A harvest of righteousness

The biblical concept of righteousness can be confusing if think of it in terms of actions or duties. The Greek word dikaiosune (dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay) has to do specifically with Christian justification and can be thought of as “being just as one should be” (G1343). In other words, Christians that have been justified are just the way they were intended to be when God created them. From an internal perspective, justification means that our hearts are right with God, hence we are considered to be righteous with regard to our relationship to God. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Righteousness was imputed or counted to Abraham because he believed what God told him. The Apostle Paul explained Abraham’s justification by faith in his letter to the Romans. Paul said:

What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:1-8)

Paul made it clear that the only way we can be justified in God’s sight is by faith in Jesus Christ. Paul stated, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 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” (Romans 3:21-26)

Justification by faith is expected to produce a change in the believer’s lifestyle. In his first epistle, the Apostle John talked about God’s seed abiding in all who have been born again. John said, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:9-10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) means “something that is sown” (G4690) and is derived from the word speiro (spi’-ro) which means to scatter (G4687). Jesus’ parable of the sower and parable of the weeds illustrated how the believer’s heart is either influenced by the Holy Spirit to practice righteousness or by the devil to practice sin. Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the sower indicated that we must understand God’s word in order to benefit from it. Jesus said:

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

Paul associated righteousness with the fruit of the Holy Spirit and said, “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). Paul identified the fruits of the Holy Spirit in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Sprit” (Galatians 5:22-23, 25). Keeping in step with the Spirit essentially means that we are conforming our behavior to be consistent with God’s word. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians included a reminder of their pledge to take part in the relief of the saints. Paul was concerned that the Corinthians’ reputation of excelling in spiritual matters might be hurt by their reluctance to participate in this act of grace (2 Corinthians 8:1-7). Therefore, Paul admonished them saying:

Now it is superfluous for me to write to you about the ministry for the saints, for I know your readiness, of which I boast about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia has been ready since last year. And your zeal has stirred up most of them. But I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—for being so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance for the gift you have promised, so that it may be ready as a willing gift, not as an exaction. (2 Corinthians 9:1-5)

Paul identified the Corinthians’ contribution as a willing gift. The Greek word that is translated willing gift, eulogia (yoo-log-ee’-ah) means “fine speaking” and is used of God and Christ in connection with the invocation of blessings, a benediction (G2129). Paul emphasized the importance of the execution of the Corinthians’ act of grace by linking their pledge to give to the relief of the saints to the invocation of a blessing. The point Paul was likely trying to make was that every word that comes out of the mouth of a believer is considered to be a testimony on behalf of Christ. Paul indicated that he would be humiliated if the Corinthians didn’t do what they said they were going to because they would be making him out to be a liar (2 Corinthians 9:4).

Paul seemed to be linking the Corinthians’ giving with Jesus’ parable of the sower when he used the analogy of sowing and reaping to convey the significance of the size of their gift. Paul said, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Paul eluded to a connection between teaching the word of God and receiving financial support in his letter to the Galatians. Paul stated:

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:6-10)

According to Leviticus chapters 6-7, many of the animal sacrifices that were made to the LORD under the Mosaic Law were able to be eaten by the priests. The guilt offering in particular was considered to be compensation to the LORD for an offense that an individual had committed (Leviticus 6:6). Leviticus 7:5-6 states, “The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering. Every male among the priests may eat of it. It shall be eaten in a holy place. It is most holy.”

God specifically commanded the people of Israel to give a portion of their peace offerings to Aaron the priest and to his sons because they were serving him. The LORD told Moses, “Whoever among the sons of Aaron offers the blood of the peace offerings and the fat shall have the right thigh for a portion. For the breast that is waved and the thigh that is contributed I have taken from the people of Israel, out of the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them to Aaron the priest and to his sons, as a perpetual due from the people of Israel. This is the portion of Aaron and of his sons from the Lord’s food offerings, from the day they were presented to serve as priests of the Lord. The Lord commanded this to be given them by the people of Israel, from the day he anointed them. It is a perpetual due throughout their generations” (Leviticus 7:33-36). The portion that was given to Aaron and his sons was a consecratory gift that signified justification on the part of the gift and the giver.

Paul explained in his second letter to the Corinthians that giving would result in God’s grace overflowing in a believer’s life. Paul said, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; righteousness endures forever” (2 Corinthians 9:7-9). The phrase righteousness endures forever refers to an eternal state of justification, which is “the legal and formal acquittal from guilt by God as Judge, the pronouncement of the sinner as righteous, who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ” (G1344). Paul indicated that when God’s grace abounds to us, we have all sufficiency in all things at all times. In other words, we are completely content with our circumstances. Whether Paul was talking about an eternal state of bliss or a life that is available to believers as soon as they accept Christ isn’t completely clear, but it seems that Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that they were able to effect their circumstances by giving generously.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to rely on God’s provision for their gift. Paul said, “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10). The Greek word that is translated seed, sperma (sper’-mah) is used figuratively in 1 John 3:9 “of the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit in Christians that keeps them from practicing sin” (G4690). From that standpoint, Paul’s reference to “the harvest of your righteousness” may have had to do with the fruits of the Spirit. The Greek word that is translated harvest, gennema (ghen’-nay-mah) means offspring (G1081) and is derived from the word gennao (ghen-nah’-o) which speaks “of one who by means of preaching the gospel becomes the human instrument in the impartation of spiritual life” (G1080). Paul seemed to be saying that the Corinthians financial support of the saints in Jerusalem had the same impact and reward of preaching the gospel to them. It could be that the act of grace that Paul associated with the relief of the saints (2 Corinthians 8:6-7) was a type of ministry that complimented the preaching of the gospel in that it depicted the love of God in a tangible way that was unmistakably supernatural and gave the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in the hearts of the people that were receiving the gift and to bring them to Christ.

Paul’s explanation of the harvest of righteousness that he hoped the Corinthians would experience seemed to center around the grace of God being activated in the lives of believers. The Sermon on the Mount had a similar objective and in it Jesus mentioned giving to the needy in the context of receiving spiritual rewards. Jesus said:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4)

The phrase Jesus used, practicing your righteousness, had to do with bringing forth fruit (G4160) and is related to a statement Paul made in his letter to the Ephesians about God’s effort to transform the lives of believers. Paul talked about the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and his kindness toward us in bringing us to Christ (Ephesians 2:5-7) and then he said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Greek word poiema (poy’-ay-mah), which is translated workmanship in Ephesians 2:10, refers to a thing that is made, a product (G4161). One of the reasons God saves people is so that he can use them to bless others. We can’t take credit for the good things we do because they are actually a result of God working in and through us to accomplish certain tasks that he had already planned ahead of time to do regardless of our involvement. Jesus’ ministry is filled with examples of the kinds of things that God wants to do and how our submission to his will can make a difference in the world. Jesus indicated that our giving should be done in secret so that our Father “who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4). What Jesus meant by that was that our spiritual growth is a private matter, but God is aware of everything that goes on in the spiritual realm and is keeping track of our spiritual progress. The New King James Version of Matthew 6:4 states “your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” One way of interpreting this statement would be that God will make himself apparent in our lives or that the reward we get will be visible to others. With regard to a harvest of righteousness, this might mean that we will receive a greater portion of the Holy Spirit which would be evident to others through the manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The important thing to remember is that we are a spiritual work in progress and God is behind every act of grace that we are prompted to do.

Paul encouraged the Corinthians to be generous because it would result in more fruit for the entire body of Christ. Paul stated:

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:11-15)

Paul specifically mentioned the Corinthians submission to the will of God in order to point out that they were following the example of Christ and were in turn being good examples to others. Paul also made note of the fact that the recipients of their gift would be longing and praying for the Corinthians as a result of their generosity and would be able to recognize that the surpassing grace of God was upon them (2 Corinthians 9:14).

The surpassing grace that Paul referred to (2 Corinthians 9:14) may have been what Peter was talking about when he encouraged believers to be good stewards of God’s grace. Peter said, “Since therefore Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1). Peter went on to say that believers should not be judged in the flesh the way people are, but “live in the spirit the way God does” (1 Peter 4:6). To live in the spirit means that we have recovered the physical life from the power of death. The Greek word zao (dzah’-o) means to live “in the sense of to exist, in an absolute sense and without end, now and hereafter: to live forever” (G2198). Jesus told his disciples, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Repentance

Before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, he gave Abraham an opportunity to intercede on behalf of these two wicked cities. “The LORD said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him'” (Genesis 18:17-19). God chose Abraham to be the channel through which his salvation would flow to all mankind. Because of his relationship with the LORD, Abraham was able to influence God’s judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah.

God described the situation in Sodom and Gomorrah as one that had reached a point of no return. “Then the LORD said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know'” (Genesis 18:20-21). The Hebrew word translated altogether, kalah (kaw-law’) means a completion or completely (H3617). God was going to determine if Sodom and Gomorrah had become completely corrupted by visiting the cities himself. The phrase “I will know” refers to personal experience which includes observation and recognition (H3045). The LORD’s intention was to make his final decision about whether or not the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah needed to be destroyed after he observed their behavior.

When God told Abraham what he was going to do, it says in Genesis 18:22-23 that Abraham stood before the LORD and drew near to him. What this suggests is that Abraham had an intimate conversation with the LORD in order to change his mind about what he intended to do. Abraham wanted God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were enough righteous people in the cities to take the responsibilities for the sins of others by substitution or representation (H5375). In other words, Abraham wanted God to let the righteousness of a few individuals bear the burden of Sodom and Gomorrah’s habitual deviation from his moral standards. Abraham thought ten righteous people were enough for God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction (Genesis 18:32).

When the two angels that God sent to destroy Sodom arrived at the city gate, Abraham’s nephew Lot insisted they spend the night at his house (Genesis 19:3). While they were there, “The men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.’ Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, ‘I beg of you my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof'” (Genesis 19:4-8). Lot’s awareness of these men’s ruthless behavior and willingness to give his virgin daughters to them showed that he had no moral conviction about their sexual purity.

Psalm 11:2-3 states, “the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The psalmist used the analogy of a broken foundation to depict a corrupt political system that was taking advantage of innocent people. His question, “What can the righteous do?” suggests that Lot’s effort to stop the men of Sodom from raping his guests was a futile effort as evidenced by the angels having to rescue him from the hands of an angry mob (Genesis 19:10-11). Surprisingly, when Lot was told that Sodom was going to be destroyed, he was confused and had to be forcefully removed from the city limits in order to be saved from God’s punishment (Genesis 19:16).

Genesis 19:16 indicates that God was being merciful to Lot when he brought him out of Sodom. The Hebrew word translated merciful, chemlah (khem-law’) means that God took pity on Lot. What this suggests is that Lot was not righteous and it was only because of Abraham’s intercession on behalf of Sodom that God spared his life. When the angels instructed Lot to leave Sodom, Genesis 19:16 indicates,”he lingered.” The Hebrew word translated lingered, mahahh (maw-hah’) is derived from the word meh (meh) which conveys the exclamations of what! or why! Lot was most likely shocked by the news that Sodom was going to be destroyed, but his reaction seems to suggest that he was undecided about whether or not he wanted to give up the life he had established there.

Psalm 11:4-5 states, “The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven: his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” The Hebrew word translated tests, bachan (baw-khan’) means to investigate (H974) and the word see or chazah (khaw-zaw’) in Hebrew means “to gaze at; mentally to perceive” (H2372). God already knew what was going on in Sodom before he sent his angels there to destroy it. It’s possible that the reason why the LORD went to investigate the situation (Genesis 18:21) was to determine if Lot wanted to be saved or would rather go to hell with the rest of his companions.

John the Baptist preached a simple message to get the attention of those who were in danger of eternal punishment. He told them to, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The Greek word that is translated repent, metanoeo (met-an-o-eh’-o) means “to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider” (G3340). John was letting people know that their behavior had been corrupted by the culture they were living in and their minds needed to be redirected toward spiritual matters. John was described as the one who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight'” (Matthew 3:3). The way the prophet was referring to was the way of access into the direct presence of God (G3598). Making one’s paths straight refers to such things as are produced by an inward act of the mind or will with regard to godly behavior (G4160).

John’s simple message might be summarized with the statement, you’re on the wrong track or you’re going in the wrong direction. John wanted people to understand that they didn’t have to live the way they were, their lives could be different. As the angels brought Lot out of Sodom, “one said, ‘Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley” (Genesis 19:17). The Hebrew word that is translated life, nephesh (neh’-fesh) refers to the inner person or soul (H5315), indicating that Lot’s physical well-being was not the issue the angel was concerned with. Remaining in Sodom would mean that Lot had rejected God’s offer of salvation and would rather be condemned with the rest of the Sodomites than separate himself from them.

Lot managed to escape Sodom, but only by the skin of his teeth. Because of his reluctance to start over, Lot asked for a compromise. He suggested to the angels that were attempting to rescue him, “Behold, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there – is it not a little one? – and my life will be saved!” (Genesis 19:20). Basically, what Lot wanted was to avoid God’s judgment, but to be able to pick up where he left off with the life he had when he was living in Sodom. Lot didn’t want to change his behavior, just his circumstances. Lot’s question, “is it not a little one?” might be interpreted as, this one isn’t so bad is it? Most likely, the town that Lot wanted to go to was just as wicked as Sodom was, but was operating on a much smaller scale. Instead of an organized crime syndicate, Zoar may have only had just a bunch of petty thieves.

After the LORD rained sulfur and fire out of heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah, it says in Genesis 19:30, “Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters.” The Hebrew word translated fear, yare (yaw-ray’) means to stand in awe. “This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). It could be that Lot finally came to a place of repentance, realized that he was in moral danger and wanted to separate himself from the wicked behavior that was threatening his spiritual well-being. In spite of his attempt to disconnect from the world around him, Lot was still overtaken by sin. His daughters became pregnant by him while he was intoxicated (Genesis 19:32-36) and gave birth to sons that became two idolatrous nations that were enemies of Abraham’s descendants (notes on Genesis 19:37 and 19:38).

John the Baptist confronted the religious leaders that came to him to be baptized. “He exclaimed, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). John indicated that repentance was a requirement for someone to be baptized. The Greek word translated repentance, metanoia (met-an’-oy-ah) focuses on the outward expression of repentance. “This change of mind involves both a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341). In other words, John was looking for genuine acts of repentance that were evidence of having developed a relationship with God.

One of the things that was evidence of Abraham’s relationship with God was that he moved to a new location when God told him to (Genesis 12:4). God expected Abraham to sojourn or live in a land that was hostile to him. After Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, Abraham went to a place called Gerar where he thought, “There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife” (Genesis 20:11). Abraham’s assumptions about Gerar caused him to hide the fact that Sarah was his wife and instead told Abimelech the king of Gerar, “She is my sister” (Genesis 20:2). Abraham’s deception led to Abimelech taking his wife away from him and Sarah’s integrity being compromised. “But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, ‘Behold you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife'” (Genesis 20:3).

Abimelech’s response to the message he received indicated that he recognized who was speaking to him and respected the person’s authority. He said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people. Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this” (Genesis 20:4-5). Abimelech’s declaration of innocence was based on his intent to marry Sarah and form a political alliance with Abraham (note on Genesis 20:2-18). “Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart and it was I who kept you from sinning against me” (Genesis 20:6).

Abimelech’s integrity had to do with his motive being right, but his innocence had to do with his actions toward Abraham. Because they were not aligned, it could be said that Abimelech was not right with God. Even though, there was nothing about his behavior that was offensive to the Lord, Abimelech didn’t have a personal relationship with the LORD and couldn’t claim any benefit for his motive being right. Abraham had to pray to God on his behalf and then, God healed Abimelech and also healed his wife and female slaves from their infertility (Genesis 20:17-18).

When the LORD said, “it was I who kept you from sinning against me” (Genesis 20:6), he was letting Abimelech know that he didn’t have the power to control his own behavior. In other words, if God hadn’t kept Abimelech from having sexual relations with Sarah, he would have done so. God said that he didn’t let Abimelech touch Sarah (Genesis 20:6), meaning that the LORD caused circumstances beyond his control to keep Abimelech from getting physically close to or personally involved with Sarah (Genesis 20:4). This was not done to protect Abimelech’s reputation, but to keep Sarah chaste (Genesis 20:16).

Abimelech’s claim of innocence indicated that he didn’t feel any guilt or remorse for taking Sarah away from Abraham. Even though his motives were honorable, Abimelech was acting contrary to God’s will and was punished for his interference in Abraham and Sarah’s lives (Genesis 20:18). In order to make things right, Abimelech had to return Sarah to her husband “so that he will pray for you, and you shall live” (Genesis 20:7). This act of repentance is what caused Abimelech’s life to be spared. Repentance, “a turning from sin and a turning to God” (G3341) implies obedience to the will of God. John the Baptist described this as bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8) and said, “Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).

John was surprised when “Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him” (Matthew 3:13). “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:14-15). John’s determination that it was inappropriate for him to baptize Jesus was based on his knowledge that Jesus had not committed any sin and therefore, did not need to repent and be baptized. Jesus explained to John that baptism was the way that God had decided to attribute righteousness to believers. In other words, baptism is the act whereby all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are brought into a right relationship with God (G1343).

Jesus’ statement, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15) had to do with the way Old Testament believers like Abraham got saved. It says in Genesis 15:6 that Abraham “believed the LORD and he counted it to him as righteousness.” The Hebrew word that is translated counted, chashab (khaw-shab’) means to impute or to treat Abraham as if he had righteousness even though he didn’t. The righteousness that was imputed to Abraham was the righteousness of Christ and the method that was used to impute it to him was Jesus’ baptism. The method of water baptism is referred to as “justification by faith” (G1343).

All believers are justified by faith, but the benefits of salvation are different for New Testament believers. John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11). What John was saying was that the best that Old Testament believers could hope for was to repent and have their relationship with God restored, but New Testament believers can receive power through the Holy Spirit that will enable them to control their behavior and be able to stop sinning, to be free from the effects of their sin nature.

Matthew 3:16-17 states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'” God’s verbal confirmation indicated that Jesus’ action had reversed the effects of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. Whereas before it was impossible for God to be pleased with any man’s behavior, Jesus’ baptism showed that on an individual basis, acts of repentance could gain one access into the direct presence of God and restore fellowship with him permanently.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believer you died for my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Prayer

Jesus used the parable of the widow and the judge to teach his disciples the importance of persistence in prayer and told them, “that men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1). Jesus viewed prayer as a sign of faith and made it clear that God acts quickly to vindicate his chosen people (Luke 18:7). When the widow asked the unjust judge to avenge her of her adversary, Jesus said of the unjust judge, “he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me” (Luke 18:4-5). The Greek word translated weary, hupopiazo (hoop-o-pee-ad´-zo) means “to hit under the eye (buffet or disable an antagonist as a pugilist)” (G5299). In other words, the widow acted like a prize fighter and gave the judge a black eye.

Jesus pointed out that the difference between God and the unjust judge was that God wanted to avenge his children, but no one was asking him to do it. Jesus’ next parable showed that pride was the main reason why God’s chosen people were not receiving his forgiveness. He said:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week: I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner!'” (Luke 18:10-13, ESV)

Jesus told his disciples that the tax collector was justified or declared innocent rather than the Pharisee because he humbled himself before God. Jesus then used a half grown child as an example of our dependence on God and said, “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter in” (Luke 18:17).

Justification

One of the advantages God built into his plan of salvation was a provision for all sinners to be acquitted of every charge brought against them when God judges the world. In other words, by their admission of personal wrong doing, sinners are by default guilty, but through the justification provided them, they are declared innocent by God (1344). In order to qualify for this justification, a person must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and accept his payment of their debt to God through his death on the cross. Once justification takes place, the sinner is awarded eternal life and entrance into God’s kingdom. The believer’s one-way ticket to heaven can only be redeemed on an individual basis and is thought to be irrevocable after salvation has been received.

As the Savior of the World, Jesus was given authority over demonic forces and enabled to accomplish certain tasks on earth that no mortal man was able to. For instance, Jesus rebuked a devil that possessed a lunatic boy and caused him to depart from him (Matthew 17:18) and he restored the sight of a man born blind (John 9:7). In addition to the many miracles he performed, Jesus also taught his followers about the kingdom of heaven and forgave the sins of people considered to be hardened criminals (John 8:11). In preparation for his departure, Jesus sent out seventy of his disciples to spread the good news that Israel’s Messiah had arrived. After they returned, the disciples reported, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name” (Luke 10:17).

Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to understand the significance of the justification that he was making available to everyone. Although they had the power to perform miracles because of Jesus’ authority in the spiritual realm, the primary purpose of justification was so that people could go to heaven when they died. Jesus explained, “I  beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall be any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:18-20). The book of life that Jesus referred to is a permanent record of each person’s salvation (Revelation 3:5).

Following Jesus’ interaction with his disciples, a lawyer asked him the question, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25). Essentially, what this man was asking was how he could get to heaven without being justified by Jesus. The lawyer understood God’s commandments and thought he had lived according to them. He basically stated that he needed to love God and his neighbor as himself (Luke 10:27). It says in Luke 10:29, “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus used the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) to show this man that it wasn’t enough for him to just refrain from harming others, he needed to demonstrate his love to anyone in need in order to earn his own way into heaven.

How much?

Jesus paid tribute to John the Baptist and said of him, “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28). Jesus’ acknowledgment of John was meant to be understood in the context of all the Israelites that lived under the Old Covenant, or more specifically, the promises God made that were fulfilled prior to his birth. Jesus’ association of John with those that are “born of women” suggested that he was comparing John with unbelievers. Jesus followed up his comment about John with this statement, “but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). Perhaps, the best way to interpret Jesus’ commendation of John the Baptist would be to see it as a way of explaining John’s doubts about who Jesus was. It says in Luke 7:19, “And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” John didn’t know for certain that Jesus was the Messiah because he wasn’t born again.

Jesus went on to explain that forgiveness was a byproduct of faith, not the other way around. He used an example of forgiveness to explain that faith was the determining factor of genuine belief and that love for Jesus was the measure of how much someone had been forgiven. The only way that someone could know for certain that Jesus was who he said he was; Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God, was to demonstrate faith. Speaking to a Pharisee named Simon that had invited him to have dinner at his house, Jesus said:

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one ought five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. (Luke 7:41-47)

According to Jesus’ story of the creditor with two debtors, both the Pharisee and the woman’s sins were forgiven. The difference between these two sinners was that the Pharisee only had his sins forgiven, whereas the woman was justified in the eyes of God. Jesus’ statement to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:50) indicated that she had obtained much more than just the forgiveness of her sins. The Greek word Jesus used that is translated peace, eirene (i-ray´-nay) indicated she had a harmonized relationship with God. In other words, she was fully restored to prosperity and was a blessed child of God.

Individual responsibility

God’s covenant with Abraham was based on collective treatment of all who descended from him. In his promise, God said, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee” (Genesis 12:2). The Hebrew word for nation, goy (go´ – ee) represents a group of individuals who are considered as a unit (1471). In God’s eyes, the blessing of Abraham was given to all who would believe in him, not just the individual man he was speaking to at the time,

In the same way that Abraham’s blessing was transferred from generation to generation, so was the curse of sin that began with Adam in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:17-19). In his ten commandments, God clearly stated that the punishment for sin could be transferred from father to son for as many as four generations (Exodus 20:5). A proverb that originated in Jerusalem expressed self-pity, fatalism and despair because people believed they could not escape from the curse they inherited from their fathers. The proverb stated that corporate solidarity was responsible for the captivity that was about to consume God’s people (Ezekiel 18:2).

God argued that everyone had a chance to be saved under the law. He said, “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Perhaps, the greatest misunderstanding that resulted from God’s second commandment was the idea that a person could be punished even though he had committed no sin. In actuality, what God was saying was that he would do everything he could to break the cycle of hereditary sin, but ultimately, it was up to each person to take individual responsibility for their soul’s well-being and eternal destination.

The human soul is referred to in Hebrew as nephesh (neh´ – fesh). In simple terms, the soul is what makes us alive. It is the inner person, separate from the flesh or human body. When God said, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), he was basically saying that sin was the cause of death in every person. If there was a person that did not sin, then that person would not die. God said, “But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right…he is just, he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 18:5,9). The Hebrew word translated live, chayah (khaw – yaw´) means not only to live, but also to revive. In other words, a righteous soul cannot be killed, if it were, it would come back to life, just as Jesus did after he was crucified.

The problem of sin

When  the Israelites left Egypt, God traveled with them in the form of a pillar of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). While they were in the wilderness, before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites were instructed to make a tent of meeting, referred to as the tabernacle, so that God could dwell or live among his people. The tabernacle was assembled and then torn down every time the Israelites moved from one location to another (Numbers 10:17).

The temple built by king Solomon in Jerusalem was meant to be a permanent home for God (1 Kings 9:3). In connection with this, God made a covenant with Solomon that he would establish his throne for ever and would dwell among his people on the condition that Solomon and his descendants obeyed his commandments. The LORD specifically stated:

But if you shall at all turn from following me, you or your children, and will not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them: then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people; and at this house, which is high, every one that passeth by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss; and they shall say, Why hath the LORD done thus unto the land, and to his house? And they shall answer, Because they forsook the LORD their God, who brought forth their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and have taken hold upon other gods, and have worshipped them; therefore hath the LORD brought upon them all this evil. (1 Kings 6:6-9)

The Assyrian attack on Jerusalem in 701 B.C. was the first step taken to bring down the city that Solomon erected to glorify God. Referring to Judah’s distress, Isaiah declared, “Now will I rise, saith the LORD; now will I be exalted; now will I lift up myself” (Isaiah 33:10). Solomon’s attempt to contain God in a man-made structure was a failure because God’s presence was dependent on the absence of sin in his people.

Referring to God as a devouring fire, Isaiah asked, “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?” (Isaiah 33:14). God wanted to dwell among his people, but his holy nature made it impossible for him to coexist with sinners. The Israelites failed to understand that justification was a requirement for fellowship with God. Referring to the redeemed city of Jerusalem, Isaiah stated, “The people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity” (Isaiah 33:24).

God’s judgment of sin would not be isolated to his people. Ultimately, there would be universal judgment of sin (Isaiah 24:6) in order to eradicate it from God’s creation. Isaiah prophesied that in the end, there would be a complete destruction of God’s enemies.

Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people; let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it. For the indignation of the LORD is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies: he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter.

The anointing

One of the characteristics of the first kings of Israel was they were anointed by a prophet before their reign began. The anointing served a dual purpose. First, it was a visible sign the man was God’s chosen representative on earth. Second, the anointing activated the spirit of God to work in and through the king to accomplish God’s will for the nation of Israel. After God promised king David that his descendants would reign over Israel for ever (2 Samuel 7:13), the anointing was passed from generation to generation through the king’s selection of a successor to the throne. Eventually, the anointing was overlooked as an important aspect of successful leadership and was disregarded as a requirement for being king.

When king Saul and king David were anointed to be king it was noted that the spirit of the LORD came upon these two men (1 Samuel 10:6; 16:13). There is no mention of this type of confirmation with any of the other kings of Israel or Judah even though the king was the earthly representative of God and was considered to be an important religious figure (4427). Speaking about Israel’s ultimate deliverance, Isaiah foretold, “Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness” (Isaiah 32:1). Isaiah was referring to the Messianic age when God’s kingdom would be fully established on earth.

The anointing of king Saul and king David was meant to produce the righteousness characteristic of the Messiah’s reign. The term righteousness is derived from several Hebrew words that deal with justification. The primary root word, tsadaq (tsaw – dak´) “is used of man as regarded as having obtained deliverance from condemnation, and as being thus entitled to a certain inheritance” (6663). The word Isaiah used to describe the Messiah’s reign was tsedeq (tseh´ – dek). “It is a relational word” referring to the “relationship among people and of a man to his God” (6664).

By the time Isaiah’s ministry came into effect, it was clear that the kings of Israel and Judah had failed to bring the people closer to God. In fact, within a few hundred years of king David’s reign, the people were in total rebellion against God and practiced idolatry in his temple (2 Kings 16:15). The outcome God had been working toward was completely missed. Isaiah declared regarding the Messiah’s reign, “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isaiah 32:17-18).

Heaven on earth

David’s conquests became known throughout the world and he was admired by other leaders for the peace he brought to the area surrounding the Promised Land. It says in 1 Chronicles 18, “Now when Tou king of Hamath heard how David had smitten all the host of Hadarezer king of Zobah; he sent Hadoram his son to king David to inquire of his welfare; and to congratulate him, because he fought against Hadarezer and smitten him; (for Hadarezer had war with Tou;)” (1 Chronicles 18:9-10).

Tou was grateful to David because he had taken care of Hadarezer for him. Tou’s first hand experience fighting against Hadarezer made him realize that David was superior on the battlefield and no doubt Tou wanted to align himself with David to ensure his own people’s safety. When it says that Tou sent his son to inquire of David’s welfare, it could be that Tou wanted to know how David was able to accomplish such a great feat.

One the meanings of the word inquire or shâ’êl (shaw – ale´) in Hebrew is to consult or ask for advice (7592). It is usually associated with prayer and seeking God’s counsel, but it can also refer to obtaining counsel from men. The word translated welfare is shalom (shaw – lome´) which “signifies a state in which one can feel at ease, comfortable with someone. The relationship is one of harmony and wholeness, which is the opposite of the state of strife and war” (7965).

David’s kingdom was not like those around him. He was able to establish peace in a place where none had previously existed. The Promised Land was extremely fruitful and those who lived there were very prosperous. Therefore, it was desirable real estate that many wanted to possess. The occupants that David was driving out were skilled warriors that were used to defending their territory. David’s ability to defeat their armies was probably viewed as miraculous.

David dedicated all the gifts he received from Tou, “vessels of gold and silver and brass” (1 Chronicles 18:10) to the LORD. It was his way of giving credit to the LORD for his victories. Even though David was a skilled warrior with many successes on the battlefield, he did not boast about his accomplishments. It says that “David reigned over all Israel, and executed judgment and justice among all his people” (1 Chronicles 18:14).

David made it possible for the LORD to bless his people. David’s military victories were not about  gaining power, but about giving power to his people. The word translated justice, ts’dâqâh (tsed – aw – kaw´) means rightness (6666) and is derived from the word tsâdaq (tsaw -dak´) which means to be right or to be justified (6663). Justification is a key aspect of salvation, something that every Christian needs in order to have a relationship with God. When we are justified, it is as if we have never committed a sin. David’s kingdom was probably as close to heaven on earth as any could ever be.

Giving credit where credit is due

When God redeems a man, he is exercising his complete, sovereign freedom to liberate a human being. Redemption involves some intervening or substitutionary action which effects a release from an undesirable condition (6299). Jesus’ death on the cross effected the release of every person from the bondage of sin and death. No other person ever has or ever will die for the sins of another. God chose to liberate man from his sin nature and offers redemption from sin to anyone who desires it.

Rechab and Baanah thought they were doing David a favor when they killed Saul’s son Ish-bosheth and brought his head to David as evidence (2 Samuel 4:8). What they didn’t understand was that Ish-bosheth was not a threat to David. David was not distressed about Ish-bosheth’s appointment as king of Israel. David declared to Rechab and Baanah that the LORD had redeemed his soul from all adversity. What David meant was that Ish-bosheth’s sin  no longer had any effect on David’s life because David had been redeemed from all sin, not just his own.

The sins that usually hurts us the most are sins that are committed against us. When God redeems a man from sin, he does not just release him from the effect of his sins, but the sins of everyone else also. When I was 14, I was raped and it had an extremely negative effect on my life. I suffered a great deal of adversity as a result of someone else’s sin. It wasn’t until I realized that Jesus died for that person’s sin against me that I was freed from the effect of that sin on my life.

David described Ish-bosheth as a righteous man (2 Samuel 4:11). The word David used for righteous, tsaddîyq (tsad – deek´) means just. It is said that a Christian is justified by the death of Jesus on the cross; it is just as if the person had never committed a sin. If a sin has never been committed, then there can be no effect from it. What David was doing was crediting Ish-bosheth’s sin to Jesus and claiming redemption from that sin. It was not going to have any effect on him and therefore, Ish-bosheth’s murder was unnecessary.

Every sin can be credited to Jesus’ account. Jesus died for every sin that had been or ever will be committed when he shed his blood on the cross. The only thing we have to do is give him the credit.