about the law, you might protest. How can you say it's central to the gospel? Aren't you the guy who scolded preachers of social justice for mingling or confusing law and gospel?" Excellent question, and it requires a two-part answer.

First, justice is a vital gospel issue because the atoning work of Christ turned divine justice in favor of sinners who trust Him as Savior. "For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). Having fulfilled the whole law to absolute perfection, Jesus (who "knew no sin" by experience) bore the sins of others (by imputation). Those sins were accounted as if they were His, and He fully paid the due penalty, so that His own perfect righteousness could be imputed to His people. The law has thus been perfectly fulfilled and sin fully punished in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. So God can "be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom. 3:26). "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins . . . We have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 Jn. 1:9--2:1).

Second, "social justice" is entirely different from biblical justice. It is a severely abridged and often badly twisted notion of legal equity--dealing mainly with matters like economics, social privilege, and civil rights. In recent years, a plethora of politically correct causes have been added to the menu, including global warming, animal rights, abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, gender fluidity, war, immigration, socialism, and a cornucopia of similar issues borrowed from the political left.

Historically, social justice advocates have not concerned themselves much if at all with other vital aspects of biblical justice, including the moral content of the law (particularly biblical standards of sexual purity); condign punishment for evildoers (Gen. 9:6; Rom. 13:4; Matt. 26:52); and the duty and privilege of work (2 Thess. 3:10).

To be clear, there is no single authoritative definition of "social justice." Definitions abound from those who are promoting the terminology. But there are common themes that run through virtually all of them. Here are a couple of typical samples: "Social justice is a political and philosophical concept which holds that all people should have equal access to wealth, health, well-being, justice and opportunity." And "Social justice is the equal access to wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society."

Those familiar with neo-Marxist rhetoric will recognize the themes. Indeed, the derivation and connotations of the expression "social justice" are rooted in secular political and academic dialogues rather than in biblical ideas about divine justice. The rhetoric of social justice has gradually migrated from the radical far left by a dialectical process. Early in that process, the language was baptized and the worldview was given a religious veneer replete with a name: Liberation Theology. The same language and rhetoric were brought into evangelical circles through groups like Sojourners and the Emerging Church movement. Then it was disbursed through student groups like InterVarsity. And most recently it has found its way into more conservative organizations like The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel, and it seems to have been accepted by large numbers of evangelicals with great enthusiasm.

Despite the claims of its proponents, however, the popular notion of "social justice" was not derived from Scripture. It actually began among people well known for their hostility to biblical authority--and the pedigree is not at all difficult to trace.

The dangers of this world-view's influence are not really hard to see, either. Read the chatter in social media and you'll regularly encounter young fair-weather evangelicals who say they have abandoned (or are in the process of abandoning) their evangelical convictions now that they are "woke." Even some of the respected evangelical leaders who have lately become enthralled with "social justice" seem to have fallen silent on the issue of abortion--an easily quantifiable injustice that is responsible for the deaths of more disadvantaged and defenseless children each day than all the unjust police shootings of the past fifty years combined.

When the Statement on Social Justice denies "that true justice can be culturally defined or that standards of justice that are merely socially constructed can be imposed with the same authority as those that are derived from Scripture," it is referring to this fact: "Social justice" is not biblical justice.

Walking with God

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A nugget from Robert Bolton's Some General Directions for a Comfortable Walking with God (London, 1626):

By walking with God, I mean, a sincere endeavour, punctually and precisely to manage, conduct, and to dispose all our affairs, thoughts, words and deeds; all our behaviours, courses, carriage, and whole conversation, in reverence and fear, with humility and singleness of heart, as in the sight of an invisible God, under the perpetual presence of his all-seeing, glorious, pure eye; and by a comfortable consequent, to enjoy by the assistance and exercise of faith, an unutterable sweet communion, and humble familiarity with his holy majesty: in a word, to live in heaven upon earth.

May we, by grace, pursue this more and more!

Holding the centre

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Having been away on holiday for a week (yes, delightful, thank you for asking), I return to find that things continue much as they were, except that Mark Jones has joined Team Reformation21, and Paul has allowed him to write a long post using long words and referring to past centuries without hammering him for it but rather wittering on about lunchtime lectures. I smell a Presbyterian stitch-up.

However, I am glad to see that Rick Phillips has drawn attention to the work being done by the Gospel Reformation Network, whose affirmations and denials I read with genuine interest. As Rick has highlighted and explained some of those statements, Mark has chipped back in with explanations and clarifications of his own language at certain points. Scriptures are being expounded and applied, history is being ransacked, and language is being sharpened to hone concepts that need sharply defined edges.

But why does such to-ing and fro-ing give joy? Because whenever debates like the one about the relationship between justification and sanctification, law and grace, and other related matters, have come up in the past, there is a fearful tendency that rapidly becomes apparent. Contention risks pushing men to extremes detached from the anchor of revelation: actions provoke reactions and counteractions that can all end up drifting and departing from the truth. It is quite clearly happening today. To be fair, in some instances it has been imputed, but in others it is stated fairly baldly. I remember my wry smile on reading in the introduction to one fairly well-known little book a statement by the authors that amounted to this, in almost as many words: "We used to be legalists, but we got better." In this instance, while acknowledging that they might have had some issues before, I would query the definition of legalism, and would certainly question whether the stance in which they ended up was any better, being simply different and equally dangerous. This is because, as I hope we would all affirm, the antidote to legalism is never a few drops of antinomianism, and the response to antinomianism is never a decent dose of legalism.

Our definitions and explanations, our actions, reactions, and counteractions, must not be forced upon us by circumstance or other external pressures, but forged of scriptural metal in the white heat of humble prayer, hammered fine by the tools of righteous exchange and measured against the standards of the history of orthodox Christianity. Any other substance or process will not serve us as we need.

We must hold the centre. We must not depart from the Word of God. We must allow the Scriptures to say all that they say, in the way that they say it, drawing out the truths that the Bible contains, and ensuring that each and all are maintained and declared in their proper place and proportion. So, for example, we must maintain the righteousness of Christ alone as the grounds of our justification, and faith as the God-imparted instrument by which that righteousness of Christ is obtained. We must maintain also that there is a real personal holiness which is to be ardently cultivated by us, the fruit of our union with Christ: "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Heb 12:14). I tried to do some of this in a simple way in a recent book called Life in Christ (RHB/A.com/A.co.uk/WBS), for those who might want a plain and pastoral introduction to what it means obediently to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).

We must understand this not as a matter of mere semantics or theoretical theology (no real theology is simply a theory). If you are a pastor, salvation and the assurance of it hang upon these things. The men and women to whom we preach need to know the right answers to the questions of how we can stand before the Lord of heaven and earth considered not just as blameless but as positively righteous, what will be our confidence in the day of judgement, what are the present evidences of our interest in Christ Jesus, and how we may live so as to enjoy the smile of our heavenly Father. We must be ready, like Robert Traill in his Justification Vindicated, to counsel those who ask, "What must I do to be saved?"
Why should not the right answer be given, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved'? Tell him what Christ is, what he has done and suffered to obtain eternal redemption for sinners, and that according to the will of God and his Father. Give him a plain downright narrative of the gospel salvation wrought out by the Son of God; tell him the history and mystery of the gospel plainly. It may be the Holy Ghost will work faith thereby, as he did in those firstfruits of the Gentiles in Acts 10.44. If he asks what warrant he has to believe on Jesus Christ, tell him that he has an utter indispensable necessity for it, for without believing on him he must perish eternally; that he has God's gracious offer of Christ and all his redemption, with a promise that, upon accepting the offer by faith, Christ and salvation with him are his: that he has God's express commandment (1Jn 3:23) to believe on Christ's name, and that he should make conscience of obeying it, as much as any command in the moral law. Tell him of Christ's ability and goodwill to save; that no man was every rejected by him who cast himself upon him; that desperate cases are the glorious triumphs of his art of saving. (27-28)
But we must also answer the question, "What does it look like to be saved?" And there we must answer, "gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy'" (1Pt 1:13-16).

We must pore again over those works like The Marrow of Modern Divinity or Andrew Fuller's Antinomianism Contrasted with the Religion Taught and Exemplified in the Holy Scriptures to sharpen our spiritual senses and stock our souls with truth to be proclaimed and defended, always with that Berean spirit which heeds the words of proven men highly esteemed and stills searches the Scriptures to see whether these things are so. We must let all our thinking and feeling be governed by the whole counsel of God, illuminated by the Spirit of Christ, and tested against the understanding of those men who have gone before us in the right way.

It is horrible, and will be again, to see men driven away from the truth by their professed zeal for the same. I am far from suggesting that this is true of Rick or Mark. Rather, their determination to phrase the truth accurately and carefully, accounting for all the bold emphases and subtle nuances of revelation is just what is needed. We must hold the centre, for the sake of our own souls and the souls of others.

Let me leave you with one of Ralph Erskine's Gospel Sonnets, which I read just the other day and which seemed to me to express something of the sweetness of a right understanding of some of these things:

When by the Law to grace I'm schooled,
Grace by the Law will have me ruled;
Hence, if I don't the Law obey,
I cannot keep the Gospel way.

When I the Gospel news believe,
Obedience to the Law I give;
And that both in its fed'ral dress,
And as a rule of holiness.

The Law is holy, just, and good,
All this the Gospel seals with Blood;
And clears the Royal Law's just dues
With dearly purchased revenues.

Here join the Law and Gospel hands,
What this me teaches, that commands;
What virtuous forms the Gospel please,
The same the Law doth authorize.

A rigid master was the Law,
Demanding bricks, denying straw;
But when the Gospel-tongue it sings,
It bids me fly, and gives me wings.