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Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Righteousness by the Law or a Righteousness by Faith - A Fine Line

Did the Jews achieve a measure of righteousness by the Law? According to Scripture, they did. They still sinned and fell short of the glory of God, but they were able to grasp some righteousness. (Luke 1:6, Phil 3, Galatians 2:15, Acts 17:30)

Grace is God's power to set us free and to do the work that He has called us to. This power is extended to us through faith.

It is actually easy to perform religious ceremonies and dress in religious outfits. It is impossible to be pure in heart, speak the truth in love, and be angry and sin not just to name a few ways that a true Christian should respond. Those responses are unpredictable. They must be manifest at the time they are needed. Sometimes, gentleness and compassion are the right approach. Sometimes the fear of the Lord is more appropriate. Jude 22-23. Nevertheless, with the Holy Spirit, we can do the right thing, at the right time in the right way.

One major confusion about the gospel message is our need for righteousness to be received into heaven. This requires grace. We need a full pardon for past sin through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. But we also need something else. We need to be freed from the sins of our flesh so that we can walk in the power of God's Spirit.

2 Tim. 3 describes people in these last times that have a form of godliness but deny the power of God. They are ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. I have experienced this type of believer. On the outside, they look holy. Unfortunately, this doesn't translate into genuine love toward the brethren, discernment toward those around us or an ability in general to judge righteously. Everything is judged based on one's ability to keep these standards of righteousness. Even our responses are preconditioned per the admonitions of the hierarchy. So for example, a tough approach would always be intolerable and sin their site.

Many that attempted this path found a dead end and some either turned to sin or turned to Reformed Theology as an answer. It is appealing because according to Reformed Theology, we don't do anything in Christ because God is doing everything for us. That isn't what grace is about.

The righteousness on this side of the cross is not about law. Christians try to make it law but it isn't law. It is fruit that comes from the Holy Spirit living in us - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control - against such, there is no law. This leads to liberty but not liberty that gives us a license to the flesh. We are not free TO sin but free FROM sin.

Interestingly, both sets of people can seem the same on occasion. For example, a Spirit led person may not see a movie because of nudity, which the Holy Spirit directs them away from. Those that try to obtain righteousness by the Law will do the exact same thing. A man can't watch that type of thing without lusting. Lust is adultery. Adultery is sin for which one will be cast into hell. So the Holy Spirit would lead someone away from that type of movie.

What has happened in a segment of the church is that because of this doctrine of sin nature, we are led to believe that what's inside us to motivate us daily is irreparably sinful even after we are saved so that we are driven to sin against our will, but thank God for Jesus dying. In order to keep ourselves from sinning, this group has developed what they call "standards" to keep us from sinning and thus reconcile us to God.

To keep from sinning and offending God, they have established a law of sorts. When Ephesians 2 says that we are saved by grace and not by works, this is exactly what it is speaking against. We have to be righteous to enter heaven. But we can't obtain the kind of righteous that God is seeking by the works of the Law. That type of righteousness, as is seen in the Pharisees, falls short. Our righteousness has to EXCEED that.

There are many sobering Scriptures that support this conclusion. (Matthew 7:21, Hebrews 10, Galatians 5, 1 Cor. 5 and 6, Rev 2, 3, 21 and 22) When those Scriptures are understood properly, the admonition of Paul's to walk out our salvation with fear and trembling makes perfect sense.

I find this group not to walk in the fear of the Lord but falsely believe that God overlooks sin. Acts 17:30 says just the opposite. Their rationale for believing this is that there are so many standards to keep that they can't keep them all perfectly. So their ability to avoid sin is impossible. Can you see how these manmade ordinances have the potential to muddy the waters?

What you might hear from someone who has been into this for a while is a false humility declaring their sinfulness as though this brings glory to God. What it actually does is make Scripture, our faith, and the cross null and void and brings great reproach on the Lord. Why? Because younger believers assume that all sin is the same and then do the things that God specifically states will get them a one way ticket into hell's fire.

Our goal should be to know Jesus and for Him to know us. Sin, which is the thoughts and actions that we have done that have offended God, are in the way. The only way to deal with our sins committed in the past is to repent of specific things that we've done asking Jesus to cover our sin with His blood. "God forgive me of all my sins" doesn't cut it. God wants us to confess it all to Him. I learned that truth through Bill Gothard. I prayed that way and for the first time in my life, I was reconciled to God.

As to future sin, that is handled by grace through faith. We take in more faith through the Word of God, which gives us more grace. Suffering also brings more grace. This would be suffering that God brings as we suffer with Christ and not self inflicted suffering or suffering for doing wrong.

Some of us have experienced Christian law to make us righteous. In other words, if you wear dresses 24/7, dress in a particular style, wear a hat, never look at a movie, never listen to rock music, never participate in sports, and never associate with folks that don't keep your standards, you will be reconciled to God. This is a quote from Bill Gothard from one of his programs for youth. See if you can find the problem with this. It is very subtle.

**If your heart is filled with the carnal beliefs expressed in current music, philosophies, dress, movies, and activities, you will be carnally minded and will not be able to experience God’s presence or power. Loving the world separates you from the love of God. (See James 4:4 and I John 2:15.) Have you surrendered your body to the Lord and purposed to resist “the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life”? ***(These include music with a backbeat, sensual images, friendships that displease your parents, unwholesome movies, etc.)*****

Sensual images are porn. Porn precludes lust. Lust is adultery, which will get you thrown into hell. So yes, that would definitely be "the world." The rest in the list are so undefined as to leave the person with only one conclusion. There is nothing anyone can do outside their home without offending God. I know, because we tried to keep this type of thing meticulously and that became the only conclusion.

I have sat under this man's teaching for many years and can testify both personally and from observation that this ideology, which seems right on the surface, bears some really rotten fruit. It is saying that if you stop doing all these things that Bill Gothard has interpreted as "the world," you will be reconciled to God. Then it further admits that this cannot be done perfectly, hence, we are destined to sin every day. This has led some men to conclude that they can have incest, look at porn on the Internet or blatantly commit adultery without any ETERNAL recourse from God. The teaching does say that they will suffer here but not in regard to eternity because they believe the blood of Jesus covers their sin. And while it is true that we can be redeemed, God does not always grant repentance to such a person who is claiming to be saved but walking in gross reprobation. I have seen that too.

On the other end of the spectrum, some of these are so ambiguous that it leaves the person with only one conclusion. You can't do anything. What's an unwholesome movie? What activities? What music? Keith Green? If an unwholesome movie is a movie with violence, then what does that say about the stories depicted in Scripture? Some of these stories are more violent than any movie that I have ever seen such as a woman driving a peg through a man's head or a man cutting up his dead concubine into twelve pieces?

I have more problems with some Christian movies than I do with secular ones. Fireproof is a fine example. Although I appreciate the message of change and repentance, I did not like the way the journal gave this young man a promise that if he repented, he would have a great marriage. We do not repent to get a great marriage. We repent to be reconciled because we've offended a very Holy God. His wife may or may not repent herself and then what? The Jesus movies have never shown a Jesus that I know and love. We have the hip-hop cool Jesus, the sullen Jesus and the drop dead gorgeous Jesus.

What might not be fully realized is that these folks have something to boast about and more to judge than what Scripture speaks about. After all, I don't do these things and others do. We can compare standards to see who has the best ones. People are generally snubbed and considered unsaved if they don't keep the standards. So I am more reconciled to God than that other guy because I don't wear pants and I never enter a movie theater. Or worse, I am less than the guy who is keeping these things to perfection, which is depressing. In fact, the gospel message from this camp says that when you are saved, your spirit is perfected but it just takes time for your soul. Hence, one can see how this would further lead people to see the inner circle as higher up than the low man who isn't as saved. This leads some Christians to subtly inadvertently put certain people on a pedestal. The leadership become untouchable and unteachable.

One standard not mentioned involves money. There are many admonitions in Scripture for us to give and we should give cheerfully especially to the poor and needy, not to the fat cat preacher who is boiling over with money. That is what God wants us to do but not to twist God's arm on our finances. The teaching further says that you must handle your money perfectly to be blessed of God financially. If you are struggling financially, it is a sign of sin. Gain is therefore, a sign of godliness. Scripture specifically tells us to turn away from such people. Read the book of James if you want to see the correct perspective on money.

See, Jesus said if you don't know Him and He doesn't know you, you aren't getting into heaven. So reconciliation is paramount to salvation. The lust of the flesh are the things that God has specifically told us not to fulfill according to the flesh outside of His plans and purposes because they keep us separated from God. These would include sexual perversion or drunkenness. The lust of the eyes is covetousness, which is wanting things that others have and thus, idolatry. The pride of life is believing myself to be better than others or wanting to be God.

But see, this statement has rewritten this to include movies, a particular brand of music, activities and philosophies. The things of the world are attitudes of the heart and works of the flesh that mislead us in the wrong direction. And yes, we should be aware and be led of the Spirit and discern wrong philosophies. The more we know God's Word, the more faith we receive and the more we understand what God hates and we find no enjoyment in evil because we know the Lord. It doesn't make us righteous to stop doing these things. Our righteousness is being born out of this faith, grace, love relationship. So then, these decisions come after that point, not before because we are being led of His Spirit. In other words, my faith translates into making particular decisions. Movies are lawful for me but not all movies are edifying. Music is lawful for me, but not all music is beneficial.

I think a better exhortation is to fast from these things for a while and let the Holy Spirit speak to you about them. Part of the problem in America is we spend hours of time on the TV and a mere fraction of time with the Lord each day.

Now according to Romans 14, if something causes you to sin because you are weak in faith, you are to cut it off and I am called to respect that. So if movies cause you to sin and walk away from God, then don't watch them ever again and I will respect that and not judge you over it. It doesn't make you righteous but perhaps those things are a stumbling block.

Let's take pants on women for an example. The right attitude is to dress modestly out of love for my brothers as the Holy Spirit leads me, not to make myself holy or be saved through it. I like dresses and wear them most of the time. However, there are times when loose fitting pants on a woman are more modest than a dress because the dress could fly up in the air. To be dogmatic on this is to be under the law. It doesn't give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to lead the person where He wants them to go.

Philosophies, mentioned above, too are very ambiguous. To separate yourself from every wrong philosophy is a lesson in futility. You can't go anywhere or do anything because every non-Christian and many so called Christians have a place where they are missing the mark. You certainly could never witness to a lost sinner because they would make you take on their wrong philosophy. Hence, nobody who is under this type of Law would dare go to a sinner as is seen in the Pharisees. They wouldn't dare hang out with sinners to lead them to repentance. And again I observed that phenomenon through this teaching. There was a fear factor built into it that said, "Don't go to where the lost are because they will make you sin and cause your children to sin." In addition, there are very few Christians that one can associate with because few people keep every single standard the same.

That is normal. God may give a person liberty to do something that, as I said, is a stumbling block for someone else. That is why our convictions are often varied. What Scripture teaches is that when I am with you, I should keep your convictions as not to put a stumbling block before you. If your conscience isn't clear on something, then I must honor that.

What we observed as a family, was just the opposite of success. When we tried to walk meticulously in these standards, we drove one of our daughters and one of our sons out of the door. He couldn't deal with it anymore. But when we did what God said to do and we began to understand faith, our younger children began to grasp what it means to be saved. We saw a dynamic difference in these younger children to be led of the Spirit.

I think the Calvinistic philosophy misses the mark, for example. But listening to what they have to say doesn't force me to anything. We've heard arguments on creationism, sin, science and all sorts of things. What has happened is that God, through His Spirit, has given us more and more answers.

Our righteousness has to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees and it comes by faith. FAITH. That is the key to receiving God's grace. That's why the poor in spirit can receive it and it doesn't lead to boasting because we know that it is Christ in us, the hope of glory. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. This is the total confusion that the Calvinists miss. They are taking passages of Scripture related to this aspect of salvation and putting them inside the other aspect of salvation, which is that pardon.

The law is attractive. Jesus had to use a spiritual jackhammer to get through to the Pharisees and explain to them as directly as He could that their righteousness didn't cut it. They were not clean on the inside but only on the outside and that caused pride in their lives. They didn't like that message. That's why they crucified Him.

Making outward changes is easy. Changing our hearts is pert near impossible. God convicts me of attitudes that nobody can see and I have been cleansed on the inside because of that work of grace. It is real genuine righteousness.

Doug, more so than me, talks to many people out on the streets. The most difficult people to witness to are the sinners that come out of this camp. They are so full of pride that they can't see where they really truly stand before God and trying to tell them that they need to change only conjures up their past experiences of trying to be righteous by the Law. Bar none, they top the list in my book on the most difficult people to witness to.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.


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