March 8, 2009
Psalm 11:4-7 (ESV)
4 The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes see, his eyelids test, the children of man.
5 The LORD tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
6 Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the LORD is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.
When I was in college, I had a professor who I think did not treat me right. After one semester I received my classcard from the engineering course I took from him. I was so surprised to see that my grade was 2.75, just above the passing grade. I complained to him and demanded to see my exam papers because he had not returned any one of them. He said that there had been a mistake in my grade and it was supposed to be 2.25, so he corrected it. Still, I think I did better than that. Days passed by. No papers were returned. So I rest my case and accepted that I was not treated fairly.
All of us had seasons when we complain about things done to us that we think we do not deserve or are unfair. College professors might do that to us. Our friends, family, or even fellow brothers and sisters in Christ might treat us unfairly. But God will never ever do us wrong. He will always do what is right. He will treat us according to what we deserve. But it is not in contradiction to his grace, which is undeserved goodness. I will explain that on my last point. He will punish us when we do wrong. He will reward us when we do right.
Today we will touch on one of the most marvelous truths about God’s character – his righteousness and justice. He is not just a God of love, mercy, and faithfulness. He is also the God of truth, righteousness and justice. Most people loves a loving God but hates a righteous and just God. If we will sing of the greatness of the love of God, we must also sing of the righteousness and justice of God. These are both good news to us as well.
The greatness of God is seen in his rule over the affairs of men. “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test, the children of man” (v. 4). We have a God who rules on his throne. He is not just watching us do what we want and get away with it. He responds accordingly to our actions – good or bad. “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup” (vv. 5-6). God’s wrath shown in his judgment against the wicked will be our emphasis next Sunday, as shown in these two verses. But today let us concentrate on God’s righteousness as shown in verse 7, “For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.” “Sapagkat ang PANGINOON ay matuwid; minamahal niya ang mga gawang matuwid; ang kanyang mukha ay mamamasdan ng matuwid” (Ang Bagong Ang Biblia).
“For the Lord is righteous…”
The reason the Lord tests the righteous but not punish him like the wicked whom he hates is because “the Lord is righteous.” Righteousness is God’s character. What does it mean by God’s righteousness? In English, righteousness and justice are two different terms but in Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament, these are expressed by only one word group (tseddeq in Hebrew and dikaios in Greek). God’s righteousness means that God always does what is right and what is right is everything that conforms to his moral nature and law.
God always does what is right. Moses proclaimed God’s greatness by referring to his righteousness, “For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut. 32:3-4). God is great because he does what is right all the time. When something is done and it is wrong, we know that it is not from God. We cannot accuse God of wrongdoing or of treating us unfairly. We cannot say to God and complain, “Lord, you should not have done that” or, “You should have done this.” Abraham appeals to God’s righteousness when he interceded for Sodom, “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just” (Gen. 18:25)?
But what is right? The final standard where we measure what is right is according to his moral nature and law. God will always act in accordance with his own nature. He cannot violate his God-ness. Something is right because God said it and it conforms to his character. When God said that idolatry, murder, or adultery is wrong, it is wrong because God said it and it cannot be right because it violates his character. God will never ever say that bowing to other gods is right. Erickson is right in saying, “In making decisions, God does follow an objective standard of right and wrong, a standard that is part of the very structure of reality. But that standard to which God adheres is not external to God-it is his own nature.”
He has given us his law, the Bible, to express his righteousness. “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Ps. 19:8). “I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isa. 45:19). Have you been forbidden by your mother to go out of the house one night? You asked her, “Why can’t I go out? What’s wrong with that?” Your mother said, “You just can’t. If I said you can’t, you can’t.” Your mother judged it at that time that it is wrong to go out. Or sometimes she really does not know what will be right for you, she just said what she wants. Well, God is not like that. He said that an action is wrong because it is really wrong. We cannot argue with God because he knows everything. He knows what will happen if we lie or does not treat others fairly or does not forgive others. God asked Job, “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty…Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right” (Job 40:2, 8)?
As perfect expression of God’s righteousness, the Bible is our guide in how we decide what course of action to take in a given situation. Before taking an action, ask yourself first, “What did God say that I must do or not do?” God expects his people to be like him, always doing what is right. But how can we be righteous if we will not make his word our rule of life? And shall we blame God if anything wrong happens to us because we do not read and obey his rules?
We were in Hong Kong last weekend. Their cars are all right-hand drive. Nakakapanibago kasi left sa atin. When crossing the street, there is a sign that says Look Right. We are so used to see here vehicles coming from our left that it is hard for us to look right first. We people are so used doing what is wrong that we have not learned to read God’s Law and obey what it says. No wonder one day you will be hit by a car. When that happens, don’t blame God. He is righteous. If righteousness is God’s character, it must also be ours.
“…he loves righteous deeds…”
God is righteous. Righteousness is not just a character of God, it is also a commitment for God to always do what is right. Righteousness is God’s commitment. “For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds…” This second clause means that God is highly committed and takes pleasure in righteousness – both his own and his people’s righteousness.
Because God is highly committed to doing what is right we can be assured that God will not fail to do what is right. “He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD” (Ps. 33:5). “I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD” (Jer. 9:24).
God loves to see his people doing righteous deeds like him. He wants us to always walk the same path that Christ takes. One of what I enjoyed in our Hong Kong trip is riding their subway trains. You won’t get lost when you ride the trains. There is a sign where you can see where it will go. And you are certain it will go that way and not lead you astray. Like a train staying on its tracks going to a fixed destination, God wants us to follow his rule. He wants us to imitate him and do righteous deeds. Part of this righteousness is helping those who are suffering injustice – the poor, the abused children, the exploited women, those who are unjustly imprisoned, and especially our brothers and sisters around the world suffering persecution. God wants us to do something to help them.
Because God loves to see his people doing righteous deeds, we can be assured that whatever righteous works we did will be rewarded. “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth” (Ps. 58:11). We must not complain to God if ever we feel we are not being treated fairly by others, even by our own brothers. God has reserved a time that he will vindicate us and correct the injustices we suffered. We must persevere in doing what is right even if it means suffering because God will not forget every righteous deeds we did for his glory.
We have seen that God takes pleasure and is committed to righteousness. But the opposite is also true: God hates unrighteousness and injustice. “His soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (v. 5). Grudem observed, “As a result of God’s righteousness, it is necessary that he treat people according to what they deserve. Thus, it is necessary that God punish sin, for it does not deserve reward; it is wrong and deserves punishment.” Because God hates unrighteousness, he will make sure that those who are unrighteous will be justly punished. He “repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face” (Deut. 7:10). I will speak more about that next week.
God loves righteous deeds. How about you? What do you love? Do you also love what God loves? I mean, are you committed to always doing what is right? Do you flee from unrighteousness because you hate it?
Yesterday, I answered an e-mail as part of an interview regarding my views on homosexuality. It is a sensitive issue. I heard that there are churches now that advocates that homosexuality is not wrong. You can be a Christian and a homosexual at the same time. They even argue from the Bible. But I found that hard to believe when even Paul condemns it in his letter to the Romans (1:26-27). The issue some of them are raising is about the goodness of some gays as friends and entertainers. But that is not the issue. The issue is God’s righteousness. Can we commit to stand for what the Bible says not just on homosexuality but on all acts of unrighteousness?
“…the upright shall behold his face…”
Because God is committed to righteousness, our text affirms that “the upright shall behold his face.” This is the reward for the righteous: the pleasure of being with God and experiencing him. “Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence” (Ps. 140:13). We must not envy the wicked who prospers because we are more prosperous than they. In what way? Although we lack money or power or popularity, we have a great treasure and we expect more in the future. Our greatest treasure is God. If that is the reward there is a requirement. Righteousness is God’s requirement.
Because of his righteousness, only the upright shall see his face. Only righteous people will see a perfectly righteous God. The wicked will never ever see God and have eternal life. It is an insult to God’s righteous character to let anyone who is unrighteous into his heaven. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 16:9-10).
That’s our problem. We are not righteous. “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). God cannot just say we are forgiven of our sins. It is not that easy. When he just forget about our sins, it is an insult against his righteousness. “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD” (Pro. 17:15). To justify us is an abomination to the Lord. That is our problem. A human judge can clear the guilty or a powerful politician can twist the justice system and let the criminals go free. But God will not let the guilty go unpunished.
How can we be accepted into God’s kingdom, then? How can God forgive us and not let us pay the penalty that our sins deserve that he will still be righteous and fair? The answer can be found in the message of the gospel in Romans 3:21-26:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
The cross, then, is the perfect expression of God’s righteousness and the execution of his justice. Through the cross, the guilty is declared righteous through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Through the cross, the penalty of sins was paid through the sacrifice of the Son of God. Through the cross, we can see God and have eternal life because we are righteous in his sight, not by our own righteousness but by Christ’s. Truly, righteousness is God’s requirement for us. But He himself satisfied that requirement for us at the cross. Justice and grace marry at the cross of Christ.
Righteousness is God’s character: “For the Lord is righteous.” Righteousness is God’s commitment: “He loves righteous deeds.” Righteousness is God’s requirement: “The upright shall behold his face.”
Ninoy Aquino entered politics at the age of 22 and subsequently became the youngest mayor, governor, and senator to serve in the Philippines. He was imprisoned in 1972 (at age 40) when Marcos declared martial law. He was allowed to go to US for his heart surgery. He returned to Manila in 1983 because of his commitment to fight the injustices committed by the dictatorship. Despite tight security he was assassinated as he deplaned on August 21. All defendants, who are military allies of Marcos, were acquitted in the 1985 trial. When his wife took office, a new trial opened. Ending in 1990, 16 military officials were convicted of his murder. For many, especially his family, justice was served.
Last Wednesday, as we arrived from Hong Kong, I read in the newspaper that the last ten remaining soldiers convicted for taking part in the assassination were freed through a presidential pardon. Reynaldo Galman, the only son of the man (Rolando) the Marcos government claimed as Ninoy’s assassin reacted, “I feel bad. It’s as if our hardships were for nothing. They ended it just like that, as if the lives lost in that episode were worth nothing. I should probably feel worse than the children of Ninoy because I lost both parents as a result of this case.”
We Christians do not have any reason to feel bad about our God because he will always do what is right. He is committed to making sure justice is served. Our hard work for his righteousness are not for nothing. Even if we lose many things in this life’s difficult journey, our gain is far greater than what we have lost. Wag tayong magsawa sa paggawa ng matuwid pagkat ito ang nais ng ating Diyos na siyang matuwid sa lahat.