Tag Archives: righteousness

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Becoming Fit

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A Righteousness by Faith #28: Becoming Fit

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5

I was thinking this week about Shia Labeouf and Justin Bieber as brothers in Christ. They have both professed faith in Jesus in the last several years. It is no stretch to say that they are not the poster children that we wish they were for the coming generation of believers. Why can’t they be more like Steph Curry or Tim Tebow?

And there, in a nutshell, is the situation that Paul is addressing in his letter to the Roman church. It’s the Kiss Me Kate song sung by many a frustrated believer to the immature—“Why can’t you behave? Oh, why can’t you behave? After all the things you told me and the promises that you gave—oh, why can’t you behave?”

Their names popped into my head as I processed what Paul means by ‘this grace in which we now stand.’ Grace, he says, is what we have gained access to when we put our faith in Jesus. But what is it exactly? John Barclay whose extensive work, Paul and the Gift, researched how this word was used by various people using this word in Paul’s time. Grace, he noted, comes from a root word meaning gift. If we think of God as the giver, then grace is God’s gift to us—revealed in the passion of Jesus, who triumphed over sin and death.

Gift giving in the first century had serious cultural implications. For most of the Roman world, giving gifts was a way of bestowing favor and gaining allegiance from those who could come to your aid in times of trouble, whether you needed a militia or a loan. If you were smart and adept, you gave to people who could give back. Gifts like these were called ‘congruent’—given to people that were in harmony with your beliefs and worthy of receiving your gift.

Here is the difference between the various cultures Paul lived in—Roman and Jewish—and his understanding of God’s gift. God gave grace to people who had no claim on Him, could not pay Him back and could barely hold themselves together behaviorally. Think of the woman at the well. Think of Zacchaeus. Think of Peter, John, and James. Think about yourself! God giving us grace was incongruent—a gift to the ridiculous and unworthy.

This reality was so different from the Jewish believers’ thinking about God’s gift. God who had made a covenant with them through Moses. For them, God’s blessings went to the obedient and curses went to the unfaithful. It was all right there in the Law. It was clear to them that God intended the Gentiles to live under this kind of righteousness. Otherwise, they just could not be part of the covenant people.

But incongruent grace is the reality of the new covenant. This covenant revealed that the believing Gentiles had the same righteousness by faith as the believing Jews had, even if they were still behavioral problems in the eyes of their siblings.

What does this mean for the Shias and Justins? Grace is the reason for hope. Why? Because grace is more than an incongruent gift. Grace accomplishes all that God gave it for. His design in saving anyone was not to allow them to languish in their mess, but to conform them to the likeness of Jesus. Grace is Paul’s shorthand for the empowering work of God by the Spirit in His people to do for them what they cannot do for themselves.

Grace is what Shia and Justin—and we—now stand in. None of us are finished products yet. By grace, God is at work stripping away the effects of the Fall on us. Paul sees this as a lifelong journey—“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” For Paul, suffering is God’s pruning process. It produces perseverance—trust in God’s faithfulness to His promises even when we cannot foresee the outcome. As we persevere, the Spirit shapes our character so that it aligns with the righteousness of God. And so we come full circle back to hope. God does all this in us because of His glory.

If you ever wonder how anyone is ever going to become fit to live the faith life, this is it. This is the journey everyone is on. Its beginning and end have already been finished by God because He is committed to His own glory. You, Shia, Justin, along with everyone who has put their faith in Jesus will become righteous because it is His will to make you righteous and His grace makes it happen.

-Steve Smith


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What is ‘hope in the glory of God’?

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A Righteousness by Faith #27: What is ‘hope in the glory of God’?

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5

I find this one of the most beautiful passages in the letter. I read it often and share it in the classes I teach on transformation—that we have hope in the glory of God. What a leap from Romans 3:23 where Paul reminded both Jews and Gentiles that before faith, everyone fell short of this glory.

Because of the prominence of the doctrine of justification in the first part of Romans, the glory of God can seem merely like an important subtext. But it is much more than that. It is the theory of everything. It explains to us humans why God embarked on the whole incarnation-to-the-cross journey. Why we exist. Why God seeks to redeem us. Why there is hope. It is all about God who cares for His glory. A glory we who are created are missing out on. Why? —Because our willful rebellion robs us of the opportunity to be full of awe and wonder at the glorious God who made us.

Everything God does is for His glory, yet there’s so much about His glory we will never be able to comprehend—it is beyond us. But this is what all believers need to know—When Jesus sacrifices himself by being nailed to the cross, he does it to uphold the Father’s glory. Before Adam and Eve took that first wrong bite, God knew He would take their death upon Himself. Not for the sake of humans, mind you, but for the sake of His glory. Jesus ultimately answers Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” with his passion. The truth is that you can trust God to redeem what we messed up because of His glory. This is how Jesus glorifies the Father—He paid the death price for us. This clears the backlog of judgment God withheld over those who deserved it, in spite of what Satan might have thought of His delay. And that is a truth we would never have known if God had not revealed it to us.

Up to that point in our history, no one—not Abraham, not Moses, not David, not Jeremiah nor even John the Baptizer—had any tangible hope in the glory of God. They had amazing faith as described in Hebrews 11. But they all died not having seen the full righteousness of God revealed in rescuing people from sin and hell. And righteousness is an essential aspect of God’s glory. When God acted to redeem people according to His glory, what He is doing is righteousness is an unexpected way. He is, as John boldly says, faithful and just (righteous) to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. There it is. God is not only righteous but also by His power and will He is making us righteous in ways we are not able to achieve in our own strength.

Before we came to put our faith in Jesus and receive the Spirit, we had no hope that we would ever live out our lives in the righteousness of God’s glory—it was beyond us. Now that we belong to the new covenant, now that we have been given the Spirit, now that we know God as our Abba, we have hope like never before. This is GOOD news.

Who is this ‘we’? It is not just the committed ones. This includes the careless, the casual and the confounded nuisances. They need to be beckoned on to this hope as people who have the Spirit, instead of driven toward it like cattle. They need to hear that God knows them and they have a new name given to them by the Father. Every believer needs to hear regularly that they have hope no matter how badly they have messed up. They need to hear that there are mercy and grace to be found in God’s presence for their time of need. They need to hear that restoration in the face of their rebellion and sin choices is God’s preferred way of dealing with them, even if they do not at this moment desire restoration. They need to hear that the empowering presence of the Spirit is in them to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. And that salvation from the power of sin is not up to their best efforts but comes to those who humble themselves instead of pridefully believing it depends on their own efforts and obedience.

And also hear that they will definitely become like Jesus before they reach the judgment throne. This is what hope in the glory of God is all about.

-Steve Smith

 


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What we get from the flesh instead of the Spirit

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A Righteousness by Faith #19: What We Get from the Flesh Instead of the Spirit

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Galatians 5:16-18

Flesh is such an odd word. When we talk about our inner lives, it is weird to suggest that our ‘flesh’ is somehow trying to destroy us. It almost sounds like I have a body that is trying to do me in, like Wormtail’s silver hand in The Deathly Hallows.

What Paul is pointing to is that, before meeting Jesus, you and I built a life around doing what pleases us. We had a love/hate relationship with this life, but it was what we knew. Now that we have put our faith in Jesus, God has given us all we need to live a different life. All we need means the presence of the Spirit, whose power does in us what we cannot do for ourselves.

So what exactly does Paul mean by ‘flesh’? I sometimes think because we use certain words all the time we think we understand their definition. Flesh is not some literal part of your body, like your skin or muscles or some internal organ. Perhaps the simplest definition is: flesh is whatever is in you that resists the reign of God over your life. It is flesh because it grants you permission to do things that will bring destruction sooner or later, but feel right at the time of choosing to do what you prefer.

Although we may naturally equate the flesh life to being openly wicked, flesh takes different forms in people’s lives. Sometimes the flesh life looks pretty respectable. Look at five kinds of flesh demonstrated by different people who encountered Jesus.

First there is what I call USDA Prime flesh, the kind that allowed Nicodemus to rise to a level of power and influence as a religious leader of Israel. Second is USDA Choice flesh. Zacchaeus fits this category—someone who is savvy in business and profits, usually asked to serve on the church financial team although probably not possessing the qualities of an elder! Then there is USDA Standard flesh, the store brand variety that could be either a good or bad choice, with maybe just a hint of gristle. Peter trying his best to follow Jesus easily represents this kind.

A fourth group is USDA Utility flesh, which is hamburger quality. People living life all ground up by immaturity, bad choices and limited prospects, such as the woman by the well in John 4. Finally, there is USDA Waste flesh, marked as useless and tossed out. This describes the woman caught in adultery in John 8.

When you look at these representative people of each category, you recognize all of them were in need of a Savior. And that none of them were able to fix themselves by the acts of their flesh. All of them were experiencing trouble in life because of how they were reigning over themselves, aka living in the flesh. The same is true for the people Paul is warning—and for us.

The conflict of the flesh and the Spirit is the difference between having a righteousness by faith and the one that is by the Law. Righteousness by faith is produced in all of us who recognize the ravages of self-rule. Depending on the flesh to produce righteousness will subtly lead back to the destruction we thought we escaped when we put our faith in Jesus. Churches are full of people who are, step by step, sliding towards being controlled by anger, lust, envy, greed, sloth, gluttony and pride—not because they planned to. It is just that the flesh always ends up back at the pit and people jump in.

Paul knew this. Paul will describe the works of the flesh just after this warning. But catch what he is really concerned about. The people he loves are in danger. They are buying the idea that they can fix themselves. They believe if they follow the rules, they have it in themselves to become whole, holy—good people. This conflict goes all the way back to the lies of Satan in Eden and continue to trap people to this day.

Paul believed it himself at one time. So he became a murderer for the sake of his version of righteousness. It did not even seem contradictory to him. Then Jesus met him on the road to Damascus. His spiritual eyes were opened to the truth about righteousness and the Spirit. Thereafter, he never would be okay with people being misled on it.

So what kind of flesh do you have? Do you see yourself in any of the five categories above? Has your flesh led you to achieve an outward appearance of righteousness that leaves you empty at the same time? Or struggling to please God? Or failing at being good in a very public way? If so, perhaps you are ready to be led by the Spirit and be freed from trying to be good for God.

-Steve Smith


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I was living a fool’s life

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Righteousness by Faith #14: I was living a fool’s life

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:15-18

I remember when I was still addicted to anger that I would get on the phone and yell at people who worked for the phone company or customer service—people who needed to address a problem their company had caused. A problem in which I used the full flow of my anger to vent on them. I would hang up ashamed of my lack of control. But all addiction is intoxicating and I would justify myself by the results it produced—although of course, sometimes they just hung up!

I look back now and realize that I was a fool. I did not understand the will of God for me as a believer. Although I did not ‘get drunk with wine,’ I was debauched. Anger was my drink of choice.

Paul is winding down a long teaching on how to live the life we have been given—this righteousness by faith. Two lessons he includes in this passage were some of the toughest I had to learn on my own journey

The first was the difference between being wise and being a fool. A fool is someone who cannot see how his or her actions, beliefs or attitudes are not in line with the character of Jesus. A fool excuses himself based on getting the outcome he wanted. A fool continues to live in darkness long after the lights come on. In the previous paragraph, Paul says that living in the light means discovering what pleases the Lord.

I was content to stay angry and damaged long after I had begun to journey with God. I felt it was okay that I was drunk on anger because that was just the way I was. Deal with it! This attitude was why God allowed me to crash and burn, so that I would finally surrender to His work, His purpose—to make me whole. So that I would finally pursue Him to receive His powerful grace to live wisely and make the most of the time I have.

I don’t know what your drink of choice is. Perhaps it is greed and you hoard your earnings for yourself. Or maybe you have been guzzling lust in the form of pornography. Or drunk on envy and hate the outward signs of someone else’s good fortune. And you are already a believer, perhaps a leader in your church? Time to wake up sleeper! (Ephesians 5:14)

Being wise means you see that the days are evil and decide that you will not make them worse by the way you live your life. Having received a righteousness by faith will drive you to give it out to those still trapped. You look for opportunities, whether to sow the gospel, reconcile with people of different races, do justice, feed the hungry, or wipe the tears away from the eyes of those without hope. You look for ways to live freely and lovingly. This is the first lesson.

The second lesson is Paul’s end note. “Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Herein lies the power to actually live out righteousness by faith, but I didn’t understand this for years. I was raised to live faithfully, work hard for God, go to church, read my Bible and pray. I thought all those things were what being filled with the Spirit was all about. My descent into rage did not seem to upend my poorly informed ideas about the Spirit.

What does “be filled” mean? It means choosing to embrace a continual flow of relationship that produces power in your life. The Spirit is God’s presence in your life. Though it is impossible to talk about God without noting the Father, Son and Spirit, these three are not separate in the way three humans are. The one involves the others. Yet when we see the Spirit coming into the lives of those who believed in Acts, powerful changes took place. Amazing events happened. More importantly, people were empowered to live life as they were created to live it.

What I had to learn was not merely to assume it, but to actively choose to surrender to the Spirit’s empowering presence. Not just for the moment to get me beyond my anger days, but for the rest of my days.

More to come on this…

-Dr. Steve Smith


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What Have you Surrendered?

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A Righteousness by Faith #8: What Have you Surrendered?

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

There are certain places we should stay and never move on from. And the chief of all those places is remaining in Jesus. I know this sounds obvious to you who are familiar with this passage. But I found that this was the hardest anchor for my soul to secure. And I suspect it is for you as well.

Why is that so?

I think it is because we generally do not understand what it means to remain in him. I am good at taking up spiritual challenges. Read through the Bible…Check. Share my faith with someone…Check. Join with others to start a new church. Check. Live a moral life…Check. I have filled my days with the busyness of God’s business. I have invested in spiritual tasks on God’s behalf. But I find that, in spite of acknowledging Jesus’ counsel, I am more prone to assume I am remaining in him than actually doing so.

Remaining is about where we rest. Jesus is directing us to recognize the reality that we have ‘taken up residence’ in him. It is about surrender—the opposite to the striving most of us engage in. I remember Bill Hybels sharing how, at the peak of Willow Creek’s phenomenal growth and influence, the core staff members were in a workaholic mode for Jesus. If 70 hours a week were producing so much good, how about bumping it up to 80 hours to see what good would come out of it.

Then the crash came. Marriages unraveled. People walked away from ministry burnt out. Bill found himself on his face before the Lord one night pleading that God would change them—him—so that the ministry would be healed and that they would follow the Spirit’s leading on how ministry should be done.

What he prayed was exactly what Jesus was explaining. We can look at our life’s spiritual accomplishments and make a judgment call. “This has been so worth it!” or “Has this been worth it?” We wonder if anything eternal is going to come out of what we invest our life capital in. The only way for us to know that is through resting—remaining—in Jesus.

What we call our accomplishments may only be dust in the wind. Jesus told us that the outcome of living life apart from remaining in him would be nothing. Those other pursuits are illusionary. We love our achievements and maybe allow our hearts to swell with pride over them. But they infuse us with no ultimate soul satisfaction because they were built by our efforts rather than by Jesus.

The best stuff we do is always done through us by the Spirit. What Jesus called ‘much fruit’ has its genesis in the deep relationship we have with Jesus. That fruit flows out of us, out of our giftedness and passions while we are finding our rest in Jesus.

This is at the heart of Paul’s statement, “found in him, not having a righteousness of my own.” All he had done for God he now saw as waste. All he now longed for was Christ doing the producing through him. Paul’s understanding points out how remaining and not remaining differ.

To remain is a deliberate choice. We choose to rest, to be with Jesus, to recognize his leading, to submit our best plans and greatest ideas to his inspection—not so we can believe that our ideas are right, but to align our thoughts with his. So we can see what his Spirit will do. We deliberately choose to rest because often in our rush to do our next project, we can veer away from God’s path. We deliberately choose to rest because then we are ready for Jesus to work in harmony with our minds and hearts. It is then we will understand what we were made to do and find his strength flowing through us to actually produce much fruit.

I will have more to say about this in my next blog.

Steve Smith


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Are you trying hard to be righteous?

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A Righteousness by Faith #7: Are you trying hard to be righteous?

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

If we get to live because Jesus lives, then our greatest life challenge is to rest from our own righteousness and depend on Christ’s. Here is our learning curve—that we stop trying to be good for God and allow his righteousness to pulse through our veins.

I grew up in church and cut my teeth on the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments and John 3:16. Moral applications dominated my lessons in Sunday school. To be a good person, don’t be like David, who stole another man’s wife. To be a good person, be like Daniel, who refused to compromise his faith by eating food forbidden by God. To be a good person, don’t be like Achan, who took stuff God told the people not to take and caused Israel to be defeated in battle. To be a good person, be like Samuel who listened to God even when he was a little boy.

The result of this well-meant approach to applying the truth of Scripture to a young boy’s moral conscience was that I understood being good was up to me. I had to resist temptation, to fight the good fight, overcome whatever Satan threw my way—in my own strength. Somehow, the part of the story that showed how people depended on God’s strength or rejected His strength was kind of blipped over.

As Jesus comes down to the final minutes of his earthly ministry, he is putting the real challenge before his closest friends. Remain in me. He urges them to learn to trust him as their power source for obedience.

To emphasize this point, Jesus uses a common agricultural illustration. He explained that if they, the branches, wanted fruit produced in their lives, they would need to stay connected with him, the vine, who was the source of their life. The word Jesus used for this connection, ‘remain,’ captured the idea that the life-giving power for their faith journey would come naturally as they rested in this unbreakable relationship.

This is the clearest picture of the difference between Jesus’ invitation to righteousness by faith and the Pharisees’ call to righteousness through the Law. The Pharisees wanted people to live obedient lives, so they set up all kinds of fences to keep the herd from straying into sin. Don’t do this. Stop that. Stay away from those people, places or things. Righteousness in their world depended on human effort. Righteous living according to Jesus depended on the transformative power available by the presence of the Father, Son and Spirit in them.

But the issue of transformation goes much deeper than just obedience. It goes down to healing; to freedom from performance; to restoration from the effects of the Fall; to becoming the person we were created to be. This addresses the unfinished business of our lives. If God is not intent on transforming us, then we are on a miserable journey of the survival of the most morally fit. But He is intent on this and has already determined that everything we see in Jesus will be produced in us. Jesus stands as the image of every brother and sister he will have when the dust clears. Right now God is at work in you and me—not just someday. And God is at work in everyone that names Jesus as their savior.

If you have been living in the kind of morality trap I grew up with, I encourage you to rest from trying hard to be good for God. I know what it is like to think that, ‘This time, I’ve got it. I have overcome this temptation’—only to fall to its power the next day. We focus on the wrong thing. We focus on our efforts instead of focusing on Jesus himself. Jesus’ challenge is to rest from all that trying and trust him, so that His power will pulse through your soul.

I am very passionate about this issue and I’ll be continuing this in my next blog…

-Steve Smith


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Where am I?

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A Righteousness by Faith #5: Where am I?

Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them. John 14:19-21

Righteousness starts with Jesus. He is not just our example of righteousness—like he’s the poster boy of the Church. He is our life, our hope—present in our lives so that we will be safe while we are on this journey from here to eternity.

Remember that when Jesus was explaining this, the disciples were three days away from knowing the full reality of the life Jesus would delivering to them through his death and resurrection. Hearing these words before the cross probably did not convey the depth of what they meant. It was like blind men hearing about the amazing wonders of light and color of a fireworks show at Disney. The disciples could not have grasped the power of these words because they were expecting a different kind of kingdom from Jesus. Until Jesus resurrected from the grave, his declaration that, “Because I live, you also will live.” may have sounded more like a political slogan than a life-changing promise.

The disciples were in this for the glory of reigning over a restored Israel. What they became was the temple where the glory of God reigns.

During the transformation training I do, I teach believers how to pursue intimacy with God. This includes learning to rest, understanding how to appropriate what God has already given to us, and meditating on the love of Christ. But what people need to know first is that God himself has pursued intimacy with us. He is not out there somewhere, just out of reach, waiting for us to make a move in His direction. What Jesus makes plain here is that the life we are getting to live is possible because the Father and the Son have immersed us in their presence within and without.

This is what it means to be the temple. We are a place where God dwells. Paul put it this way: “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 1 Corinthians 6:16 When Jesus said that he was in the Father and the disciples were in him and he was in them, this was temple talk. The presence of the Lord in their midst. Not in a building made by hands, but inside them as living stones of His temple.

I did not understand this as a reality for years. Then someone led a group that I attended through an ‘Envelope Exercise.’ It was based on this teaching by Jesus. The exercise requires four envelopes and one piece of paper. On the piece of paper, we wrote Jesus. Then we took one envelope, wrote our name on it, and put the paper in it. This is Jesus in us. Then we took the second envelope and on it wrote Jesus. We then took the first envelope with our name on it and put it inside this one. On the third envelope, we wrote The Father and put the Jesus envelope inside it. Finally, we labeled the fourth envelope, The Holy Spirit and put everything inside it. On the basis of Ephesians 1:13-14, we were told that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, so we closed this last envelope and sealed it!

Where was I? Not in Kansas anymore. What I learned visually was that I was securely enfolded in the presence of the Father, Son, and Spirit. That like Paul, I am found in Christ—and he is in me so that his righteousness is now the defining reality of my life. It makes the journey possible to face without fear. Without lies. With hope in the glory of God.

Steve Smith


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What can being a mess teach you?

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A Righteousness by Faith #3: What can being a mess teach you?

That I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Philippians 3:8-9

Of all the characters Charles Schultz created for his long-running Peanuts comic strip, Pigpen stands in a category all by himself. Unlike Lucy, he doesn’t pretend he has it together. Unlike Snoopy, he does not try to pretend he is someone or something other than he is. He does not apologize for his dust. In short, he is a mess and he knows it.

This is a difficult lesson for the rest of us to grasp. We would prefer to put on our best face, speak out our best lines and keep the messiness of our souls carefully tucked away in our invisible inner closet. If we can get through most of life without people discovering the truth about ourselves, we will be thankful, if not whole.

Paul understood this all too well. In his former life, he was furiously righteous, trapped by the illusion that he was a holy man. In the guise of his delusion, he went out threatening, arresting and hurting people. Hate was his teaching method for trapping others into the same life he lived.

Now he was freed from the burden of his own righteousness because of Jesus. So he did not want his friends, those to whom he had proclaimed the gospel, to come to grief through teachers determined to handcuff them back to righteousness by law. It did not matter to him if these teachers claimed to know Jesus or not. Paul knew the righteousness taught by those teachers was a snare that would keep his friends away from the work of the Spirit.

This point is behind his dismissal of his former religious credentials. They were all a product of the flesh— deceiving Paul about his own excellence. When Paul speaks of wanting a righteousness that comes by faith in Christ instead of one based on the Law, he is recognizing two things.

The first is his inability to keep an external law, holy though it is. Yes, he had been faultless in his execution of the Law’s demands. But he knew now that he had been lying to himself about being a good man. In reality he was a mess. He had been fooled like so many before him by the lie that you cannot stray into unrighteousness if you work hard at a holy life. When his eyes were opened on his revenge tour to Damascus, the illusion was swept away. Not only was he not a good man, he had no means of becoming one by anything he could do.

The second thing that Paul knew now was that the deep change that comes from ‘righteousness by faith’ was because he was now found in Christ. Paul is not merely talking about accepting Jesus. He is referring to something substantially more. Paul understood that when Jesus showed up, he was included in Christ. He was no longer a hell-bent rebellious son of Adam. As God’s child, he now possessed Jesus’ spiritual genes. The righteousness being produced in him was not of his origin, but from Jesus doing in him what he could not do for himself.

The old Paul would have found this admission humiliating. The new Paul was grateful. “I learned the hard way that I was a mess. My own best efforts I now consider the same as the stuff you find on the ground in a pigpen. Nothing I could produce was really righteous when you put it next to Jesus. And now I live by faith, trusting Jesus to produce that same kind of righteousness in me because my whole future depends on it.”

-Steve Smith


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What kind of righteousness are you hungering for?

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The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #14: What kind of righteousness are you hungering for?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. -Matthew 5:6

Everyone needs food and water to stay alive. So as Jesus lays out the gospel of the blessed, he draws on that reality of life to signify a shift in those who are on this faith journey. Before we embraced the good news of Jesus, we felt no problem in feeding our souls on the garbage dumpster of life, even dressing it up with garnish and sauce. Now, however, what we will desire to feed and water on will change. And not by an act of our will, but by the working of the Spirit, who empowers the blessed.

But what exactly is the kind of righteousness for which Jesus says those who are blessed are hungering and thirsting? For him, righteousness is not merely about doing the right thing. It goes much deeper than that. When Jesus does talk about righteousness later in this sermon, he contrasts the Pharisees’ idea of righteousness to that of God’s. Their idea of righteousness by keeping the tenets of the law does not lead to being perfect as God is perfect. And that is where the good news of the kingdom leads us. Righteousness is aligning your life with the character of God.

What will change in you who embrace this way is that you finally will desire to be what God made you to be in the beginning. You will begin to want your life to reflect His life, perhaps for the first time, perhaps more genuinely than you ever thought possible. This blessing indicates that those who come this way have passed the point of passivity. They are no longer content to experience spirituality in passing. Their deepest desire is to pursue God, resulting in a display of His presence in their lives.

This pursuit is not just in the big things or in big ways. Transformation is not about better church attendance, more Bible reading, or giving lots of money to God. How God might go about shaping your religious life is not what this blessing is about. It is about the reality of the new covenant God promised in Jeremiah 31: 31ff—that He will put His law in our minds and write His law on our hearts. Then He will be our God and we will be His people. In other words, this blessing indicates our switch from selective obedience to a passion for being righteous in the way God is righteous. He infuses His life into us. We want to look like our Creator. This is an amazing change for descendants of the couple who were convinced by a lie that they could do without God.

I learned how deeply satisfying this is after I submitted myself to God at the start of my transformational journey. I had always been critical of my wife, Shirley, since our marriage. I arrogantly found that she did not measure up to my standards of doing things—how she kept house, how she raised the children, etc. I foolishly tried to fix her by pointing out her faults, thinking that in time she would improve. I had no idea how badly I was wounding her and destroying our marriage.

One day, soon after I entered into the healing process with God, He showed me I was to stop criticizing Shirley. I was staggered because being critical was as normal as breathing. Giving it up sounded impossible to me. But because now I wanted what God wanted, I submitted willingly, asking that He do this in me by His grace. A year later, conditions had so changed in our marriage that Shirley, who journaled her thoughts, wrote in her notebook that day all the reasons she loved me as her husband. The first statement she wrote was, “I love Steve because he doesn’t criticize me.” I first saw this list seventeen years later, on a day when Shirley was cleaning out her storage chest. When she handed me the list, I was dumbstruck at the confirmation of God’s changing our marriage by changing me years before. Through that one act of obedience, love was rekindled in my wife. Do you think I was not filled that day?

Look into yourself and ask what drives your desires. The healthier you are becoming, the greater you will find that you want what God wants. One of the sure signs that God is changing you is that you look back at your former behavior and realize you never want to go back to what you were.

Steve Smith


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