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4. Quanta Insatisfação! - A História de Jacó e Raquel

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Quando vimos Jacó pela última vez, ele estava a caminho de Berseba, fugindo para se salvar da vingança de seu irmão, Esaú. Ele não tinha ido muito longe, quando descobriu que Deus ia com ele. A mensagem veio na forma de um sonho, onde uma escada se estendia do céu até a terra. O Senhor estava acima da escada e disse a Jacó: “Eis que eu estou contigo, e te guardarei por onde quer que fores, e te farei voltar a esta terra, porque te não desampararei, até cumprir eu aquilo que te hei referido” (Gn. 28:15). Jacó deu ao lugar o nome de Betel, que significa “casa de Deus”

Armado com a preciosa promessa da presença de Deus, Jacó se dirigiu para Harã, a terra da família de sua mãe. Foi uma jornada longa e solitária. Quando chegou aos arredores da cidade, ele estava exausto, com os pés doloridos, com saudades de casa e sem saber exatamente aonde ir. Ele viu um poço e parou para descansar. Havia alguns pastores sentados por ali e ele começou a conversar com eles: “Meus irmãos, donde sois? Responderam: Somos de Harã”. Jacó provavelmente soltou um suspiro de alívio. O Senhor o levara em segurança ao seu destino. Ele continuou: “Conheceis a Labão, filho de Naor? Responderam: Conhecemos. Ele está bom? Perguntou ainda Jacó. Responderam: Está bom. Raquel, sua filha, vem vindo aí com as ovelhas” (Gn. 29:4-6).

Jacó virou a cabeça e deu um olhar fatal; sem dúvida, foi amor à primeira vista. Ela era linda, “formosa de porte e de semblante” (Gn. 29:17). E seus olhos — como eram deslumbrantes! Se comparados aos da irmã mais velha, Lia, que não tinham brilho ou luz, eles devem ter sido pretos e brilhantes, de uma beleza cativante.

Jacó ficou muito impressionado — talvez, até demais. A ideia que temos é que ele ficou tão fascinado pela beleza de Raquel, e tão encantado com seu charme, que nem viu seus defeitos ou considerou a vontade de Deus em relação a ela. E, sendo um manipulador sagaz como era, na mesma hora começou a tratar do assunto. Ele lembrou aos pastores que ainda era hora de apascentar as ovelhas, e eles deveriam dar de beber aos rebanhos e levá-los de volta ao pasto enquanto era dia, provavelmente uma manobra para se livrar deles e poder conversar com Raquel a sós. Os pastores, no entanto, tinham algum tipo de acordo de não rolar a pedra de volta à boca do poço enquanto todos os rebanhos não estivessem reunidos (Gn. 29:7-8).

“Falava-lhes ainda, quando chegou Raquel com as ovelhas de seu pai; porque era pastora.  Tendo visto Jacó a Raquel, filha de Labão, irmão de sua mãe, e as ovelhas de Labão, chegou-se, removeu a pedra da boca do poço e deu de beber ao rebanho de Labão, irmão de sua mãe” (Gn. 29:9-10). Jacó pode ter sido um homem caseiro, mas não era um fracote. Ele moveu uma pedra que, normalmente, precisaria de vários homens para ser movida; e deu água às ovelhas de Rebeca. Será que ele estava se exibindo um pouquinho?

Continuando a leitura: “Feito isso, Jacó beijou a Raquel e, erguendo a voz, chorou” (Gn. 29:11). A emoção daquele momento tomou conta dele. A direção e o cuidado milagroso de Deus, a empolgação do encontro com sua bela prima, a perspectiva do que lhe reservava o futuro — tudo isso encheu tanto seu coração, que ele chorou de alegria. Em nossa cultura, é estranho ver um homem expressar suas emoções dessa forma, mas a expressão sincera dos sentimentos de uma pessoa pode melhorar a saúde emocional e dar mais estabilidade conjugal.

Parece que o romance ia ter um início ardente. A bela da vizinhança e o garotão novo na cidade tinham se encontrado. No entanto, este início nos faz ficar com a pulga atrás da orelha sobre essa união. Sabemos que um relacionamento baseado originalmente na atração física está em terreno instável. Hollywood tem nos dado boas evidências para essa tese. E os infortúnios de um notório jogador de futebol americano e a volta pra casa de uma rainha também dão base para isso1. Esses casais podem fazer o casamento dar certo, mas exigirá um pouco mais de esforço, e eles precisarão trabalhar sua relação para além do magnetismo físico que deu início a ela.

Contudo, quando um homem está enamorado de uma mulher, não quer ouvir esse tipo de coisa. Ele vai tê-la e nada mais importa. Só um mês depois de Jacó ter chegado a Harã, Labão vai ter com ele para ver se poderiam chegar a um acordo salarial mutuamente aceitável. A Escritura diz que Jacó amava Raquel e se ofereceu para servir Labão durante sete anos, a fim de receber a mão dela em casamento (Gn. 29:18). Ele não tinha nada a oferecer a Labão, por isso, prometeu seu trabalho no lugar do dote. Agora, ficamos ainda mais encasquetados. Um mês não é tempo suficiente para chegarmos a conhecer alguém o bastante para fazer um compromisso para toda vida e, com certeza, não é tempo suficiente para saber se amamos ou não a pessoa. O verdadeiro amor exige conhecimento profundo. Dizer que amamos alguém a quem não conhecemos intimamente é simplesmente dizer que amamos a nossa imagem mental dessa pessoa. E, se ele ou ela não corresponderem a essa imagem, então, o dito “amor” vira desilusão e ressentimento e, às vezes, até aversão.

Jacó, entretanto, achou que estava apaixonado. Quando Raquel estava por perto, seu coração batia mais rápido e um sentimento maravilhoso tomava conta dele. Ela era a criatura mais linda em que seus olhos tinham pousado e ele achava que a vida sem ela não valia a pena. Para ele, isso era suficiente. “Assim, por amor a Raquel, serviu Jacó sete anos; e estes lhe pareceram como poucos dias, pelo muito que a amava” (Gn. 29:20). Na verdade, essas palavras são as mais belas que já foram escritas sobre o sentimento de um homem por uma mulher. Sete anos é um longo tempo de espera, e eu acho que o amor de Jacó por Raquel cresceu muito durante esses anos. A atração física ainda estava presente, mas não era possível ele viver tão próximo a ela durante tanto tempo e não ter aprendido muitas coisas a seu respeito, tanto boas como ruins. Esse casamento ia passar por momentos difíceis, mas não fosse o longo compromisso e o amor profundo e maduro de Jacó, provavelmente não teria sobrevivido.

Muitas pessoas se casam rápido demais e depois se arrependem. Sete anos de compromisso talvez seja um pouco exagerado, mas é preciso tempo para conhecer as qualidades desejáveis e indesejáveis de uma pessoa, a fim de decidir se podemos nos dar de forma abnegada pelo bem do outro, apesar de suas características desagradáveis. Por isso, um bom teste para o verdadeiro amor é a capacidade de esperar. A paixão normalmente tem pressa porque é egoísta. Ela diz: “Eu me sinto bem quando estou ao seu lado, por isso, vamos nos casar logo antes que eu lhe perca e a esse sentimento tão bom”. O amor diz: “Meu maior desejo é a sua felicidade e estou disposto a esperar, se for preciso, para ter certeza de que isso é o melhor para você”. E, se for verdade, ele vai passar pelo teste do tempo. Jacó esperou, e seu amor à primeira vista se tornou uma ligação profunda e um compromisso completo da alma.

Há um antigo ditado que diz: “O verdadeiro amor nunca se desgasta”. Foi assim com Jacó e Raquel. Vamos dar uma olhada nesse amor sob grande stress. Tio Labão foi alguém que tentou entornar o caldo. Astuto, velhaco e malandro como era, ele substituiu Raquel por Lia na noite do casamento de Jacó. Usando um pesado véu e roupas longas e esvoaçantes para encobrir o corpo, Lia conseguiu passar a cerimônia toda sem ser detectada. Na tenda escura, ela passou a noite falando aos sussurros. Dá para imaginar o tremendo choque de Jacó quando a luz da manhã revelou a tramoia de Labão? Ele deve ter ficado furioso com a família inteira por causa dessa armação traiçoeira.

Esta não foi a melhor maneira de Lia começar sua vida de casada, não é? Suspeito que ela amasse Jacó desde o princípio e queria ser correspondida. De bom grado ela ajudou o pai a colocar seu plano em prática, mas encontrou pouquíssima satisfação no marido que conseguiu por meio de trapaça. Enganar alguém para se casar é um negócio muito arriscado, mas ainda é feito hoje em dia. Algumas mulheres tentam comprar um marido com sexo ou prendê-lo com um bebê ou, ainda, apelando para a fortuna da família. Um homem também pode prender uma mulher prometendo-lhe riquezas ou enganá-la fingindo ser o que não é, mascarando seus defeitos até o dia do casamento. Às vezes, mal termina a lua de mel e a esposa descobre que se casou com um monstro que não conhecia. As consequências da farsa geralmente são dolorosas e angustiantes.

O “generoso” Labão dispôs-se a lhe dar também Raquel, se Jacó trabalhasse para ele por mais sete anos. “Decorrida a semana desta, dar-te-emos também a outra, pelo trabalho de mais sete anos que ainda me servirás” (Gn. 29:27). Esta semana se refere à semana das festividades de casamento. Jacó não teve de esperar outros sete anos para ter Raquel, só uma semana. Mas ele teve de trabalhar mais sete anos sem pagamento depois de se casar com ela. “Mas Jacó amava mais a Raquel do que a Lia; e continuou servindo a Labão por outros sete anos” (Gn. 29:30).

E, assim, temos o primeiro patriarca temente a Deus entrando em um relacionamento bígamo. Não era essa a vontade perfeita de Deus. Deus fez uma mulher para cada homem (Gn. 2:24, cf. também Lv. 18:18, 1 Tm. 3:2). Embora Jacó tenha sido enganado, havia outras opções. Alguns comentaristas dizem que ele deveria ter rejeitado Lia, uma vez que não a teve por vontade própria. Gostaria de sugerir outra possibilidade: ele poderia ter aceitado seu casamento com Lia como sendo da vontade de Deus e aprendido a amar só a ela. Isaque aceitou as consequências da farsa de Jacó quando este se passou pelo irmão, Esaú, e roubou a bênção da família; e Isaque foi elogiado por isso no Novo Testamento. Talvez Jacó também fosse elogiado por aceitar as consequências da vontade soberana de Deus se tivesse galgado esse degrau da fé. E, gostaria de lembrar, ainda, que foi Lia, não Raquel, a mãe de Judá, por meio de quem viria o Salvador (Gn. 29:35). Mas Jacó não estava disposto a acreditar no controle de Deus sobre a situação. Ele ia ter o que queria, embora esta não fosse a vontade de Deus. E os acontecimentos seguintes devem ser evidência suficiente de que bigamia nunca foi parte do plano de Deus para a raça humana.

Sob a pressão desse relacionamento bígamo, a verdadeira personalidade de Raquel veio à tona. Quando percebeu que Lia dava filhos a Jacó, e ela não, ela ficou com muito ciúme da irmã e disse a Jacó: “Dá-me filhos, senão morrerei” (Gn. 30:1). Essencialmente, ela estava dizendo: “se as coisas não podem ser do meu jeito, prefiro morrer”. Eis uma mulher que tinha quase tudo na vida — grande beleza física, todo tipo de coisas materiais e a devoção profunda de um marido apaixonado. Será que o amor de Jacó não valia mais que uma porção de filhos? Não, não valia, pelo menos não para Raquel. Ela tinha de ter tudo que queria ou a vida não valeria a pena. Ela estava cheia de inveja, egoísmo, irritação, impaciência, infelicidade e exigência. E Jacó acabou perdendo a paciência, “Acaso, estou eu em lugar de Deus que ao teu ventre impediu frutificar?” (Gn. 30:2).

A raiva dele não tinha razão de ser aos olhos de Deus, mas sua avaliação da situação estava totalmente certa. O milagre da concepção está no poder de Deus.

A insatisfação tem arruinado incontáveis relacionamentos desde a época de Jacó. Alguns casais ficam zangados por Deus não lhes dar filhos, enquanto outros não veem a hora dos filhos crescerem e saírem de casa para que tenham paz e sossego. Donas de casa querem trabalhar fora, e mulheres que trabalham fora querem ficar em casa em tempo integral. Há cristãos descontentes com o lugar onde vivem, com o emprego, com o dinheiro que possuem e com a casa onde moram. Para eles, há sempre algo mais que parece melhor. Algumas esposas estão descontentes com o marido. Elas se queixam e reclamam porque eles não lhes dão atenção suficiente, não passam muito tempo com os filhos, não querem consertar as coisas em casa, ficam fora até tarde ou pensam mais no trabalho, no carro, no lazer, na televisão e nos esportes do que nelas. Alguns maridos estão descontentes com a esposa. Eles as criticam pelo jeito como se vestem, como arrumam o cabelo, como cozinham, como arrumam a casa ou como cuidam dos filhos. Ficam irritados porque elas dormem até tarde, porque comem demais, porque perdem muito tempo ou porque gastam muito dinheiro. Não importa o quanto elas tentem, elas nunca conseguem agradar o marido.

Algumas dessas coisas são importantes e precisam ser discutidas. Não estou sugerindo que sejam totalmente ignoradas e soframos em silêncio. No entanto, o espírito de insatisfação que nos faz discutir, implicar, bater-boca, brigar e reclamar é um grande empecilho para um relacionamento conjugal feliz. Deus quer que estejamos contentes com o que temos. “De fato, grande fonte de lucro é a piedade com o contentamento” (1 Tm. 6:6). Paulo podia dizer: “Porque aprendi a viver contente em toda e qualquer situação” (Fp. 4:11). Quando somos capazes de reconhecer a presença da insatisfação na nossa vida e vê-la como pecado, podemos buscar a graça de Deus para superá-la e encontrar novas alegrias.

O descontentamento de Raquel a levou ao mesmo tipo de estratagema carnal tentado por Sara. Ela deu sua serva Bila a Jacó, para que ele tivesse um filho com ela, e fez isso duas vezes (30:3-8). Tecnicamente, na cultura daquela época, os filhos dessa união seriam filhos de Raquel. No entanto, temos outro vislumbre da sua natureza egoísta quando nasceu o segundo filho de Bila. Raquel disse: “Com grandes lutas tenho competido com minha irmã e logrei prevalecer” (Gn. 30:8). Ela chamou a criança de Naftali, que significa “luta”. Ela via a si mesma em disputa com a irmã pelo primeiro lugar na opinião de Jacó.

Pouco tempo depois, sua insatisfação ciumenta foi vista novamente. O pequeno Rubem, primogênito de Lia, que devia ter uns quatro anos na época, foi ao campo atrás dos ceifeiros e pegou umas plantas chamadas mandrágoras, ou maçãs do amor, como fazia qualquer garotinho naquele tempo. Quando ele as trouxe para casa e as deu à sua mãe, Raquel as viu e disse que também queria. Ela parecia sempre querer algo que era dos outros. Por isso, ela deu os favores de Jacó a Lia naquela noite em troca de algumas dessas maçãs do amor (Gn. 30:14-15).

Mas o espírito de insatisfação apareceu novamente na vida de Raquel. Deus finalmente lhe deu o seu próprio filho, por isso, era de se esperar que ela ficasse satisfeita. No entanto, ela lhe deu o nome de José, que significa “possa ele dar mais”. E disse: “Dê-me o SENHOR ainda outro filho” (Gn. 30:24). Mais, mais, mais! Raquel nunca estava satisfeita com o que tinha.

Mas ainda não acabou. Deus disse a Jacó que era hora de deixar o tio Labão e voltar para casa, em Canaã. Jacó havia prosperado tanto que Labão não era mais favorável a ele. Por isso, ele reuniu suas esposas, seus filhos e seus pertences e saiu de fininho enquanto Labão tosquiava as ovelhas. Mas Raquel pegou alguma que não era de nenhum deles; ela pegou os ídolos de seu pai, uns ídolos do lar chamados terafins (Gn. 31:19). Quem possuísse essas imagens era aceito como o principal herdeiro da família, mesmo sendo o genro.

Mais uma vez, a ganância de Raquel estava se revelando. Ela queria que seu marido, não seus irmãos, tivesse a maior parte da herança da família, para que também pudesse se beneficiar dela. Quando Labão, finalmente, os alcançou e procurou entre os pertences deles por seus terafins, Raquel mentiu para ele e o enganou para que ele não os encontrasse (Gn. 31:33-35). A adorável Raquelzinha parece ter sido uma megera!

Mas sabem de uma coisa? Exceto pela vez em que Jacó se zangou com ela por tê-lo culpado pela falta de filhos, não há nenhuma indicação de que ele a tenha amado menos por causa dos seus defeitos. Na verdade, há indícios de que ele manteve sua devoção até o final da vida dela. Por exemplo, ela a colocou numa posição privilegiada, em último lugar do grupo, quando eles foram ao encontro de Esaú e suas vidas poderiam estar em perigo (Gn. 33:2). Jacó estava longe de ser perfeito, mas ele é um exemplo para nós de como um marido deve tratar a esposa quando ela não é tudo o que deveria ser.

Alguns maridos dizem: “Eu gostaria mais dela se ela fosse mais amável”. Amor que só funciona quando a esposa é amável não é realmente amor. Deus quer que as esposas sintam a intensidade do amor do marido por elas até quando estão agindo como idiotas (Ef. 5:25). E a maioria de nós tem momentos assim. Talvez os homens, de vez em quando, devessem se perguntar, principalmente quando houvesse algum desentendimento: “Minha esposa tem consciência do meu amor por ela neste momento? Ela está sentindo amor ou está sentindo raiva, hostilidade e rejeição?” Deus fez a mulher com necessidade de ter a segurança do amor do marido por ela durante todo o tempo. E isso vai depender muito da atitude dele nas menores coisas, tais como a expressão do seu rosto ou o tom da sua voz, especialmente quando ela estiver mal-humorada ou chateada.

Já vimos o amor de Jacó à primeira vista e também seu amor sob grande stress. Finalmente, vamos ver seu amor em meio à profunda tristeza. Deus permitiu a Raquel ter um último pedido atendido. Ela gerou outro filho. Seu parto foi muito difícil e logo ficou evidente que ela ia morrer quando a criança nascesse. Quando a parteira lhe disse que ela dera à luz, ela balbuciou o nome da criança com um último suspiro — Benoni, que significa “filho da minha tristeza”. Mais tarde, Jacó mudou-o para Benjamim, que quer dizer “filho da minha destra”. Mas isso não é ironia? Um dia, anos antes, ela gritou: “Dá-me filhos, senão morrerei”. E ela morreu dando a luz ao segundo filho. A criança sobreviveu. Raquel, no entanto, foi sepultada ao lado do caminho que liga Belém a Jerusalém. Ainda podemos visitar seu túmulo, um monumento permanente ao desastre da insatisfação.

Jacó nunca se esqueceu de Raquel. Aos 147 anos de idade, ao reunir todos os filhos no Egito para abençoá-los, ele ainda pensava nela. “Vindo, pois, eu de Padã, me morreu, com pesar meu, Raquel na terra de Canaã, no caminho, havendo ainda pequena distância para chegar a Efrata; sepultei-a ali no caminho de Efrata, que é Belém” (Gn. 48:7). Ele a amou até o fim da vida. Mas, que bem fez isso a ela? Ela não conseguiu aproveitar totalmente esse amor. A insatisfação que a corroia impediu-a de desfrutar plenamente qualquer coisa, e impediu outras pessoas de gostarem dela. Isso a isolou num mundo amargo de solidão. Então, ela morreu, deixando Jacó para a irmã que ela tanto invejou em vida. E, mesmo na morte, ela continuou sozinha. A pedido de Jacó, ele foi sepultado ao lado de Lia na caverna de Macpela, em Hebrom, junto de Abraão, Sara, Isaque e Rebeca (Gn. 49:29-31; 50:13). Raquel jaz sozinha.

Será que a nossa solidão ou os conflitos nos nossos relacionamentos são consequências de um espírito interior de insatisfação? Isso não vai mudar enquanto pensarmos que podemos encontrar satisfação em coisas materiais ou circunstâncias melhores. Raquel é prova disso. A verdadeira satisfação só pode ser encontrada no Senhor. Ele é o único que satisfaz a sede da alma e sacia sua fome com coisas boas (Sl. 107:9). Ele nos diz para nos contentarmos com aquilo que temos, pois, embora as circunstâncias da vida mudem todos os dias, Ele é imutável e está sempre conosco (Hb. 13:5). Conforme aumentar o nosso conhecimento, pelo estudo da Palavra de Deus e pela oração em Sua Presença, encontraremos mais paz e maior satisfação dentro de nós. E, então, seremos capazes de receber, com gratidão, aquilo que Ele nos dá e, ao mesmo tempo, agradecer por aquilo que Ele não nos dá, confiantes de que os Seus caminhos são perfeitos. E seremos capazes de mudar aquilo que pode ser mudado, enquanto aceitamos alegremente aquilo que não pode ser mudado, tendo a certeza de que é parte do Seu plano perfeito para nos levar à maturidade em Cristo.

Vamos Conversar Sobre isso

  1. Discuta a validade de um conhecimento maior e mais profundo antes do casamento. Como casais que se uniram sem esse conhecimento podem compensá-lo agora?
  2. O que Raquel poderia ter feito para controlar sua insatisfação e seu ciúme? O que Jacó poderia ter feito para ajudá-la?
  3. Quais coisas na sua vida você consideraria de maior valor?
  4. Termine a frase como teria feito antes de ler este capítulo: “Eu poderia ser feliz se ao menos…”
  5. Se você completou a frase com algum tipo de situação melhor ou de bem material, como poderia terminá-la sendo mais coerente com os princípios da Palavra de Deus?
  6. Quais características do seu cônjuge lhe dão mais satisfação? Quais o incomodam mais? Se sentir que certas coisas devem ser mudadas, o que fará?
  7. Você tem ciúmes de outra pessoa? Como Deus quer que você lide com esse sentimento?
  8. Para os maridos: Sua esposa sempre sente seu amor por ela? Talvez você descubra perguntando a ela. Como você pode demonstrar o seu amor mesmo quando ela está “atacada”?

1 O. J. Simpson e Grace Kelly

Related Topics: Christian Home, Marriage

Righteousness Language In The Old Testament

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A lot of confusion and guesswork and mere impressions have dominated discussions about the righteousness of God. Is it imputed? (Yes). Is it imparted? (Yes). When does it mean vindication? Justice? Holiness? Declared not guilty? Putting things right?

Let’s discover what this word means, together.

In the OT righteousness is founded on God’s character and his law. It is true that man is righteous and right in relationship to God (DNTTA, p. 143), but how does God reveal what righteous living is? How does one act when one is in right relationship with God?

God is righteous, and so is his law, which expresses his righteousness to humans. There is an inseparable connection between his character and decrees, but his character comes first. It is not as though righteousness can exist independent of him and he has to conform to this impersonal quality or force. God decrees what is righteous or unrighteous.

His law also binds humans to its demands.

That God posits law, and that He is bound to it as a just God, is a fundamental tenet in the OT knowledge of faith in all its variations. The element of unity in the faith of all the righteous in Israel, whether prophets, priests, lawgivers, or men of a less distinctive sociological type, is the acknowledgment of God’s law ordering alike both great and small and forming a basis for hope. (TDNT, vol. 2, 176)

God is the righteous ruler, and his righteousness applies not only to Israel, but extends to all nations.

It is a basic tenet in the OT that God posits law and is bound to it. Recognition of this is a unifying factor in Israel’s faith. All law comes from God, and hence God’s authority extends to all Israel’s historical relationships. God’s law is an order of life that cannot be changed or challenged. It is righteous because he is righteous. His ways are right; they thus give us life and security. He is a righteous ruler and judge, as shown already in the victory celebrated in Judg. 5:11. His righteousness extends to other nations, so that order is seen in the world. The righteous can thus appeal to him with confidence when they are the victims of hostility and oppression (Ps. 5:8). (ibid.)

The Theological Wordbook of the OT also says the Hebrew words are connected to norms.

This root basically connotes conformity to an ethical or moral standard. It is claimed by Snaith (N. Snaith, Distinctive Ideas of the ot, Schocken, 1964, p. 73) “the original significance of the root ṣdq to have been ‘to be straight.’ ” But he adds that it stands for a “norm.” Perhaps the origin of the word is not so clear or even significant. Words having a secular origin often are baptized into special meanings and a word originally meaning straight may develop easily into a moral term just so canon “rod,” “measuring rule” becomes a standardized list of sacred books. ṣedeq, then, refers to an ethical, moral standard and of course in the ot that standard is the nature and will of God. “The Lord is righteous (ṣaddı̂q) in all his ways and holy in all his works” (Ps 145:17). (TWOT 752)

But how does an ancient Israelite know he is righteous? He is faithful to the covenant God established at the foot Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19:1-8). But how does he know he is being faithful? He follows the Mosaic Law that God thundered down on Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19:9-20:21). So faithfulness, righteousness, and the law go together in the OT. As we shall see, Paul reinterprets all of this.

For the Hebrew Bible we look at the verb tsadaq (to be righteous, justify, judge rightly, acquit) and the nouns tsěděq (righteousness) and tsadaqah (righteousness). We do not have time to keep track of the adjective tsaddiq. All words in this study come from the same root: ts-d-q.

If you would like to see the verses in various translations, you may go to Lumina.Bible.org and type in the references.

Justify Or Declare Righteous (tsadaq)

Human Judges

1. Sometimes a human judge acquits (pronounces righteous, innocent or not-guilty) or declares someone guilty.

6 “Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. 7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8 “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous. (Exod. 23:6-8)

1 When men have a dispute, they are to take it to court and the judges will decide the case, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty. (Deut. 25:1)

15 So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people. (2 Sam. 8:15, NASB; 1 Chron. 18:14)

15 Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent— the Lord detests them both. (Prov. 17:15)

22 Woe to those … 23who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent. (Is. 5:22-23).

God the Judge

1. In the first sample verse, God will not acquit the guilty, when humans fail. (Acquit means to declare not guilty.)

7 Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. (Exod. 23:7, emphasis added)

2. In the following verse, Solomon prays the Lord will judge, condemning the guilty and declaring the innocent “not guilty.”

23 Then [LORD] hear from heaven and act. Judge between your servants, condemning the guilty and bringing down on his own head what he has done. Declare the innocent not guilty, and so establish his innocence. (1 Kings 8:32; cf. 2 Chron. 6:23)

In that case the Lord, after declaring someone not guilty, gives [nathan] him the not-guilty verdict according to his innocence, so translates the NASB. Young’s literal translation says: “to declare righteous the righteous, to give him according to his righteousness.” The context is the heavenly tribunal, and the innocent getting his vindication and his reputation back intact.

Paul’s later revelation tells us that before the infinitely holy God, as Judge in his tribunal, no one is completely righteous, so we must not take 1 Kings 8:32 too far. The main point is that the Lord is a judge who declares a verdict.

3. King David says God is his judge who is proved right and justified.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (Ps. 51:4)

4. God will rescue and deliver the needy, and this rescue and deliverance add up to salvation.

1 God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the “gods”: 2 “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? 3 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. 4 Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. (Ps. 82:1-4)

5. Vindication is tied to righteous judgment.

8 He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! (Is. 50:8)

18 Now that I have prepared my case, I know I will be vindicated. (Job. 13:18)

Righteousness (tsadaqah, tsĕdĕq)

1. Righteousness is an attribute of God, though in the biblical text it is active and relational.

3 “I will fetch my knowledge from afar, and I will ascribe righteousness to my Maker. (Job 36:3, NASB)

17 I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. (Ps. 7:17)

28 My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long. (Ps. 35:28)

6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O Lord, you preserve both man and beast. (Ps. 36:6)

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. (Ps. 51:14)

19 Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. (Ps. 71:19)

3 Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever. (Ps. 111:3, cf. v. 9)

142 Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true. (Ps. 119:142)

2. God credited righteousness to childless Abraham because he believed God’s promise of a child.

5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15:5-6)

3. Righteousness and salvation go together.

1 In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. (Ps. 31:1)

2 Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. (Ps. 71:2)

8 You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the Lord, have created it. (Is. 45:8)

27 May those who delight in my vindication shout for joy and gladness; may they always say, “The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.” 28 My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long. (Ps. 35:27-28)

5 You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior (Ps. 65:5)

1 O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. 2 Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. (Ps. 143:1-2)

11 For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble. (Ps. 143:11)

2 Ill-gotten treasures are of no value, but righteousness delivers from death. (Prov. 10:2)

4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. 5 The righteousness of the blameless will smooth his way, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness. 6 The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the treacherous will be caught by their own greed. (Prov. 11:4-6, NASB)

18 The wicked earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness gets a true reward. 19 He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, and he who pursues evil will bring about his own death. (Prov. 11:18-19, NASB)

5 My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. … 6 But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail. (Is. 51:5-6)

1 This is what the Lord says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.” (Is. 56:1)

15 Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. 16 He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. 17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. (Is. 59:15-17)

3 Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger. (Zeph. 2:3)

4. Righteousness is God’s standard in judgment and justice.

6 Let God weigh me in honest scales and he will know that I am blameless. (Job 31:6)

8 Let the Lord judge the peoples. Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High. (Ps. 7:8)

8 He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. (Ps. 9:8)

6 And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for God himself is judge. 7 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. (Ps. 50:6-7; cf. Ps. 97:6)

4 For you have upheld my right and my cause; you have sat on your throne, judging righteously. … 8 He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. (Ps. 9:4, Ps. 9:8)

4 In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds. … 7 You love righteousness and hate wickedness. (Ps. 45:4, Ps. 45:7)

14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. (Ps. 89:14)

14 For the Lord will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance. 15 Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it. (Ps. 94:14-15)

13 … He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth. (Ps. 96:13)

1 The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. 2 Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. (Ps. 97:1-2)

9 He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity. (Ps. 98:9)

16 But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness. (Is. 5:16)

19 “I have not spoken in secret, in some dark land; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek Me in a waste place’; I, the Lord, speak righteousness, declaring things that are upright.” (Is. 45:19, NASB)

22 “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. 23 “I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. 24 “They will say of Me, ‘Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.’ Men will come to Him, and all who were angry at Him will be put to shame. (Is. 45:22-24, NASB)

1 “Cry loudly, do not hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet, and declare to My people their transgression and to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 “Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways, as a nation that has done righteousness and has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions, they delight in the nearness of God. … 8 “Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. (Is. 58:1-2, 8, NASB)

23 This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 9:23-24)

5. God drove out the nations, not because of the righteousness of the Israel, but the wickedness of the nations.

4 After the Lord your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is going to drive them out before you. 5 It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deut. 9:4-5)

6. Kings and judges should judge with righteousness and nations establish it.

15 Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. (Lev. 19:15)

16 And I charged your judges at that time: Hear the disputes between your brothers and judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien. (Deut. 1:16)

18 Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly. … 20 Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Deut. 16:18, Dt. 16:20)

15 So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people. (2 Sam. 8:15, NASB; cf. 1 Chron. 18:14)

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31 They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it. (Ps. 22:29-31)

9 I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, as you know, O Lord. 10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. I do not conceal your love and your truth from the great assembly. (Ps. 40:9-10)

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. (Ps. 51:14)

1 Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. 2 He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. (Ps. 72:1-2)

15 By me [Wisdom] kings reign and rulers make laws that are just … (Prov. 8:15)

34 Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. (Prov. 14:34)

12 Kings detest wrongdoing, for a throne is established through righteousness. 13 Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth. (Prov. 16:12-13)

5 Remove the wicked from the king’s presence, and his throne will be established through righteousness. (Prov. 25:5)

9 Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Prov. 31:9)

9 My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness. 10 Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the Lord. (Is. 26:9-10)

1 See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. (Is. 32:1)

2 Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to his service? (Is. 41:2)

1 “If you will return, O Israel,” declares the Lord, “Then you should return to Me. And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, And will not waver, 2 And you will swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice and in righteousness; Then the nations will bless themselves in Him, and in Him they will glory.” (Jer. 4:1-2)

1 Thus says the Lord, “Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and there speak this word 2 and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Judah, who sits on David’s throne, you and your servants and your people who enter these gates. 3 ‘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. 22:1-3, NASB)

15 “Do you become a king because you are competing in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. (Jer. 22:15, NASB)

9 “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: You have gone far enough, O princes of Israel! Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right. Stop dispossessing my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. 10 You are to use accurate scales’” … (Ezek. 45:9-10)

27 ‘Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you: break away now from your sins by doing righteousness and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, in case there may be a prolonging of your prosperity.’ (Dan. 4:27, NASB)

7. God uses righteousness to vindicate.

26 He prays to God and finds favor with him, he sees God’s face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state. (Job 33:26)

3 My enemies turn back; they stumble and perish before you. 4 For you have upheld my right and my cause; you have sat on your throne, judging righteously. 5 You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked; you have blotted out their name for ever and ever. (Ps. 9:3-5)

1 Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer— it does not rise from deceitful lips. 2 May my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right. (Ps. 17:1-2)

5 He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior. (Ps. 24:5; cf. Is. 50:8; Ps. 9:8; Ps. 18:20, Ps. 18:24; Ps. 37:6)

27 May those who delight in my vindication shout for joy and gladness; may they always say, “The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.” (Ps. 35:27)

24 Vindicate me in your righteousness, O Lord my God; do not let them gloat over me. … 28 My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long. (Ps. 35:24, Ps. 35:28)

27 May those who delight in my vindication shout for joy and gladness; may they always say, “The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant.” (Ps. 35:27)

6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. (Ps. 37:6)

17 No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord. (Is. 54:17)

20 But, O Lord Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. (Jer. 11:20)

10 The Lord has vindicated us; come, let us tell in Zion what the Lord our God has done. (Jer. 51:10)

23 So rejoice, O sons of Zion, and be glad in the Lord your God; for He has given you the early rain for your vindication. And He has poured down for you the rain, the early and latter rain as before. (Joel 2:23)

8. Righteousness, which has its source and cause in God, is a gift.

He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Ps. 24:5, NASB)

10 Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart. (Ps. 36:10)

5 Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: 6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. (Ps. 37:5-6)

11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. (Is. 61:11)

24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)

9. Righteousness can be put on like clothes.

14 I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban. (Job 29:14)

5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. (Is. 11:5)

17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head. (Is. 59:17)

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Is. 61:10)

9 May your priests be clothed with righteousness … (Ps. 132:9)

Zechariah 3 talks about Joshua the High Priest having his filthy garments being taken off of him, and “pure” vestments put on him, though the word “righteousness” as such does not occur.

10. Humans must conduct themselves in righteousness, particularly by obeying the law.

19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him. (Gen. 18:19)

36 Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. (Lev. 19:36; cf. Deut. 25:15; Ezek. 45:10)

25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness [Hebrew tsdaqah; LXX oddly translates it as eleêmosunê “mercy”] (Deut. 6:25, NASB).

12 If the man is poor, do not go to sleep with his pledge in your possession. 13 Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act [tsdakah] in the sight of the Lord your God. (Deut. 24:12-13)

23 The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and faithfulness. (1 Sam. 26:23; cf. 1 Sam. 26:25; cf. Ps. 18:20, Ps. 18:24)

21 “The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me. (2 Sam 22:21, 2 Sam. 22:25; Ps. 18:20, Ps. 28:24)

6 Then Solomon said, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You (1 Kings 3:6, NASB)

6 I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live. (Job 27:6)

8 Let the Lord judge the peoples. Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High. (Ps. 7:8)

2 [The man] who walks with integrity, and works righteousness … (Ps. 15:2, NASB)

3 He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (Ps. 23:3)

17 But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— 18 with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. (Ps. 103:17-18)

3 How blessed are those who keep justice, who practice righteousness at all times! (Ps. 106:3, NASB)

7 I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. (Ps. 119:7)

62 At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws. (Ps. 119:62)

75 I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me. (Ps. 119:75)

144 Your statutes are forever right; give me understanding that I may live. (Ps. 119:144)

172 May my tongue sing of your word, for all your commands are righteous. (Ps. 119:172)

2 To know wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding, 3 To receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity. (Prov. 1:2-3, NASB)

5 The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way for them, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness. 6 The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires. (Prov. 11:5-6)

9 The Lord detests the way of the wicked but he loves those who pursue righteousness. (Prov. 15:9)

8 Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice. (Prov. 16:8)

31 A gray head is a crown of glory; it is found in the way of righteousness. (Prov. 16:31, NASB)

3 To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice. (Prov. 21:3, NASB)

21 He who pursues righteousness and loyalty finds life, righteousness and honor. (Prov. 21:21, NASB)

21 It pleased the Lord for the sake of his righteousness to make his law great and glorious. (Is. 42:21)

7 “Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, a people in whose heart is My law; so not fear the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings. 8 “For the moth will eat them like a garment, and the grub will eat them like wool. But My righteousness will be forever, and My salvation to all generations.” (Is. 51:7-8, NASB)

1 This is what the Lord says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.” (Is. 56:1)

7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. (Is. 58:7-8)

20 “Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. 21 But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself.” (Ezek. 3:20-21)

5 “But if a man is righteous and practices justice and righteousness, 6 and does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman during her menstrual period— 7 if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with clothing, 8 if he does not lend money on interest or take increase, if he keeps his hand from iniquity and executes true justice between man and man, 9 if he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully—he is righteous and will surely live,” declares the Lord God. (Ezek. 18:5-9, NASB)

20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited [lit. will be] to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be [lit. will be] charged against him. 21 “But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. 22 None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live. (Ezek. 18:20-22’ cf. Ezek. 18:27)

12 “Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, ‘The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness.’ 13 If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. 14 And if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right— 15 if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die. 16 None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live. (Ezek. 33:12-16)

11. Humans must offer righteous sacrifices.

19 They [the tribe of Zebulun] will summon peoples to the mountain and there offer sacrifices of righteousness (Deut. 33:19)

5 Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord. (Ps. 4:5)

18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar. (Ps. 51:18-19)

12. Righteousness shall be restored to Zion or Israel.

26 I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.” 27 Zion will be redeemed with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness. (Is. 1:26-27)

16 “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. 17 I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; (Is. 28:16-17)

16 Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. 17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. 18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. (Is. 32:16-18)

5 The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness. 6 He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure. (Is. 33:5-6)

17 This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. 18 If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. (Is. 48:17-18)

14 In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear. Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you. 15 If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you. (Is. 54:14-15)

16 … Then you will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. 17 Instead of bronze I will bring you gold, and silver in place of iron. Instead of wood I will bring you bronze, and iron in place of stones. I will make peace your governor and righteousness your ruler. 18 No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. 19 The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. 20 Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. 21 Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. (Is. 60:16-21)

1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. 2 The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. 3 You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God. (Is. 62:1-3)

23 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Once again they will speak this word in the land of Judah and in its cities when I restore their fortunes, ‘The Lord bless you, O abode of righteousness, O holy hill!’ (Jer. 31:23, NASB)

24 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy. (Dan. 9:24)

19 I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. (Hos. 2:19)

12 Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers righteousness on you. (Hos. 10:12)

9 Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and establishes my right. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness. (Mic. 7:9)

8 And I will bring them back and they will live in the midst of Jerusalem; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God in truth and righteousness.’ (Zech. 8:8, NASB)

13. Righteousness is the foundation of the throne of the Messiah, the Branch of David, the Lord Our Righteousness.

7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Is. 9:7)

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord— 3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. … 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. (Is. 11:1-4, 5)

5 In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it— one from the house of David— one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness. (Is. 16:5)

6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, 7 to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. (Is. 42:6-7)

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. (Is. 61:1-3)

5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.” (Jer. 23:5-6)

15 “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord Our Righteousness.’” (Jer. 33:15-16)

The only king who can be called “Our Righteousness” is King Jesus. 1 Cor. 1:30 and 2 Cor. 5:21 say Christ has become our righteousness.

2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. (Mal. 4:2)

Summary

The Hebrew words all have the same root: ts-d-q.

In the big picture, Israel was a fully developed nation, the chosen people. Kings of Israel had to establish and follow righteousness. The Law of Moses was the standard by which an Israelite knew he was righteous or not. The nation of Israel was judged by this standard, and over a long history, Israel fell short.

But God would one day vindicate his chosen people, for they had been attacked by other nations because of God’s judgment on them due to their unrighteousness – not keeping the law. Sometimes an individual like David or Job was vindicated before his accusers or enemies.

The Old Covenant predicted the Messiah, who would establish righteousness, presumably based on the law of Moses. The Messiah will be the vindicator of national Israel. Zion and Israel will one day be reestablished in righteousness. Other nations will one day come within the orbit of God’s righteousness.

In the context of righteousness, pneumatology (doctrine of the Spirit) was not a developed doctrine in the Old Covenant (but see Ps. 51:11, 14, 19). In the context of righteousness, grace, administered by the Spirit, was undeveloped (but see Is. 26:9-10). In the context of righteousness, faith or belief was not fully developed.

Abraham’s faith that was credited as righteousness is an exception, but OT writes never zeroed in Abraham; instead they focused on the standards of righteousness, as measured against the law of Moses. A key verse: “And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness” (Deut. 6:25, NASB, see no. 10, above, under Righteousness). The Hebrew for righteousness is tsdaqah, which the LXX oddly translates as eleêmosunê (“mercy”). But that verse clearly spells out that law keeping is righteousness.

In any case, in the OT to justify or declare righteous has a legal context in many instances. Sometimes humans acquit the innocent and condemn the guilty; other times God does. God judges according to righteousness, and so should humans. God also justifies or puts to rights on behalf of the widows and orphans and the helpless. Finally, both God and humans can put on righteousness like clothes.

See the companion piece The Righteousness Language in Paul’s Writings.

Please cite this work, especially in print media, as follows:

James M. Arlandson. “Righteousness Language in the Old Testament.” Bible.org. 2014.

Righteousness Language In Paul’s Writings

Related Media

I’m a radical believer in God’s radical grace. So I’ve got to deal with righteousness because a lot of confusion and guesswork and mere impressions have dominated discussions about the righteousness of God.

Is it imputed? (Yes). Is it imparted? (Yes). Can it mean vindication? (Yes). Justice? (Yes). Holiness? (Yes). Declared not guilty in a forensic or courtroom setting? (Yes). Putting things right in a covenant context? (Yes).

The same word righteousness and its cognates mean all those things, depending on the context.

Together let’s discover what they mean in this study.

English has to deal with “righteousness” and “justice” as if they come from two different stems in Greek, but they do not. Both righteousness and justice come from the dik- stem in Greek.

In fact, here are the other related words that also share the dik- stem. “Righteousness” or “justice” is dikaiosynê; “justification” is dikaiôsis; “to justify” or “pronounce righteous” is dikaioô; righteous deed or regulation is dikaiôma; also, dikaiokrisis is “righteous judgment”; endikos is “just”; and “punishment” or “penalty” is dikê. Antonyms: adikia “unrighteousness”; adikos “unrighteous.”

In this article, however, we look at the verb dikaioô (to justify, declare righteous in Paul) and the noun dikaiosunê (righteousness) and dikaiôsis (justification). We don’t have the time to include the adjective dikaios (righteous).

If you would like to see the verses in various translations, you may go to Lumina.Bible.org and type in the references.

See the companion article Righteousness Language in the OT.

Justified Or Declared Righteous (dikaioô)

This section uses the ESV.

1. To be justified is to be vindicated in the face of accusations from enemies.

4 By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be justified in your words,
and prevail when you are judged.” (Rom. 3:4; Ps. 51:4)

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. (Rom. 8:33)

3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Cor. 4:3-5)

16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (1 Tim. 3:16)

2. Paul speaks about the standards of God and implies from the rest of Romans that humans can’t meet them.

12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. … 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Rom. 2:12-13, Rom. 2:16)

3. God justifies us apart from the law (our law keeping).

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Rom. 3:19-20)

28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Rom. 3:28)

11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Gal. 3:11)

2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Gal. 5:2-4)

4. God justifies us apart from our works and works of the law.

26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Rom. 3:26-28)

1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Rom. 4:1-5)

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! (Gal. 2:15-17)

5. God justifies us freely by grace and faith.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift. (Rom. 3:23-24)

26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. … 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one – who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Rom. 3:26, Rom. 3:29-31)

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:1)

24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (Gal. 3:24)

7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Ti. 3:7)

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 3:21-24)

6. The Spirit Himself justifies us.

11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6:11)

7. God justifies us by Christ’s sacrificial blood.

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Rom. 3:23-25)

9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Rom. 5:9)

8. We are freed and acquitted from sin (sin accusing us).

7 For one who has died has been set free [ESV notes: has been justified] from sin. (Rom. 6:7)

9. God calls us to be justified and then he has glorified us.

30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom. 8:30)

Righteousness (dikaiosunê) And Justification (dikaiôsis)

Paul surely has these all of the main OT ideas in his mind when he writes about the righteousness of God. But now all their OT meanings are fulfilled in Christ. Therefore his theology is much more personal and Spirit-based. He is writing to Spirit-filled, small communities. It should be noted that the Reformers distinguished between God’s own righteousness, and his free gift of righteousness that he provides to all who believe in Christ. It is this latter meaning that is intended by “God’s righteousness” (see the list that follows).

1. God’s righteousness implies that no one is righteous by his absolute standards.

5 But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? … 10 There is no one righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:5, 10, citing Pss. 14:1-3; 53:13)

2. God’s righteousness is apart from the law and comes through faith in Christ and saves us.

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Rom. 3:21-22)

25 God presented him [Christ] as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:25-26)

23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. (Rom. 4:23-25)

30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” (Rom. 9:30-32)

3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. … 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom. 10:3-4, Rom. 10:8-13)

In that long passage in Rom. 10:3-4, Rom. 10:8-13 God saves or rescues us through our faith energized by the gospel.

9 If the ministry that condemns men is glorious [law of Moses], how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness [ the gospel of Christ]! (2 Cor. 3:9)

21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Gal. 2:21)

21 Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22 But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (Gal. 3:21-22)

4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. (Gal. 5:4-5)

9 … not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Php. 3:9)

3. God’s righteousness is built into the gospel, from faith to faith.

16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Rom. 1:16-17)

4. Abraham shows God’s righteousness can be credited or imputed to our account.

1 We say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works … 10 We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness. (Rom. 4:1-6, 10, emphasis added)

That long passage clarifies that when we work, we earn money. The employer owes it to us. When we don’t work, but get money anyway, that’s a gift. It has been freely credited to our account.

23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. (Rom. 4:23-24)

6 Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 7 Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. 8 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9 So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Gal. 3:6-9)

5. God’s righteousness is therefore a gift by grace.

17 … How much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:17)

5 He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Ti. 3:5)

6. God’s righteousness means grace reigns and brings eternal life through Christ.

18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. (Rom. 5:18)

21 … Grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 5:21)

7. God’s righteousness means that Christ is our righteousness.

30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30)

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)

Imparted Righteousness

The context of these verses helps us distinguish between the two meanings of justification and imparted righteousness or sanctification.

Now that we have received the gift of righteousness, the Spirit can work it out in our lives. This process is known as sanctification or growing up in Christ. Righteousness is imputed. That’s our legal standing. And righteousness is imparted. That’s what we apply in our living. Righteousness affects our conduct. Both imputation and impartation can happen at the same time. In fact they should happen at the same time.

1. Righteousness means we can offer our body, our whole person, as instruments or even slaves of righteousness.

13 and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:13-14)

16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Rom. 6:16)

18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. 19 I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. (Rom. 6:18-19)

10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. (Rom. 8:10)

24 And to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:24)

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. (Eph. 5:8-10)

2. Pursue righteousness.

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Tim. 6:11)

22 Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Tim. 2:22)

3. Righteousness can become our weapons and armor.

4 Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: … 7 with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left … (2 Cor. 6:4, 7)

14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place (Eph. 6:14)

4. Righteousness is not compatible with wickedness.

14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Cor. 6:14)

13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15 It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (2 Cor. 11:13-15)

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Eph. 5:8-11)

5. Righteousness can lead to a harvest of righteousness or good deeds.

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. (2 Cor. 9:10)

9 And this is my prayer: that [you may be] 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Php. 1:9, 11)

6. The kingdom of God is righteousness, as we serve others.

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. (Rom. 14:17-18)

7. A crown of righteousness awaits us.

5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. (Gal. 5:5)

6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:6-8)

Summary

Putting things right in a covenant context and declared righteous or acquitted in a forensic (law court) setting do not need to conflict. When God declares you not-guilty or acquits you and yes, puts a robe of righteousness on you, you are put right in the New Covenant.

After (or at the same time) you are acquitted in the divine court of law, God expects you to walk like a free person, declared not guilty. He expects you to behave yourself, to walk in righteousness. That’s called sanctification. Since all analogies are weak, the human judge cannot send his spirit into you to sanctify you. But God is the heavenly judge. He can and does send his Spirit into you. He is called the Holy Spirit. He leads you towards holiness.

After that big-picture overview, now let’s turn to a summary of the biblical data.

People are declared righteous or just, not because of their good behavior, but because of their faith in Jesus Christ. So God sees the bad behavior of the sinner. But God notes that he has turned in repentance and faith in Christ who forgives the sinner. Christ pays his debt. Then God declares the sinner righteous and not guilty. The sinner is no longer a debtor because his debt of sin has been paid in full, by Christ.

Now we can study Paul’s doctrine of righteousness and justification. His epistles are much, much shorter than the OT. But he packs a lot of theology into them. He takes over some themes from the OT, but clearly goes in new directions. After all, the Messiah had come and the Spirit was given. They account for some huge differences between the two covenants.

Justified, Righteousness, and Justification

All three words have the same Greek stem dik-.

In the big picture, The Messiah came. Paul met him in revelations. How does the Messiah match up with the OT standard of righteousness? Would he reestablish the law of Moses in its entirety? Partially? Paul works out sanctification after we are justified e.g. in Rom. 6-8; Rom. 12-16; Gal. 5-6; Eph. 4-6.

One more piece of the big picture: The Spirit came. Paul experienced him. So how does he work with righteousness? How does the Spirit relate to the law of Moses? Now Israel was not the only chosen people; Gentiles were chosen too.

Paul is ambiguous about the law of Moses. The law brings wrath and exposes or intensifies sin. Both Jews and Gentiles need to be rescued or saved from God’s judgment and wrath.

Righteousness and justification has to go in a different direction from law keeping.

Paul zeroes in on Abraham’s faith, who was the father of faith 400+ years before the law of Moses. Abraham was credited with righteousness before he was circumcised, even though circumcision was the sign of being in a covenant, now an old covenant. Keying off Abraham, both Jews and Gentiles can be credited with righteousness by faith. Paul teaches that faith apart from works of the law puts the legal declaration (to justify) in motion.

The Spirit and grace work in a person (even if he does not realize it). To be justified by grace is to be declared righteous apart from doing the law. This declaration has to come through the Messiah and the Spirit, not the law of Moses.

Vindication has to go in a different direction from a narrow restoration of one nation. In fact, vindication as such – and certainly not in the OT sense – is a minor theme in Paul. If anyone is vindicated, it is God, who had foretold he would establish a new covenant; and, having established it, he is not proven untrue. The Spirit vindicates Christ, which refers to Christ’s miracles and resurrection. Only after the legal declaration of righteousness (justification) can a believer be considered “vindicated.” But this is different from ancient Israel’s vindication. Israel had been attacked, defeated and exiled, and the nations of the known world had heard about it. When a remnant of Israel was restored, national vindication was accomplished.

Paul goes way beyond national vindication and is concerned with righteousness before God and his judgment. Christ’s sacrificial blood is the foundation of justification, because the demands of the law have been met. The punishment for our law breaking has been paid in full. To justify is to declare the person just or righteous, so that the ground of punishment no longer exists. Justification is the opposite of condemnation. To condemn does not make the character bad, and to justify does not make the character good. Justification is as much a legal and declarative act as condemnation is.

Law keeping does not bring righteousness. Only faith in Christ brings God’s freely given righteousness. To be declared righteous in God’s sight and to be justified are the same.

To justify is to impute righteousness. Righteousness is a free gift by grace and faith.

To impute is to reckon, calculate, consider, or regard it. The Greek logizomai – which is the verb that translates as “impute” – has the basic meaning of “thinking” or “considering.” God thinks of us as righteous because of Christ; therefore, his righteousness belongs to us. It is not a “legal fiction.” Therefore, after being justified, man can survive the judgment before an infinitely holy and righteous God.

To be justified or legally declared righteous is not an inner act, any more than a judge can make the acquitted be just or righteous on the inside. To be justified does not change the person’s character. Justification is not the same as sanctification (see next).

Justification and Imparted Righteousness or Sanctification

Justification and sanctification are inseparable, but distinct. Sanctification literally means “the process or act of making holy.” Only the Holy Spirit leads the believer to live a righteous life. From the status of declared righteousness (justification), he can live out a righteous life. Righteousness has been imputed (justification), so now it can be imparted (sanctification).

From the declared legal status of righteousness flows the activity of righteousness. We are no longer slaves of unrighteousness, but slaves of righteousness. Righteousness and wickedness are incompatible. Righteousness can produce a harvest of good or righteous deeds. The legally declared status of righteousness can lead us to put on the breastplate of righteousness. The legally declared status of righteousness can now lead us to take up weapons of lived-out righteousness.

We can pursue righteousness. This pursuit is the perfect illustration of the difference between justification and sanctification. Paul believes righteousness is a free gift by grace alone and faith alone – from faith to faith, apart from works of the law or our works, period. Yet we can pursue righteousness. If we’re not careful, our pursuit turns into our works. We might believe we have to earn righteousness. But why pursue something we already have as a gift in the first place? This is the confusion that comes from not understanding the difference between justification and sanctification.

Paul would tell us that we receive righteousness as a gift by a legal declaration. That’s imputed righteousness. That’s justification. Then our ethical conduct is affected. That’s imparted righteousness from the Spirit. We then pursue righteous living by following the Spirit. That’s sanctification. Then, one day, we will wear a crown of righteousness, after we die.

Though they’re unified, we need to understand the distinctions. (1) God justifies or legally declares us righteous (justification). We have a righteous standing or status before God’s tribunal. We are put right in the New Covenant. (2) That legal righteousness and being put right is worked out in our walk or growth in him by the power of the Spirit (sanctification). (3) Our day-to-day growth in righteousness comes together and is completed in heaven.

The free gift of righteousness impacts our living and behavior. We can now live righteously. We do this by walking in the Spirit.

Thus, justification and sanctification are inseparable, but distinct.

If we wrongly believe that God first has to sanctify us before he can declare us not guilty, we will never know for sure if our sanctification has progressed far enough. Are we holy enough before God can declare us righteous? Have we purged out enough sin so that God can then justify us (legally declare us righteous)? Though I’m cooperating with the Spirit in the sanctification process, is my personal cooperation and righteousness good enough?

This wrong way makes God’s legal declaration or justification too dependent on us. This backwards belief puts too much pressure on us. How is this pressure and self-dependency good news? It isn’t.

The answer: imputation and justification (legal declaration of righteousness) being put right in the New Covenant (new position in Christ) and impartation and sanctification (personal growth in righteousness in the Spirit).

See the companion article Righteousness Language in the OT.

Please cite this article, especially in print media, as follows:

James M. Arlandson. “Righteousness Language in Paul.” Bible.org. 2014.

Free Slaves For Christ

Related Media

When people think of freedom, they most commonly associate it with civil liberty. This is probably especially true for citizens of the USA. At an early age Americans become familiar with the words of the song most commonly known as “America”:

My country, tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims pride,
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring.1 (v.1)

Our fathers God, to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedoms holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King. (v. 4)

Freedom can also convey many other ideas. Thus Jefferson is on record as pointing out that freedom involves, “Freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected. These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us, and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment.”2 More specifically, in an address to congress President Roosevelt declared those by now well-known four freedoms:

We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.… The first is freedom of speech and expression…. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way…. The third is freedom from want…. The fourth is freedom from fear.3

Not to be forgotten as well along social and cultural lines are the famous words of Martin Luther King who looked forward to that day when freedom would so ring that, “All of God’s children … will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!’”4 King’s praise of God and the cause of freedom is a reminder and acknowledgement that true freedom of every dimension ultimately is found only in relation to the Lord. As Bowles once remarked, “The cause of Freedom is the cause of God!”5

In the following study we shall examine briefly the seemingly contrary notions of slavery and freedom, which nevertheless occur at times in parallel. Our study will close with several practical applications that support the theme, “Free slaves for Christ.”

Slavery in Biblical Times

Slavery was simply a normal fact of life for the people in ancient biblical times. As Rupprecht demonstrates in his extensive study of the subject, slavery consisted of, “The ownership of one man by another man so that the former was viewed in most respects as property rather than a person. It was a deeply rooted part of the economy and social structure of the ancient Near E. and of the Greco-Rom. World.”6 Wight points out that it existed even among the early Hebrews: “When the laws were given at Mt. Sinai, slavery was universal among the nations of the world. It was not practical to do away with it all at once. Rather, laws were given to prevent the worst abuses and evils of it from being present among the Jews.”7 It is not our purpose, however, in this study to portray the many aspects of slavery among God’s people in OT or NT times. Such would form a study in itself. Moreover, such detailed information is readily available in many biblical encyclopedias and dictionaries as well as in several individual articles and books.8

One interesting special aspect of slavery is seen in situations concerning Hebrew citizens serving as slaves to their fellow Hebrews. That Hebrews could become slaves to other Hebrews was indeed possible. As Merrill points out, “Extreme cases of poverty sometimes resulted in voluntary servitude in which a man or woman would come under the care of a benefactor who would provide for all of the needs of the destitute individual until either he had paid off his obligations or served for a six year period.”9 Nevertheless, the slave holder was to be concerned for the welfare of his fellow Hebrew—slave though he might be. Moreover, in the seventh year the slave would automatically be set free:

If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, In the seventh year you must let him go free. And when you release him, do not send him away empty handed. Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor, and your winepress. Give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you. (Deut 15:12-14; NIV)10

This law is in accordance with Exodus 21:1-4 (cf. Jer. 34:14), which nonetheless also stipulated that, “If he came in with a wife when he came in, then his wife will go out with him. If his master gave him a wife, and she bore sons or daughters, the wife and the children will belong to her master, and he will go out by himself” (Exod. 12:3-4). In both laws the freeing of the slave in the seventh year demonstrates that the underlying principle of respect and concern for a fellow Hebrew is the same, even though the earlier law did allow the master to keep the wife and children, which the slave had acquired during those six years of servitude. Moses’ exposition of the law, then, draws out a deeper principle inherent in the law— “the principle of love, for God and for fellow man, which was so vital to the covenant community.”11 By his responsible actions the master was to reflect the same type of love that God had for the Hebrews when he delivered them from slavery in Egypt and provided for their needs (Deut 15:15).

Unlike non-Israelites, native Hebrews “could not be sold into permanent slavery.”12 Nevertheless, if the Hebrew slave wished to remain in servitude to his (or her) fellow Hebrew master, whether out of love, or loyalty and respect for him, or because he (or she) enjoyed life the way it was (cf. Deut 15:16), the law provided for the present situation to be maintained permanently. In such a case, the master was to “take an awl and pierce a hole through his ear to the door. Then he will become a servant permanently (this applies to your female servant as well)” (Deut 15:17). The servant now has freely accepted slave status. Having been set free, the slave willingly desires to remain in lasting slavery and be loyal and obedient to his (or her) master.

Slave (vs.) Free

Thus we see that in the Scriptures the themes of slavery and freedom can indeed be interrelated. It should not be surprising, therefore, that these common civil and social relationships could be readily applied metaphorically to a spiritual setting. This is precisely what Jesus did on one occasion when certain Jews appeared to respond favorably to his teaching (John 8:30). Accordingly, Jesus went on to tell them that their belief in him must most definitely continue and grow even more surely: “Then Jesus said to those Judeans who had believed him, ‘If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31). Here Jesus points out the relationship between knowledge, truth, and real freedom. Tenney points out that the Greek word knowledge:

usually implies knowledge gained from experience. Truth is formulated revealed reality, which is centered in the person of Christ Himself. Free means absence of constraint and restriction, opportunity to exercise the right of acting apart from external interference. These concepts imply a progress from ignorance to knowledge, from error or misinformation or uncertainty to truth, from slavery to liberty. 13

The mention of freedom was strange to Jesus’ hearers, for they were accustomed to thinking of slavery in accordance with civil and social practices. As descendants of Abraham they considered themselves totally free (John 8:32-33; cf. v. 41). As Kӧstenberger remarks, “Freedom was considered to be the birthright of every Jew. The law laid down that no Jew, however poor, should descend to the level of slave (Lev. 25:39-42).”14 As we noted above, however, provision was made for a Jew to be enslaved, but not permanently unless he chose to do so. The point of the Levitical legislation is that the master was not to treat a fellow Jew inhumanely. Rather, the master was told that he “must not rule over him harshly, but you must fear your God” (v. 42). Because of his hearers’ reaction, Jesus goes on to clarify matters for them concerning the basic concept of real freedom: “I tell you the solemn truth, everyone who practices sin is a slave of sin” (v. 34). Jesus’ hearers must realize that he was not talking about commonly practiced forms of slavery, but slavery to sin, a spiritual slavery that produces sinful habits, which control a person. As Jesus plainly implies, without his help they would continue to do sinful deeds and be controlled by sinful habits.

Indeed, without Christ the natural man is unable to think clearly so as to know that spiritual truth that brings true freedom to respond properly to God’s standards. As Morris observes, “The man who sins is a slave to his sin and this whether he realizes it or not. This means also that he cannot break away from his sin. For that he needs a power greater than himself.”15 Such is obtained only through accepting God’s Son, Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of one’s life. Indeed, it is really true, not just for the Jew but for all people, “If the son sets you free, you will be really free” (John 8:36).

The bringing together of slavery and freedom, then, has a meaningful purpose in Scripture. It involves not only theological truth but has a most practical end. It contrasts a sinful lifestyle and its results with an ability to live a life of true freedom. True freedom does indeed involve the ability to know the Lord through Christ so as to think God’s thoughts after him and thus to discern properly the difference between truth and error. This will result in the ability to live in accordance with God’s designed purpose for man. The believer can therefore enjoy life to its fullest for God’s glory and his own good. Genuine knowledge leads to real truth and to the God-intended freedom to conduct one’s self in godly wisdom.

Those who have received Christ have had the dominating shackles of inborn sin removed. The natural man is indeed a slave to sin. In an interesting play on words and terms, Moo remarks, “As ‘slaves to sin,’ people are ‘free’ from the power and influence of the conduct that pleases God; they are deaf to God’s righteous demands and incapable of responding to them even were they to hear and respect them….and therefore incapable of doing God’s will.”16 The Christian believer, however, has had that dominating influence through the work of Christ’s death and resurrection (cf. Rom. 5:20-21; 6:4-7, 11). Accordingly, the believer, now freed from slavery to sin may freely live for Christ. All of this is possible because by accepting Christ, the believer is taken into a living union with him, the One who alone has the power to enable him to experience that life of true freedom (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 2:8-10; Col. 1:21-22). Such is reflected in a familiar Christian song by Koch and Craig. Having mentioned the reality of Christ’s crucifixion and victorious resurrection, the song writers declare:

And as He stands in victory,
Sins curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine,
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
…….
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I stand.17

Twin Figurative uses of “Slave” and “Free”

It is of further interest to note that the metaphors “slave” and “free” frequently appear together. A metaphor may be defined simply as an “imaginative identification of two distinct objects or ideas.18 Slave is used together with its antonym, free to depict the vast difference between being mastered by sin or righteousness.18 Thus Paul declares:

Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either in sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness. But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. (Rom. 6:16-18; cf. vv.19-21)

The big difference, of course, is that although born as a slave to sin, as united to Christ the believer freely now chooses to be obedient to the Lord and be mastered by God.19 He thus is so committed and dedicated to the Lord that he desires to live according to Gods standards. The result is the assurance of eternal life with God: Now, freed from sin and enslaved to God, you have your benefit leading to sanctification, and the end is eternal life (Rom 6:22). 20 Commenting on this, Hodge remarks,

It is of God, that those who were once the servants of sin, become the servants of righteousness. …When a man is the slave of sin, he commonly thinks himself free; and when most degraded, is often the most proud. When truly free, he feels himself most strongly bound to God; and when most elevated, is most humble.21

What a blessing, then, believers now enjoy. For now they may freely commit themselves as slaves to do God’s will and so with confidence look forward to the assured hope to an everlasting life with the eternal Lord of glory: “For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:23; see NLT note). As an interesting aside, because the word “gift” is used in parallel to “payoff” (or “wages”), some suggest that Paul was “thinking of the Latin word donativum or largess given to each soldier by the emperor or imperial heir on his accession, introduction to public life or other extraordinary occasion.” 22 Despite attempts to make this relation, however, the Greek word rendered “gift” commonly refers to a gift “freely and graciously given.”23 Thus Paul closes this chapter of his work “by reminding us that, though our sin merits the sentence of death, eternal life must always be understood as a sheer gift of God’s grace….So we must never rely on the quality of our moral life itself to save us—that will always be insufficient; but genuine, saving faith in Christ will change the quality of our moral life.”24

James, the brother of Jesus and a leading member in the early church, who also reckoned himself a “slave of God” (James 1:1), declares that true faith is one that is evidenced in an active life for God. Citing Abraham’s full commitment to God even to the point of sacrificing his son as proof of genuine faith, he says:

You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by his works. And the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Now Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, and he was called Gods friend. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:22-24)

James is not suggesting that the justification that the believer receives at conversion, which is a judicial act whereby God pardons the believer of all his sins and accepts him as righteous (cf. Rom. 3:23-24) is by works, not faith. Rather James is declaring that a person’s salvation is demonstrated by his Christian works and walk. As Osborne remarks,

Paul [in Romans] is concerned with the issue of regeneration, James with the issue of sanctification; Paul with how a person is saved, James with how a person lives out that salvation. For Paul justification refers to that moment when God declares a person right with him, while for James it refers to God vindicating a person’s faith and showing it to be right with him, leading to the final vindication at the Last Judgment…. Putting Paul and James together, works cannot bring about justification, but works must result from justification.” 25

That Paul and James were not in disagreement as to true faith and its outworking can be seen in his challenging message to the Ephesians that true faith is one that is active, a faith that serves God and does good things for others:

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so that we may do them. (Eph. 2:8-10)

Still further, as “slaves of righteousness” believers have the privilege of sharing the gospel message with others. Thus Paul declares that as free he willingly made himself “a slave to all in order to gain even more people” (1 Cor: 9:19). This included both Jew and gentile (vv. 20-22). He goes on to say, “I do all these things because of the gospel, so that I can be a participant in it” (v. 23). What a privilege indeed it is to so live as to be a willing, dedicated messenger of the good news of God’s free gift of salvation in Christ Jesus! For Paul, this meant the full commitment of his whole self, soul and body, not only in dedicated, faithful service, but as living in such a way as to represent Christ in a righteous manner: “I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified” (v. 27). As I have written elsewhere, in this context Paul goes on to compare himself to a dedicated athlete who is so completely dedicated not only to participation in an athletic competition and to winning, but doing so in accordance with the rules:

If athletes can strive to fulfill their fixed goals, how much more should he in his spiritual ministry…. Paul thus declares his willing self denial in order to achieve his high calling in Christ Jesus. No selfish desires, plans or ambitions would be allowed to distract him. He was totally dedicated and committed to the task for which he had been called by the Lord. He expresses another pressing concern: having shown others the way of true Christian faith and conduct, Paul is anxious that he himself would not do anything that would compromise his continuing in the ministry. 26

An interesting contrast may be seen in a comparison of Paul and Onesimus. On the one hand, Paul formerly lived as a free, yet committed Jewish Pharisee. So committed to his religious beliefs was he, that he persecuted harshly the early Christians (Acts 22:2-4; 26:4-11). Now, however, he was truly free--spiritually free-- through genuine faith in Christ Jesus and had become an ambassador for Christ (2 Cor. 5:17-21). He now considered himself a slave to all in order that he might help in spreading the gospel message. On the other hand, Omnesimus had formerly lived as a slave. He then had escaped from his master and had fled to Rome, where he met Paul and was led to faith in Christ. Now as spiritually free, Paul was sending him back to his master, Philemon. As he did so, Paul urged Philemon to regard Onesimus not just as his slave, “but more than a slave, as a dear brother. He is especially so to me, and even more so to you now, both humanly speaking and in the Lord. Therefore, if you regard me as a partner, accept him as you would me.” (Philemon, vv. 16-17).

Paul’s sending Onesimus back to his master may seem strange to modern ears, but was in keeping with his own earlier teaching on the basis of current social standards.27 Thus Paul told the Corinthians:

Let each on remain in the situation in which he was called. Were you called as a slave? Don’t worry about it. But if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunity. For the one who was called in the Lord as a slave is the Lord’s freedman. In the same way, the one who was called as a free person is Christ’s slave…. In whatever situation someone was called, let him remain in it with God. (1 Cor. 7:20-22, 24).

As Baker observes,

In 7:22 Paul reminds the Corinthians of an important theological truth. Even if they are slaves currently (and had been when they became Christians) and their prospects for release were distant or questionable, they should take heart because they were already free in the most important sense of the word. That is, they are free from slavery to sin and the world because God paid the ransom price with the life of his Son, Jesus Christ. They have become slaves of Christ now, as are all believers, a status that supersedes their economic slavery. 28

Paul goes on to say, “You were bought with a price! Do not become slaves of men.” Although social practices and theological truth are in view in verse 23, there also is moral and spiritual application. One such application is that believers should not allow themselves to become so enslaved to their fellow man that they live as men pleasers and pursue their sinful practices and habits.

Similarly, Paul tells the people in his letter to the Ephesians (6: 6-9) that both slaves and their masters should treat each other with respect and kindness. Slaves were to remember that they were to serve and obey their masters as “slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart …because you know that each person, whether slave or free, if he does something good, this will be rewarded by the Lord” (vv.6-8). Indeed,

Believing slaves should be motivated to serve their human masters well because ultimately their indenturing is to Christ alone, that is, they are ‘slaves of Christ.’ … They belong to someone who has far greater authority and far more honor than any human slave owner or even the emperor himself.29

Masters were instructed and encouraged to “treat your slaves the same way, giving up the use of threats, because you know that both you and they have the same master in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him” (v.9). Truly, “The principle of v.8 obtains for masters too; those who do well will receive the Lord’s reward—whether they are slave or free.” 30 Not only in ancient times but today as well, whatever their social status may be, believers should find their primary sense of duty in living so as to be pleasing to God, serving as the Lord’s representative so well that others see Christ in them. As Pollard expresses it,

Have Thine own way, Lord!
Have Thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway!
Fill with Thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me!31

These same principles are well illustrated in Paul’s words to the Roman Christians (Rom. 8: 12-15). He reminds the believers there that they no longer need to be enslaved by human passions and standards (vv. 12-13). In a forensic sense, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (vv. 14-15). The NLT is certainly correct in gendering the word “spirit” in two ways. The spirit of slavery to sin contrasts the natural man with the Spirit (Holy Spirit) as, “The agent through whom the believer’s sonship is both bestowed and confirmed.”32 Therefore, not only does the believer have access to the Father, but God the Father is so honored and treasured by the believer that he can cry out through the leading of the Holy Spirit with a term of endearment and respect: “Abba.”

Jesus’ use of “Abba, Father” in his prayer in Gethsemane, just before his arrest and crucifixion, gives credence to his legitimate family relationship and to his intimacy with God the Father (Mark 14:36). Thus France point out that Jesus’ use of the term, “Abba,” “Conveys the respectful intimacy of a son in a patriarchal family. And in that sense Jesus’ use of this form of address to God is striking and unparalleled , until it was taken over by his followers.”33 Mohrlang adds, “The Spirit does more than simply give us new power for living. Deep within, moving us to address God as ‘Abba, Father…, the Spirit of God assures us that we are indeed children of God, part of God’s own dearly loved family—and that we can therefore boldly lay claim to children’s privileges.”34 Having been taken into union with Christ, today’s believers may also have such a sense of a family relationship and deep intimacy with God that they honor him, stay in communion with him, and do their best to reflect his will and standards in their lives.

Paul goes on to point out that adoption carries with it the further promise that we believers, “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (v. 23). Truly, as believers in Christ led by the Holy Spirit, not only was this true for the Roman Christians but even now believers do not belong to Satan, they are not his slaves, but are free citizens. Even more, they have been adopted— formally become members of God’s family. As spiritually the “new birth” pictures believers’ being born into the family of God (John 3:5-7), adoption portrays them as being granted the privileged and responsible position of children of God (Gal. 3:23-29) as well as the living and assured hope of the eventual redemption of our bodies.

Applications

At the outset of our study we suggested that the word freedom is thought of by most people as civil liberty. This is particularly the case in the United States. As we have noted, such freedom is embedded in many of our patriotic songs and hymns. It is true even in our national anthem, especially in the last verse, which unfortunately is largely overlooked by many Americans and seldom sung. This verse intertwines the grounds of America’s liberty with a firm belief in God:

O thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just;
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”
And the star spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Our national anthem was written by Francis Scott Key during America’s conflict with Britain on the night of September 13, 1814. Few Americans probably realize that Key was a dedicated Christian, who was very involved in the early activity of establishing Sunday schools. 35 Freedom is related to more than civil or social matters as also is slavery. Freedom, however, can also be illusionary:

It isn’t always others who enslave us. Sometimes we let circumstances enslave us; sometimes we let routines enslave us; sometimes we let things enslave us; sometimes, with weak wills, we enslave ourselves. … No man is free if he is running away from reality. And no man is free if he is running away from himself.36

Even more basically, true freedom has a spiritual foundation. As Scherer describes it, “We find freedom when we find God; we lose it when we lose Him.”37

Longenecker appropriately points to three areas of liberty found in the Apostle Paul’s writings: (1) the believer’s relationship to God or (“forensic”) freedom; the believer’s ordering of his own personal life; and the believer’s relationship to others (i.e., social freedom). 38 Even more broadly, we have noted that the words freedom and slavery are used in the Scriptures in dealing with civil or social affairs, but are most meaningfully utilized as contrasting metaphors dealing with one’s moral and spiritual life: intellectually, emotionally, or volitionally. Thus although Peter warned his readers: “Whatever a person succumbs to, to that he is enslaved” (2 Pet. 2:19), as we noted above, Jesus proclaimed that he is the true source of freedom, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Under the direction of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the wise believer will use his freedom wisely. As Paul told the Galatian believers, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. …But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:13, 16).

Thus as believers we are not to be self-centered, but committed to the Lord and his standards. Too often personal desires overtake us, such as the love of money, and even greed (cf. Heb. 1:5). As Paul told the Philippian Christians, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in true humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself” (Phil. 2:3). Paul reminds Timothy that this is to be exemplary in a Christian leader, for he should be “temperate, self controlled, hospitable, an able teacher, not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money” (1Tim 3:2-3). If our leaders are to set such an example, should it not be followed by all Christians? We all can be leaders in the sense of taking proper control of our lives. We can do this by freely submitting to the Lord as Christ’s “slaves.” That is, we should be totally dedicated to the Lord and be concerned for the needs of others, not ourselves. Jesus once told his disciples, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:8). Such should be true for today’s followers of Christ. As the song writer reminds us,

He said, “Freely, freely, you have received—
Freely, freely, give;
Go in my name, and because you believe,
Others will know that I live.”39

On another occasion Jesus taught in one of his many parables that the wise and faithful servant is mindful of his master -- even while he is away—for when his master returns, he will reward the servant in accordance to what he deserves (Luke 12: 41-48). May we be faithful servants eagerly awaiting the coming of our master the Lord Jesus Christ! As Lila Morris, writes,

Faithful and true would He find us here
If He should come today?
Watching in gladness and not in fear,
If He should come today?
Signs of His coming multiply,
Morning light breaks in eastern sky;
Watch, for time is drawing nigh—
What if it were today?40

Free slaves for Christ—yes, but even more than that, we are members of God’s earthly family through faith in Christ. Far greater than the opportunity of the freed slave in OT times to remain a slave to his master, we have the blessed privilege and joy of living in daily communion with The Lord. Still further, having been taken into union with Christ, we can be conscious of his presence and have the confident hope of living in God’s presence eternally.

Are we free?—Yes!-- free from sin’s enslavement through faith in Christ’s provision of salvation for all. Are we slaves? Yes!—those who willingly commit ourselves to the Lord’s service. As we await the joy of an everlasting life in the presence of our master, let us conduct ourselves as good and faithful free slaves for Christ.

Some day life’s journey will be o’er,
And I shall reach that distant shore:
I’ll sing while ent’ring heaven’s door,
“Jesus led me all the way.”41


1 Samuel F. Smith, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

2 Thomas Jefferson, “First Inaugural Address,” March 4, 1801.

3 Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Message to Congress,” January 6, 1941.

4 Martin Luther King, Jr., “Speech in Detroit,” June 23, 1963.

5 William Lisle Bowles, “The Right Honorable Edmund Burke,” 1791.

6 A. Rupprecht, “Slave, Slavery,” in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney and Steven Barabas, 5 vols. (Grand rapids: Zondervan, 1975) 5: 453.

7 Fred H. Wight, Manners and Customs of Bible Lands (Chicago: Moody, 1953), 291. See further, Rupprecht, ibid. 454-58.

8 In addition to Rupprecht’s already cited article, see, for example, see S. S. Bartchy, “Slavery,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, eds. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, et al., 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, rev. ed. 1988) 4:539-46; I. Mendelsohn, “Slavery in the OT,” in The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, eds. George Arthur Buttrick, et al., 4 vols. (New York: Abingdon, 1962) 4:383-91. See also the data for the OT and NT in the supplementary volume by W. Zimmerli “Slavery in the OT,” and W. G. Rollins, “Slavery in the NT,” eds. Keith Crum et al. (1976, 829-32). Especially helpful are the observations in “Slave, Slavery,” Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, eds. Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, amd Tremper Longman III (Downers Grove: 1998), 797-99.

9 Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 245.

10 Unless, as here, otherwise noted, all scriptural citations will be taken from the NET.

11 Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976.

12 John H. Walton, Victor H. Mathews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 186.

13 Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief (Grand rapids: Eerdmans, reprint edition, 1989), 147.

14 Andreas J. Kӧstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 262. Kӧstenbeger goes on to point out proper Jewish attitude standards with regard to the status of their fellow Jewish citizens as recorded in the Mishnah and Talmud.

15 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1971), 458.

16 Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 406.

17 Donald A. Koch and Andrew Shawn Craig, “In Christ Alone,” (vv. 6, 8; punctuation, mine).

18 Andreas J. Kӧstenberger and Richard d. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011), 677.

19 Even were we to think of “slaves to righteousness” as being dominated by God, this would be a vast difference between serving an overbearing, even wicked, master like Satan and being controlled by a gracious master like God who desires our best!

20 For the extensive use of metaphors by the apostle Paul, see David J. Williams, Pauls Metaphors (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999.)

21 Charles Hodge, Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 213. Moo, Romans, 405, strongly, points out that the imperative in verse 19b means that, “We can, and must, serve righteousness because God has freed us from sin and made us slaves of righteousness.”

22 C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary, eds. J. A. Emerton and C.E. B. Cranfield (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 2 vols., 1975) 1:330.

23 William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Cambridge, University Press, 1957), 887. See also Paul’s use of this term already in Romans 5:16.

24 Roger Mohrlang, “Romans,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, ed. Philip W. Comfort, 18 vols. (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2007) 14:110.

25 Grant R. Osborne, “James,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, ed. Philip W. Comfort, 18 vols. (Carol Stream: Tyndale House. 2011) 18: 65.

26 Richard D. Patterson, “Christians as Athletes,” Biblical Studies Press. 2013, 4.

27 For details as to those social conditions, see David W. J. Gill, “1 Corinthians,” in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, [New testament] ed. Clinton E. Arnold, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids; Zondervan, 2002- 3:139.

28 William Baker, “1 Corinthians,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, ed. Philip W. Comfort, 18 vols. (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2009), 15: 109.

29 Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 423.

30 William W. Klein, “Ephesians,” The Expositors Biblical Commentary , eds. Tremper Longman II and David E. Garland, 13 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006) 12:160.

31 Adelaide A. Pollard, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord!”

32 Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 502.

33 R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark, The new International Greek Testament Commentary, eds. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 2002), 584.

34 Mohrlang, “Romans,” 130.

35 For details, see E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, The One Year Book of Christian History (Wheaton, Tyndale House, 2003), 428.

36 “Good Reading,” as cited in Lloyd Cory, Quotable Quotations (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1985), 145.

37 Paul Scherer, as cited in Lloyd Cory, Quotable Quotations, 356.

38 Richard N. Longenecker, Paul, Apostle of Liberty (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1964), 170-80.

39 Carl Owens, “Freely, Freely.”

40 Lila Morris, “What If It Were Today?”

41 John W. Peterson, “Jesus Led Me All The Way.”

Related Topics: Christian Life

Bibliography

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Clowney, E. P. (1988). The message of 1 Peter: The way of the cross. The Bible Speaks Today. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Grudem, W. A. (1988). Vol. 17: 1 Peter: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter–Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

Hanko, Herman (2012). A Pilgrims Manual: Commentary on I Peter. Reformed Free Publishing Association. Kindle Edition.

Helm, D. R. (2008). 1 & 2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christs sufferings. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

Ironside, H. A. (1947). Expository notes on the Epistles of Peter. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers.

Leadership Ministries Worldwide (2009). I Peter. Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible. Leadership Ministries Worldwide.

MacArthur, John (2003). The MacArthur Bible Handbook. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Publishers.

MacDonald, W. (1995). Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (A. Farstad, Ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

McKnight, Scot (2011). 1 Peter: The NIV Application Commentary. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Spencer, Glen (2005). I Peter, A Holy Walk in a Hostile Word. Expository Pulpit Series. Wordsearch Corp.

Suetonius. The Lives of Twelve Caesars, Life of Nero, 38; Cassius Dio, Roman History LXII.16

Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

So Great A Savior (Colossians 1-2)

The church in Colossae was not founded by Paul, but rather by his colleague in ministry, Epaphras. Nevertheless, Paul retained a pastoral interest in the church. When he heard that false teachers were pressuring the congregation, he wrote his letter to refute their errors. What the false teaching may have been is not clear, but apparently it detracted from the supremacy of Christ. Paul devoted his letter to reminding them what a great Savior they served. Though the 21st century church faces different pressures, Paul's reminder is still true. We serve a great Savior, one who deserves to be preeminent in our lives.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Christology

Colossians 1

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Part 1

The church in Colossae was not founded by Paul, but rather by his colleague in ministry, Epaphras. Nevertheless, Paul retained a pastoral interest in the church. When he heard that false teachers were pressuring the congregation, he wrote his letter to refute their errors. What the false teaching may have been is not clear, but apparently it detracted from the supremacy of Christ. Paul devoted his letter to reminding them what a great Savior they served. Though the 21st century church faces different pressures, Paul's reminder is still true. We serve a great Savior, one who deserves to be preeminent in our lives.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Christology

Colossians 2

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Part 2

The church in Colossae was not founded by Paul, but rather by his colleague in ministry, Epaphras. Nevertheless, Paul retained a pastoral interest in the church. When he heard that false teachers were pressuring the congregation, he wrote his letter to refute their errors. What the false teaching may have been is not clear, but apparently it detracted from the supremacy of Christ. Paul devoted his letter to reminding them what a great Savior they served. Though the 21st century church faces different pressures, Paul's reminder is still true. We serve a great Savior, one who deserves to be preeminent in our lives.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Christology

Lesson 63: Believing is Seeing, but Seeing is not Believing (John 11:38-57)

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August 10, 2014

There is a familiar saying, “Seeing is believing,” but in spiritual matters that is not necessarily true. Sometimes skeptics will say, “Show me a miracle and I’ll believe.” But even if they saw a genuine miracle, they’d still doubt it or look for a naturalistic explanation and find other reasons to continue in their unbelief.

As we’ve seen repeatedly, John wrote his Gospel, and especially the seven miraculous signs that Jesus performed before His death, “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (20:31). But not all who saw Jesus’ miracles in person believed in Him, just as not all today who read the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ miracles in the Gospels believe in Him. The barrier to faith is that we love our sin. As Paul points out in Romans 1:18-20, all people have adequate evidence of God’s eternal power and divine nature through creation, but they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. If God exists and created all things, then sinners know that they’re in big trouble. So they invent myths, like evolution, to dodge the reality of God so that they can continue in their sin.

If any miracle should have resulted in every person present falling on his face and worshiping Jesus as God, it would have been the raising of Lazarus from the dead. He had been dead four days, so that his body was beginning to decompose. But when Jesus cried out (11:43), “Lazarus, come forth,” life returned to his dead body, he was completely restored, and he walked out of the tomb, still bound with the grave wrappings. As a result, many did believe in Jesus, but in an amazing display of the hardness of unbelieving hearts, others went to report to the Jewish leaders what had happened. And, rather than acknowledging their mistaken views of Jesus, they intensified their efforts to kill Him.

In the narrative, Jesus tells Martha (11:40), “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Believing would result in seeing. But (in 11:45-46) others who saw this stupendous miracle did not believe, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Rom. 1:21). The lesson is:

If we believe in Christ, we will see the glory of God; but if we see miracles without believing we will be hardened in our sin.

1. If we believe in Christ, we will see the glory of God.

Jesus’ comment to Martha (11:40) that if she believed, she would see the glory of God, probably refers to His earlier comment (11:4), which would have been reported to Martha and Mary, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” Jesus’ aim in all that He did was to glorify the Father (17:1-5). Jesus is the revelation of God’s glory to us. As John said (1:14), “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” In heaven, we will see Jesus’ glory in all its fullness (17:24).

God’s glory is His essential and intrinsic splendor. The Hebrew word has the notion of weight or heaviness, and thus refers to God’s worthiness, reputation, and honor (M. R. Gordon, Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible [Zondervan], ed. by Merrill C. Tenney, 2:730). The emphasis in the Bible is on glory as the manifestation of His attributes. Thus Calvin wrote (ibid. 2:732), “The glory of God is when we know what He is.” He also observed (ibid. 2:733), “We never truly glory in Him until we have utterly discarded our own glory … whoso glories in himself glories against God.”

In this case, Martha’s faith would result in her seeing God’s glory as seen in Jesus’ intimacy with the Father and in His power to call Lazarus from the tomb. This miracle validates Jesus’ astounding claims in John 5:21, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” He added (5:28-29), “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; …” Because Jesus raised Lazarus, we can know that He will make good on His promise to raise all the dead someday, either for eternal life or for judgment. So this miracle should result in our seeing the fact that Jesus is the author and giver of both physical and eternal life and that He has all power over death.

We should apply Jesus’ words to Martha (11:40), “if you believe, you will see the glory of God.” First, we should always join Moses in his prayer (Exod. 33:18), “I pray You, show me Your glory!” That was a bold prayer! Moses had already seen the Lord at the burning bush. He had seen God’s power in the ten plagues on Egypt. He had seen the Lord deliver His people through the Red Sea, provide water from the rock, and manna from heaven every morning. I’d be satisfied to see any one of those displays of God’s glory! But, Moses wanted more, and so should we! As we see more of God’s glory, it transforms us into His image (2 Cor. 3:18). So, always pray that God will grant you more faith so that you will see more of His glory.

Also, C. H. Spurgeon (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 59:87) applied this verse by challenging his congregation to believe God for the conversion of sinners who were as corrupt in their morals as Lazarus was in his body. We sometimes see people who are debauched sinners and think, “There’s no way that that person could ever get saved.” If salvation comes from human will power, that’s true. But if salvation is of the Lord, then He is mighty to save the chief of sinners.

John calls Jesus’ miracles “signs” (11:48). Signs point to something beyond themselves. The physical miracles point to deeper spiritual truth. As a dead man whose body was undergoing corruption, Lazarus is a picture of sinners who are dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), cut off from the life of God, and morally corrupt in His holy presence. As a dead man, Lazarus had no power to raise himself from the dead. He needed the new life that comes only from God (John 6:63). It required the life-giving word of Jesus to call him from death to life. That’s true every time a sinner is born again.

You may ask, “Doesn’t the sinner have to choose to believe?” The Bible is clear, yes, the sinner must choose to believe. But no one who is dead in their sins is able to choose to believe until the Spirit of God quickens them from the dead. We saw this in John 1:12-13, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Those who believe didn’t do so because of their will (which is not “free,” but bound in sin), but rather because God caused them to be born again (1 Pet. 1:3).

So go to the Father in believing prayer and ask Him to save those who are so dead in sin that they stink! And, Jesus’ words apply to any who have not yet trusted in Him for salvation: If you will believe in Him, you will see the glory of His love, grace, and justice at the cross. If we believe in Christ, we will see the glory of God.

2. Jesus’ miracles should result in faith in Him as Savior and Lord.

First, we need to affirm that…

A. Jesus did raise Lazarus from the dead.

John reported this miracle so that you would believe in Jesus and have eternal life in His name. But Satan always attacks essential truths. So, it’s no accident that liberal critics dispute that this miracle really happened. They argue that John presents the raising of Lazarus as a crucial event that precipitated Jesus’ death at the hands of the Jewish leaders. If this is so, they say, why do the other three Gospels omit this important event? They conclude that John fabricated this story to illustrate some spiritual truths about Jesus. For example, William Barclay concludes (The Gospel of John [Westminster Press], 2:103), “It does not really matter whether or not Jesus literally raised a corpse to life in A.D. 30, but it matters intensely that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life for every man who is dead in sin and dead to God today.” Strange reasoning!

That’s like saying that it doesn’t really matter whether Jesus was raised bodily from the dead, as long as we learn the spiritual lessons from the story. Paul refutes that nonsense by arguing that if Christ is not literally raised from the dead, our faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:1-19). If Jesus did not literally raise Lazarus from the dead, then John’s credibility as an eyewitness of Jesus’ glory is worthless. His entire Gospel becomes just a clever fable, alongside Aesop’s fables, but not worth staking your life and eternal destiny on.

It’s clear that John is narrating an event that he saw take place in actual history. The story does not read as a concocted fable or myth. It is straightforward and realistic, with many factual details. Even Jesus’ enemies acknowledged that He was doing many miracles (11:47). They couldn’t question that Lazarus had been dead and now was alive. So Jesus’ critics who lived at that time didn’t doubt the fact that Lazarus was raised from the dead, but modern critics, living 20 centuries later do doubt it!

Thus what we have here is not a parable or a fable making some moral point. Rather, it is a historical account of Jesus raising a decomposing corpse to life. But John wants us to apply this actual miracle to our lives:

B. This miracle should cause you to believe in Jesus as your Savior and Lord; and if you already believe, to increase your faith in Him.

John views faith in Christ as both initial and ongoing. The disciples believed in Jesus in chapter 1, but in chapter 2, after Jesus turned the water into wine, we read (2:11), “This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” In 6:69, Peter affirms, “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” But here in chapter 11, Jesus tells the disciples (11:15), “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there [before Lazarus died] so that you may believe.” Martha clearly confesses her faith in Christ (11:27): “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” But (in 11:40) Jesus still challenges her to believe.

Apply this to yourself: If you have never repented of your sins and put your trust in Christ as Savior and Lord, that’s where you begin a relationship with Him. That’s when you move from spiritual death to eternal life. If you do not believe in Jesus as your Savior and Lord, you are still under God’s wrath (3:36). The Bible commands you to believe in Jesus and be saved (Acts 16:31).

But, you don’t stop with that initial belief. Your faith in Christ needs to grow and it will grow as you see more and more of who He is. This miracle shows that Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. He is, as He told Martha (11:25), the resurrection and the life. He is the eternal Son of God who took on human flesh and laid down His life willingly on the cross so that whoever believes in Him has eternal life (3:13-17).

This miracle shows that Jesus can do what mere men cannot do. Religion could not raise the dead. All that the Jews could do was offer consolation to Mary and Martha. The scribes and Pharisees could not raise the dead. Even modern medicine, with all of its advanced knowledge, cannot raise to life a body that has begun to decompose. But Jesus could do what no mere man could do. He spoke the word and Lazarus instantly came to life.

This miracle illustrates our insufficiency and Christ’s all-sufficiency. One reason that we don’t trust the Lord in our daily lives is that we feel sufficient or adequate in ourselves. We may ask Him for a little help now and then, but we don’t acknowledge what He told the disciples (15:5), “apart from Me you can do nothing.”

In commenting on Jesus’ prayer life, Paul Miller observes (A Praying Life [NavPress], p. 44), “If you know that you, like Jesus, can’t do life on your own, then prayer makes complete sense.” He goes on to devote a chapter to “learning to be helpless.” When we recognize our own insufficiency and helplessness, then we cast ourselves on the Lord and our faith grows as He answers. As Hudson Taylor, the great pioneer missionary to China, said, “All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on God being with them.”

But this story is not just about believing in Christ so that we will see God’s glory, or about how seeing miracles should result in our growth in faith. It’s also a warning against seeing God’s mighty works without believing:

3. Seeing a miracle without believing results in further hardening of heart.

This account of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus is a case study in the frightening nature of unbelief. We can learn three lessons:

A. Unbelief is not based on insufficient evidence.

What further proof of God’s power could you want than to smell the stench of the rotting body as they rolled the stone from the tomb, hearing Jesus’ loud command, and then seeing the formerly dead man stumble from the tomb, still bound in his graveclothes? Yet, some who witnessed this spectacle went away to inform Jesus’ enemies so that they could intensify their plans to have Him arrested and executed!

Of course, this wasn’t the first miracle that these enemies of Jesus had witnessed. They acknowledge that He is performing many signs (11:47). They had seen the man who had been paralyzed for 38 years, who used to beg at the Pool of Bethesda, now walking because Jesus healed him (5:1-14). They knew that the man born blind, who used to beg by the temple gate, now saw because Jesus healed him (9:1-34). But they rejected both of these miracles because Jesus had done them on the Sabbath. And now, Jesus does the ultimate miracle by commanding Lazarus to come out of the tomb. What further evidence could they ask for? But their unbelief was not based on insufficient evidence.

The same is true today. We have the evidence of fulfilled prophecy, including over 300 prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. We have the eyewitness accounts of His teaching and miracles. There is the evidence of Jesus’ empty tomb, backed up by the changed lives of the witnesses, who all at first doubted His resurrection, but later were willing to suffer and die because they knew that He was alive. There is the evidence of intricate design in all of creation, from the molecular level up to the global level. But unbelief due to the hardness of human hearts suppresses the evidence.

B. Unbelief is based on selfish interests.

The real heart of unbelief is seeking your own way while you leave God out. There are two groups here, representing two levels of unbelief.

First, we see the unbelief of Caiaphas and the chief priests and Pharisees (11:47-53). The basis for their unbelief is clear (11:48): “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” They had a vested interest in the system as it was and they were afraid of losing it. If the people believed in Jesus as Messiah, they feared that the Romans would intervene and they would lose their power and their comfortable living through controlling the temple. Ironically, by killing their Messiah, the very thing that they feared came on the nation as God’s judgment when Titus destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70.

Caiaphas, who was the high priest, was a shrewd, calculating politician. First, he discredits what everyone else had said by flatly stating (11:49), “You know nothing at all.” Then, he postures himself as being concerned for the people (11:50), “… it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” He meant, “If we really care for our nation, we’ll eliminate this rabble-rouser, Jesus.” But he wasn’t really concerned for the nation, but for his own self-interest and power.

But John shows the irony in Caiaphas’ words: as high priest he was unwittingly prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation, and (11:52), “not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” John is referring to all of God’s elect around the world. They were not yet children of God, but as God told Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:10), “I have many people in this city.” They were not yet saved, but they would be saved through Paul’s preaching, because they were God’s chosen ones. As Jesus said (John 6:39): “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

The lesson that we should learn is that you cannot frustrate God and His sovereign purpose. You can oppose Him and for a time it may seem that you are succeeding. They killed Jesus. But, in the end, God always wins. That’s the message of the last book of the Bible: God is going to win and all who oppose Him will lose.

The second group that did not believe was the common people (11:55-57), who went up to Jerusalem for the Passover. They were not openly hostile toward Jesus, but neither were they committed to follow Him. They were just curious onlookers on the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. They were content to go on with their religious festival while they discussed whether or not Jesus would show up and what would happen if He did. But they didn’t dare take a stand for Jesus, because that would put them on the bad side of the religious authorities. So their interest in protecting themselves caused them to be passive while the religious leaders murdered an innocent and good man.

The lesson here is that to be neutral towards Jesus is to be unbelieving. Self-centeredness is the heart of unbelief. The result of their self-interest was counter-productive, in that Jesus went away, because His time had not yet come (11:54). To have Jesus withdraw from you is the ultimate tragedy! The third lesson is:

C. Even devoutly religious people can be unbelieving.

Again, there is an ironic warning in 11:55: “Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the Passover to purify themselves.” This refers to the second group of unbelievers that we saw. They weren’t openly hostile toward Jesus, but neither were they committed. They were “good church-goers,” who went through the outward rituals, but they weren’t willing to stand openly for Christ.

I hope that that doesn’t describe you! It is possible to be devoutly religious, to attend church regularly, to partake of the Lord’s Supper, and yet not to be fully committed to Jesus Christ, especially when that commitment might cost you something.

Conclusion

So I conclude with the warning of Hebrews 3:12: “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.” The Jewish leaders asked (11:47), “What are we doing (about this miracle-worker)?” It’s a good question to ask yourself: “What am I doing with Jesus?” The options are: (1) Oppose Him; (2) be neutral toward Him as you practice your religion; (3) believe in Him as Savior and Lord, no matter what it may cost you. If you believe, you will see the glory of God in Christ. But if you see the miracles reported in God’s Word and do not believe, you’ll be hardened in your sin and the Savior will withdraw from you. You don’t want to go there!

Application Questions

  1. A skeptic says, “I don’t believe in miracles because I’ve never seen one.” How would you reply?
  2. A fellow Christian says, “If those who are dead in sin can’t believe of their own free will, how can God command them to believe?” How would you reply?
  3. If unbelief is not based on insufficient evidence, what is the role of apologetics?
  4. What are some practical ways to be on guard against “an evil, unbelieving heart” (Heb. 3:12)?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Faith, Glory, Hamartiology (Sin)

Lesson 64: Wasting Your Life on Jesus (John 12:1-11)

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August 17, 2014

This story of Mary anointing our Lord shortly before His death has had a profound influence on my walk with the Lord for over 45 years now because of a sermon I read and have re-read many times by the late Chinese preacher, Watchman Nee. It’s the last chapter of his book, The Normal Christian Life [Christian Literature Crusade], titled, “The Goal of the Gospel.” It’s also in a pamphlet titled, “Why This Waste” (you can find it online).

Nee points out that in the parallel accounts in Matthew (26:6-13) and Mark (14:3-9; Luke 7:37-39 is a different incident), all the disciples joined Judas in scolding Mary for wasting this expensive perfume on Jesus when it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. But Jesus defends Mary by replying (Matt. 26:13), “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” Nee says (p. 186) that Jesus “intends that the preaching of the Gospel should issue in something along the very lines of the action of Mary here, namely, that people should come to Him and waste themselves on Him.” Or, to state it another way (p. 187), the gospel is “to bring each one of us to a true estimate of His worth.” If Jesus is the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in the field, then it’s not a waste to sell everything you have to buy that pearl or buy that field. Jesus is worthy for you to devote all you are and all you have to Him.

So this is a story about how not to waste your life. It’s also a story about motivation: why do you do what you do for the Lord? Do you serve Him for the satisfaction you get when you see results? It is satisfying to see Him use you, but that’s the wrong motivation. Do you serve Him because it helps others? Again, it’s gratifying to see others helped, but that’s the wrong motivation for serving Him. The true motive for serving Christ is because He is worthy of everything you can do for Him and because you love Him and want to please Him because He gave Himself for you on the cross. We learn this from Mary’s act of devotion.

But John contrasts Mary’s act of devotion with Judas’ self-centered focus and with the evil plans of the chief priests, who now not only want to kill Jesus, but also Lazarus, whose resurrection was resulting in many believing in Jesus. So the story’s lesson is:

A life spent in selfless devotion to Jesus is not wasted, but a life spent on self is totally wasted.

This story illustrates Jesus’ words in Mark 8:35-36:

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”

Jesus repeats this idea (John 12:25), “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” Mary denied herself and “hated her life” for Jesus’ sake by her extravagant act of devotion to Him, and she gained that which would not be taken from her (Luke 10:42). Judas greedily wished that he could have pocketed some of Mary’s gift. In a few days, he would sell Jesus for a paltry sum. But he forfeited his soul.

1. You will not waste your life if you spend it in selfless devotion to Jesus.

To put it another way, to “waste” your life on Jesus is to save your life. Mary’s act reflects four components of selfless devotion:

A. Selfless devotion is costly.

Mary’s anointing Jesus with this perfume was costly in at least three ways:

1) Selfless devotion costs you financially: “Do I treasure Jesus more than my stuff?”

Pure nard was a spice that came from the Himalaya Mountains in the far north of India. It had to be imported to Israel at great cost. We don’t know where Mary got this 12-ounce jar of perfume. Perhaps it was a family heirloom. Judas estimates that it could have been sold for 300 denarii, which was equivalent to about 300 days’ pay for a working man (Matt. 20:2). Figuring $10 an hour, 300 eight-hour days adds up to $24,000! Any way you figure it, Mary’s action was extravagantly costly! Judas and the disciples, who according to the other Gospels joined him in scolding Mary, were only being sensible: She could have sold this jar of perfume, given 90 percent of the money to help a lot of poor people, and still had a sizeable amount to give to the Lord. But were they really sensible?

The Lord rebukes them (John 12:8), “For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” He was not saying that we should not help the poor, but He was saying, “I am more worthy of your unselfish devotion than all the world’s poor put together!” He was accepting the worship that Mary gave Him because she rightly saw that He is worthy of all that we can give Him and even more. As Isaac Watts put it (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”):

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

The point is, devotion to Christ will cost you financially. If He bought you with His blood, you don’t own anything. It’s all His and He can direct you to give some or all of it for His kingdom purposes. Probably, most of us would have sold the perfume, given ten percent to the Lord, and pocketed the rest to spend on getting a later model mule! But Mary gave it all because she knew that Jesus is worth it.

Many years ago, a pastor went down from the pulpit one Sunday and watched what each person put in or didn’t put in the offering plate as it was passed. Some of his people were angry, others were embarrassed, but all were surprised. Then he went back to the pulpit and preached on the Lord standing near the treasury in the temple and watching what each person put in, including the widow and her two mites. He reminded them that the Lord watches the collection every Sunday to see what His people give.

So let me ask: Is your devotion to the Lord costing you financially? If others looked at how you spend your money, would they conclude that you must love Jesus a lot?

2) Selfless devotion costs you socially: “Do I treasure Jesus more than my pride?”

Matthew and Mark say that Mary anointed Jesus’ head, but John says that she anointed His feet. There is no contradiction if she anointed both. Matthew and Mark mention Jesus’ head because anointing the head signified kingship. John mentioned her anointing Jesus’ feet because it was the lowly task of a servant to wash a guest’s feet. In the next chapter John tells how Jesus washed the disciples’ feet as an act of great humility that we should follow.

But Mary didn’t use a towel. Rather, she wiped the Lord’s feet with her hair. Respectable Jewish women never let down their hair in public. In fact, it was considered a mark of a woman of loose morals (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 577). But Mary was so caught up with her devotion to Christ that she didn’t stop to consider what others might think about her. Like David dancing before the Lord wearing only an ephod (2 Sam. 6:14-23), Mary cast public opinion to the wind, let her hair down, and wiped Jesus’ feet. David’s fervent devotion embarrassed his wife, but the Lord stood with David. Mary’s action made the apostles uncomfortable, but Jesus sided with Mary.

So ask yourself, “Do I treasure Jesus more than my pride?” Or, am I more concerned about what others think about me? People may think you’re a zealot or a religious fanatic. But what matters is what Jesus thinks about your selfless devotion to Him.

3) Selfless devotion costs you some criticism: “Do I treasure Jesus more than my reputation?”

Judas led the attack, but the other disciples echoed his criticism. Matthew 26:8 reports, “But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, ‘Why this waste?’” They were only being pragmatic and sensible. The money could have benefitted many poor families. But instead, it was all wasted on Jesus. Or, was it wasted?

Count on it: If you give yourself without reserve to Jesus, you will be criticized and the loudest criticism will come from some church members who will say that they’re only using common sense in how the Lord’s resources are spent. When Jim Elliot set his sights on going to the unreached tribes of Ecuador, his Christian parents asked him to consider whether his gifts could be better used among young people in the United States. He replied with a scathing denunciation of the lukewarm American church (Shadow of the Almighty [Zondervan], p. 132). He went to South America, where he and four others were murdered trying to tell a lost, savage tribe about the love of Jesus. They “wasted” their lives for Jesus!

When John Paton let it be known that he planned to move with his new bride to take the gospel to the cannibals in the South Sea Islands, an old man in his church would say, “You’ll be eaten by cannibals!” Finally, Paton grew exasperated and replied (modified from John G. Paton Autobiography [Banner of Truth], ed. by his brother James Paton, p. 56), “My dear sir, you’re getting up in years and soon will be laid in the grave and eaten by worms. If I can but live and die honoring the Lord Jesus, it doesn’t matter to me whether I’m eaten by cannibals or by worms, and on resurrection day, my body will arise as fair as yours!” Selfless devotion to Christ involves personal cost.

B. Selfless devotion stems from personal love and gratitude.

Although the text doesn’t state it directly, Mary’s action obviously stemmed from her love for Jesus and her gratitude for His raising her brother from the dead. Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (John 11:5) and they loved Jesus.

Love for Christ should be the motive in all that we do for Him. Judas postured himself as being concerned for the poor, but even if he had given some of the money to the poor, he would not have been motivated by love for Christ. People can give great sums of money to the Lord’s work, but their real motive may be that they want others to know how generous they are. Some Christian organizations cater to this by naming a building after a generous donor, or telling potential donors that they will have a plaque put on the wall letting everyone know that they donated this room.

But the Lord looks on the hidden motives of our hearts, not on our outward actions. As Watchman Nee points out (ibid., pp. 189, 190), the first question we must ask in all we do is, “Has the Lord been satisfied?” Did I do what I did because I love Him and I wanted to please Him?

We’ve seen that selfless devotion is costly; it stems from love and gratitude toward Jesus.

C. Selfless devotion flows from knowing Jesus personally.

John 12:7 is difficult to interpret: “Therefore Jesus said, ‘Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial.’” Mary had just poured out the precious perfume, so she couldn’t keep it to anoint Jesus after He died. And, how much did she understand about Jesus’ impending death when none of the disciples saw it coming? The meaning may be that Mary had not sold this perfume, as Judas and the disciples had proposed, so that she could keep it for this anointing of Jesus’ body in anticipation of His death. Perhaps from her time of sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary had some sense that Jesus was about to die. Or, in the providence of God, she may have anointed Him unwittingly.

But in either case, Mary knew more about the infinite worth of Jesus than even the apostles did at this point. Her personal knowledge of Jesus, gained by sitting at His feet, led her to this act of selfless devotion.

If you want to follow Mary’s example of devotion to Jesus, you have to follow her example of sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to His word (Luke 10:39). Every time we encounter Mary in the Gospels, she is at Jesus’ feet—first, learning from Him; then, pouring out her sorrow to Him; and now, expressing her love and devotion to Him. You won’t love the Lord as you should unless you’ve spent much time at His feet. You do that by spending consistent time in the Word and in prayer.

D. Selfless devotion results in action.

Mary didn’t just think about this radical display of love, but then allow reason to prevail and not do it. Rather, she did it! Good intentions are nice, but it takes good actions to produce results. This story highlights three results that flow from selfless devotion: one from Mary, one from Martha, and one from Lazarus:

1) Action results in the fragrance of Christ surrounding your life.

John 12:3 says, “And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” If you had walked in the door or stood outside near an open window, you would have smelled the wonderful fragrance of that expensive perfume. It was in Mary’s hair, so that everywhere she went, the fragrance went with her.

Can people smell the fragrance of Christ on you? You ask, “What does it smell like?” It smells like the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23): Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Does your home smell like that? Do others sense from the fragrance of your life that you spend much time at Jesus’ feet, worshiping Him in selfless devotion? Do your relationships at church smell like the fragrance of Christ? I am often saddened when I hear about strained or broken relationships between believers. People who come into this church should smell the sweet fragrance of our Savior on us.

2) Action results in service for Christ.

Here we’re looking at the simple statement in John 12:2, “and Martha was serving.” In Luke 10:38-42, Martha was serving, but she was hassled by trying to do it all herself and she complained to Jesus because her sister wouldn’t help. Also, as G. Campbell Morgan observes (The Gospel According to John [Revell], p. 207), in Luke she was fixing dinner for four people and was hassled by her work, but here she is fixing dinner for at least 17 people and there is no word about her being hassled. Martha had learned from the previous incident to serve out of selfless devotion to Christ. If you love Him, you serve others for His sake without complaining.

3) Action results in witness for Christ.

Here, we’re looking at Lazarus. The text tells us three things about him: First, Jesus had raised him from the dead (John 12:1). Second, he was reclining at the table in fellowship with the Lord who had raised him from the dead (John 12:2). Third, his resurrected life resulted in many coming to see him and believing in Jesus as a result (John 12:9-11). Some scholars say that these were just curiosity seekers and not genuine converts. But John doesn’t say that. He just says (John 12:11), “on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.”

In this, Lazarus is an example for our witness: First, Christ has to give you new life before you can be a witness for Him. Granted, our transformation is probably not as dramatic as a physical resurrection from the dead! But people should see a definite change in your life after you’re born again. Second, you must spend time in fellowship with Jesus, learning from Him. Then, because our Savior came to seek and to save the lost, as you grow to be like Him, pray that God will use you to seek and save the lost. Wouldn’t it be great if we all could put our names in verse 11 and say, “On account of [Steve] many were going away and believing in Jesus”?

But this story isn’t only about how to “waste” your life by giving it in selfless devotion to Christ. The other side is here, too:

2. You will totally waste your life if you spend it on yourself.

Judas and the Jewish leaders who sought to kill both Jesus and Lazarus were acting out of selfish interests. Judas thought that more money would bring him more happiness. The Jewish leaders wanted to hang onto their power. But both parties wasted their lives because they spent them on themselves.

John tells us about Judas’ greed in verse 6: He really wasn’t concerned about the poor, but he was a thief. He had the money box and used to help himself to the funds. If Mary had given her perfume to sell and give to the poor, some of that money would have ended up in Judas’ pocket! Perhaps Judas had joined the apostolic band because he thought that if Jesus became the King of Israel, he would enjoy a nice position in Jesus’ kingdom.

But now the future looked dim. Jesus kept talking about His death, not His reign. This incident pushed Judas over the top. When Jesus came to Mary’s defense with more talk about His death, Judas decided to go to the authorities and betray Jesus. (Both Matthew and Mark place this event out of chronological sequence to connect it with Judas’ betrayal.) So for a measly thirty pieces of silver, Judas sold his soul. And, the chief priests irrationally wanted to kill both the author of life and the man who was raised from the dead because they both threatened their hold on power. Judas and the Jewish leaders wasted their lives because they spent them on themselves. As Jesus states (John 12:25), “He who loves his life loses it ….”

Conclusion

Mary’s action reveals the proper basis for evaluating your actions: Did you do what you did because you love and treasure Jesus? She didn’t do this out of duty or pragmatism, but out of sheer devotion for Christ. Mary did what she did because she had a perception of Christ that even the apostles at this point lacked. She knew that He was worthy of extravagant love. She gained this knowledge of Christ by sitting at His feet. When Jesus is your treasure, you will spend your life in selfless devotion to Him.

At a pastors’ conference, Bill Mills told about a time when he was speaking to a group of Wycliffe missionaries in South America. On the last evening as he ate dinner with the director and his wife, she told him how years before they had been assigned to translate the Bible into one of the Indian tribal languages. This is a lengthy and tedious process. Before computers, it often took as long as twenty years.

During the process, the translators were teaching the Scriptures and seeing a new church emerging among the tribe. But as they came toward the end of the translation project, the tribal people were becoming more and more involved in selling their crops for the drug trade and less and less interested in the Scriptures. When they finally finished the translation of the New Testament and scheduled a dedication service, not even one person came!

This missionary wife was angry and bitter. She had given twenty years of her life so that these people could have the Scriptures, but they didn’t even want it! Then with regard to Bill’s ministry of the Word that week, she said (in, Finishing Well in Life and Ministry [Leadership Resources International], p. 190.):

It is as though God has been washing His Word over my soul and healing me, and He has opened my eyes to see this all from His perspective. I am just beginning to realize now that we did it for Him! That is the only thing that makes any sense in all of this. We did it for God!

Mills concludes, “That is the only thing that makes any sense in ministry. We do it for Him.” The world may scorn us and reject our message. Other believers may criticize us and not appreciate what we’re doing. But we aren’t wasting our lives if we spend them in selfless devotion for Jesus.

Application Questions

  1. Where does common sense (or wisdom) fit in with extravagant devotion to Christ? Shouldn’t good stewards be sensible?
  2. What does treasuring Jesus more than our stuff look like in practical terms? Is it wrong to have a savings account? To save for retirement? To take good care of possessions?
  3. Why is your motive for serving Christ primary? How can you keep the right motive in focus?
  4. How practically can you keep alive and deepen your love and devotion for Jesus?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2014, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Christian Life, Discipleship, Discipline, Failure, Sacrifice, Spiritual Life

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