Developing Righteousness (1)

 A theologian made this statement: “Even though [Christians are] mature, there is always room for further development… Spiritual maturity does not mean there is a cessation of spiritual growth.  Full-grown people develop in physical prowess [through exercise], emotionally mature individuals grow [through traumatic experiences], and the mentally mature expand [with intellectual activities].  So it is in the spiritual life.  Because of [their] discernment, Christian[s] may be considered to be spiritual, but [they are] never to cease [their] spiritual development” (Keathley III).  A writer put it this way: “For [Christians] to make progress in sanctification, in learning to please God, [they] must have a clear idea of what [their] goal is….Jesus stated it this way: ‘Seek first [above all else] the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you’ (Matthew 6:33)….The seeking of God begins at conversion [but it continues as] a lifelong pursuit….We are called to seek the kingdom by bearing witness to the kingdom…[by showing] the world what the kingdom of God looks like in every day life.  And we are called to seek the kingdom [by showing God’s righteousness,] by doing what is right in God’s sight” (Sproul).  These statements show us: 1) that our first priority in life should be seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness, 2) that developing such righteousness is a lifelong pursuit, 3) that developing such righteousness requires continual growth or fleshing out God’s will in the daily realities that life offers us.  How do we develop such righteousness?  What does it take to make progress in sanctification?  What aspects should we focus on?  We have no single book in the New Testament that was written specifically to address these questions.  So, we’ll need to examine a wide range of aspects.  As we examine them in several sermons, there is no pretense here that those offered should be seen as a final, authoritative, and exhaustive listing.  They are presented as aspects that we all as Christians need to be developing continually with the understanding that we’ll probably never master them completely.  Let’s look at four aspects in this lesson.  

Let’s develop righteousness through a single-minded devotion.  Jesus revealed that the greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbor.  Mark 12:28-34 states: “Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’ Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.  And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  This is the first commandment.  And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”   There is no other commandment greater than these.’  So the scribe said to Him, ‘Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He.  And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’  Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’”  This passage reveals that we must keep God supreme!  We must love Him with all of our being above anyone or anything else.  God does not want to be our co-pilot!  As the scribe himself recognized, such a devotion to God and such a concern for our neighbor goes far beyond coming to church!  Being single-mindedly devoted also means keeping heaven supreme.  Colossians 3:2-7 encourages us: “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.  Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.”  Fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desires, and greed are no longer to drive our lives.  Why?  Because we know there is more to reality than the passing pleasures of this world!  There is another dimension to existence that Christ is preparing and will one day reveal to us that will be so far beyond this life in its glory, joy, and peace that we want to travel light while we sojourn on this planet and we want to convince as many others as we can that the eternal home where we’ll live forever with all the Godhead and the saints is really where it’s at!  As the old hymn states it, “Heaven holds all to me!”  May the goal of keeping heaven as supreme help us to stay on that straight and narrow path that leads to life everlasting (Matthew 7:14).  Keep heaven supreme!  Lastly, being single-mindedly devoted means to keep pressing on!  The apostle Paul wrote about himself in Philippians 3:12-14: “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Paul confesses that he was not perfect, but he kept pressing on so that he could become all that Christ wanted him to be!  Just as Paul went from a ruthless murderer to a zealous missionary, Christ wants to radically transform our lives as well!  Pressing on keeps us humble, pressing on keeps us growing, pressing on keeps us looking to Jesus, pressing on keeps us compassionate, pressing on keeps us learning, pressing on keeps us forgiving.  Keep pressing on as supreme!  Keep God supreme, and heaven supreme, and pressing on supreme in order to develop God’s righteousness through a single-minded devotion!  

Let’s develop righteousness through a biblical conviction.  Conviction is being absolutely confident that something is true or being strongly persuaded that something is right.  Conviction is the opposite of being doubtful or skeptical about something.  Conviction also carries with it the idea that a Christian’s belief is so strong that actions will be impacted.  Biblical conviction means that these beliefs are derived from Scripture, and they greatly affect a Christian’s behavior.  Now here’s an example of conviction.  John Hus was a Bohemian reformer who was born in 1369.  His convictions were that the Bible should be translated into the language of the common people and that the State Church should be opposed for its promotion of using only the Latin Bible.  After a lifetime of preaching his convictions and translating the New Testament into his people’s language, Hus submitted himself to a rigged trial and said that he would not recant his convictions.  On 6 July 1415, he was carried to be burned at the stake.  Here is an account of the last few moments of his life: “The executioners undressed Hus and tied his hands behind his back with ropes, and his neck with a chain to a stake around which wood and straw had been piled up so that it covered him to the neck. Still at the last moment, the imperial marshal . . . asked him to save his life by a recantation, but Hus declined with the words "God is my witness that I have never taught that of which I have been accused by false witnesses. In the truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, I will die today with gladness." There upon the fire was kindled …. With uplifted voice Hus sang, "Jesus, thou Son of the living God, have mercy on me, Jesus, thou Son of the living God, have mercy on me.” (greatsite.com).  The apostle Paul tells us that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).  Three fundamental beliefs can strength our conviction.  First of all, we must firmly believe that the Bible is God’s Word!  It is not myths, not legends, not the product of some kind of conspiracy plot among its writers.  The apostle Peter explains in 2 Peter 1:20, “… no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”  The Bible is “God revealing Himself through the written word,” and it is internally consistent, historically accurate, archeologically sound, and textually supported by many ancient manuscripts (more than any other document from the ancient past) (Knechtle).  The Bible’s ringing theme proclaimed hundreds of times by both prophets and apostles was: “Thus says the Lord …”.  The Bible is God’s inspired message!  Secondly, we must strongly believe the Bible reveals the best way!  When you bought your car, it came with an owner’s manual.  That little book was designed to tell you, from the maker of the car itself, what you can do to make that machine perform in an optimum way.  Well, the Bible is like that as well.  It gives us the best way to live our lives in an optimum fashion, from the Maker Himself!  One fellow evangelist made this great observation: “Wherever the Bible has gone, civilization has been lifted to a higher plane.  It has made better husbands and wives, better fathers and mothers, better sons and daughters, better employers and employees.  It has been the strongest influence for good in the history of the world…. Knowing what we know about cause and effect, we cannot but conclude that the good influence of the Bible is another evidence that it within itself is eminently good” (Baxter).  Some books can tell us a better way to live, but the Bible reveals the best way!  Thirdly, we must ardently believe that the Bible has the final say!  A preacher from Missouri published a book of 20 of his best sermons, and he concludes each one in this way: “God said it; I believe it; that settles it.  The Bible is right” (Hancock)!  Oh, but many people say today, “Psychology teaches that …, Sociology shows that …, and Science proposes that …”.  Now, those sciences can be beneficial, but in the final analysis, all those sciences begin with men and focus only on this world.  The Bible, however, begins with God and focuses not only on this world but also on a supernatural world.  God has had a much better track record for consistency than do our modern sciences.  New theories replace old ones, but God’s truths abide forever.  Let’s allow the Bible have the final say! “In the truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, I will die today with gladness (sing) Jesus, thou Son of the living God, have mercy on me.” Let’s develop righteousness through a biblical conviction!

Let’s develop righteousness through a sacrificial lifestyle.  Jesus serves as our primary example.  One writer puts it this way: “… several levels of sacrifice are evident in the Savior’s surrender that set the perfect example for us. His sacrifices actually began when He emptied himself of His privileges and the prerogatives that were His as the second person of the Trinity. In becoming man, He veiled and laid aside the voluntary use and glory of His many attributes as God the Son. Then, in this life on earth, He did without wealth, position, status, and even acceptance [since] He was rejected by His own [race].… Ultimately, of course, He made the greatest sacrifice of all in that He who knew no sin became sin for us by dying the ugly and horrible death of the cross—a sentence reserved for the worst of criminals.  The bottom line is this: Christ voluntarily emptied Himself of anything and everything that stood in the way of the glory and gain of His Father [through Him].  What about us?  Although rights, privileges, pleasures, possessions, expectations, and well-formed plans may not be wrong in and of themselves, are we willing to hold them loosely and even let them go—to sacrifice them—if emptying ourselves of them will enable us to fulfill God’s agenda for our lives?” (Keathley III)  How can we learn to sacrifice?  Jesus helps us.  First of all, to live sacrificially, we must take up our cross.  Jesus teaches us in Luke 9:23: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let Him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”  After the sermon during a gospel meeting in Italy, it is customary for there to be period of time for questions from the audience.  One young man asked the speaker, “If persecution was to come and you were arrested, would you be willing to die for Christ?”  Without hesitation, the evangelist responded, “Yes, I would, because Jesus has already shown me how.  You see, my good friend, I die to myself each day, so persecution would just be a climax to that which I have been doing all along.”  Let’s take up our crosses daily and die to ourselves.  Secondly, to live sacrificially, we must become a seed.  Jesus explained it this way in John 12:24-25: “Most assuredly, I say to you [that means “really tune in to what I’m about to say”], unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.  He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  To be a fruitful church, we must be a dying church.  For the kingdom’s advantages, we may have to give up our advantages.  To produce much grain, we must disdain the constant calls to worldliness that Satan will keep sounding before us, especially through all our electronic media?  Only by becoming a dying seed will we ever become an abundant harvest.  Thirdly, to live sacrificially, we must give a gift!  Jesus again sets the pace by telling us: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).  And He not only taught it but lived it; He gave healing, and food, and battle with evil spirits, and teachings, and tax money, and patience, and prayers, and compassion, and money for the poor, and His own flesh and blood, and forgiveness, and grace upon grace.  What we give as Christians is not only a glaring barometer of our love and gratitude for God but also a fiery shield against the besetting sins of greed and materialism.  Let’s learn to sacrifice by taking a cross, becoming a seed, and giving a gift.  Such a sacrificial lifestyle will then help us to develop God’s righteousness!

Let’s develop righteousness through a fearless courage.  “One Christian writer has correctly observed: 'Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point of highest reality.'  Without courage, we will fail to be loving, to sacrifice, to count the cost, to tackle the challenges, or take on the responsibilities to which God calls us” (Keathley III).  To enhance our courage, let's remember three truths.  First of all, the source of courage is God's will.  Perhaps the apostles best expressed this truth when they told those rulers on the Jewish Supreme Court of their day: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).  Since the apostles knew that preaching Christ was God's will, they fearlessly continued to preach about Him all over Jerusalem regardless of what would happen to them!  Like the old hymn states, “While we do His good will, He abides with us still.  Never fear; only trust and obey!”  The source of our courage is God's will.  Secondly, the support of our courage is Christ's victory.  Jesus' resurrection is our guarantee that we can be victorious as well; even we must face death for our faith.  The passage we read this morning states it so well, “For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you or forsake you.'  So we may boldly say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?'” (Hebrews 3:5-6).  God's exaltation of Jesus is the assurance that He can do the same for us as well!  Thirdly, the strength of our courage is the Holy Spirit's help. Look at Hebrews 9:14: “... how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve a living God?”  A commentator observed: “If there ever was an occasion on which we may suppose Jesus was influenced by the Holy Spirit, that of His sufferings and death referred to here [would be it].  ... it was the most trying time of His own life; it was the period when there would be the most strong temptation to abandon His work, and, as the redemption of the whole world was dependent on that act, it is reasonable to suppose that the richest heavenly grace would be imparted to Him, and that He would then be eminently under the influence of that Spirit...” (Barnes).  The same Spirit that helped Jesus is the same Spirit that Paul prayed would help the believers in Ephesus: “... that God would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (Ephesians 3:16).  The Holy Spirit can help us to “courageously face the hurdles and continue to run the race God has laid out before us” (Keathley III).  May these three truths fortify our courage: its source is God's will, its support is Christ's victory, and its strength is the Spirit's help.  “While we do His good will, He abides with us still.  Never fear; only trust and obey!” Let's develop righteousness through fearless courage!  

What sweeter words can there be than to hear Jesus say one day: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  We all long to hear those words in that Great Day.  If we are to hear that blessing from Christ, then we must be diligent now, faithful to doing the work that He has called us to perform.  We must seek first (above all else) God's kingdom and His righteousness.  May we develop God's righteousness through a single-minded devotion, a biblical conviction, a sacrificial lifestyle, and a fearless courage.  In doing such, we will ever continue in our spiritual growth!