Can a Person be Righteous?

I have long been fascinated by the story of Job. When I was in Bible College I was taught that Job was a righteous man and his friends were wrong when they insisted that he must have done some evil to cause this calamity to fall upon him. Through the years I have met Christians who insisted that Job’s friends were right and Job was indeed presumptuous to claim to be righteous. This caused me to dig deeper into the text, and every time I do so I come out believing more firmly that Job was righteous.

Today as I read the book of Job, something leapt out at me.

A righteous man

The story begins, “This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” Job even offered sacrifices for each of his children after they had enjoyed a time of feasting and reveling on their birthdays, just in case they had sinned and “cursed God in their hearts.”

What an interesting thought, cursing God in their hearts. Later, in chapter two, Job’s wife tells him to “curse God and die.” Job said she was speaking as a foolish woman. The text continues, “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

Does Job fear God for nothing?

What stood out for me today was Satan’s response to God. When Satan appeared before God with the other angels, God asked him if he had considered his servant Job, “There is no one like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Satan’s reply is, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not…blessed the work of his hands….But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Job’s wife essentially told Job to give up on God. Why would you serve a God who sends such calamity? What is the point? This is exactly what Satan was saying. Job would no longer serve God if God stopped blessing him. People only serve God for what they can get. The big question is, Will Job still trust God if God removes his hedge of protection from him?

Satan argued that Job’s reverence for God was conditional. It was dependent upon God’s goodness to him. Satan was convinced that if God would strike Job, Job would indeed curse God.

Job’s response to his wife, however, was, “Shall we accept good from God and not evil?”

Does God promise only blessings?

Throughout the Bible we see a pattern of God blessing his people when they obeyed him and causing evil or harm to come to them when they disobeyed. The Bible literally says it will be well with us if we obey God. The King James Bible version puts it this way:

Ye shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess (Deuteronomy 5:33).

As a result of this scripture and others like it, people have concluded that if something bad happens to us, we are somehow at fault. Presumably we have sinned or not been righteous enough. Job’s friends took the view that the trouble he was experiencing was evidence that he must have some sin he needed to confess.

Jesus challenged the belief that if something bad happens it is because a person has sinned. When he was about to heal a man who was blind from birth, Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus if the man was blind because of his own sin or the sin of his parents. This association of sin with affliction was deeply rooted in their understanding. Jesus responded that neither was true. Rather, this would bring glory to God (John 9).

What does the Bible say about trials?

If we look in the Bible we find stories of people who were not evil and still experienced great trials. Think of the story of Joseph, as an example (Genesis 37-46). The Bible teaches that God will give us the grace and strength to endure trials (2 Corinthians 12:9), that God can cause good to come from harm (Romans 8:28), and that he will not allow us to be  tempted beyond what we can endure (1 Corinthians 10:13). Clearly trials will come.

While the Bible says God will bless us if we are faithful, it does not promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us. After all, it happened to Job.

The Bible also does not say that God will not bless us if we are unfaithful. In fact scriptures like Psalm 73 wrestle with the fact that sometimes the wicked prosper.

Can a man claim to be righteous?

We tend to read the story of Job through the grid of our New Testament understanding that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We understand that “…by one man sin entered into the world….” (Romans 5:12), speaking of Adam and Eve in the garden. In light of this it could appear presumptuous for Job to claim that he is righteous.

When Jesus healed the man who was born blind, the leaders of the synagogue questioned the man, wanting to know what had happened to him. His response was “All I know is that once I was blind but now I see” (John 9:25). I propose that Job knew he was righteous because he experienced the difference between being blind, living in darkness, and seeing. He recognized what his friends were trying to pin on him. It may have been his past, but of one thing he was certain. It did not describe his present.

Christians who cannot accept that Job was righteous are in fact aligning themselves with his friends. At the end of the story we read that God was angry with Job’s friends and required a sacrifice of atonement from them. He accused them of not speaking the truth about him. He also instructed Job to pray for them, “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:8).

We see here that the very knowledgeable friends of Job were wrong in their conclusions about Job, and that this, in the sight of God, was a serious offense which required sacrifice and intercession.

Although all that Job valued was taken away and he suffered incredibly, he possessed what his friends did not have. Job possessed righteousness. To say he was not righteous would have been to slander God. The truth Job spoke was about God.

I think today the “Christian” thing to do, if we were in Job’s place, would be to offer a show of humility and say something like “we all sin.” Job’s friends would probably have been satisfied if Job had just conceded that much. But Job refused. Job possessed an incredible understanding of God and righteousness.

Job’s relentless refusal to yield continues to challenge me, personally, especially when I think of how easily we confess to sin. Job’s testimony of righteousness was so powerful that God and Satan engaged in a contest to test its veracity. Wow!

Some people would accuse Job of self-righteousness and pride. This is exactly what his friends did. But God didn’t see it that way. There was a purity to his confession that could not be any further refined in the furnace of affliction. The trials he suffered only proved that what he had was real.

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How to guard your heart

I want to talk about something close to my heart. It is the need to guard our hearts. “Guard your heart with all diligence for out of it proceed the issues of life” Proverbs 4:23.
 
What does it mean to guard our heart? Recently I felt like my heart was broken. My heart has been broken many times over in my life. How do I respond to a broken heart? I allow myself to grieve. It’s alright to feel the pain.
 
Sometimes our heart is broken because of injustice, or what we perceive to be injustice. Even injustices in the past that we did not personally experience. Or injustices in other countries. Or injustice that has happened to other people.
 
We are in a dangerous place when our heart is broken. The easy response is to become bitter. There are so many things we can become bitter about in the world.
 
In the Bible we read the story of how Cain became bitter towards his brother Abel. Cain’s heart was broken because the sacrifice he offered was not acceptable to God, while his brother Abel’s sacrifice was received by God. Pain can quickly turn to anger and this is what happened in this story.
 
When we become bitter, we instinctively want to cause pain or even destroy the people who caused the pain. Cain ended up killing his own brother.
 
God warned Cain when he noted that Cain’s “countenance was darkened.” He told Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door and it desires to have you.” Cain ended up yielding to this influence, despite the warning.
 
The Bible instructs us not to let a root of bitterness grow in our hearts. This can apply to any situation that disturbs us, past or present.
 
Guarding our hearts means we don’t allow our hearts to harden towards other people or people groups. We can separate the sin from the sinner. We can still pray for the tyrant leader, or the molester, or the hater.
 
Our pain does not have to cause us to become insensitive and uncaring like the ones who caused the pain. Neither does our pain need to cause us to turn bitter against God when we think he is unjust.
 
God’s response to those who question his justice is found in the book of Job, chapter 38, “Where were you when….” I love Job’s faithful response, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” Job 13:15. He was saying, God you can do whatever you choose to do in my life, I will still serve you. This is ultimate faith.
 
Cain’s real anger was towards God. And if we look deeply inside ourselves we will see we are no different.
 
Let’s guard our hearts from growing cold and loveless towards people and towards God. Instead, embrace a soft heart, a heart that can be broken and continue to love. I have found that this is actually the path to healing.

When My Best Isn’t Good Enough

As a Christian I admit I have often struggled with what to do when I sense that my best isn’t good enough. Yesterday I made a few choices and later in the day I felt like they were the wrong ones. I had done my best but it wasn’t good enough. I had even prayed, however, in the end I thought I had let myself down and I had let God down.

I’ll tell you what it was. I put a purchase on a credit card with the intention of paying it off over a period of months. I did not have the cash at the moment to pay it. At the time I thought it was the right thing to do because I found just the item I had been looking for. But when I got home I suddenly second guessed myself. It was not like I committed some great sin, but maybe I got it wrong.

For Christians, Christ is set before us as a standard of perfection. In the Bible we are called to perfection, to holiness. How do we do this? Is this even possible? And if not, do we end up in a state of constant disappointment and even discouragement over our failure?

I have heard Christians get around this one by saying that God’s grace covers all of our sin–past, present and future. Does this mean, then, that I no longer need to concern myself with whether what I am doing is good enough?

In the Old Testament (the first section of the Bible before the record of the life of Jesus begins) we read that God’s chosen nation, the Israelites, were given the “law” by God to instruct them about right and wrong. In the New Testament Jesus said that basically all that was written in the Old Testament could be summed up as, “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.”

While this may sound simple, Jesus also taught that no one is good, except God. He told his disciples that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone to enter the kingdom of God. His disciples asked him, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus’ response was, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27.

Jesus set an example of how we should live. He set an example of true, sacrificial love when he died on the cross. And he came to do the thing that was not possible with man. He came to forgive sins. He actually demonstrated that he had the authority to forgive sins. When Jesus forgave a paralyzed man of his sins, religious leaders challenged his authority to do so, saying that only God can forgive sins. His response was, “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” Jesus then healed the paralyzed man and demonstrated that he had the power both to heal and to forgive sins.

Before Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph, an angel appeared to Joseph to tell him that Mary, a virgin, would bear a son and he was to call him Jesus, because he would “save people from their sins.” The angel earlier told Mary that she would give birth to “the Son of God.” Jesus, the Son of God, came to save us from our sins. To forgive us.

It grieves me when I fail to live up to the standard Christ set for me. It seems as though Christians live in a constant state of depravity. Are we not “empowered from on high” by the Holy Spirit who indwells believers and is this not sufficient for us to no longer fail him? Apparently not.

Martin Luther, the great Reformer, struggled so intensely with the issue of sinfulness that he almost had a breakdown. Finally he received a transforming revelation: “The just shall live by faith.” This verse was penned by the apostle Paul in the New Testament and we also find it in the Old Testament, in the book of Habakkuk, chapter two verse four.

I looked up a few different translations of the verse and noted some interesting variations below:

“I, the Lord, refuse to accept anyone who is proud. Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me.”
Some people’s desires are truly audacious; they don’t do the right thing. But the righteous person will live honestly.
Behold, he that is unbelieving, his soul shall not be right in himself: but the just shall live in his faith.
This message cannot help those who refuse to listen to it, but those who are good will live because they believe it.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. (Scriptures from Bible Gateway.)

The above verses reveal our tendency to be proud, unbelieving, and dishonest about our condition, rather than humble, faithful and obedient.

The gap between who I am and who I want to be, is a consequence of my humanity. I am not a ‘god.’ I cannot be god-like without help from God. Simply said, it is pretty much arrogant to think I can live rightly on my own. I need to be “instructed in the way of righteousness.”

I find it humbling to have to face my inadequacy every day. But I can draw a little bit of comfort from the above verses which seem to indicate that humility is a necessary posture, one from which I can move forward, by faith.

When I turn my face from my failure to God’s faithfulness and forgiveness I find my heart suddenly filled with hope and joy and gratitude. I feel like a child who is let out of “time out” and is free to run and play again. Until next time.

Why Does Jesus Need to Protect Us?

This question has been on my mind for a few days since I read John 17:12. In this passage Jesus is nearing the end of his ministry and life on earth and is offering a prayer to God for his followers. He prays, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe….None has been lost except the one [Judas who would betray him].” NIV

Jesus goes on to pray, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” John 17:15-17.

In all my reading it never occurred to me that during his ministry Jesus had an obligation to protect his disciples. But I began to think about what it might have been like for twelve men to follow Jesus for three years as he went from place to place teaching and healing people. Where did they sleep? How often did they go home? They gave up their jobs, it appears, at least that’s what we read about the fishermen. Certain women ministered to them out of their resources. Isn’t that interesting? The women are supporting the men in ministry. I’ve never heard a sermon on that one.

But today as I was reading in Ezra I gained a little more clarity. I love how one part of the Bible can shed light on another.

The exiled Hebrews are rebuilding the temple and encountering some severe opposition. This tends to happen when we do the work of the kingdom of God and it could have something to do with not being “of the world.” Look what happens, “Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They hired counsellors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia” Ezra 4:4-5.

Notice that in Jesus’ prayer he prayed for protection from the “evil one.” Here we see what the evil one is up to. When we want to do something for God and for the good of others then we encounter forces that try to discourage us and make us afraid. People will even go as far as to hire opposition to work against a good cause and to frustrate it. Have you seen this happen? I have.

We might as well not be ignorant of the fact that we have adversaries who are not exactly supportive of what Jesus and his followers are doing. It is comforting to know that Jesus recognizes this opposition and sees the need to pray for us and protect us.

I want to add one more thing. Part of the reason that the Hebrews succeeded in building the temple is because they knew that what they were doing was what God wanted them to do and they refused to align themselves with the enemy. Earlier their enemies had asked if they could join them in building. (With what intentions, we might ask?) The Hebrews refused their offer. They saw they were not of the same mind and purpose.

I think we have a clue here as to how we overcome our adversary. We recognize that we are different and not of this world. Jesus calls this process sanctification. When he prayed for the protection of his followers, he also prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth.” It is the truth that dispels lies that can cause fear and discouragement. It is the truth that will align us with God’s purposes and enable us to succeed in that which we set out to do, the things to which God has called us.