29. July 2018

A Righteous God

Service Type:

‘…The Righteousness of God is revealed through Faith…’ (Romans 1, 17).

Which is more important; to be right, or to put things right? This, in a nutshell sums up the theological revolution introduced by the Apostle Paul concerning how a person relates to God. Hitherto it has all been about ‘being right’, ‘doing the right thing’, ‘having the right answer’; more than that emphasising just how ‘right’ one was by pointing out just how ‘wrong’ the other person was. This says Paul was the position adopted by the Pharisees in respect to the Mosaic Law. In response Paul declares that actually, everybody is ‘in the wrong’ as far as God is concerned, or to put it more elegantly, ‘we have all sinned and come short of God’s glory.’And so, in Jesus God has acted to ‘put things right’ between God and us; allowing Jesus to suffer what ought to be the consequence for anyone who is outside of God, the inevitable and deserved consequence of unforgiven sin, or again more elegantly, ‘the wages of sin is death’, and then to declare that for anyone who is prepared to believe that God has done this for them, it will be as if they had never sinned, i.e. never been estranged from God. So, if we wan to be ‘right’ with God, all we have to do is believe that in Jesus God has acted to put things right between us and God, or once again more elegantly, ‘there is now no condemnation for anyone who is in Christ Jesus.’Such faith brings us into a state of grace, and Paul argues this was always God’s desire, articulated in the promise given to Abraham, a promise which has chronological, existential and Spiritual priority over the Mosaic Law, by which God is determined to ‘put things right’ by creating for God a people who would show the world what it means to live life ‘in the right’ with God, but a people who needed the Law to indicate to them where they were falling down, by having ‘fallen out’ with God. The broad sweep of Old Testament history is a catalogue of personalities, circumstances and events in and through which God was determined not to break faith with the people chosen to be God’s people regardless of how often the people had broken faith with God. The ultimate expression of God’s intention was in and through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So, if it so ‘easy’, why do so few people get it? Well Luther was on to something when he remarked that…

the paradox is that God must destroy in us, all illusions of righteousness before he can make us righteous.’ (Martin Luther)

…Or, to put it more pointedly,

‘there's never been a true war that wasn't fought between two sets of people who were certain they were in the right. The really dangerous people believe they are doing whatever they are doing solely and only because it is without question theright thing to do. And that is what makes them dangerous.’ (Neil Gaiman, American Gods).

We are so obsessed with ‘being right’, we would actually regard that as more important than ‘putting things right.’ There is stubbornness about us, a stubbornness that all too easily gives way to an arrogance that would deny any possibility of reconciliation with those who think differently from us because we are ‘right’, therefore they must be ‘wrong.’ There is demanded of us a huge psychological shift, a change of mindset unlike anything we have ever contemplated; more than that an emotional shift, a change of heart that requires of us a complete change, a fundamental reordering of how we understand how God regards us and how we should regard God, how we are to regard ourselves, and how we are to regard others. It may well be that the most significant work in which the Holy Spirit is engaged in any age is that of calling us to repentance, for that is what this is. ‘destroying in us all illusions of righteousness.’ But if we can get beyond this, then a whole new world of possibilities open up for us. If we can come to the realisation that what is most important is ‘putting things right’, and if we can believe that God in Jesus has acted to put things right between God and us then this will change our whole world-view, because from now on, our own personal repentance will become for us a spur to seek to be reconciled with whomever, wherever…

Jesus never expected us simply to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, bless those who persecute us, give unto them that ask, and so forth. These responses, generally and rightly understood to be characteristic of Christlikeness, were put forth by Him as illustrative of what might be expected of a new kind of person – one who intelligently and steadfastly seeks, above all else, to live within the rule of God and be possessed by the kind of righteousness that God himself has, as Matthew 6:33 portrays. Instead, Jesus did invite people to follow Him into that sort of life from which behaviour such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do. For a person living that life, the hard thing to do would be to hate the enemy, to turn the supplicant away, or to curse the curser… True Christlikeness, true companionship with Christ, comes at the point where it is hard not to respond as He would.’ (Dallas Willard).

A Righteous God is a God who is always and forever seeking to put things right as far as we are concerned. How prepared are we to allow such a way of living to become our guiding moral principle? To want for it above all else in the world?

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.' Not only do the followers of Jesus renounce their rights, they renounce their own righteousness too. They get no praise for their achievements or sacrifices. They cannot have righteousness except by hungering and thirsting for it (this applies equally to their own righteousness and to the righteousness of God on Earth), always they look forward to the future righteousness of God, but they cannot establish it for themselves. Those who follow Jesus grow hungry and thirsty on the way.’ (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).