vindication from God our Savior

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.

They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Psalm 24

When I read in the psalms about God vindicating his people, I think how undeserving I am of such vindication. And this is a psalm of David, who doesn’t seem that worthy of vindication when you consider his great sin of adultery and murder. But maybe that is meant to be an encouragement to the rest of us who, while we may have not committed such an act, still know we’re so undeserving because of what we have done, left undone, and because of grievous attitudes in our heart at times.

Just to make it clear what vindication means, it involves someone being proven to be in the right. When one thinks about that, one can’t help but think of God’s grace without which none of us would ever be in the right in the first place.

What especially stood out to me today in reading this great psalm is the line: “They will receive…vindication from God their Savior.” I think that helps us understand how God’s people are vindicated. It’s not because of them, but the God who saves them.

N. T. Wright helped me see from the psalms how God’s righteousness is tied to God’s salvation of his people. God’s saving act includes vindicating his people, who apart from that would never be vindicated. Of course this goes beyond what we deserve, because when we read all of the psalms and the rest of Scripture we understand that no one deserves vindication in themselves. We’re all sinners.

We receive vindication from God because of our faith and the difference God makes in our lives. We are different through and through, not wanting to do what is wrong, but wanting to do what’s right, even while we do fail along the way. It’s God’s working that makes us want to face our true selves, repent, and walk in God’s way, and keep doing that again and again with our ongoing confession of our sins, and endeavor to walk anew and afresh in God’s will for us in Christ.

And so we can be encouraged with this thought. God’s vindication of us is completely not because of us, but because of God, as by faith he credits righteousness to us, and helps us to want to live accordingly, even in the midst of our inevitable stumbling. God will vindicate us, yes, each one of us, in and through Jesus.

 

faith not works puts us right with God

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

Romans 4:4-5

It seems ingrained in us humans that being right with God depends on us, specifically on what we do. We think somehow that we have to earn so as to deserve God’s acceptance and favor. Paul here puts the kibosh on that. Of course we find this elsewhere in Scripture, even as this passage from Paul makes clear (click Romans link above).

No, faith puts us right with God. We’re justified by faith, not ever by our works. Works follow, and justifying faith does work for sure. But it has to be in that order. If we’re struggling to be accepted by God, we’re wasting time and effort. We need to stop and simply trust God, believe God’s word, God’s promise to us in Christ.

God has done what needs to be done for us to be accepted by him. We simply have to accept and receive that. And only then do we receive the forgiveness of sins and new life which opens up an entirely new way for us. Certainly filled with love and good works. In and through Jesus.

God is a judge(?)

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!

Isaiah 30:18

If you click the link, you will be taken to Isaiah 30, which clearly indicates that God is indeed a God of judgment. A sample:

The voice of the Lord will shatter Assyria;
with his rod he will strike them down.
Every stroke the Lord lays on them
with his punishing club
will be to the music of timbrels and harps,
as he fights them in battle with the blows of his arm.

Isaiah 30:31-32

In the case of Assyria, they were clearly an empire deserving of judgment. In their conquest, they brutalized and tortured. Israel was one of their victims, but Assyria’s day would come.

The first passage strikes the scriptural balance between God’s judgment and salvation. God judges ultimately to save. That is a pattern seen again and again in Scripture, ultimately in the Cross itself. In Jesus God takes the judgment for sin on himself in being the lamb slain from the creation of the world, which takes away the sin of the world.

God’s judgment is not willy-nilly and certainly not nefarious. It’s altogether reasonable, just and good. God calls people to trust in him, in his goodness. That he is just and will perform justice even for us who in ourselves are not just, but made just by his goodness in the sentence of death God imposed on himself in his Son. So that through his death, we can escape our own death, and be taken into his resurrection life.

So we need to entrust our eternal life into God’s hands. And our day to day lives, as well, just as is made clear enough by this passage in Isaiah 30. In and through Jesus.

justified (declared righteous) by faith in this life; justified by works in the judgment to come

There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.

Romans 2:9-11

The NIV heading for Romans 2:1-16, “God’s Righteous Judgment” is a good summary of what this section is getting at in terms of the judgment to come. It’s future, after this life. God will, so to speak look back on our lives and judge us, judge all human beings according to our works. See the rest of Scripture to verify this.

This is called a justification of works, and you can see that clearly in the overall passage (click the link above). In the final judgment we’re judged by what we do and fail to do, by our works, essentially it seems, our lives. In this life we’re not justified by works, but by faith. Romans 3:21-5:11 unmistakably and clearly lays that out.

So we’re in the clear not at all by our works, by by faith in Christ, and God’s finished work in him. At the same time, just as James points out we are saved by a faith that works. You can see that in Paul’s writings too. So works do matter in this life, an indication of whether or not we have justifying faith. But we must beware of getting the cart before the horse. The only way we can do the good works is through faith.

But now to the passage quoted above. After knowing the context, it’s good to dwell on parts. It’s actually a shame not to consider the whole. Again, you can click the link above, and better yet start right from the beginning of the book. But the trouble and distress mentioned here is in terms of final judgment. As well as the glory, honor and peace. What we do now along with our experience will be carried over into the next life. If we choose to live apart from God now, we’ll be apart from God and all the goodness that comes from God then. If we choose to live under God’s judgment in the curse now, we’ll experience that later. But if accept God’s offer of salvation through faith in Christ and his death and resurrection, we will receive forgiveness of sins and new life. And we’ll begin to live new lives filled with good works, thoughtful, repentant lives, making our wrongs right along the way.

Where we’re headed now is where we’ll end up being when it’s all said and done. If we’re headed in a direction contrary to God, then we need to stop in our tracks, and head the opposite way in and through Jesus.

 

God’s vindication

Vindicate me, Lord,
    for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the Lord
    and have not faltered.
Test me, Lord, and try me,
    examine my heart and my mind;
for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love
    and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.

Psalm 26

To vindicate means to declare someone innocent (NLT). In fact, read the NLT rendering of the psalm found in the link above.

We are not talking about sinless perfection, because if we were, God could vindicate no one, except of course, Jesus. And we’re not talking about a person who has no room for growth, perhaps especially in certain areas. If Paul didn’t think he had arrived at the goal to which God had called him heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3), how much less, we?

We are referring to a life of integrity, which actually would necessarily include making things right when one does wrong. A life devoted to God, growing in and through Christ. While we initially need to confine ourselves to the words of this psalm, we shouldn’t stop there. We also need to consider all of scripture, and particularly in the light of the revelation of Christ and the gospel.

Only God can vindicate. Self-vindication is not what we’re after. Although there are times quite trying, when we do speak in defense of ourselves and our lives and conduct, which is certainly the case of the psalmist here. Even though he is asking God for God’s vindication of his life, he is laying out his best case in defense of himself, even while asking God to probe his heart, and test whether or not these things are true.

Jesus is the one God vindicated, ultimately through his resurrection from the dead. And we are in Jesus, so that God’s vindication on us is through him. But within that declaration of innocence or righteousness, which begins by faith in this life, is a life of not only dependence on God, but devotion to him and his will in Jesus. Certainly a life in which ongoing confession of sin will be necessary, both to God and to others we have hurt.

God is the one who will vindicate us, our lives, our sincerity, and the reality of our walk in him in and through Jesus.

truth will prevail

If truth does prevail, then what about God’s judgment? Of course we do well to shudder (Romans 2 and 3), since we indeed are all sinners. But without God’s judgment, how will justice, and yes, truth prevail? That is part of God’s atoning work in Christ, to take the judgment of sin upon himself in his death. So that all can be forgiven and given new life, justified in the sense of given status in God’s covenant family and thus made right, and reconciled to God and to each other in Christ. The final judgment is the purging of evil from the world to bring in the final and full salvation.

In the meantime we often find in this present life untruth and evil having a heyday. Untruth and evil do seem to go together against truth and goodness. It seems like the universe is wired, or at least ought to be wired for truth and goodness. Without a doubt we’re all in need of God’s grace in Jesus. If truth prevails, again, we’re all in trouble, since we have been and can be full of falsehood and the evil that accompanies that. And again, a big part of the good news in Jesus is that God took that evil upon himself on the cross in the Person of his Son, Jesus. The result of that is that by faith we’re forgiven, and given a passion for truth in the Truth himself, Jesus.

We have a passion for truth, while at the same time always and forever, along with the rest of the world being in great need of nothing less than the Truth himself. In the Truth, truth will prevail even here and now in the grace of God in that Truth himself. And we find out again and again that God does not condemn us in Jesus, but in and by Jesus- the Truth, God helps us to look for and see, even if seemingly only by faith, a better day, the day when all truth prevails, and to experience a true measure of that even in this present evil age when truth seems irrelevant to so many, and all but lost.

And so that is where we in Jesus hang our hats, not in a supposed progressive order in which the world is getting better and better on its own. But only in Jesus, the Truth himself, which should and can give us heart in the promise of God for the future beginning even in the present- in the here and now, in and through Jesus.

another take on James 5:16b on the prayer of the righteous

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5:16b

Without backing down at all on what I wrote on yesterday’s post, I want to briefly consider another possibility in line with the other way of interpreting, and thus translating this passage. Remember that all translation involves interpretation, say from German to English and back. Which is largely why we have differences in our Bible translations, which together make no impact at all on basic Christian doctrine.

The rendering adopted by the NIV (see NRSVNET, etc.) might be correct, and is certainly possible. The emphasis then would be simply on the prayer of a righteous person being powerful and effective. Even if the other way of translating is getting more to the original writing’s intent (I don’t know), what is said in this post still holds significance. And maybe a bit more so, if the NIV rendering happens to be more accurate.

A righteous person, or the righteous, in meaning is probably a bit different in the book of James then it is in Paul’s writings. The righteous in Paul, are those who are “in Christ,” who share in Christ’s righteousness, whether it’s an alien imputed righteousness, or not. The emphasis is that this righteousness comes from Christ, and is not part of the Law. And that it comes by grace through faith, as well as through baptism. It is worked into one’s life by the Spirit, and thus imparted by God through Christ to the one who has faith. So it’s not like it isn’t worked into real life. It’s just that the emphasis is on faith, and that faith in and of Christ.

In James, righteousness is different. Which is why Martin Luther disliked the letter, calling it “a right strawy epistle.” Paul referred to Abraham as simply believing God’s word, and thus being credited righteousness. James refers to Abraham being obedient so that he was considered righteous (NIV) or justified by what he did, so that James says justification is therefore by works, as well as faith, and not by faith alone. Actually we don’t see James contradicting Paul at all. It’s a different perspective, which is present but expressed in a different way in Paul’s letters. We could say that his faith produced works, and therefore was shown to be genuine faith. Through Paul and elsewhere we learn that we can’t save ourselves through our works, that we can only trust and have faith in God’s word, and specifically in the message of the good news in Jesus. Through hearing that message, and believing, like Abraham, we are justified, made or declared righteous. But if we are saved by grace through faith, we are saved for the good works which God has prepared for us in Christ Jesus to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The righteous in James are those who live by the royal law that gives freedom, namely “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And that makes a difference not merely in what they believe (the demons believe God is one, and they shudder, says James), but in what they say and do. Certainly belief is important to James, but faith must be accompanied with works to prove its authenticity. Without works, faith is dead.

And so to the passage. The righteous person’s prayer is one who adheres to righteousness as spelled out in this relatively short book. They don’t just listen to the word, but they do what it says. They have humbly accepted the word planted in them, so that they are being saved. True religion includes keeping a tight rein on their tongue, helping orphans and widows (the needy) in their distress, and keeping themselves from being polluted by the world. And echoing Jesus, which James probably does more than Paul, and perhaps more than any other New Testament book, the poor seem to be more inclined toward faith than the rich, and thus are rich themselves in faith, and heirs of the kingdom of God, promised to those who love God.

And so if you are righteous according to James, that’s saying something. The focus should never be on us, but to be righteous according to James, Jesus (see the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7) and the First/Old Testament prophets means to have a change of heart, a change of life. And right down into the nitty gritty of where we live, in what we say (and don’t say), as well as what we do (and don’t do), in good works or deeds for others.

If we are righteous in the way James describes as part of our faith, then our prayer can make a difference, in fact actually is powerful and effective. And the good takeaway here is that it isn’t just the emotionally charged, heartfelt prayer, but any prayer at all from the lips and heart of a righteous person. Of course all of this possible only through the faith that is ours in Jesus.

faith because of the faithfulness of Christ

In Paul’s letters, there are a number of places in which the literal translation would be “the faithfulness of Christ” as being front and center for our salvation. Of course our faith is factored into that, but our faith is not central. Oftentimes it is translated “faith in Christ,” which still puts Christ as the object of faith, but also emphasizes our faith. And there’s no doubt that there is an emphasis on human faith, such as in the case of Abraham in Romans 4. And that our faith is contrasted to our works, and specifically to the works of the Law. So that grace is grace only if it is by faith and not by works, I think not so much with regard to human effort, but more in terms of adherence to the Law of Moses. It’s a bit complicated, but even in that case in Romans 4, I think Paul is simply trying to show that it is faith in God’s word, and specifically in the gospel which justifies or brings salvation, and to think that works of the Law enter in, is to bring in a category which is actually as foreign to the First/Old Testament, as it is to the Final/New Testament. Abraham was justified by faith apart from the works of the Law, and before he was circumcised. The boasting Paul says is to be rejected is not really about one’s own effort, and not even a smidgen about some supposed moral perfection, even if Paul uses the latter to point out that those who emphasize Law/Torah keeping must not break any of it to remain in the clear with God. The boasting by the Jew would be in the Torah itself, and the fact that they possessed and sought to live by that Torah/Law.

But to the main point of this post. The faithfulness of Christ in his coming, life, and especially in his death, followed by God’s vindication in his resurrection from the dead, then his ascension to the supreme place of authority at God’s right hand, with the promise of his return when the final judgment and salvation come and in that, the new creation, is what our focus should be on. Not our own faith, but on the faithfulness of Christ. It is far better to have a small faith in a great object, instead of a large faith in a small object. The focus must not be on our own faith, but on the faithfulness of God in Christ, yes, on the faithfulness of Christ. That is the focus in which our faith can be established and grow.

justification by works

Justification by faith is a staple especially in Reformed theology. It is called justification by faith alone in Christ alone. And it certainly applies to this life. We are not saved by our own works but by faith in God and in God’s work in Jesus. We are not saved by works, but we are saved unto good works so that works will follow:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Nevertheless future judgment is based on works. No where do you find judgment in which people are asked if they trusted in Jesus for their salvation with their works being beside the point. No, in every place final judgment is based on works.

Justification simply put is declaration of righteousness, the opposite being condemnation which is a declaration of guilt in wrong living/doing.

Jesus said people will be justified or condemned by their words. Paul says that those who in seeking glory, honor and immortality persist in doing good will receive eternal life. But to those who are self-seeking and reject the truth and follow evil there will be wrath and anger, trouble and distress. James seems to suggest that we are justified by works and not by faith alone in this life. We who are heirs of the Reformation take that to mean that our faith becomes evident by our works, that faith without works is dead. Perhaps what is closer to what is being taught there is that we are justified by works which come from an obedient, submissive faith. There are other passages as well, not least of which are in the book of the Revelation. For lack of time (and even space) this will suffice for here and now.

What are we to make of this? Not all the sudden that we are justified by our works in the here and now, but that we are justified by a faith which works, which results in a changed life in and through as well as centered on Jesus. From the Father and by the Holy Spirit.

is it a gospel answer?

Oftentimes, or at least here and there in the course of life we are confronted with hard questions, which on the surface are troubling, or don’t have any easy answers. I think what is required is much wisdom along with a cushion of– or better yet, in the air of grace. And we do well, while we’re working on this and after we’ve arrived to something tentative to ask ourselves and others, “Is it a gospel answer?”

By the gospel I mean the good news of God’s grace and kingdom come in Jesus through his incarnation, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, pouring out of the Spirit, and return. The hope for the world. And we think of it in terms of our own justification and forgiveness. Justification in the sense of having been declared right with God in and through Jesus. The gospel answer is so rich and multifaceted that this is hardly a beginning sketch of that.

But we do well to ask ourselves this question across the board, realizing that there are many other considerations. Our answer takes into consideration everything, but in the end both for us and for the world the gospel is front and center.

The gospel is good news of something we could never do for ourselves, but that something done in and through Jesus. And we live in response to that, as well as in that, in that grace.

And so when I’m confronted with a hard question, or one that might throw me off course and into fear and condemnation, I need to try to find the gospel answer as I seek to think through the issue well. And then learn to live in that answer, as revolutionary for me as that may be.