"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

What Is Good?

 John 1:1-3 ESV
  1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
  2. He was in the beginning with God.
  3. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
      One might wonder what all that has to do with good. That’s an easy one: And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Genesis 1:31 (ESV) And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone, Mark 10:18 (ESV) which is why his creation is good.
      As Mankind was the culmination of God’s creation, we were naturally included when God said, “It’s all good.” And as long as his creation was intact, it remained good. So, from God’s perspective, we are good when we live the way he created us to live.
      Oh, how the standard for “good” has declined. Now, when something pleases us for any reason, we declare it “good,” and we’re not at all discriminating.
2 Corinthians 5:10 (NASB) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
      But living any other way is sin. That’s why apostle Paul wrote, Romans 3:23 (ESV) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That idea wasn’t original with him, though. Paul simply summed up the body of Scripture, as human depravity is one of its major themes, as are God’s mercy and justice.
      An observant farmer might say, “Wait a dad-burned minute. That stool don’t stand!” Human reason balks at those three principles when we try to understand how they can coexist. How can God deal justly with disobedient mankind, and still show mercy? Does he sentence us to community service, as do today’s judges? Hardly, as that’s neither justice nor mercy. If God is indeed both just and merciful, he seems to have painted himself into a corner by creating humanity so we could sin.
What in the world was God thinking?
      Discerning God’s ways is indeed a hard thing. Again, we look to apostle Paul for insight: 1 Corinthians 2:14 (NASB) But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. And where did he get that idea? Isaiah 55:8-9 (NASB) "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.
      From the outset, God planned for all these eventualities. Some folks think of God’s Plan of Salvation as a Jesus thing, or just a gospel tract, but that’s selling God way short. In fact, all of history is his plan of salvation, from creation to humanity’s fall, from the horrible things mankind does to one another to his church’s work today; nothing takes God by surprise! If we can’t see a connection between mankind’s cruelty and God’s mercy, so what? We don’t even know which heartbeat will be our last, but God does. As movie spies say, “We’re on a need to know basis,” and all we need to know is what he tells us through his word. Oh, sure, some people claim special knowledge or a new revelation and get folks all riled up, but they’re full of it, and “it” isn’t God.

What in the world is God doing?
      Short of studying, in depth, all of God’s word and all of human history, there are a few things we can take to the bank: Remember the apparent conflict between God’s mercy and justice, and Man’s depravity? As God made us for fellowship with himself, he necessarily shared with us some of his divine attributes so we could relate to him, and he to us. One of those attributes is free will.
      God’s eternal Word knew, when he began creation, that Man would abuse that divine gift of free will to sell out to the lowest bidder. God even knew that he, in Christ Jesus, would have to pay the ultimate price to buy us back from Satan.
      Admittedly, this seems like a roundabout process when God could have just prevented the whole sin thing, but as his incredible gift of free will made sin inevitable, eliminating it simply wasn’t an option. Instead, by refusing to coerce us into obedience, but allowing us to sin, all the while knowing how he would deal both justly and mercifully with us, God proves to us how wonderful is his love for us.

Old Testament Law—Spiritual Nanny
      The most misunderstood concept in the Bible is the relationship between law and grace. On one side of the issue are believers who insist that we must obey at least part of Old Testament law, and then God will love us, and Jesus will give us his grace-pass into heaven. Then there are the believers who embrace God’s loving grace as the cure for all but humanity’s worst transgressions. The one side says, “God’s Ten Commandments are not Ten Suggestions.” The other says, “Just believe in God and be nice to your neighbors, and St. Peter will open wide those pearly gates.”
      Both of those persuasions ignore God’s truth, revealed in his word. God’s law is both the Old Testament and the New Testament, even if they seem to proclaim contradictory messages.
Apostle Paul distilled this complex truth into just four Bible verses:
Galatians 3:23-26 (ESV) Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. (24) So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (25) But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, (26) for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
      That’s a nutshell that encloses a big part of God’s infinite truth. It tells us why God instituted his law, who(Christ Jesus) and what(faith) fulfills the law, and who we become through faith in Christ Jesus. It’s not simply a “That was then, this is now” type of thing, because God’s law still applies to those who are not yet sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Let’s backtrack for perspective
Galatians 3:5-14 (ESV) Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith-- (6) just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"? (7) Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. (8) And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." (9) So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (10) For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." (11) Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for "The righteous shall live by faith." (12) But the law is not of faith, rather "The one who does them shall live by them." (13) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree"-- (14) so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
      In verse five we can see the apostle wrote this to a group of believers who were a bit confused about the law-versus-faith issue. So we shouldn’t feel slow if we can’t seem to grasp the concept.
      Verse six gives us a role-model for faith. Apostle Paul quoted Genesis 15:6 to establish faith’s part in Abraham’s righteousness before God.
      Verse seven takes the idea one step further. The author establishes our identity as “sons of Abraham,” or honorary Hebrews, through faith.
      Verse eight takes a flying leap, at least where the Jews are concerned. He uses Genesis 12:3 as the basis for his claim that all peoples, not just God’s chosen Hebrews, are qualified for justification by faith.
      As verse nine just restates that fact, let’s jump to verse ten, where he wades into even deeper water. Here he slaps the religious Jews—and all who depend on the law for justification—sharply on their pride, by openly declaring they are under a curse because they can’t keep the whole law.
      Verse eleven brings in another Old Testament passage, Habakkuk 2:4, and yes, there was such a prophet. Using that passage, Paul says the fact that the law cannot justify anyone is evident, meaning anyone who has half a brain should see it.
      Verse twelve pushes the two-edged sword even deeper, with a quote from Leviticus 18:5. Now we see that “the law is not of faith,” explaining why those who lived by the law could never be fully justified by it.
      Till now, Paul has talked a lot about faith, but he wasn’t specific as to that faith’s object. With verse thirteen he ties up that loose end by saying plainly, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” (Deuteronomy 21:23) What a powerful declaration!
      Verse fourteen continues that thought, tying up the faith-gift of God with a beautiful bow.
      So, to answer the title question, we are good when we live as God originally intended.

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