Of when justice was served

Lately I’ve come to appreciate the thought that goes into writing lyrics to music, especially Christian music.

 

The non-Christian lyricist does not have to be diligent in their efforts to write a song. The subject matter can be subjective feelings, a thinly veiled advocacy of any cause, a naked celebration of emotion.

 

There are no fact-check websites devoted to the question of whether in fact Beyoncé’s break-up (real or imagined) involved ‘a box to the left’.

 

There has never been (as far as I know) a ‘Mythbusters’ episode examining the idea posed by Roy Orbison that a person can bit the bullet, then chew it.

 

There has never been a feasibility study by a think-tank on the question raised by John Lennon of what would happen if there were no governments and no religion.

 

There are woke SJW’s however, who review classic hits through the lens of the current political climate and mangle old favourites:

 

https://www.dailywire.com/news/39292/watch-woke-artists-rewrite-responsible-lyrics-baby-amanda-prestigiacomo

 

Songwriters and singers like Steven Curtis Chapman, Chris Tomlin and Big Daddy Weave have to do their homework when it comes to Christian music. I appreciate the effort that goes into the process. Steven Curtis Chapman for example decided to write a song with Chris Tomlin to collaborate on the lyrics to ‘The One true God’. If you’re making music about God, it has to conform to the highest standards.

 

In listening to a Big Daddy Weave track this past month, I just know that they were in-part inspired by Paul’s letter to the Romans: from references to the kindness of Jesus (Romans 2:4) and to where ‘justice was served and where mercy wins’ (Romans 3:25 – 26).

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=romans+2%3A4&version=NIV

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=romans+3%3A25+-+26&version=NIV

 

This is not some jingle scrawled on the back of a napkin. These guys do their homework. Currently, I’m working my way through a Small Group study on Romans by Messrs Blackaby.

 

Homework

 

In the introduction they begin by saying that the central theme of Romans is righteousness – right standing with God.

 

I’m circling around the idea of righteousness and there are two perspectives: from the human perspective, righteousness involves our standing with God, how we get there and stay there! From God’s perspective (if I may speak in the abstract, and not for Him) it’s about His perfect standard, the sensitivity with which He applies His standard (since He could at any moment kill every person for their moral debt) and the seriousness with which He views unrighteousness.

 

He has a situation on His hands with the human race, but He has not washed His hands of us. It is incredible to me that He wishes to impute righteousness to man.

 

The psalmist and king, David wrote about how blessed it is to be forgiven for unrighteousness:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+32%3A1+-+2&version=NIV

 

Blessed is the man ‘whose sin the Lord does not count against them’. Not merely taking a Tipp-Ex to sin, but imputing righteousness.

 

Paul has already argued in the strongest terms that no one can ever earn righteousness. It would be impossible for God NOT to count their sins against them in their moral failure.

 

So, David must have been talking about another way (other than obeying the Law) to experience this blessedness of being acquitted.

 

I was speaking with an acquaintance this week about righteousness and his idea was that God cannot possibly be so strict, or to put in in terms I would use, benign. I think that type of reasoning is personally reckless. I think that Paul was right, that God views sin in the most serious light as an insult to His spotless, holy character.

 

Despite the world’s consensus, I don’t think God is good humoured about moral failure, that He winks at the whole thing and chuckles good-naturedly at the fumbling drenched in blood and tears that goes on. Without this idea of God being justifiably full of wrath, what amazement would there be in the cross?

 

Paul’s words encapsulate the point better than I could; God demonstrates his righteousness in Christ by being ‘just and the one who justifies’. (Romans 3:26, NIV)

 

There had to be a punishment. Payment was due. Paul writes that ‘in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished’. (Romans 3:25, NIV). The tab had been accumulating, sins piling up in a stack of IOUs twenty feet deep.

 

In one act, His justice was satisfied and righteousness was offered to the unrighteous.

 

It is unfathomable to me that God the Father should punish God the Son, but that is what happened. The word ‘punish’ hardly encompasses the depths of agony described by crucifixion, or the mental and spiritual anguish of a cry being met by the Father’s silence.

 

It is incomprehensible that He made us righteous, but those are the facts.

 

Just and the one who justifies. Of when justice was served and where mercy wins.

 

The Father showed the most extreme level of diligence in working out a way for us to be restored to Him after all the rubbish we pulled.

 

Having this in view, what now? Faith and righteousness, righteousness and faith. The way to understand this, and walk in it is faith. It’s almost too simple since we expect 18 thousand moving parts and several hundred cogs in a ponderously complex blueprint of religion.

 

As Paul quoted Habakkuk in Romans: The just (those made righteous) will live by faith.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=romans+1%3A17&version=NIV

Grace versus works

I have a playlist of Christian songs for anytime I’m on the road, and the opening lyrics to a Matt Redman song took on deeper meaning as I’ve been going through Paul’s epistle to the Christians in Rome:

 

Who O Lord could save themselves?

Their own soul could heal?

 

(Produced by Robert Marvin, 2009 under Sparrow/Sixsteps; Matt Redman)

 

To me, the question posed by Redman is obvious. In fact it’s beyond obvious: Of course I cannot save myself or heal my own soul. Neither can anyone else. And this is Paul’s point in chapter 3 of his epistle.

 

For the person who thinks that they’re doing okay by moral standards, Romans chapter 3 is like a finger poke to a raw wound. Without thinking we tend to measure ourselves against other human beings who are far more ethically questionable than we are, thereby finding ourselves more superior on the moral continuum.

 

We should measure ourselves against God’s standard of righteousness. I know what some people may be thinking…how do we know what His standards are? So many religions, so many Christian denominations. The waters could get muddy.

 

Paul presents evidence from the Scriptures that no one measures up:

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+3%3A10+-+18&version=NIV

 

The Law, the Prophets, the Psalms all testify that no one is righteous. Our posture towards Him stinks, our words condemn us, our works condemn us. We’re like that guy walking down the street who sees someone he despises, pretends he didn’t notice and then proceeds to cross the street and duck into a side road. Arrogant nose still in the air. We are masters at refusing to see the obvious and avoiding facing tough questions.

 

What about those who didn’t have the Law? God isn’t unfair, where the Law wasn’t available for the pagan, the law was hard-wired as it were, in the human heart. Perhaps not the ceremonial particulars of not eating shellfish or pork, but the biggies certainly were. Ten Commandments are easily programmed into the moral centre of the human being.

 

We have something to go on that tells us how we ought to live, but the main point is that we don’t live up to it. That’s what Paul is getting at. The whole world is accountable and the law silences our defence. Our excuses, our rationalisations, our legal arguments don’t measure up. They’re the logical equivalent of the guy accused of assaulting another man whose defence is that the victim ran into his fist repeatedly.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+3%3A+19+-+20&version=NIV

 

No one is declared righteous by observing the law, primarily because we are not able to obey the law.

 

Before, I wrote that the question was beyond obvious: no one can save themselves or heal what is wrong with their soul. Yet it’s a persistent idea. Almost a zombie idea: although it’s proven time and time again ad nauseum ad infinitum that no one can measure up to a moral code, the collective human race keep trying to do it. The idea should be dead, but it keeps coming back like a rotten corpse of a zombie that it is.

 

I know something about both Islam and Scientology, having been exposed in past working environments to both ideologies. Outwardly, they identify vastly different explanations for life and its meaning, and how to solve moral failings. Fundamentally, they share the common idea that one has to work for salvation.

 

To work for salvation means that you need to take sole responsibility for reaching the goal of your belief system; in the case of Islam, Jannah; in the case of Scientology, becoming an Operating Thetan (OT).

 

Religion: your goal isn’t the rope in front of you, its 30 thousand feet at altitude, and you’re out of airplanes.

 

It makes little difference whether you work your way repeatedly through five pillars or in steps across the ‘Bridge to Total Freedom’, the salient point is that no matter what your goal is, you will never reach it. It struck me this week that the followers of both religions must be exhausted (instead of refreshed).

 

We can’t do it on our own, and as Paul points out, our Heavenly Father doesn’t intend for us to. Simple faith will give us access to salvation.

Proper motivation

They missed it.

 

Apologies for playing the pronoun game which exists only to artificially heighten the drama.

 

The religious professionals, the Jewish populace at large in Israel in the 1st Century missed the Messiah. The biggest event in their redemptive history and it seems like barely a London telephone box full of people stumbled onto the truth because Jesus said that the Father revealed it to them.

 

The majority were seemingly closed to the idea.

 

They had the advantage of the Scriptures, the promises, and still He was barely recognized. What a missed opportunity!

 

Would I have been one of those handful that recognized him? I’m fairly sure I know the answer to be no.

Like the raindrops in the image, I typically focus on the near instead of seeing His bigger picture.

There is so much that I don’t know about God. In fact, who can ever know enough? I’ve barely scratched the atomic surface but what I do know is that God is not merely written about in a book, but personal. Accessible by anyone who is looking in His direction. I also know that theology is like a rock-star waiting to be discovered, like the coolest music from your youth that you didn’t know existed and you discover a trove of audio cassettes and a rainy weekend with time on your hands.

 

I find myself realizing that it is possible to miss awesome things about Christ because I’m not paying attention, because I haven’t done my homework, because I haven’t asked the right questions. It’s all there in front of me, just like it was for the people who missed the significance of His coming two millennia ago.

 

I realize that small things can make a big difference. Having the right motive. A quote I read somewhere this week:

 

“Here lies the supreme missionary motivation. It is neither obedience to the Great Commission, nor compassion for the lost, nor excitement over the gospel, but zeal (even “jealousy”) for the honor of Christ’s name….No incentive is stronger than the longing that Christ should be given the honor that is due his name.” (John Stott)

 

https://www.whatsbestnext.com/2014/10/john-stott-on-the-motive-for-the-great-commission/

 

In my raw opinion on the subject, Paul the apostle had all three of these motivations simultaneously. He was a very driven guy.

 

Paul spoke ceaselessly of the gospel and the importance of preaching it.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=+1+Corinthians+9%3A16&version=NIV

 

Paul also had a profound outreach to the Gentiles but at the same time had a relentlessly abiding love for his fellow Jews, that they too would finally embrace Christ.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+9%3A1+-+5&version=NIV

 

Paul’s core motivation however seems to have been that Christ would be exalted.

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+1%3A12+-+20&version=NIV

 

I was thinking about the Lord’s prayer this week, in part because I realized I hadn’t prayed it in some time, but also because it is a perfect summary of what we ought to pray for. Of course it would be because the Lord taught us to pray it.

 

After addressing ‘Our Father in heaven’ the first thing we pray for is that His name would be praised, that his kingdom would come and his will be done.

 

His Name.

 

His Kingdom.

 

His will.

 

Its counter-intuitive for people to put Him first, it goes without saying. Listening to the lyrics of a Big Daddy Weave song this week, I was struck by the opening idea: the lyricist writes of ‘my story’ actually being about Him.

 

That’s a very Pauline thing, a motive that is primarily about His glory. That’s something I don’t want to miss.

More than snow covered dung

There’s no substitute for going slowly through Scripture and hanging out a while, stopping to smell the flowers and spend time in a place that our eyes fly over with speed, like cars on a highway.

 

I’ve pulled over to the side, I’m checking out the terrain, surveying the features that have to this point only been a blur.

 

https://www.preceptaustin.org/romans_215

 

Paul is writing to Christians in Rome and unpacks for the Jew and Gentile alike that they need Christ. The Jew had serious advantages, having received so much in the way of a God-centered heritage, and yet it hadn’t made a difference to how he lived.

 

From verses 21 through 24 in chapter 2, Paul explains:

 

They were good at teaching others how to live, but they couldn’t live up to it themselves.

 

They preached against stealing, but had a business culture of ripping people off.

 

They warned against adultery, but fell into it themselves…just consider the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus; how did they catch her in the act? Now that’s a question with potentially icky answers.

 

They boasted in the Law, but didn’t really honour God.

 

Paul doesn’t sugar-coat anything: it was because of them that the name of God was blasphemed among the Gentiles. Their witness was poor. Nobody was drawn to that way of living.

 

Of course, it’s helpful to ask ourselves a question in the light of that: How is my witness? Yours? Ours as a Body of Believers?

 

In an attribution that is unhelpfully murky, the theologian Martin Luther supposedly – in the light of justification (God’s act of removing the guilt and sin of the sinner-turned-Christian) – said that we are like piles of snow-covered dung. The point being that as far as God’s law is concerned, we are still pieces of poo, just covered in snow – an illustration of justification as a legal term.

 

If an unbeliever had to stop at the side of the road with me at the second Mile marker of the Romans road, and see what he thought was a snowman, only to discover on adding snow to it that underneath is poo, he may not be inclined to be impressed.

 

In my humble opinion (based on what I’ve read from smarter guys), there must also be a moral change in us and not just a legal one. A righteousness that is real, authentic, and derives entirely from the Holy Spirit working in and through us.

 

It must be possible to walk in righteousness, practically, and not just be covered in righteousness, legally. Paul writes elsewhere that we are new creations. This is what in theological circles is called ‘regeneration’.

 

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation

 

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2+Corinthians+5%3A17&version=ESV

 

The great preacher Spurgeon once remarked that as a work of God, making a Christian is greater and more awesome than making a world.

 

Why does he say that? Because the world had no option but to obey and be created and ordered by His command. A Christian consists of a new creation that is constantly fighting against his or her sinful flesh, but that can still walk in righteousness.

 

I’m sure I’ll see more of what Paul was saying about how the Christian should live by faith. I’m trucking on through Romans 3.

 

I quote the evangelist Charles Finney: “If the presence of God is in the church, the church will draw the world in. If the presence of God is not in the church, the world will draw the church out.”

 

I reckon the world may mock and harass us Christians, and yet still find our proximity to God frustratingly attractive; when reality comes calling and flesh fails, they should know who to turn to. I want to be that Christian, and part of that community that draws the world in.