The Noetic Effects of Sin

     The NoeticThe noetic effects of sin refers to the affect sin has on the mind of every person. Sin impacts our ability to think rationally, especially about God, Who has made Himself known through general revelation (Ps. 19:1-2; Rom. 1:18-20) and special revelation (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 5:18; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).[1] God’s revelation disrupts the mind of man, confronting wrong thoughts and inviting conformity to the mind of God. Though God’s revelation is clear, rebellious people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18), and their foolish heart is “darkened” (Rom. 1:21). When confronted with God’s revelation, the person who is negative to God either denies His existence (Ps. 14:1), or reduces Him to the status of a creature (Rom. 1:22-25).

     The biblical record of mankind is dark. It reveals that the majority of people throughout history think evil thoughts and are consumed with themselves and their own agendas rather than God’s will. Moses wrote of Noah’s contemporaries, saying, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Later, Solomon declared, “the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives” (Eccl. 9:3). And Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). One would think that when Jesus came into the world that mankind would rejoice in His light. However, the Scripture provides a different picture, telling us, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19; cf. 1:4-5). And Jesus Himself spoke of the human condition, saying, “for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matt. 15:19).

     Sin permeates every aspect of our being, corrupting the mind and will, so that the natural tendency of our heart is to think according to the ways of the world. A hostile heart may search the Scriptures to know God’s Word and yet be completely closed to accepting its message. This was the case with the religious Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day (John 5:39-40). When talking to religious Pharisees, Jesus declared, “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word” (John 8:43). This is true of all unbelievers, for “the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). Even something as simple as the Gospel message is “foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18), in whose case “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:3-4).

God Has a Solution

     Sin infects us all. We can’t control it and within ourselves we don’t have the cure. Without God, we are helpless. But God has a solution for a mind damaged by sin. First, one must be born again as a Christian and given a new heart (1 Pet. 1:3, 23) before the mind can be renewed to think as God intends (Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:23). The new heart means we have the ability to accept what God says and the power to obey (Rom. 6:8-14). Second, is having a heart that fears the Lord. Solomon writes, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). There is both a healthy and unhealthy fear. To fear the Lord means we reverence and obey Him, turning away from evil (Prov. 8:13; 16:6), and fear His loving discipline when we sin (Heb. 12:5-11). Third, there must be a desire to do God’s will. Jesus said, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17). God’s revelation is understandable to the willing heart. Fourth, there must be a humble submission to the Lord (Jam. 4:7). Submission means we surrender our lives to God “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1). This is a commitment to the Lord that lasts for a lifetime. At times, the Christian may fail; but relapse does not have to mean collapse, as the Christian can confess his sin and be restored to fellowship with God (1 John 1:9) and resume a life of obedience (Rom. 6:16-18; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Pet. 1:22-23). Fifth, the Christian must embark on a lifetime of learning God’s Word. This is a daily choice to study Scripture (2 Tim. 2:16) and to apply God’s Word in order to advance spiritually (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2). Sixth, one must endure trials throughout life, seeing them as opportunities to apply God’s Word by faith to each and every situation (Heb. 11:6; Jam. 1:2-4).

     Lastly, there is a warning to Christians, for we are all born on a spiritual battlefield and throughout our lives we will face opposition to the work of God.  The enemy will use pleasure and pain, success and failure, friends and enemies, to pull us away from God in order to stifle our walk.  We will experience opposition from out sin nature (Gal. 5:17, 19-21a; Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), the devil (2 Cor. 11:3; Jam. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8), and the world-system that is all around (Col. 2:8; Jam. 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16). These three can work together or by themselves to stunt our spiritual walk and we must always be on guard against attack. Our spiritual success depends on a surrendered life to God, as we bring our thoughts and actions into conformity to the Word and character of God.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

  1. Original Sin  
  2. When God’s People Sin  
  3. When a Believer Perpetually Sins  
  4. When Believers Hide  
  5. The Doctrine of Simultaneity  
  6. The Sin that Leads to Death  
  7. The Sin of Idolatry  
  8. The Worthless Person  
  9. The Sin Nature Within the Christian
  10. Our Enemy the Devil 
  11. Satan’s World System  
  12. The Gospel  
  13. Steps to Spiritual Growth  
  14. Learning to Live by Faith  

[1] At times God spoke directly to people (Ex. 19:9; 1 Sam. 3:1-14; Isa. 6:9-10), and at other times He revealed Himself through dreams (Gen. 28:12; 31:11; Dan. 7:1; 12:8-9), visions (Isa. 6:1; 1 Ki. 22:19), and angels (Dan. 10:10-21; Acts 27:23-24). Most specifically and clearly, He revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 1:1, 14, 18; 14:7; Heb. 1:1-3), and in the written Word (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Tim. 5:18; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 3:14-16).  Jesus Christ is now in heaven and therefore not subject to observation such as when He was on the earth. Though God continues to reveal Himself through nature and acts of providence, it is Scripture alone that informs and guides the Christian concerning faith and conduct.

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Original Sin

     Original SinSin is anything that is contrary to the holy character of God. The Bible teaches that everyone is a sinner (1 Ki. 8:46; Prov. 20:9; Eccl. 7:20; Isa. 53:6; 64:6; Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:20-23; Rom. 3:9-23; 7:18-21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 2:1-3; 1 John 1:8-10). Sin separates us from God and renders us helpless to save ourselves (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-3). When the subject of sin is studied, it results in a basic threefold classification that we are sinners in Adam (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 5:12, 19; 1 Cor. 15:21-22), by nature (Rom. 7:14-25; Gal. 5:17), and by choice (Jas. 1:14-15). The focus of this article is the original sin of Adam and its impact upon humanity. 

     Original sin refers to Adam’s sin in the garden in which he disobeyed God (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-24). Adam is the head of the human race. When Adam sinned, we all sinned with him. His fallen position is our fallen position. His guilt is our guilt. The pure image of God (imago Dei) that belonged to the first couple was marred when they sinned and all Adam’s children are born with a distorted image and a proclivity toward rebellion against God (Ps. 51:5; 58:3; Eph. 2:1-3). Adam’s sin is imputed to all his offspring (Rom. 5:12-21; cf. 3:9-23), excluding Jesus, who was neither born with sin, nor committed sin. Scripture reveals Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21), was “without sin” (Heb. 4:15), and “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). His sinless life qualified Him to die a substitutionary death in our place, “the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).

     Related to the subject of original sin is the biblical concept of total depravity, which means that sin permeates every aspect of our being. Our mind, will, sensibilities and flesh are all submerged in sin. We often think of total depravity as meaning that people are as bad as they can be; however, this is wrong. The truth is there are many moral unbelievers in the world who rely on their good works to gain them entrance into heaven. The fact of Scripture is that God declares everyone under sin, and this includes the most moral persons who have ever lived. Is there any person who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?” (Pro 20:9). The answer is an emphatic NO! The human heart is corrupt, for “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9). “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Eccl. 7:20), and “There is none righteous; not even one. There is none who understands; there is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become useless. There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12; cf. 8:8). Some might argue, “What about unbelievers who live moral lives and do good? Certainly they exist. Doesn’t their morality provide something worthy in the eyes of God?” The biblical answer is NO! Even the most moral unbelievers are unacceptable to God. Scripture states:

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isa. 64:6)

Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Gal. 2:16)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

     By human estimation, even the worst person can do some good. But human estimation is lower than God’s estimation and it is God’s standards that define what is truly good. “Total depravity must always be measured against God’s holiness. Relative goodness exists in people. They can do good works, which are appreciated by others. But nothing that anyone can do will gain salvational merit or favor in the sight of a holy God.”[1]

The phrase total depravity is commonly used to make explicit the implications of original sin. It signifies a corruption of our moral and spiritual nature that is total not in degree (for no one is as bad as he or she might be) but in extent. It declares that no part of us is untouched by sin, and therefore no action of ours is as good as it should be, and consequently nothing in us or about us ever appears meritorious in God’s eyes. We cannot earn God’s favor, no matter what we do; unless grace saves us, we are lost.[2]

     Only the work of Christ on the cross satisfies God’s righteous demands toward our sin (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2), and only by faith in Jesus can we accept God’s gift of salvation (John 3:16; 14:6; 20:31; Acts 4:12; 16:30-31). To be saved, we must turn from all other considerations of merit, and trust in Christ alone as Savior. At the moment of faith in Jesus, God gives us the gift of His righteousness (Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8-9), which is imputed to us, ungodly sinners (Rom. 4:5), solely because of His goodness and not because of any worth in us (Eph. 2:3-9). The gift of God’s righteousness means that we are declared as perfect as He is perfect. Won’t you accept God’s free gift of righteousness by turning to Jesus as Savior and trusting that what He accomplished on the cross is sufficient to save? It’s simple; “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 253.

[2] J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993).

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The Worthless Person

     BelialIn several places in the Bible there are references to worthless persons (Deut. 13:13; Judg. 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam. 25:17; 1 Ki. 21:9-13; Prov. 6:12-14; 16:27; 19:28; Nah. 1:11). The term worthless translates the Hebrew בְּלִיָּעַל belial, which occurs 27 times in Scripture. The word means “Uselessness, wickedness…good for nothing.”[1] These are people whom God designates as worthless because they continually resist His will and disrupt the activities of His people. Over time, the term Belial became a name for Satan (2 Cor. 6:15), who embodies wickedness, worthlessness and trouble, always resisting God and seeking to harm those who walk with Him (1 Pet. 5:8).

     Solomon writes, “A worthless [בְּלִיָּעַל belial] person, a wicked man, is the one who walks with a perverse mouth, who winks with his eyes, who signals with his feet, who points with his fingers; who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, who spreads strife” (Prov. 6:12-14).  The worthless person employs all forms of communication using his “mouth,” “eyes,” “feet,” and “fingers” to advance his evil agenda. His companions understand his various forms of language and consent to do his bidding.  Solomon describes him as one “who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil.” That is, he revels in the natural inclinations of his own depravity (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-22), and in his activities “spreads strife” among men.

     Elsewhere, Scripture describes the worthless person as one who “digs up evil” (Prov. 16:27), “makes a mockery of justice” (Prov. 19:28), and “plots evil against the LORD” (Nah. 1:11). He leads others away from the God (Deut. 13:13), is given to lewd behavior (Judg. 19:22), hides from justice (Judg. 20:13), is unreasonable (1 Sam. 25:17), defies authority (2 Sam. 20:1), is willing to lie against the innocent and promote injustice (1 Ki. 21:9-13), and seeks to overpower the timid leader (2 Chron. 13:7). It should be noted that worthless persons can be born into good families, for “the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the LORD” (1 Sam. 2:12).  And, they can attach themselves to a godly leader and cause trouble, such as “the wicked and worthless men among those who went with David (1 Sam. 30:22).     

     It is a mistake to see the worthless person within the narrow context of criminals or public mischief-makers, although it certainly includes them. Rather, we must see them as permeating all aspects of society. Broadly speaking, worthless persons are males and females, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, educators and students, politicians and citizens, bosses and employees, religious and irreligious, wealthy and poor, and they live to provoke rebellion and discord wherever they are.

     Is there hope for the worthless person to turn from his wickedness and live honorably? Yes, of course there is. But this requires humility and a willingness to turn to God for salvation (John 3:16; Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:8-9). Once saved, God generates a new heart that desires to walk with Him, and the once worthless person can be a worthy person who walks in a manner “worthy of the calling” of the Lord (Eph. 4:1; cf. Phil. 1:27; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:11-12; Rev. 3:4).

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 134.

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Bible Promises that Strengthen our Faith

     without faith it is impossible to pleaseOne of Satan’s strategies is to get us to focus on anything and everything to the exclusion of God and His Word. Both prosperity and adversity can lead us away from the Lord. The Lord permits us to face trials in order to develop our Christian character (Jam. 1:2-4). He also gives us promises that are rooted in His character that we might learn to trust Him as we walk with Him. The tests of life are inevitable, but how we handle them is optional. Faith is not automatic in the Christian, but is a discipline of the mind and will. The growing Christian learns the Word of God and consciously applies it to his life moment by moment. As the believer studies Scripture, he learns that God has perfect integrity and always keeps His promises. The believer benefits from his study of Scripture only when he learns to trust in God and to take Him at His Word.  It’s only by faith that we receive the blessings God offers. 

     For the Christian, faith requires learning, as the Scripture declares, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).[1] Once learned, Scripture must be applied by faith, for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Learning and living is the proper order as we advance spiritually in our walk with God. Below are a few Bible promises that will stabilize the believer’s thinking in the midst of adversity.

As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. (Ps. 18:30)

Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. (Ps. 55:22)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Prov. 3:5-6)

The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock. (Isa. 26:3-4)

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isa. 41:10)

The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:22-23)

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:27-28)

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:16-18)

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)

He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5b)

     By trusting in God, we can experience confidence to face the daily pressures of life. I pray you memorize some or all the verses in this article so you can quickly draw them from memory when you need them. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

[1] Most Scripture is taken from the NASB.

Posted in Christian Theology, Inspirational Writings, Living by Faith, Righteous Living, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Righteousness in the Future

But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Pet. 3:13)

     RighteousnessGod has a plan for the future and that plan involves His righteous rule over His people, both in time and eternity.  Only a sovereign God Who possesses all the attributes of deity, such as omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and so on, can work providentially in His creation to guarantee a future righteous rule.  In one sense, God rules universally and eternally.  He is always the sovereign Ruler of all His creation (Ps. 145:13; Jer. 10:10).  Scripture reveals, “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19), and “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Ps. 135:6).  Daniel writes, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth” (Dan 4:34b-35a).  From Genesis to Revelation, God sovereignly governs the lives of people and nations.  People exist because God gives them life.  David writes, “Know that the LORD Himself is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves” (Ps. 100:3).  He determines the duration of each person’s life, having final control over the day and cause of a person’s death.  It is written, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Ps. 139:16).  And Hannah, in her prayer says, “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Sam. 2:6).  People live and die as God decides, “For in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28).  God controls when and where people will live in history, for “He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation” (Acts 17:26).  Even the great rulers of this world exist because of His plan, for “It is He who changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding” (Dan. 2:21).  God has power over wealth and poverty, for “The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts” (1 Sam. 2:7).  God allows fallen angels and humans to produce sin and evil, but they never act beyond or against His sovereign will (Job 1:1-21; Ps. 105:12-15; 1 Kings 22:19-23; 2 Cor. 12:7-10). 

     It is because God is absolutely sovereign that He can providentially control His creation and the affairs of mankind and bring about His will on the earth.  God’s providence refers to His wise and personal acts, whereby He creates and controls circumstances in order to direct history according to His predetermined plan, all for His glory and the benefit of His elect.  People live in the flow of history and are moved by the circumstances God controls.  God “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).  By His sovereign will God created all things in heaven and earth, and sustains and directs them as He desires.  God “is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).  The Lord knows all things at all times.  He knows when a sparrow falls to the ground (Matt. 10:29), and the ever-changing number of hairs on our head (Matt. 10:30).  He knows our thoughts before we think them (Ps. 139:2), and our words before we speak them (Ps. 139:4).  He knows our wickedness (Jer. 17:9; Mark 7:21-22), and chooses to love us by grace, in spite of our sinfulness (Matt. 5:45; Rom. 5:6-10; Eph. 2:1-9).  Some He elects to purpose, even from the womb (Jer. 1:5; Gal. 1:15).  Because God is righteous, all His actions are just.  Because He is loving and good, He directs all things for His glory and the benefit of His elect.  The wicked are also under God’s sovereign control, and He uses them for His own ends (Prov. 16:4).

God’s Righteous Kingdom Promised to David

     One must distinguish God’s universal and eternal kingdom from His earthly kingdom.  God has a specific plan for the future to establish an earthly kingdom that will be centered in Jerusalem with Jesus Christ ruling on the throne.  This promise is rooted in the Davidic covenant where God promised David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13).  The Lord said to David, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16).  That this was a covenant promise from God to David is specified elsewhere, where God states, “I have made a covenant [בְּרִית berith] with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, 4 I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne to all generations” (Ps. 89:3-4), and He further declares, “Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David. 36 His descendants shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before Me. 37 It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful” (Ps 89:35-37).  A forever-kingdom requires a forever-Person to rule over it.  Jeremiah spoke prophetically about this King and kingdom, saying:

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. 6 “In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, ‘The LORD our righteousness.’” (Jer. 23:5-6)

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth.” (Jer. 33:14-15)

     It cannot be missed that this promised descendant of David is described as “a righteous Branch” who shall “reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.”  Concerning this King, justice and righteousness will be the chief characteristic of His rule over Israel and the earth.  Daniel writes about the eternal nature of this future earthly kingdom, saying, “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44).  Earthly kingdoms come and go because their rulers die or are conquered.  However, the future ruler of God’s kingdom on earth will never die, and this explains why it will “not be left for another people” and will last forever.  It was also revealed to Daniel that God’s saints will participate in this kingdom, saying, “Then the sovereignty, the dominion and the greatness of all the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be given to the people of the saints of the Highest One; His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all the dominions will serve and obey Him” (Dan. 7:27).  A king has authority and subjects over which to rule.  The saints of all time shall know the righteous rule of God’s King on the earth.

Jesus – God’s Righteous King

     Up until the conception of Jesus, no one knew by name Who the King would be.  There was only anticipation of His coming.  The promise that was given to David, and reiterated by Jeremiah and Daniel, was finally confirmed to Mary, that her Son, Jesus, would sit on David’s throne and would reign over the house of Jacob forever.  Jesus is the forever-King that God has decreed to rule over His forever-kingdom.  The angel Gabriel revealed this to Mary as follows:

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

     Several things are noticed about what Gabriel said to Mary: 1) the name of her Son is Jesus, which is derived from the Hebrew Joshua, which means “Yahweh saves.”  2) Gabriel said, “He will be great,” which speaks both of Him as a Person as well as His accomplishments.  3) He would be called “Son of the Most High,” which means He is equal with God the Father.  4) God would “give Him the throne of His father, David.”  No doubt Mary would have thought of 2 Samuel 7:16 and perhaps Psalm 89:35-37, both of which reveal that God would raise a descendant of David to rule from his earthly throne in Jerusalem.  5) Jesus would “reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.”  The question, as one reads the Biblical text, is how did Mary understand what was said to her.  It is natural that she would have understood the words in the plainest sense possible, that her Son, Jesus, would fulfill the Biblical promises concerning the son of David who would sit on His earthly throne and rule forever over Israel and the earth.[1]

Jesus’ Offer of God’s Kingdom to Israel

     As Jesus grew into manhood, His mother knew His identity, that He is the promised King of Israel and would set up the promised kingdom.  Just before Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist came as His forerunner and proclaimed the offer of the kingdom, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2).  Jesus also proclaimed this message, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).[2]  Both “repent” and “believe” are imperatives in Mark 1:15, which imply a volitional response of obedience from those who heard.  These words are closely related and go together, like two sides of the same coin.  Israelites were called to change their mind from whatever they were trusting in (i.e. repent), and to accept Jesus’ message that the kingdom was being offered to them (i.e. believe in Him as King and His offer of the kingdom).  The concept of the Davidic kingdom was prominent in the minds of many Jews in Jesus’ day, so it’s not like He had to persuade them about His message.  Jesus simply had to communicate the offer of the kingdom and wait for Israel’s response.

This concept was familiar to the Jews of Jesus’ day. In light of Old Testament prophecy (cf. 2 Sam. 7:8–17; Isa. 11:1–9; 24:23; Jer. 23:4–6; Micah 4:6–7; Zech. 9:9–10; 14:9) they were expecting a future messianic (Davidic) kingdom to be established on earth (cf. Matt. 20:21; Mark 10:37; 11:10; 12:35–37; 15:43; Luke 1:31–33; 2:25, 38; Acts 1:6). So Jesus did not have to arouse interest in His message. His hearers naturally understood His reference to the kingdom of God to be the long-awaited messianic kingdom predicted in the Old Testament.[3]

Israel’s Rejection of the Kingdom

     The arrival of the kingdom was contingent upon Israel’s repentance and belief.  Jesus repeatedly proclaimed His offer of the kingdom (Matt. 4:17, 23; Mark 1:38; Luke 4:43; 8:1) and even sent His disciples out to all Israel to proclaim the message with validating signs (Matt. 10:5-8).  Jesus confirmed His Messianic offer of the kingdom with many miracles (Matt. 11:2-5; 14:15-21; John 9:1-7; 10:37-38), which should have resulted in Israel’s acceptance of Him as their King.  However, after much proof, Israel did not repent, and Jesus “began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent” (Matt. 11:20).  It was the sad reality that “though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him” (John 12:37).  The Light of the world had come, but “men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  The leadership of Israel did not deny Jesus was performing miracles, what they denied was the heavenly source behind His miracles, saying, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (Matt. 12:24).  Israel’s rejection of Jesus as their King brought a pronouncement of judgment upon the nation (Matt. 23:37-39), but Israel’s leadership did not care, as they publicly told Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).  So they crucified Jesus on a cross and treated Him as a lowly criminal (John 19:17-19).  This was all in accordance with God’s providential plan (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).

The Postponement of the Kingdom for a Future Time

     The kingdom of God was postponed for a future time.  Though postponed, its future fulfillment is certain, for Jesus told His disciples, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28; cf. Matt. 20:20-21).  The Davidic kingdom will not arrive until the second coming of Jesus, for He says, “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne” (Matt. 25:31).  Though they knew it was coming, His disciples did not know the exact time of its arrival.  After Jesus death, burial and resurrection, His disciples asked, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).  But Jesus left them without a specific time, saying, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority” (Act 1:7).  So, God has implemented the current church age, which is part of His eternal plan (Eph. 3:1-10; Col. 1:24-27), until such a time that He will establish His kingdom on the earth.

God Will Justly Reward Christians

     Between the first and second coming of Jesus, there is the church age, and the following seven year Tribulation.  The church age is marked by grace, whereas the seven year Tribulation will be a time of God’s wrath upon the earth.  Christians, who live in the church age, will not face God’s wrath during the Tribulation (1 Thess. 1:10; cf. Rom. 5:9; 1 Thess. 5:9), for God will rapture His church at the end of the church age and take those Christians who are alive at that time directly to heaven (1 Thess. 4:13-18).  Christians are not looking forward to a time of punishment upon the earth, but rather, we are “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Tit. 2:13).  After the church is raptured to heaven, God will then dispense rewards to His faithful children who learned and lived His will during their lives on the earth.  It is right for Christians to think that God will justly reward them in the future for the life of obedience they now live.  Speaking about future rewards, Paul writes:

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Cor. 3:10-15)

     This event will take place in heaven, after the rapture of the church, in which God will justly reward Christians.  Paul himself personally expected a reward from God, saying, “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8).  “Because he had been faithful Paul did not dread dying but looked forward to seeing His Lord. On the day of rewards for Christians (the judgment seat of Christ; 1:12, 18; 2 Cor. 5:10) Paul was confident that the Lord would give him a reward that was proper.”[4]  The future appearance of Christ at the rapture is important, and those who long for it will be rewarded. 

God Will Suppress Rebellion before the Kingdom is Established

     Sin is upon the earth, and it will continue to have a negative impact because people are temporarily permitted to continue in rebellion against God.  However, Scripture reveals a time will come in which God will bring in everlasting righteousness, which will extend into eternity.  A future day will come in which God will pour out His wrath upon the earth and will suppress all rebellion, both human and demonic. 

     The Book of Revelation, chapters 6-19, reveal this time of judgment upon the earth.  In His wrath, God will put down the rebellion of Satan and his angels, unbelieving Israel, and unbelieving Gentiles.  In all His judgments, God is righteous and just, whereas men are wicked and deserve wrath (Rev. 16:6-7; cf. 19:2).  The hearts of men are corrupt, and rather than turning to God during this time of wrath, they try to flee and hide from Him (Rev. 6:15-16), they seek death rather than conform to His will (Rev. 9:6), they refuse to repent of their rebellion (Rev. 9:20-21), they rejoice and celebrate at the persecution and death of God’s servants (Rev. 11:7-10), they align themselves with the Satan (Rev. 13:3-4), they willfully blaspheme the holy name of God (Rev. 16:8-9, 11, 21), and they gather together to make war against Jesus Christ (Rev. 19:19).  During the tribulation, God will punish those who killed the saints, as John writes:

“And I heard the angel of the waters saying, ‘Righteous are You, who are and who were, O Holy One, because You judged these things; 6 for they poured out the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. They deserve it.’ 7 And I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments’” (Rev. 16:5-7). 

     We should not see the seven year Tribulation solely as a time of judgment and gloom, for God’s love and grace are also manifest.  This is obvious in the kindness He shows to the 144,000 Jews He saves and calls to service (Rev. 7:4-8), to the martyrs who have died for their faith in Jesus (Rev. 7:9-17), to the two prophetic witnesses whom He resurrects (Rev. 11:11-12), to the nations who hear His gospel message (Rev. 14:6-7), and to those who enter into His kingdom after the Tribulation (Rev. 20:4-6).

     Toward the end of the seven year Tribulation, it is recorded that God will judge Babylon, which is described as the “great harlot” that has corrupted the earth and killed His saints.  Future Babylon has both religious and commercial aspects to it.  In its entirety, future Babylon is a satanic system that unites religious and commercial practices that, at their core, are independent of God.  John writes about God’s judgment, saying, “After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; 2 because His judgments are true and righteous; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants on her’” (Rev. 19:1-2).  God’s righteous judgment upon this great immoral system is just.  “God has indeed vindicated the injustice visited on his servants by meting out true justice on the great prostitute, Babylon. She deserves the sentence because she corrupted the earth (cf. 11:18; Jer. 51:25) and killed the saints of God (cf. 18:24).”[5]  At the close of the Tribulation, Satan will be defeated and eventually bound for a thousand years (Rev. 12:7-9; 20:1-3), all unbelievers will be defeated (Rev. 19:19-21; cf. Matt. 24:29-35:46), leaving only believing Jews and Gentiles to enter His kingdom on earth (Rev. 19:19-21; cf. Matt. 24:29-35:46).  

     At His first coming, Jesus did no come to judge the world, but to save it.  John writes, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (Joh 3:17).  Later Jesus states, “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world” (John 12:14; cf. Luke 19:10; 1 John 4:14).  However, at His second coming, Jesus will judge the world, and He will judge it in righteousness.  Concerning this, the apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).  This teaching is not popular and frightens some.  This was true when Paul was defending himself before Felix, as Luke writes, “But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25).  The future becomes a fearful place for those who know they live sinful lives outside of God’s will.

     The end of the Tribulation marks the end of the age of the Gentiles, a period starting with the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. and culminating with the return of Christ to establish His millennial kingdom on earth.  The apostle John writes about the second coming of Jesus, saying, “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war” (Rev. 19:11).  “The rider obviously is Jesus Christ, returning to the earth in glory. That He is coming as Judge is further supported by the fact that He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood (19:13; cf. Isa. 63:2–3; Rev. 14:20).”[6] 

     After Christ puts down earthly rebellion, He will then judge those that survived the Tribulation.  Matthew writes, “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous” (Matt. 13:49).  Of the wicked, it is said of them, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).  This is a judgment that must take place before Christ sets up His kingdom.  “The righteous and the ungodly will be sent away to their respective final places. There is no hint that the verdict can be changed. In concluding his teaching about the last judgment, Jesus said that those on his left hand ‘will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life’” (Matt. 25:46).[7]

There will be a Future Resurrection of the Righteous

     To be resurrected means a person who has died will receive a new body that will never experience death.  Concerning resurrections in general, Daniel wrote, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:1-2).  Daniel is writing in general and referring to the resurrection of all people, both believers and unbelievers.  However, we learn from other biblical passages that there are specific resurrections mentioned.  The first person to be resurrected is Jesus (Matt. 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rev. 1:5).  Jesus died because of our sin, and after three days in the grave, He was resurrected with a new body that will never die again.  Paul wrote, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).  After the resurrection of Jesus, there will be other resurrections.  These other resurrections are called the “first resurrection” (Rev. 20:5-6), or the “resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15).  Jesus spoke about a future resurrection of the righteous, and rewards associated with that resurrection, which should impact how the believer lives here and now.  Jesus said, “But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:13-14).  And Paul, when standing on trial before Felix, spoke about a future “resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked” (Acts 24:15).  The resurrection of the righteous includes believers from all ages up to the second coming of Jesus.  There is a final resurrection that will take place at the end of Jesus’ millennial reign and consists of unbelievers only who will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.  Concerning these various resurrections, Charles Ryrie states:

The resurrection of the just is also called the first resurrection and will occur in several stages, not all at once. The dead in Christ will be raised first at the rapture of the church (1 Thess. 4:16). The redeemed of the tribulation period who die during that time will be raised before the millennium (Rev 20:4). The redeemed of Old Testament times will also be a part of the resurrection of the just. Expositors are divided over when they will be raised, some believing that it will happen at the rapture when the church saints are raised, and others holding that it will occur at the second coming (Dan 12:2—the writer prefers the latter view)…all unsaved people of all time will be raised after the millennium to be judged and then cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev 20:11–15). At their resurrection they will apparently be given some sort of bodies that will be able to live forever and feel the effects of the torments of the lake of fire.[8]

The Millennial Kingdom of Christ

     After the Tribulation and judgment of those who survived, Jesus will set up His kingdom on the earth.  This earthly kingdom was anticipated throughout Scripture (Jer. 23:5-6; Dan. 2:44-45; 7:27; Amos 4:1-4; Zech. 14:3-12; Matt. 6:10; Luke 1:31-33; Acts 1:6), and described as being ideal (Isa. 2:2-4; 11:1-9; 19:23-25; 35:1-10; 65:19-25; Amos 9:11-15; Rev. 20:1-6).  Revelation chapter 20, for the first time in Scripture, specifies the duration of Christ’s reign on the earth as one thousand years (Rev. 20:1-6).  John writes, “Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (Rev. 20:4).  Paul explains that the kingdom of Christ on the earth will eventually become an eternal kingdom.  This will be after the thousand year reign of Christ.  Paul writes of this transition, saying, “then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Cor. 15:24-25). 

     Jesus came to earth the first time as a suffering Servant to die on the cross to bring salvation to all men (Gen. 3:15; Isa. 53; Mark. 10:45; John 3:16-19), and will come the second time to establish His righteous kingdom on earth (Isa. 9:7; 11:3-5; 42:1-4; Jer. 23:5; Rev. 20:1-6). The return of Christ is praiseworthy news to those who are in heaven and on the earth who love Him and look forward to His coming.  However, it is bad news to those who hate him and resist His will on the earth (2 Thess. 1:3-10; Rev. 19:11-21). 

Our Lord will be a King who reigns in righteousness (Isa. 32:1). Righteousness will be the belt of His loins (11:5). With righteousness He shall judge the poor (11:4; 16:5). Zion shall be called the city of righteousness (1:26). Only the righteous shall enter the kingdom at its inauguration (Matt. 25:37), and those who thirst after righteousness shall be filled (5:6).[9]

Judgment after the Millennial Kingdom

     After the millennial reign of Christ, there will be a time of judgment in which Christ will judge all unbelievers.  This is called the Great White Throne judgment, which consists of resurrected unbelievers only, and it is to point out that they are unrighteous, not having received the gift of righteousness that is imputed to those who have trusted in Christ alone for salvation (Rom. 3:21-28; 2 Cor. 5:21; Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 3:9).  Since those who stand before the throne do not have God’s righteousness within them, they are left to be judged according to their human good works, which are not sufficient to gain them entrance into heaven (Isa. 64:6; Gal. 2:16; Tit. 3:5), and the fact that their names are not written in the book of life will ensure their assignment to the Lake of Fire forever (Rev. 20:14-15).

God Promises a Future World of Righteousness

     There is much sin in the world.  However, the believer anticipates a time in the future when God will remove all wickedness and bring in everlasting righteousness.  Peter writes, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).  What promise is Peter thinking of?  Most likely the promise mentioned in Isaiah, who wrote, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind” (Isa 65:17).  This is a great hope of many Christians.  “When our Lord returns He will take the reins of government and rule the nations of this world as a benevolent dictator (Rev. 19:15). Then and only then will the world experience a time of righteousness, justice, social welfare, economic prosperity, and spiritual knowledge.”[10]

     Man, by his own efforts, cannot bring perfect or lasting righteousness into the world.  Certainly there are good and righteous people in the world, but the good they produce is often fleeting and has no lasting value.  Even good rulers are only good for the duration of their rule, and there is no guarantee that his/her successor will follow in the same pattern of goodness.  Because the nature of man is fallen and prone toward sin, the natural flow of human history tends toward corruption.  The tendency of people is to promote self and exclude God from human government and institutions, and they do this to their own harm.  However, apart from mankind’s weaknesses and failings, God has promised a new heavens and new earth, and the eternal state will be marked by righteousness.   

Summary

     God is sovereign and He rules over His creation.  The sovereign God promised an earthly kingdom to His servant, David, that one of his descendants would rule in righteousness on his throne forever.  Jesus, Who is Himself God, is that promised Son Who offered the kingdom to Israel, but they rejected Him and it.  Jesus pronounced a curse upon Israel for a time that would last until the age of the Gentiles concluded.  The Lord will reward church age believers after the rapture.  God will also reward His saints at the second coming of Jesus and He will justly judge the wicked.  Jesus will then establish His millennial kingdom on earth after He has put down all rebellion.  The earthly kingdom will become an eternal kingdom, and righteousness will go on into eternity. 

     The future is bright because there is the hope of a good and righteous King who will bring in everlasting righteousness.  This King is the Lord Jesus, the Christ, the Savior who will establish His kingdom upon the earth.  Jesus will reign forever.  Though His kingdom is preceded by a time of rebellion and judgment, He will suppress that rebellion, and once His righteous kingdom is established, it will never end.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] The simple fact of the Bible and history is that Jesus has not fulfilled these promised words.  Jesus is seated, no doubt, on a throne in heaven; but it is not David’s throne, which is an earthly throne.  In order for Jesus to fulfill the covenant promise given to David, as well as the reiteration stated by the angel Gabriel, Jesus must, at some time in the future, return and claim the throne that is rightfully His by promise. 

[2] The word “gospel” simply means good news, and the good news that Jesus preached here was that of the promised kingdom.  I’ve heard some preachers try to argue this “gospel” was the same as Paul’s and concerned the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  However, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ was foreign to the minds of those who followed Him (see Matt. 16:20; 17:22-23; 20:17-19).  No, the gospel message of Jesus and John the Baptist was the good news about arrival of the Davidic King and the offer of His kingdom on earth.

[3] John D. Grassmick, “Mark,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 107.

[4] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, 2 Tim. 4:8.

[5] Alan F. Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 12 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 570.

[6] John F. Walvoord, “Revelation,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 976.

[7] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 1104.

[8]Charles C. Ryrie, “Resurrections” A Survey of Bible doctrine (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1995), 182-183.

[9] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 594.

[10] Ibid., 316.

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The Righteous Lifestyle of the Believer

     RighteousnessThe testimony of Scripture is that God is righteous (Ps. 11:7; 129:4; 145:17; Lam. 1:18; John 17:25; 1 John 2:1).  He is essentially righteous in character.  It follows that since God is righteous, He will promote righteousness and approve of those who do.  David writes of God, saying, “The LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; the upright will behold His face” (Ps. 11:7).  The verse speaks of what God is as well as what God loves.  He is righteous and He loves righteousness.  David here—and in Psalm 33:5—uses the Hebrew verb אָהֵב aheb to speak of the affection God has for righteousness and those who pursue it.  The “upright” refers to those who conform to God’s character and commands, and to “behold His face” means one is welcome into His presence with favor (cf. Ps. 17:5; 140:13).  In another place David states, “O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart” (Ps. 15:1-2).  Solomon adds, “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but He loves one who pursues righteousness” (Prov. 15:9), and “to do righteousness and justice is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice” (Prov. 21:3).  Isaiah states, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Preserve justice and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come and My righteousness to be revealed’” (Isa. 56:1), Jeremiah adds, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place’” (Jer. 22:3; Hos. 14:9; 10:12).  Paul writes, “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Rom. 6:13; cf. 6:19), “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22), and Peter states, “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24; cf. Eph. 4:24; 5:8-10; 1 Tim. 6:11; Tit. 2:11-12; Heb. 10:38). 

God Works to Produce His Righteousness in the Believer

     God is working to produce His righteousness in us from the moment of salvation onward.  Paul writes, “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).  God produces His righteousness in us to justify, sanctify, and ultimately glorify us.  First, at the moment of salvation, God imputes His righteousness to us, and this is the basis for our justification.  By imputed righteousness He is dealing with the guilt of our sin.  Of the believer, Paul states, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21; cf. Rom. 5:17-18; 8:1; Phil. 3:9).  Second, by crippling the sin nature He is dealing with the power of sin in our lives (Rom. 6:1-14; 8:2; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:5).  Paul writes, “do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God “(Rom 6:13).  Third, by removing our sin nature after death He is dealing with sin for eternity (Heb. 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; 1 John 3:2, 5).  Paul writes, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20-21), and Peter writes, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13).  Such a righteousness as that which will exist in the new heavens and earth means there will be no sin of any kind.  God alone, without human aid, produces the first and third aspects of our salvation (i.e. our justification and glorification), and the believer simply benefits from His action.  However, the second aspect of our salvation is not automatic (i.e. our sanctification), as God chooses to involve the believer to produce His righteousness.  That is, there is a volitional aspect to a life of righteousness, as the believer must choose to obey God’s commands and rely on the His divine enablement to carry them out.  God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing necessary to grow spiritually (Eph. 1:3), but we must lay hold of that provision and make good choices that conform to His will and character. 

How to Achieve Experiential Righteousness

     But how is the life of righteousness achieved?  What is it that each believer must do in order to be the righteous person God expects?  It does not help the believer to say he/she must be righteous if we do not also provide the necessary Biblical information to accomplish the task.  Once saved, God provides each believer a portfolio of spiritual assets that enable him/her to walk in obedience to His commands.  Those who utilize God’s provisions and obey His commands will walk in conformity to His will.  This is experiential righteousness.  For the Christian living in the dispensation of the church age, there are at least six things he/she must follow in order to produce a life of righteousness. 

     First, the Christian must be in daily submission to God.  This begins with a decision to dedicate one’s life to God.  Paul writes, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1).  Paul then goes on to say, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). 

Paul has shown that the gospel he preaches has the power to transfer Christians from the realm of sin and death into the realm of righteousness and life. But this transfer, as Paul has noted (6:11–23; 8:12–13), does not absolve the Christian from the responsibility to live out the righteousness so graciously granted in the gospel. God is working to transform us into the image of his Son (8:29), but we are to take part in this process as we work to make this transformation real in our daily lives.[1]

     The Christian is to participate in the life of righteousness to which he/she is called.  Positively it begins when we present our bodies as “a living and holy sacrifice” to God.  This presentation begins at a moment in time, in which the believer decides to follow God and not the world.  To surrender his/her life to whatever God has planned.  This is a dedicated life to God.  Concerning the believer’s dedication to God, Charles Ryrie states:

What is it that the Christian is to dedicate? The answer is himself. “Present yourselves to God” (Rom. 6:13), “present your bodies” (Rom. 12:1), “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20), “submit yourselves…to God” (James 4:7)—this is the uniform appeal of Scripture, and it concerns our bodies. If this is so, then it follows that dedication concerns the years of one’s life, since that is the only period in which the body functions. Dedication concerns the present life, not the life hereafter.[2]

     This is a surrendered life, a yielded life, in which the believer seeks the will of God above his/her own wishes or desires.  The desires of self, no matter how noble, are sacrificed in order to do God’s will above all.  This can be challenging, for the believer lives in a world that calls us to live for self, to do as we please, to live our way.  But Paul says, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). 

     Second, the believer must be in continual study of Scripture, applying it to every aspect of his/her life (2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).  Regeneration does not, in itself, remove a lifetime of worldly viewpoint.  The Christian must look to Scripture in order to unseat the worldly mind, for in its pages we learn about God and what He values in life.  This requires learning.  Paul writes, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).  Later he states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  The Christian cannot live what he does not know, and learning Scripture necessarily precedes living in God’s will.  It is only by Scripture that the believer receives “training in righteousness.”

     Third, the Christian must learn to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18).   The Christian may be submitted to God and learning His word, but he/she must also be empowered to live as God intends.  Paul commands Christians, “And do not be drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).  When a person consumes alcohol and gets drunk, eventually it influences his thinking, words, and behavior in an obvious and often negative way.  The Bible does not condemn drinking wine, but it does condemn drunkenness, in which the believer loses control of his/her thoughts, words and actions.  Drunkenness is sin.  In contrast to being drunk, the Bible commands the believer to “be filled with the Spirit.” 

“Be filled with the Spirit” is God’s command, and He expects us to obey. The command is plural, so it applies to all Christians and not just to a select few. The verb is in the present tense—“keep on being filled”—so it is an experience we should enjoy constantly and not just on special occasions. And the verb is passive. We do not fill ourselves but permit the Spirit to fill us. The verb “fill” has nothing to do with contents or quantity, as though we are empty vessels that need a required amount of spiritual fuel to keep going. In the Bible, filled means “controlled by.” “They… were filled with wrath” (Luke 4:28) means “they were controlled by wrath” and for that reason tried to kill Jesus. “The Jews were filled with envy” (Acts 13:45) means that the Jews were controlled by envy and opposed the ministry of Paul and Barnabas. To be “filled with the Spirit” means to be constantly controlled by the Spirit in our mind, emotions, and will…But how can a person tell whether or not he is filled with the Spirit? Paul stated that there are three evidences of the fullness of the Spirit in the life of the believer: he is joyful (Eph. 5:19), thankful (Eph. 5:20), and submissive (Eph. 5:21–33). Paul said nothing about miracles or tongues, or other special manifestations.[3]

Lewis S. Chafer adds:

To be filled with the Spirit is to have the Spirit fulfilling in us all that God intended Him to do when he placed Him there.  To be filled is not the problem of getting more of the Spirit: it is rather the problem of the Spirit getting more of us.  We shall never have more of the Spirit than the anointing which every true Christian has received.  On the other hand, the Spirit may have all of the believer and thus be able to manifest in him the life and character of Christ.  A spiritual person, then, is one who experiences the divine purpose and plan in his daily life through the power of the indwelling Spirit.  The character of that life will be the out-lived Christ.  The cause of that life will be the unhindered indwelling Spirit (Ephesians 3:16-21; II Corinthians 3:18).[4]

And Charles Ryrie states:

To be filled with the Spirit means to be controlled by the Spirit. The clue to this definition is found in Ephesians 5:18 where there is contrast and comparison between drunkenness and Spirit-filling. It is the comparison which gives the clue, for just as a drunken person is controlled by the liquor which he consumes, so a Spirit-filled Christian is controlled by the Spirit. This will cause him to act in ways which are unnatural to him, not implying that such ways will be erratic or abnormal, but asserting that they will not be the ways of the old life. Control by the Spirit is a necessary part of spirituality.[5]

     Fourth, the Christian must learn to walk in daily dependence on the Holy Spirit.  Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” and “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 25).  Walking by the Spirit means we are walking in dependence on Him and not relying on our own resources, experiences, or human wisdom.  It means we are walking in the same direction He is going, and like a friend, we are glad to be in fellowship with Him.  It means God is regularly in our thoughts, and we live every day conscious of Him and His will for our lives (Rom. 12:1-2; Col. 3:16-17).  It means being sensitive to what may offend Him, and making every effort to please Him through a life of faith (2 Cor. 5:9; Heb. 11:6).  Sin will break fellowship with God; however, the Christian can restore that fellowship by means of confession (1 John 1:8-10).  When we walk by the Spirit, we live as He directs and our lives will manifest His work (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 4:1-3).  It is important to understand that the Spirit guides us Biblically and never by vague impressions.  Walking is a learned behavior, and it gets easier with practice. 

Constant dependence on the power of the indwelling Spirit of God is essential to spiritual growth and victory.  By its very nature, walking is a succession of dependent acts.  When one foot is lifted in order to place it front of the other one, it is done in faith—faith that the foot that remains on the ground will support the full weight of the body.  You can only walk by the exercise of faith.  You can live the Christian life only by dependence on the Holy Spirit.  Such dependence will result in the Spirit’s control over the deeds of the flesh (Gal. 5:17-21) and the Spirit’s production of the fruit of the Spirit (vv. 22-23).  Dependence on the power of God and effort on the part of the believer are not mutually exclusive.  Self-discipline and Spirit-dependence can and must be practiced at the same time in a balanced spiritual life.  Dependence itself is an attitude, but that attitude does not come automatically; it usually requires cultivation.  How many genuine Christians there are who live day after day without even sensing their need of dependence on Him.  Experience, routine, pride, self-confidence all tend to drag all of us away from that conscious dependence on God which we must have in order to live and act righteously.[6]

     Fifth, the Christian must restore broken fellowship with God through confession of personal sin (1 John 1:5-9).  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  It is never the will of God that we sin (1 John 2:1); however, when we do sin, we break fellowship with God and grieve and/or quench the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.  Sin hinders our walk with God and halts our life of righteousness.  Paul writes in two places, commanding the Christian, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30a) and “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19).  The Spirit is a Person, and He is grieved when we sin and act contrary to His righteous character.  Grieving the Spirit occurs when we knowingly commit sin contrary to His guidance.  When the Christian commits sin, then the Spirit is grieved and His ministry is diminished, and He must then begin to work on the heart of the Christian to bring him/her back into fellowship.  “Sin destroys spirituality.  It is necessarily so; for where sin is tolerated in the believer’s daily life, the Spirit, who indwells him, must then turn from His blessed ministry through him, to a pleading ministry to him.”[7] 

     To “quench the Spirit” is to resist His will as He seeks to guide according to divine revelation.  In the early church, God provided special revelation both through His written word (Rom. 15:4), as well as through prophetic utterance (1 Thess. 5:20).  “Today, we have a completed revelation in the Word of God and there is no need for prophets. The Apostles and prophets helped lay the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20) and have now passed from the scene. The only ‘prophetic ministry’ we have is in the preaching and teaching of the Word of God.”[8]  It is only through Scripture that we possess special revelation about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and what they have provided for us and expect from us.  Scripture is our guiding light (Ps. 119:105, 130; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17), and “refusal to submit to the Word of God is quenching the Spirit, making the fullness of the Spirit impossible.”[9]

     Fellowship with God is always on His terms, not ours.  He establishes the guidelines for our relationship with Him and if we are to walk with Him, we must follow His commands.  God never follows us in our sin, but always calls us back to walk with Him in righteousness.  When the believer breaks fellowship with God through personal sin, the only solution is to seek forgiveness through confession.  Confession of sin is a common theme throughout all of Scripture (Lev. 5:5; Ps. 32:3-5; 38:18; 51:4; 2 Sam. 12:13; Neh. 9:2; Dan. 9:1-16; Luke 15:18-21; 1 John 1:9), and it is by confession that sin is forgiven.  Scripture states, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). 

According to 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  This passage, standing as it does in the center of a revelation of the basis of fellowship with God (1 John 1:5—2:2), is a message to Christians.  It avails not to the unsaved to confess their sins, as they have not accepted the Savior who was the sacrifice for sins.  For the unsaved the exhortation is likewise summed up in one word, believe.  For the Christian who stands in all the blessed relationship to God wrought by saving faith in Christ there remains the issue of maintaining fellowship.  It is this issue that is in the foreground in 1 John…The presence of sin in the life of the Christian, however, constitutes a barrier to fellowship.  While the Christian’s sonship is in no wise affected, the happy family relationship is disturbed.  On the human side, confession must come before restoration into fellowship is possible.  The cause for grieving the Spirit must be judged as sin and confessed.[10]

     Because sin is easy to produce and because most men are simple in the way they think, God had to make restoration of fellowship as simple as confession.  Just as believing the simple message of the gospel saves (1 Cor. 15:3-4), so the simple act of confessing one’s sins leads to forgiveness and restoration of fellowship with God (1 John 1:9).  There’s no need for penance, guilty feelings, or any payment on our part.  Forgiveness, like salvation, is provided to the believer because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  The simple act of confession as taught in 1 John 1:9 guarantees God’s forgiveness and restoration of fellowship.

Complete assurance is given that this approach to the sin problem is acceptable to God.  It is not a question of doing penance nor of inflicting chastening punishments upon oneself.  Nor is it a matter of leniency with the Father when He accepts the confession.  The whole act is based upon the finished work of Christ, and the question of penalty is not in view.  The price for restoration has already been paid.  Accordingly, the Father is faithful and righteous in forgiving, not merely lenient and merciful.  The Father could not do otherwise than forgive the Christian seeking forgiveness, for His own Son has already provided a complete satisfaction for sin.  The process from the human side is, accordingly, amazingly simple.[11]

     Sixth, the Christian must take advantage of the time God gives to learn and grow spiritually.  The believer does not reach spiritual maturity overnight, and since each believer has only a measure of time allotted by God (Ps. 139:16), his/her days must not be wasted on worldly pursuits, but on learning Scripture and living in God’s will.  The growing Christian, who is in pursuit of righteousness, will maximize his/her time and live wisely.  As Christians, we all start off as babes who need to feed on the milk of the word (1 Pet. 2:2; cf. Heb. 5:12), and as we grow spiritually, over time, we develop a taste for solid foods (Heb. 5:13-14).  As we grow spiritually, we will maximize our time wisely.  Paul exhorts Christians, “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).  To live wisely, according to Scripture, means knowing God’s will and having the skill to execute it.  Making the most of our time means living in God’s will and acting in accordance with His expectations.  

Three Obstacles to a Righteous Life

     There are obstacles to the Christian life; satanic impediments that hinder our walk of righteousness.  Every Christian is born on a spiritual battlefield and throughout his life will face opposition to the work of God.  The opposition will use both pleasure and pain to pull the Christian away from God in order to stifle our walk.  The believer experiences opposition from his sin nature (Gal. 5:17, 19-21a; Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), the devil (2 Cor. 11:3; Jam. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8), and the world system that is all around (Col. 2:8; Jas. 1:27; 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16). 

     The first obstacle is the sin nature, sometimes called “the flesh” (Gal. 5:17, 19) or “old self” (Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9), which has a natural affinity for Satan’s values and his world-system.  Paul writes, “For the flesh [sin nature] sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you [the Christian] may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:17).  The sin nature is resident in every person; both saved and unsaved, and is the source of internal temptation.  “The flesh refers to that fallen nature that we were born with, that wants to control the body and the mind and make us disobey God.”[12]  Since the fall of Adam, every person is born with a sin nature, and it is this nature that internally motivates men to rebel against all legitimate forms of authority, both human and divine.  At the moment of salvation, God the Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us a new nature that, for the first time in our lives, has the capacity and desire to obey God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).  Because the sin nature is not removed from the believer after salvation, the believer begins to experience conflict within.  “The presence of two opposing natures (not two personalities) in one individual results in conflict.”[13]

The old nature (which has its origin in our physical birth) fights against the new nature which we receive when we are born again (Gal. 5:16–26). No amount of self-discipline, no set of man-made rules and regulations, can control this old nature. Only the Holy Spirit of God can enable us to “put to death” the old nature (Rom. 8:12–13) and produce the Spirit’s fruit (Gal. 5:22–23) in us through the new nature.[14]

     The second obstacle is the devil.  Before his self-induced fall, Lucifer was a wise and beautiful creature, having “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (Ezek. 28:12).  He was an angel, called an “anointed cherub” (Ezek. 28:14).  However, this perfect angelic creature produced sin from the source of his own volition, and the Scripture states, “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you…and you sinned” (Ezek. 28:15-16a).  Concerning Lucifer’s sin, the Lord says, “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor” (Ezek. 28:17a).  Self-centered pride turned Lucifer’s wisdom into foolishness, and in his madness he sought to usurp God’s throne and rule over His creation.  Lucifer became Satan (a term meaning “the adversary”) at the time of his rebellion (Isa. 14:13-14).

The devil is a real, personal being who opposes the Christian and seeks to make him ineffective in his Christian life. He is a formidable enemy of the Christian since he is intent on devouring Christians (1 Pet. 5:8); hence, the Christian is called on to resist the devil (James 4:7). This can be accomplished through putting on the armor for a spiritual battle (Eph. 6:10–17).[15]

     The third obstacle is the world.  Since the Fall of Adam, God has temporarily granted Satan permission to govern this world (Matt. 4:8-9; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 6:12; 1 John 5:19).  Satan, and those who follow him (both demons and people), are ultimately under God’s sovereign control, and even their evil plans and actions are used for His good purposes (Gen. 50:20; Ps. 76:10; Job 1:6-12; Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28; Rom. 8:28; 2 Cor. 12:7-10).  Satan governs by means of a system he’s created, which Scripture calls the κόσμος kosmos.  The κόσμος kosmos “and everything that belongs to it, appears as that which is hostile to God, i.e. lost in sin, wholly at odds with anything divine, ruined and depraved.”[16]  Satan’s world-system consists of those philosophies, values and practices that influence humanity to think and behave contrary to God and His Word.  John writes, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16).  Lewis Chafer provides an apt description of the kosmos:

The kosmos is a vast order or system that Satan has promoted which conforms to his ideals, aims, and methods. It is civilization now functioning apart from God-a civilization in which none of its promoters really expect God to share; who assign to God no consideration in respect to their projects, nor do they ascribe any causality to Him. This system embraces its godless governments, conflicts, armaments, jealousies; its education, culture, religions of morality, and pride. It is that sphere in which man lives. It is what he sees, what he employs. To the uncounted multitude it is all they ever know so long as they live on this earth. It is properly styled “The Satanic System” which phrase is in many instances a justified interpretation of the so-meaningful word, kosmos.[17]

     Satan’s world-system is not changeable and cannot be modified to conform to God’s will.  At the core of Satan’s world-system is a directive for mankind to function apart from God, and when obeyed, people produce all forms of evil.  Worldly-minded persons embrace Satan’s system and love their own because they share the same values of selfishness that exclude God.  By promoting the gospel and Biblical teaching, Christians disrupt Satan’s kingdom by calling out of it a people for God.  When a person comes to Christ for salvation, they are transferred from Satan’s kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s Son (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13-14), and become ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20).  The lifetime of worldly thinking that shaped our values and behaviors are not suddenly eradicated at the moment of salvation.  Rather, God calls us to be transformed in our thinking by renewing our minds and living by faith in His Word (Rom. 12:1-2).  Though Christians have the capacity, we are not to love the world (John 16:33; 17:14-16; 1 John 2:15).  To love the world is to turn from righteousness, and the Christian who loves the world makes himself the enemy of God (Jam. 4:4).  Those who love God and His Word share a mutual love for each other.  By learning God’s Word, Christians can identify worldly conversations and either avoid them or disrupt them by interjecting Biblical truth.  The life of righteousness means we will invade the lives, thoughts and discussions of others with Biblical truth.  Of course, this should be done in love and grace (Eph. 4:15; Col. 4:6), not by argumentation (2 Tim. 2:24-26).  When we learn God’s Word, obey His commands, and show love to others, we are rebelling against Satan’s world-system and sowing the seeds of spiritual insurrection in the lives of those who live and walk in Satan’s kingdom. 

     These three obstacles can wreck the Christian as he/she advances toward spiritual maturity and a life of righteousness.  The sin nature is not removed during our time on earth, the devil never ceases in his efforts to attack us, and the world-system can never be reformed.  The Christian must not only be aware of these obstacles, but must always be clinging to God and His word to guide and sustain. 

Summary

     God is righteous and He calls believers to live righteously in conformity to His character and commands.  Once saved, the believer is positionally sanctified in union with Christ, and this status will never change.  However, positional sanctification does not guarantee experiential sanctification, as the believer must choose to comply with God’s righteous expectations and advance to spiritual maturity.  God has provided the believer all that is needed to live a righteous life.  The advance to such a life involves committing oneself to God for service, continual study of Scripture, learning to be filled with the Spirit and to walk in the Spirit, regular confession of sin, and time to grow.  The believer who is living the righteous life as God expects will face obstacles, which include the old sin nature, the devil, and his world-system.  The believer who keeps advancing spiritually will attain Christian maturity and prove effective for God.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

Related Articles:

 

[1] Douglas J. Moo, “Romans,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1150.

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life (Chicago, Ill., Moody Bible Institute, 1994), 80.

[3] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2, 48.

[4] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1967), 43-44.

[5] Charles C. Ryrie, “What is Spirituality?” Bibliotheca Sacra 126 (1969): 206.

[6] Charles Ryrie, Balancing the Christian Life, 198.

[7] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual, 70.

[8] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 189.

[9] John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI., Zondervan Publishing, 1977), 198.

[10] Ibid., 201-202.

[11] Ibid., 202.

[12] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: New Testament, Vol. 2, 18.

[13] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual, 112.

[14] Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, New Testament, Vol. 2, 480.

[15] Robert P. Lightner, Handbook of Evangelical Theology, 314.

[16] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 562.

[17] Lewis S. Chafer, “Angelology Part 4” Bibliotheca Sacra 99 (1942): 282-283.

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A Dispensational View of God’s Righteousness

     RighteousnessGod is forever righteous and the expectation of righteous behavior from His people is a timeless truth. God’s righteousness is manifest in the laws He gives, and He always expects righteousness from His people. In one sense, God’s people are declared righteous because of the righteousness He imputes to them as a free gift (Rom. 5:19; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). Once saved, God expects His people to live righteous lives in conformity to His character and commands (Rom. 12:1-2; Tit. 2:11-14). Human righteousness is measured by one’s conformity to God’s character and commands, and though God’s character never changes, His commands for His people have changed over the millennia. God set forth commands for Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Israel, and the Church. Because God is the Author of each set of laws, one can see similarities and differences, continuity and discontinuity.

Adam lived under laws, the sum of which may be called the code of Adam or the code of Eden. Noah was expected to obey the laws of God, so there was a Noahic code. We know that God revealed many commands and laws to Abraham (Gen. 26:5). They may be called the Abrahamic code. The Mosaic code contained all the laws of the Law. And today we live under the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2) or the law of the Spirit of life in Christ (Rom. 8:2). This code contains the hundreds of specific commandments recorded in the New Testament.[1]

God’s Righteousness before the Fall of Adam

     In the Garden of Eden, righteousness meant conforming to the laws God provided to Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:28; 2:15-17).  The commandments in the Garden of Eden were basic and few according to the Biblical revelation.  The commandments were: to procreate and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28a), to subdue and rule over it (Gen. 1:28b), to cultivate and keep the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15), to enjoy the fruit of all trees (Gen. 2:16), but not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon penalty of death (Gen. 2:17).  Adam and Eve rebelled against God and disobeyed His command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:1-8), and this resulted in judgement upon the serpent who deceived (Gen. 3:14-15), upon Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:17-19), upon creation (3:17-18; cf. Rom. 8:20-22), and all humanity (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22).[2]  The command to procreate is still in effect (repeated to Noah in Gen. 9:7); however, the commands to have dominion over the earth, cultivate and keep the Garden of Eden, as well as the negative command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are no longer required.

God’s Righteousness after the Fall of Adam and Before Abraham

     From Genesis chapters four through eleven, God revealed Himself and His expectations personally to others, and He held them accountable for their behavior, either to bless or curse.  In Genesis chapter four we read that Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord, “And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; 5 but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard” (Gen. 4:4b-5a).  The Biblical text is silent concerning how Cain and Abel knew to bring offerings to the Lord; however, it is revealed that God approved of Abel’s offering while rejecting Cain’s.  This language of acceptance and rejection reveals a standard of expectation God had for these two men, which, it is assumed, He revealed to them prior to their offering and which also served as the basis for his welcoming the one while refusing the other.  Cain apparently knew the Lord’s reaction, for he “became very angry and his countenance fell” (Gen. 4:5b).  Cain later became jealous and hostile toward Abel and “Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (Gen. 4:8).  This resulted in the Lord’s judgment on Cain (Gen. 4:9-16), which is an indication that God’s righteous expectations were known and enforced during this time. 

     Genesis chapter five is another indication of God’s righteousness on display as the record of death upon mankind is repeated over and over; first, with Adam (Gen. 5:5), and then with all his descendants (Gen. 5:8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31).  However, God’s judgment is not absolute, as we see God’s grace in the midst of His judgments, as Enoch was spared from the experience of death and this because “Enoch walked with God” (Gen. 3:22, 24).  This display of grace in the midst of judgment will be repeated throughout Scripture, culminating in the cross of Christ. 

     God’s righteousness is observed in Genesis chapter six, where the Lord disapproved of the wickedness of mankind and pronounced judgment.  Moses wrote:

Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen. 6:5-7)

     God’s righteous expectations must have been known to those who lived on the earth at this time in history.  What follows in Genesis chapters six though nine is the account of the universal flood upon the world, which destroyed all mankind except for Noah and his family.  Of Noah it is revealed that he “found favor in the eyes of God” (Gen. 6:8).  Here, again, is grace in the midst of judgment.  Now, for the first time in the Bible, we see the word righteous (צַדִּיק tsaddiq) applied to Noah, of whom it is written, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9).  “By this word we learn that Noah was conforming to the requirements of the relationship he had with God.”[3]  The phrase, “Noah walked with God” (Gen. 6:9) means he walked in step with the Lord who was directing his life, and this was Noah’s righteousness.  God revealed to Noah that He was going to destroy all mankind (Gen. 6:11-13) and He commanded Noah to build an ark that would save only him, his family, and those animals that were brought onto the ark (Gen. 6:14-22); and so God judged mankind as His righteousness demanded.  God’s righteous commands upon Noah were particular to him and not required of any other person.  Noah was righteous because He welcomed God’s commands and obeyed them. 

     After the flood, Moses provided the genealogical record of Noah’s descendants (Gen. 10:1-32), which descendants set their wills against God and built the Tower of Babel in order to make a name for themselves (Gen. 11:1-4).  God’s righteousness was on display when He came down to see their work and to pronounce judgment upon them.  God’s judgment included confusing their language and scattering them over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:5-9). 

God’s Righteousness with the Patriarchs

     Moses then provided a genealogical account of Noah’s son, Shem, which continued down to the birth of Abram (Gen. 11:10-32), another recipient of God’s grace.  Now, in the life of Abram, we observe the Lord’s commands that Abram leave his homeland and travel to a land that God would eventually give to him (Gen. 12:1).  God also promised Abram that he would have a multitude of descendants and be a blessing to the entire world (Gen. 12:2-3); “So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him” (Gen 12:4).  Here are God’s commands and Abram’s obedience.  Later, in Genesis chapter fifteen, Moses would reveal that Abram believed God’s promise to him, and this would bring the declaration that the Lord “reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).  “Moses probably recorded Abraham’s faith here because it was foundational for making the Abrahamic Covenant. God made this covenant with a man who believed in Him.”[4] 

     God’s righteous judgments of blessing or cursing continued throughout the book of Genesis for those who obeyed or disobeyed Him.  God judged the household of Pharaoh for taking Sarai, Abram’s wife from him (Gen. 12:17).  God judged the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness (Gen. 13:10; 18:20-21), but spared Lot because of the petition of Abraham (Gen. 18:22-33).  Abraham knew God to be a righteous Judge and that it would be wrong for Him to kill Lot along with the residents of Sodom; so Abraham said to the Lord, “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Gen 18:25).  So God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and spared Lot (Gen. 19:1-25).  Throughout the rest of the book of Genesis it is observed that God directed, blessed and protected Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen. 17:19, 21; 25:5, 11), Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15; 31:3; 32:9-10), and Joseph (Gen. 32:9-5, 21-23; 45:7-9; 50:20). 

God’s Righteousness with Israel

     God then sent His people into Egyptian captivity for four hundred years, as He’d promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:13).  But the Lord also promised He would judge the Egyptians, saying, “I will also judge the nation whom they will serve” (Gen. 15:14).  God’s judgment upon Egypt would come through Moses, Israel’s deliverer.  The judgment upon Egypt further reveals God’s righteousness.  Exodus chapters three through eighteen reveal God’s judgment upon Egypt as well as Israel’s deliverance from tyranny.  In Exodus chapter nineteen Israel enters into a covenant relationship with Yahweh, Who provides a total of 613 commands that are revealed from Exodus chapter twenty through Deuteronomy chapter twenty eight.  Thus the Mosaic Law, a reflection of God’s righteous character, refers to “the statutes and ordinances and laws which the LORD established between Himself and the sons of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai” (Lev. 26:46). 

     The 613 commands stated in the Mosaic Law—which were given exclusively to Israel as His covenant people—are a reflection of His righteous character.  As Israel’s perfect Lawgiver, God bound Himself to His laws, promising blessing or cursing to His people based on whether they obeyed or disobeyed (Deut. 28).  This meant the Israelite living under the Mosaic Code could predict God’s behavior, and this provided a degree of stability for the obedient-to-the-word Israelite.  The Israelite could rely on God to always do what He promised.  There were no surprises. 

     During the dispensation of Israel, God’s laws were to be continually communicated to the whole nation.  This was made clear on Mount Sinai where the Lord told Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction” (Ex. 24:12).  Once the Mosaic Law was given, the Lord assigned the priests as communicators to His people, saying, “They shall teach Your ordinances to Jacob, and Your law to Israel” (Deut. 33:10a; cf. Lev. 10:11), and “the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts” (Mal. 2:7).  Also, Jewish parents were commanded to teach God’s Law to their children.  Moses ordered, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:6-7).  The Law of God was to permeate all aspects of Jewish society. 

God’s Righteousness with the Church

     God’s righteous expectations for Israel continued until the death of Christ, which brought the Mosaic Law system to a close (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 8:2-4; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:5-7, 11; Heb. 8:13), and a new law code was established for the Church.  Israel was under “the Law” of Moses (John 1:17; cf. Deut. 4:44; 5:1; 33:4; John 7:19), whereas the Church is under the “Law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; cf. Gal. 6:2).  Because God is the Author of the Law of Moses as well as the Law of Christ, it is not surprising that He chose to incorporate some of the laws He gave to Israel into the law-code which He has given to the Church.  However, the two law-codes should be viewed separate from each other.  Paul stated the Church-age believer is “no longer under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14; cf. Gal. 5:1-4).  The New Testament speaks of “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2), the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), “the perfect law of liberty” (Jam. 1:25), and “the royal law” (Jam. 2:8).

     Concerning the Mosaic Law, Paul stated that it was intended to be temporary (Gal. 3:19), that it does not justify anyone (Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:21; cf. Rom. 4:1-5), but was intended to lead men to Christ that they may be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24).  Now that Christ has come and fulfilled every aspect of the Mosaic Law, it has been rendered inoperative as a rule of life (Matt. 5:17-18; Rom. 8:2-4; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:7, 11; Heb. 8:13).  “As a rule of life, the Law of Moses was temporary … [and] came to an end with the death of the Messiah.”[5]

The Mosaic Law was done away in its entirety as a code. It has been replaced by the law of Christ. The law of Christ contains some new commands (1 Tim. 4:4), some old ones (Rom. 13:9), and some revised ones (Rom. 13:4, with reference to capital punishment). All the laws of the Mosaic code have been abolished because the code has.[6]

     The closing of the Mosaic Law means a dispensational shift has occurred.  Though the Christian is not under the Mosaic Law as a rule of life (Rom. 6:14), he/she is under the Law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:31; Gal. 6:2).  “‘The law of Christ’ is basically Christ’s commandments (Matt. 28:19–20; John 13:34–35; 14:21) revealed through the New Testament writers (John 16:12–13; Gal. 6:2; James 1:25; 2:8, 12) and intended for Church-age believers (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 5:6, 18; 6:2; Heb. 8:10).”[7]  The Christian has specific commands in the New Testament that direct his/her thinking (Rom. 12:2), words (Col. 4:6), and actions (Jam. 1:22), and such commands flow out of God’s righteous character.[8]

     In order to conform to God’s righteous expectations, the Christian must learn and live in agreement with the “Law of Christ” as it is revealed in the New Testament (Gal. 6:2).  It is observed that some of the commands from the Mosaic Law have carried over into the “Law of Christ” (e.g. no other gods, honor father and mother, etc.), but most of Israel’s laws have been abrogated (e.g. slavery laws, tithing, sacrificial system, dietary laws, etc.), and there are some new commands (e.g. do not grieve the Holy Spirit, do not quench the Holy Spirit, love as Christ loved, etc.). 

The Law of Moses has been disannulled and we are now under a new law. This new law is called the Law of Christ in Galatians 6:2 and the Law of the Spirit of Life in Romans 8:2. This is a brand new law, totally separate from the Law of Moses. The Law of Christ contains all the individual commandments from Christ and the Apostles applicable to a New Testament believer. A simple comparison of the details will show that it is not and cannot be the same as the Law of Moses. Four observations are worth noting. First, many commandments are the same as those of the Law of Moses. For example, nine of the Ten Commandments are also in the Law of Christ. But, second, many are different from the Law of Moses. For example, there is no Sabbath law now (Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16) and no dietary code (Mark 7:19; Rom. 14:20). Third, some commandments in the Law of Moses are intensified by the Law of Christ. The Law of Moses said: love thy neighbor as thyself (Lev. 19:18). This made man the standard. The Law of Christ said: love one another, even as I have loved you (John 15:12). This makes the Messiah the standard and He loved us enough to die for us. Fourth, the Law of the Messiah provides a new motivation. The Law of Moses was based on the conditional Mosaic Covenant and so the motivation was: do, in order to be blessed. The Law of Christ is based on the unconditional New Covenant and so the motivation is: you have been and are blessed, therefore, do.[9]

     Though both are the people of God, there are Biblical distinctions between Israel and the Church.  For example, Israel had a priesthood that was specific to Aaron and the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:6-10), whereas in the Church age, all Christians are priests to God (Rev. 1:5-6).  Israel’s worship was tied to the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Ex. 40:18-38; 2 Chron. 8:14-16), but Christians gather locally, wherever they wish, and their body is the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19-20; cf. 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15).  Israel was required to offer animal sacrifices to God (Lev. 4:1-35), but Christians are called to offer spiritual sacrifices (1 Pet. 2:5; cf. Rom. 12:1; Heb. 13:15).  Israelites were required to tithe from the produce of their land (Deut. 14:22-23; 28-29; Num. 18:21), but God requires no tithe from Christians, only a joyful attitude when giving, “for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).  Under the Mosaic Law, God demanded punishment for sin and some sins were punishable by death.[10]  Sometimes God Himself executed the punishment (Lev. 10:1-3; 2 Sam. 6:1-7), and other times it was carried out by Israel’s leaders (Ex. 32:19-28).  In the Church age, God does not call Christians to put anyone to death, but has delegated that authority solely to the governments of this world (Rom. 13:1-4), or He does it Himself (Acts 5:1-11; 1 Cor. 11:30; 1 John 5:16).  These are but a few of the distinctions between Israel and Church. 

Summary

     These dispensational distinctions are important to understand.  Though one can see God’s righteousness revealed in the commands given to those who lived in the Garden of Eden, it would be wrong for someone living outside of Eden to try to live by those commands.  In fact, it would be impossible, for the commands were tied to the people and conditions of that environment.  Similarly, one can see God’s righteousness revealed in the commands given to Noah, Abraham, and Israel; however, it would be wrong—even impossible—for those living in the Church age to try to live by those commands, seeing how those commands were specific to the people and conditions of that time. 

     God is righteous and He issues commands for people to obey.  Though God’s righteous character never changes, the specific commands He gives to people and groups throughout the millennia have changed.  What God expected from Adam and Eve is different from what He expected of Noah, Abraham, Israel, and the Church, but they always reflect a righteous standard.  Though there are differences in some laws, there is also continuity, and one would expect this from a single Lawgiver.  Confusion among Christians sometimes arises because some of the commands God gave to Israel were incorporated into the commands He’s given to the Church (e.g. nine of the Ten Commandments have been restated with the Church, with Sabbath keeping set aside).  God decides which laws are restated into the new law code and which ones are abrogated.  Christians have the responsibility to learn about God’s righteousness from all of Scripture, and to obey those commands that specifically belong to them.

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

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[1] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 351.

[2] The phrase, “and he died” occurs eight times in Genesis chapter 5.  This shows the consequence of death fell to Adam’s descendants, continuing down to the present day.

[3] Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis, 193.

[4] Tom Constable, Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible, Gen. 15:6.

[5] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology (Tustin, CA., Ariel Ministries, 2001), 373-374.

[6] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, 351-52.

[7] Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, Understanding Christian Theology, 1014.

[8] This writer is not aware of anyone who has catalogued all the New Testament commands for the Christian. 

[9] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, 650–651.

[10] There were certain laws under the Old Testament that brought the death penalty: intentional murder (Ex. 21:12-14; cf. Gen. 9:6), attacking or cursing a parent (Ex. 21:15), kidnapping (Ex. 21:16), habitual rebellion against God (Deut. 17:12), sacrificing to pagan gods (Ex. 22:20), cursing God (Lev. 24:15-16), working on the Sabbath (Ex. 35:2), being a false prophet and leading Israelites into idolatry (Deut. 13:1-5), religious human sacrifice (Lev. 20:2), the practice of divination, sorcery or witchcraft (Ex. 22:18; Deut. 18:9-14), adultery and premarital sex (Lev. 20:10-14; 21:9; Deut. 22:20-22), sex with an animal (Ex. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16), incest (Lev. 20:11-12, 14), homosexuality (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), and the rape of a married woman (Deut. 22:25-27).

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