I set stage for this blog with the question, What is Christian Salvation and Why Would Anyone Want It? If you haven’t read that blog first, you might want to take some time to read it. I set this piece up with my own story, but I am no different than anyone else who has encountered the God of the Bible and the salvation that He offers.
In this piece we will get into some detail on the meaning of salvation, sin that poses the problem for which salvation is the solution, and righteousness, which is, perhaps, more misunderstood than the other two.
To begin with, salvation means, generally, “preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss”; theologically, it means “deliverance from sin and its consequences” according to Google. Righteousness means, generally, “the quality of being morally right or justifiable” according to Google.
These definitions are simple and easy enough to understand generally, but they have very specific and nuanced meanings in context of faith that belie the richest and deepest of Christian truths.
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved for I bear them witness that they have a Zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:1-4)
Paul is speaking to the Romans of the Jews, but this message could apply to anyone who seeks to establish his own righteousness and does not submit to God’s righteousness. Paul had a particular authenticity to be able to say this about the Jews, because they were his people. He was one of them. He was not just Jewish, but trained as a Pharisee by the greatest of the contemporary teachers of the time and zealous for the Jewish law to the point of persecuting the followers of Christ (Phil. 3:6) – before he was confronted by the living, resurrected Jesus.
Paul knew something of the righteousness of his former life and of the righteousness of the Jews in his time. Their righteousness consisted of zealously keeping the law. The Pharisees, the protectors keepers of the law, were the people with whom Jesus had the harshest confrontations. He accused them of imposing impossible burdens on others, burdens that they, themselves, didn’t even keep. Primarily, though, they were attempting to establish their own righteousness in reference to the law.
In the Sermon on the Mount (where Jesus spoke to His disciples, not the crowds that also followed Him) a couple of the subjects that Jesus addressed seem contradictory at first blush. They both relate on the surface to the way we act in public, before other people. He said, on the one hand:
You are the light of the world…. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14, 16)
Jesus, on the other hand, gave the following negative instruction:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1);
Jesus went on to provide the following examples: “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:2-6)
How do we let our light shine before men without practicing our righteousness before men?
Clearly, “letting your let shine” does not mean “practicing your righteousness”. In fact, “your righteousness” is the problem…. We have no righteousness. Our righteousness is like filthy rags before God. (Isaiah 64:6) We have no righteousness before God, so if we are practicing any righteousness at all, we are practicing our own righteousness.
When Jesus talked about letting our light shine, He was talking about letting the light of Christ shine. Jesus is our righteousness. (1 Corinthians 1:30) We do not rely on ourselves, but on the righteousness that God gives us freely when we let go of our own righteousness and accept the atoning sacrifice of Jesus to make us “right” with the Father.
The difference between letting our lights shine and practicing our own righteousness is not observed in what we, but in why we do it. The difference is something that only God sees and can measure. (Psalm 139:2)
The heart/motivation of a person is the important thing when it comes to God and is what we should be concerned about as well. (Prov. 4:23) We should be continually on guard, checking always to be sure our heart motivation is right. Jesus, in effect, was saying, “Check your heart.”
But, we may not even accurately know our own motivations. For that reason, David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!” (Psalm 139:23) David did not pray those words to be heard by people; he was crying out to God, “Help me!”
When we turn our sincere prayer to God, who sees everything and knows us better than we know ourselves, we are in the right position to let our lights shine. When our focus is on what other people think, we are not letting our lights shine; we are practicing righteousness, which means nothing to God.
When our audience is God, rather than man, our lights will shine, and God will be pleased. If our motives are to glorify Christ, our lights will shine, and people will be drawn to Jesus. When our motives are to follow, and honor and be like Christ as He instructs us to be, we are letting our lights shine in what we do, and people will glorify God.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)
When God’s reward is our greatest desire, our lights will shine, and men will notice, but they will not so much notice us, as they will notice God. People intuitively pick up on our motivations. When we are looking for praise form others, people know it. When are seeking praise from God, people wonder what it is we are looking for because they know it is not the honor of men that we seek.
If someone is standing, staring at the sky, others will look up also to see what we are seeing. When our focus is on God, people should wonder what we are focused on and be inspired to see what we see.
When a light shines, whether it is the sun, or a candle, a lamp, a flashlight or something else, we do not notice the light as much as the objects that are illuminated by the light. The brighter the light, the less able we are to look at the light, itself, but the greater we are able to see everything else with clarity.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” – C. S. Lewis
5457/phōs (a neuter noun) – properly, light (stressing its results, what it manifests). In Scripture, phōs (“light”) is the manifestation of God’s self-existent life. See John 1:4-5 “In Him [Christ] was life, and the life was the light [phōs] of men. The light (phōs) shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” John 8:12: “Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light (phōs) of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light (phōs) of life.'” (NASB)
God’s light (phōs) reveals His presence and preferences. In contrast, darkness obscures God’s will and presence. Through the light of faith, God reveals and shares His life which overcomes all spiritual darkness. We can not see things as they really are, unless God gives us light. God’s light alone reveals reality so the Psalmist proclaims, “In Thy light, we see light.” (Ps 36:9) Phōs preeminently conveys the manifestation of God’s life (Jn 1:4) so believers can perceive true reality, through faith. Without divine light, we would all be shut up to spiritual (eternal) obscurity. Light is in Christ and emanates from Him (cf. Heb 1:3). We do not turn on a flashlight (or light a candle) to see the flashlight or the candle! Light makes what is spiritual (eternal) become intelligible (“visible”). God shares light so He Himself becomes visible to the eye of the soul.
3708/horáō – properly, to see, often in the metaphorical sense: “to see with the mind” (“spiritually see”), i.e. perceive (with inward spiritual perception). Horaō (“see”) typically refers to grasping the meaning of something through God’s revelation, i.e. perceiving on the invisible (supernatural) plane. Horaō denotes the physical act of seeing and connotes the mental discernment accompanying it. Horaō (“see”) implies comprehension – like in the expression, “I see what you mean” (“I see what you are saying”). Horaō focuses on the mental and spiritual enlightenment that brings understanding, i.e. inner illumination that also implies “take heed” (give regard to).
2570/kalós – attractively good; good that inspires (motivates) others to embrace what is lovely (beautiful, praiseworthy); i.e. well done so as to be winsome (appealing).
I use The Discovery Bible to gain a deeper, richer and more complete understanding of the Scripture. If you want ready understanding of the original Greek, the original word emphasis and Greek tenses that do not exist in English, definitions of Greek words and more to make your reading of the New Testament deeper and richer, check out The Discovery Bible. The Discovery Bible opens up knowledge of the original New Testament text in Greek to you in your everyday Bible reading. It shows the words emphasized in the Greek text, the tenses and the meanings that do not always translate well into English or English sentence structure. If you are ready to dig deeper in your Bible reading, try a free 30-day trial download of The Discovery Bible.
The world seems to be coming unglued! Militant, radical Muslims in Iraq are killing Christians, minority religious groups and even other Muslims. Hamas bombards Israel, and Israel responds with shelling that is killing women and children. At home, police decked out in military gear in a Missouri town are confronting an angry mob looting in the street and threatening to kill policemen.
Daily posts on Facebook and other social media demonize Barack Obama and “liberal Democrats”, or greedy corporations and capitalists, or Israelis or Hamas. The air is filled with ranting on both sides and all sides decrying every conceivable evil in the world. The cacophony seems to be reaching new heights. The many forms of social media make ranting as easy as shouting out the window to a world that is right within earshot.
The old saying, “you cannot judge a book by its cover” has the ring of truth. Jesus said essentially the same thing, “Do not judge by appearances….” (John 7:24)
One difference between God and people is that God sees the heart; we only see the deeds. “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 17:10 When we judge others, we can’t see what God sees. We enter dangerous territory. We tread into the territory of God. Indeed, we trespass on the province of God.
Even though we cannot see into the hearts and minds of other people, we sometimes act as if we can. We spend much time and energy analyzing and dissecting the specs in other’s eyes, ignoring or missing the logs in our own eyes. We go where angles dare not tread.
At the same time, we spend much time and energy making ourselves look good. We do things for others to see because we want approval and a pat on the back. Jesus judged the Pharisees for doing exactly that. He called them “whitewashed tombs”. They looked good on the outside, but they were dead on the inside. The people who pray eloquently for others to hear or give publically for others to see have received their rewards, Jesus said. The approval, acceptance and praise of other people is the reward, but the ultimate reward from God is lost in the process.
Does that mean that any public prayer or gift is of no consequence? I don’t think so. It all depends on the attitude of the heart and mind. It depends on the things that only God sees. God searches our hearts and examines our minds to judge our deeds. If the heart and mind is right when we pray and when we give, our blessing comes from God.
It seems to me that the same principle must work in reverse: that a person who only prays alone and only gives when others are not looking, but does it out of a heart and mind of pride and self-righteousness, is no better off than the person who prays and gives in public to be recognized by others. Again, what matters is what God sees, not what other people see or do not see. What matters is the heart and mind. Our deeds will be judged and rewarded according to the attitudes of our hearts and minds.
If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we do not always do what we know we should do. We fail to do the right things sometimes even when we want to do the right things (or at least think we want to). We sometimes have a hard time recognizing the truth about ourselves. We condemn ourselves when Jesus says there is no condemnation. We judge others when we are quick to forget our own shortcomings. Frankly, we are not well equipped even to judge ourselves accurately. Who, then, are we to judge other people, let alone their motives?
If we are trusting in ourselves and the good things that we do and have done, we are trusting in the wrong things. Yes, God judges and rewards us according to the things we do, but God searches our hearts and examines our minds in order to reward us according to our conduct. It is not the conduct, itself; it is the heart and mind of the person that counts. We can’t even be certain of our own motivations. Thus, we must pray: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! … see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)
What a state we are in? But that is precisely where God wants us. “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.” (Eph. 2:8-9) If we could judge ourselves accurately, wouldn’t we also become proud of that fact? The truth is that we are utterly dependent on God even for the most basic of things.
Jesus said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:37-38) Jesus suggests that we will be judged and measured by the same standard we judge and measure others. If we live our lives by that premise, we will give generously and forgive unconditionally and spend no time judging or condemning others.
If God is in the business of rewarding people according to their deeds, we can trust the judging to God. We are not in the position to judge even ourselves. That will free us up to get about the business of doing what God wants us to do: love God with all your heart and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. There is no higher calling. It does not matter what is on the cover; the contents are all that matter.