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What Can the Righteous Do?

February 3rd, 2020

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? … For the LORD is righteous and loves justice; upright men will see his face. (Psalm 11:3,7)

Throughout the history of the world there have been many times when justice has been neglected, when wrong has been celebrated above right, when dishonesty was rewarded above honesty, and when good people were caught in a seemingly helpless situation.

In many ways, this has always been the case because of the fallenness of the world. The evil one is at work in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2), seeking to drag human beings down in morality and values. Though there have been and will be again “seasons of refreshing” (Acts 3:19), that is, periods of revival, even the greatest revivals never completely destroyed the work of the devil. Only when Christ returns will the devil be chained and then ultimately destroyed (Rev. 19-20).

The word “foundations” means moral foundations of society, “the principles of morality, which are the foundation of society” (Ellicott’s Commentary). The text paints a picture of the individual believer, David in this case, seeing the moral and ethical decay of his beloved nation under King Saul. Dishonesty was rewarded and righteousness was punished. Worship and the teachings of God’s word were neglected. God’s divine revelation was cast off, the vision was lost, and the people perished.

What can one man do? Or what can a group of men and women together do? The psalm expresses the feeling of utter hopelessness that surrounds the hearts of believers in times such as ours. Today unborn human babies are cast out in the garbage as though they were nothing. Homosexuality is celebrated. The God-given institutions of Fatherhood and Motherhood are neglected. Discipline and respect are forgotten, and authority is abusive in many instances, and sexual immorality is accepted.

Actually, even in such times as these, the righteous can do much.

The righteous may pray and worship

The psalm ends with the affirmation paraphrased by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). No matter how evil the times are, we may have the full experience of intimacy with God in personal worship. No culture or society can take this away from us. It is a sacred covenant between God and the believer.

The believer may pray for revival, pray for an awakening spiritually of society. We do much when we pray and this ministry of prayer precedes all great movements of the Spirit. Rather than complain and bemoan and be negative, we should lift up the needs of the world today and pray for the Lord to move in a fresh way to renew the wrld spiritually.

The righteous may set the right example

And the righteous have a powerful witness in the world by being people of Godly principles, by doing the right thing and by doing it graciously. We should oppose evil, wherever it reveals itself, as God gives us the ability to see it as evil. Self-righteousness is not winsome in its nature. It puts people off. But gracious integrity, true fairness and morality, are attractive and leave a legacy.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This quote has been attributed to many people — Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mills, and others. But it is a well-attested truth in the world. In fact, some translators have understood Psalm 11:3 as saying, “What have the righteous done?” Too often that is the truth, that good men and women have built shelters to hide from the world, rather than means to interact with and influence the world.

James described true worship and true religion as consisting of visiting the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, that is, the needy and vulnerable victims of the immorality of the world, while keeping himself from being polluted by the world’s fallen values (James 1:27).

The righteous may continually hope in God

We are not a defeated people, and never shall be, because the kingdom to which we belong is an eternal kingdom. God shall ultimately defeat every enemy and force that rises against Him. So we believers should not hang our heads in defeat or hopelessness. Rather we should go about our business every day with confidence in the ultimate victory of God in Christ.

“How great are His signs And how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom And His dominion is from generation to generation” (Daniel 4:3).

Psalms

God’s Salvation Is Past Our Knowledge

January 15th, 2020

But I will hope continually
and will praise you yet more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
of your deeds of salvation all the day,
for their number is past my knowledge.
With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come;
I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. (Psalm 71:14-16 ESV)

David, the inspired psalmist, is caught between his enemies and his failures but he lifts up his eyes to his God, his Rock, “Be to me a Rock of refuge to which I may continually come” (Psa. 71:3). He leans heavily upon the salvation of God, realizing that it is greater than he could ever know.

Whatever is revealed to us of God’s salvation, whether it is biblical truth — what His word says — or personal experience — our sins that we know and deliverances from our personal circumstances — in all of this, God’s salvation is greater than we know. God’s graces to us are innumerable.

You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told. (Psalm 40:5)

As God’s graces to us have a past tense — in Christ Jesus, He has forgiven my sins of the past, a present tense — in Christ Jesus, God is protecting me today, and a future tense — in Christ Jesus, God will watch over me for all eternity, so our knowledge in each of these tenses is incomplete, both of our need and of His grace to us. We may simply rejoice and say, as Paul said, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Rom. 5:20).

My confession of my sins has never been complete. It is a humbling thought to realize that I have never known my sin fully. I have only confessed my sin as the Spirit has convicted me (John 16:8-11 and 1 John 1:9-10). If my salvation depended on me bringing all my individual sins — unholy thoughts, careless words, undisciplined choices — I could never attain it. The same is true for you and as much as we may try to confess all our sins, we will fall short. 

However, less I be misunderstood here, we ought to try to confess them to God. As the Spirit convicts, we ought to confess individual sins to God – specific thoughts, words, acts, etc. The bland blanket confession, “forgive us our sins,” may be uttered merely out of habit or routine, and have no meaning behind it at all. Until the idea of sin is attached to something specific that you and I have thought or done or said, we have not even begun to understand that we are sinners in need of God’s grace.

But God’s grace has always been complete toward me. His grace always exceeds our sins, always goes beyond what we could think of, or remember. 

The Sacrifice of Two Goats: There is a very clear and picturesque description in Leviticus 16 of how God, through His grace, forgives us both of the sins we know and the sins we do not know in our lives. 

In Leviticus 16 is a description of the Day of Atonement. On that day the high priest was to sacrifice two goats for the sins of the people. The first goat, after it was killed, he was to take the blood into the Holy of Holies, “behind the curtain” (Lev. 16:15), and sprinkle it seven times over the “mercy seat” of the Ark of the Covenant. This was to forgive all sins, even those unknown of by Israel.

In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. (Lev. 16:16 NIV)  

The NIV uses the phrase “whatever their sins have been,” and several other translations use the phrase “all their sins,” but the meaning is the same. This was a sacrifice for all sins, known or unknown. 

And this sin offering prefigured Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary and the spiritual altar in heaven before which He presented Himself as the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12 NIV)

Again, we see the emphasis on a timeless and limitless redemption. Repenting of our sin and trusting in Christ brings His grace to us that completely covers our sins, known and unknown by us, and covers them forever. 

The second goat was the scapegoat, as both Tyndale (1530) and the King James Version (1611) interpreted it in Leviticus 16:26, thus coining the word in English of someone who bears the blame for another. The passage reads:

And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness: And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:21-22 KJV)

The scapegoat carried away known sins, because the high priest confessed the sins of the people, the sins that he knew of. And the scapegoat was let go in the wilderness. 

There is meaningful imagery for us in this of forgiveness existing both on the spiritual or divine plane and on the physical or human plane. The first goat whose blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, behind the curtain, symbolizes forgiveness on the divine plane. The sin unknown by us is atoned for in the presence of Holy God, and it is entirely covered by the blood of Christ. That is forgiveness on the divine plane and it is mystical, complete, and goes beyond what we could ever envision. This is grace greater than our sins.

The forgiveness on the human plane, however, is symbolized by the scapegoat. And the goat was taken out into the wilderness but he was also known to wander back into the camp. The sins that we know do that in our lives. We confess it to God and feel the forgiveness, then after a while the goat wanders back into the camp, and we wonder if God ever truly forgave us. 

If we have full forgiveness in Christ over the sins that we do not know we committed then surely God is also able to forgive us of the sins that we know we have committed — and I suspect there are many, many more of the unknown sins in our lives than there are of the ones we do know we have committed.  When we are doubting that God has truly forgiven us for the sins we know about, be encouraged that God who knows infinitely more about both sin and our own lives, says to us:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18) 

 

Forgiveness, Psalms