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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
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Friday, April 16, 2010
Righteousness vs. Righteousness, etc.
I must assume, for brevity's sake, that your theology recognizes Christ's own righteousness as the sole (and therefore only) grounds upon which you stand justified before God. I will pause here however, at the outset, to spend a moment making sure you understand the chicken/egg, or rather, the horse/cart relationship between righteousness and obedience.

Whatever righteousness is, it certainly is linked in some way to God's will. We might say that God is perfectly obedient to His own will, and in this way define His obedience to His own will as righteousness. For many people that would be a sufficient definition of righteousness; especially given how well that kind of definition lends itself to scale: Righteousness, they would say, is produced by obeying God's will.

Yet that puts the cart of obedience before the horse of righteousness, so that a person produced new righteousness through present acts of obedience. The truth is that a state of righteousness is not, and cannot be, produced by any number of righteous acts. We cannot reclaim perfection by acts of righteousness subsequent to the fall anymore than we can reclaim virginity by and through abstinence. Thus obedience does not produce righteousness; yet obedience - the kind that is described as worshipping in spirit and in truth - can flow from real righteousness, though not from any righteousness that originates in ourselves.

Consider Jesus. He didn't become righteous by obeying the law of Moses. The reason Jesus obeyed the law of Moses was because Jesus was righteous. That is what righteousness produces: obedience. If it were the other way around, if obedience produced righteousness, then Jesus, during the incarnation, was without righteousness until such time as He could comprehend and obey the world of God. The idea that our unchanging Lord lacked righteousness for a time is, of course, absurd. Jesus never experienced a lack of righteousness, not prior to, during, or following the incarnation - and He never will. He had always been righteous and it was on account of this self existent righteousness that Christ obeyed. His obedience revealed the fact that He was righteous, just as our disobedience reveals that we are not.

Can I restate that last point in a way that might help to put the fact that Christ was righteous into a biblical context? The fact that Jesus was the only righteous man who had ever been born (Adam wasn't born) revealed that Jesus alone was the Messiah. His righteousness proved it. The opposite is also true, and worthy of note: the fact that we are not righteous shows that we are not the Messiah. The law of Moses is the tutor that teaches us who the Messiah is. He is the one who can keep the Law of Moses. The law is the tutor that brings us to Christ, first in that it identifies the Christ, and secondly in that it identifies us as in need of Christ, since it proves to us that we our selves are not righteous. Even if we could keep the law from now until the day we die, it would not undo our current state of unrighteousness.

I mention this because the quick point I hope to make in this post has to do with the distinction between [a] being right with God in Christ, and [b] what we would commonly call acts of righteousness.

Let me give you an example using the virginity/abstinence model again: A widowed mother determines that she will not remarry after the death of her spouse. She raises the children she has without remarrying, and thereby lives a life of perfect celibacy. Does/Can her rigid and perfect celibacy restore her virginity? Unless you are trying to make points in a liberal university for how soft-hearted and tenderly kind you are (not to mention how fluffy and air-headed your thinking tends to be) you are going to answer that no, celibacy cannot restore a person to a state of virginity. In this same way, no righteous act can restore a state of righteousness.

That single truth is foundational to a right understanding of sanctification, by the way.

The person who doesn't understand the relationship between [i] a state of righteousness, and [ii] their own acts of righteousness, will often fall into the error of meritorious works. These may try to "be righteous" in order to recapture (by "righteous" acts of merit) God's favor. In fact, they may well regard sanctification as simply doing things that are "righteous", for the sake of staying in God's good books. People that fall into this error conclude that you become more sanctified as you force yourself to greater and greater acts of righteousness.

Of course in practice few (if any) every progress very far on that road. They try, they fail, they try again, they fail again, and then they start to get used to failure, so they don't bother trying as hard. Then they feel guilty, so then they try really, really hard, maybe even recommitting themselves to Christ, and "getting serious" with all their failure - only to fail at that too (eventually). They continue (usually) until the despondency of their unending failure becomes sufficient to convince them that they are either [1] not Christians, or [2] that God can't (or won't) help them. Either way they make a shipwreck of what they originally were given.

Back to our opening thought for a moment...

What a right thinking believer refers to "his righteousness" is not actually his own righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ that is his through his having been crucified with Christ, having died with Christ, and most importantly, having been raised with Christ. He is a recipient of Christ's righteousness - the same righteousness from which Christ's own acts of obedience flowed, becomes the well from which the believer's acts of righteousness flow. The believer does not merely have Christ's righteousness put to my account for the sake of a justified standing before God - but the believer has access to the Christ's own righteousness through so strong a union that even death was not able to break it. For the believer became a partaker of Christ's own righteousness through faith, and more than having this same righteousness accounted to him, the believer has this righteousness through the union described in Romans six as a baptism into Christ, a union whereby we received the life and righteousness of Christ directly (in the person of the Holy Spirit) who then indwells us and moves us to act in accord with His own righteousness.

I want to be clear about what that means. It means that I am not personally righteous apart from the righteousness of Christ. Succinctly stated: I am not righteous at all (in and of myself), nor do I (or can I) become righteous by engaging in the doing works that are themselves considered righteous. That may confuse some people, but it is true never-the-less. Doing something righteous does not impart righteousness to us.

Here then is the doctrine of righteousness: I am a partaker of Christ's own eternal righteousness, and this by faith, and not by any works of righteousness that I might do. If a work I do is a genuinely righteous work, the work itself does not imbue me with righteousness, nor does the righteous deed flow from my own personal righteousness - but the work flows from Christ who is in me through the indwelling Holy Spirit, and it flows from His righteousness that I have become both [a] a recipient of, and [b] am a vehicle for.

While this is an entirely true accounting of the nature of truly righteous deeds (and when I say "truly righteous" deeds I mean those deeds that flow from Christ's own righteousness and not from any inherent personal righteousness that I might imagine myself to possess.), yet it does not account for those acts that we or anyone else might do, as a personal act of charity or goodness.

Is it Christ who is at work in the Muslim/Buddhist/Atheist/non-Christian who feeds the poor? Is this not simply an adherence to a false religion or moral framework? Don't these people simply believe, deep down, that their adherence to these acts of charity/kindness/goodness increase their odds of a better afterlife, or maybe even just a better reputation in this one? We don't want to confuse acts of self preservation or self promotion - acts that ultimately flow from selfishness, for acts that flow from Christ's own righteousness.

Each of us, regardless of our religion or lack thereof, is inclined by our fallen nature, to serve our own best interests. If we imagine that doing good will produce for us a better afterlife, or that doing evil will secure us a worse one, doesn't it stand to reason that we choose to respond to sense of self preservation or self interest that we will at the very least limit our evil, and attempt to perform (at the very least) some few pacifying "good" deeds? Few people think that deeply about their own motivations. They live in a world where good and evil are defined not by their motivations, but by the act itself. This sort of naivety is as pervasive as it is unchallenged. We might even call it common knowledge.

Self preservation/interest is the underlaying motivation for every single "good" act performed by anyone outside of Christ. That is what Isaiah means when he says that even our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. No one, Christian or otherwise, can do a good work in and of themselves - every such act performed outside of Christ is an act of selfishness dressed up as something better. Whether it benefits someone else or not, whether it is big or little - the outcome of the act does not define whether it is righteous or not - but the heart that it flowed from does. Every wise person puts away money for their retirement. No one enjoys living in the moment with less, but we are willing to do so in order to avoid living without in our old age. Many are willing to do good and forsake evil today because doing so is like putting away something for their future afterlife. Others may benefit from their self preserving efforts, but it is their own comfort which is the ultimate motivation, and not the comfort of others. That is the moral economic that drives every false religion. That's "karma" - do unto others in order to secure the best afterlife for yourself...

The problem with that formula is that it rests upon the flawed idea that we become righteous by doing things that in and of themselves are universally considered righteous: taking in orphans, feeding the poor, etc.. in fact, most of what passes for righteousness today is really just deceitful fruit that grows from our own self service or self preservation.

But this post isn't intended to define the difference between truly righteous acts and those self serving acts that only seem selfless. This post is concerned instead with the subtle distinction between our being righteous, and our doing deeds that flow from that righteousness.

If we think our righteousness is being generated by, or maintained by good works (i.e. righteous deeds), then we not only [a] misunderstand our own righteousness (for we have none in and of our selves, and look only to Christ's righteousness which we are partakers of by faith), but we [b] misunderstand works of righteousness altogether.

I said earlier that a right understanding of this distinction is required for a right understanding of our sanctification. Some are taught that the moment they sin they fall out of a righteous standing, and into an unrighteous one. This is just bad theology, but I fear that needs some qualification...

God doesn't abandon the believer the moment the believer sins. The Spirit of Christ within that believer remains within that believer according to the promise given in the new covenant - God does not leave us, God does not forsake us, but continues to work that same work in us that drew us to Him when we were yet unsaved.

Some cannot accept such a thought without qualifying it in such a way as to make it mean almost the opposite of what they say. I am talking about those who use the language of "broken fellowship". Theses make a distinction between [1] our status as God's children (which they would defend with all their strength as being impeccable, unbreachable, and eternally secure no matter what) and [2] our "fellowship" which they would argue is severed the moment we sin.

Severed fellowship? ...huh??

I know this will shock some of you who have been swallowing this pabulum since the cradle, but I have to say, I think this is a wrong-headed (albeit, well meaning) teaching.

Listen: When my conscience is quiet within me, and I am walking in obedience, I am at peace with my conscience, and so are you. That is what the language of scripture tells us to expect - that is what is supposed to be our personal experience according to God's word. I know (from scripture) that knowingly transcending my conscience not only sears it, but grieves the Holy Spirit within me; but God doesn't walk away from His work in me at this point. God doesn't stand suddenly aloof in His work in me on account of my transgression; neither does He withhold His blessings from me. The story of the prodigal son doesn't have the father leaving the son... When I sin, I lose the joy of my salvation until such time as I repent of my sin. You who are the Lord's and have sinned know by your own witness that this is true.

Some people describe the feelings that are associated with having sinned - the guilt etc. - as experiencing a "broken fellowship" between themselves and God. I understand what they are trying to describe, or at least I understand what the first person who ever used that phrase probably meant. He was describing the sensation of guilt that Satan uses to keep the sinning believer from getting off the ground, where he has fallen on his face, and continuing on in trusting in God. That is the language of severance and separation - the language of the sheep being singled out and separated from the flock - the language of hopelessness and despair. You are out of fellowship with God! Your sin has severed God's love for you! You are unclean and dirty, a hypocrite and a false believer. You don't deserve to be called God's child. You are false and phoney, and until and unless you can prove otherwise, God wants nothing more to do with you. You are out of fellowship.

It is bad enough that our enemy is so well versed in this attack, but he has the most unlikely accomplices in those who are in the church, for many a Joe-has-been-a-Christian-for-years not only falls on his face under that assault, but then becomes a unwitting soldier in the enemies army in promoting this propaganda to others. This one uses the language of broken fellowship to teach that God sets aside those who stumble until such time as they "make things right".

When I first became a believer, I wondered at all the wonders of Christian-ese. God told this person such and such, and showed another this and that. This guy over here is out of fellowship with God, etc. etc. I thought people were hearing voices, seeing things, and experiencing some sort of tangible mystical union that I, for all my fervor, had never known. Surely there was something lacking in my faith, lacking in my walk, lacking in my zeal. The harder I tried to apprehend these wonderful experiences, the more convinced I became that either something was entirely wrong with my faith, or something was entirely wrong with my understanding of these things.

In time I came to see that these people weren't hearing voices - at least not the rational ones. Likewise, God wasn't showing people things visually and in person, this was just the language they adopted so that every intuition they felt (or heartburn for that matter) was explained as being spiritual significant. Many did all kinds of wacky and unbiblical things in the name of these ... er.. passions. They pursued these experiences, and believed their imaginations even when doing so led them to believe that God was directing them to do things that were inexcusably contrary to His word.

I threw all that in the trash early on in my walk of faith - trusting that the same God whose careful stewardship over His eternal commands ended in a book that hasn't changed one jot or tittle over the course of millennia - that is, the same God who went out of His way, as it were, to make sure that His truth came to mankind objectively, and without a shadow of turning (if you will), could not possibly be the God of intuitive, subjective, spiritisms. We are told to test the spirits, and I find the "spirit" of interpreting my own intuition came up lacking.

Yet I held onto the notion of "broken fellowship" for a long time, since I knew that when I purposely and willfully set aside obedience in favor of entertaining some temptation, that I felt absolutely awful, and full of shame, and far, far, away from God. I was told that this was the conviction of the Holy Spirit - but it wasn't conviction I was feeling, it was condemnation.

Do you want to know when the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin? He convicts you before you do it. I marvel that people go to such elaborate lengths to try and articulate the difference between Holy Spirit conviction, and Satanic accusation. Listen: The Holy Spirit convicts you up front: "don't do this, it is a sin" that's Holy Spirit conviction. It works in concert with your conscience, assuming you haven't entirely seared it into deadness. Once you have sinned, then the enemy accuses you. You are not a real believer, you are not God's child, God doesn't love you, God won't forgive you, you alone must atone for your transgression some way, you must so mourn over your sin that God knows you're really, really sorry - and until you do, don't expect to have any fellowship with God!

Hear this: The Holy Spirit, after you sin, is the voice of reconciliation. It is the Holy Spirit who continues to draw you to God even in the onslaught of these accusations. It is the Holy Spirit that comforts you in the mire of your sin, who (through scripture) reminds you that you are God's child and -that- through faith. While the enemy works to devour you, the Holy Spirit continues to draw you to God, just as He was drawing you to God prior to your sin. Notice I don't say that the Holy Spirit is drawing you "back" to God, as though God has gone somewhere. God didn't go anywhere, and His work in you didn't come to a halt just because you fell on your face on the battlefield. All that has happened is that you have served your own flesh instead of God, and in doing so, denied yourself peace and joy. You have become the prodigal son, who has taken all that God gives, and tried to enjoy it apart from Him. He hasn't turned away, but you are trying to take what He gives of Himself, and enjoy it in a vacuum.

I could go on and on (and I am sure my friend David Kjos will testify that I have been doing that for the past ten paragraphs... Thanks David), but the notion of broken fellowship is grossly exaggerated in many congregations, and even out right wrong-headed in some. When a person has this kind of thinking, they embark on trying to "get right" with God, in order to restore this mystical fellowship, that apparently is brokered through their own obedience, or worse, emotional state, or subsequent ability to re-remind themselves that they are acceptable to God in, and only in, Christ.

Thus their sanctification suffers for it, since they are constantly falling flat on their sinful faces, and taking forever to convince themselves that they are back in God's good book, only to once again fall on their face at the next "big" temptation.

Having thought about this problem for many years now, and again, from many angles, I think people fall into this sort thing because they are on some level convinced that the things they do will form the reality of their faith, rather than understanding that it is the reality of their faith that is supposed to form the things they do.

My wife always wants me to take anything I teach, and then reduce it to some practical thing that people can do. I suppose one way to put such a teaching into practice is to ask yourself why you are doing whatever it is you are doing that you regard to be spiritual. Are you going to church this Sunday because you feel that if you don't God will disown you? Are you sharing the gospel this week because you know that if you don't, that probably means you aren't really a Christian? Are you putting the toilet lid down after you use the John because that's just what a good Christian does? Ask yourself why you do what you do, and compare that against the thought that you do what you do, not to make God like you, or to pacify Him, or to satisfy Him, or to stave off His wrath, but rather because [1] you are convinced from scripture that it is the right thing to do, and [2] you know that this conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit in you. Relish in your obedience - not because it makes God like you, but because when you look deep enough into yourself (and are God's child) you will remember that you actually love God; and being biblically literal - you will remember that you only love Him because He first loved you.

If I don't stop there, this post will get too long, and I will not post it, so I will pick it up in the meta if there is anything unclear or weird sounding in what I have written

Labels: , , ,

posted by Daniel @ 11:55 AM  
10 Comments:
  • At 11:57 AM, April 16, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    I managed to bring that in in under three thousand words! Woohooo! I am totally on the road to wit and brevity!

     
  • At 1:33 PM, April 16, 2010, Blogger Jennifer said…

    Daniel,

    Whenever I see one of these "brief" posts of yours, I find myself reading it backward - from the end first, then every two or three paragraphs until I get up to the beginning. Not sure what that means, just thought I'd tell ya. :)

    I'm reminded of my wedding ceremony, and the reference to the triple braided cord. I've always believed my relationship (which many equate with salvation) with God like that cord. I may break my commitment by sinning (will, not may), but God will never break His commitment to me. Any obedience found in me is attributed to His unfailing love for me.
    I've had a pastor withhold communion from me because I held to perserverance of the saints - that I could sin and still retain my salvation. He equated a falling into sin with falling away from God, literally and irreparably.
    I don't live my life in fear of losing my salvation. I love Him because He first loved me - and will see the good work begun in me to the end.
    As always, thanks for your post.
    Jennifer

     
  • At 4:06 PM, April 16, 2010, Blogger Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said…

    I would agree we often spend too much time trying to feel spiritual rather then trusting in God's forgiveness. The spiritual life is like marriage. Sometimes the feeling are there and strong and sometimes they are weak. But it is the commitment that in the case of God flows from our love for Him due to His love for us that is the important thing.

     
  • At 6:12 PM, April 16, 2010, Blogger JIBBS said…

    Today while at work I had a nice long drive in a rural area near Mount Rainier (that's by Seattle for you Canadians) and I spent much of that time thinking about the relationship between my conscience and the Holy Spirit.

    This post got a lot deeper and farther than I was able. It's a complicated subject, to be certain!

    Thanks, Daniel!

     
  • At 8:31 AM, April 17, 2010, Blogger jazzycat said…

    Very good and helpful to me.

     
  • At 2:40 PM, April 17, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    I think the only concern I have in writing a post like that is that there are some who are deceived, believing themselves to be God's children, when they are not.

    These would take such instruction and conclude that because God is going to work in His children no matter what His children do, that they should simply indulge their unchecked sinful desires, and insulate themselves from any remorse they might feel for doing so - and in so doing make themselves ten times the children of hell that they ever were; all the while strengthening their conviction that they are merely being "carnal" Christians.

    I shudder at that thought.

     
  • At 11:40 AM, April 18, 2010, Blogger David Kjos said…

    "I must assume, for brevity's sake ..."

    I love you, man.

     
  • At 10:54 PM, April 19, 2010, Blogger JIBBS said…

    See you on Friday, Daniel. ;)

     
  • At 6:21 AM, April 20, 2010, Blogger Daniel said…

    Ouch. The wounds of a friend are true.

     
  • At 9:03 PM, April 20, 2010, Blogger JIBBS said…

    I only say that because I love you and wish you had time to post daily.

    I guess I'll just have to settle for the daily devotions in TableTalk.

    BTW, please pray for Josh, an unbeliever whom I am training at work who is showing signs of interest in the Gospel message. I have been able to plant many seeds. May they fall on fertile soil! The Lord has put him in my path for the rest of the week 8 hours a day!

     
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