Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Friday, August 16, 2013

From Righteous Abel to Righteous Zechariah

Then the LORD said to Noah, "Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you {alone} I have seen {to be} righteous before Me in this time. (Genesis 7:1 NASB)

Verses like the one above have inflicted anxiety over many beginning Bible students. How can God declare Noah to be righteous and reward him on the basis of his righteousness? Aren't we all sinners, deserving God's wrath?

But here it must be noted that an absolutely crucial aspect of proper biblical interpretation is the literary genre in which a particular passage is written. When we come to a book of the Bible, we must ask ourselves, ‘what kind of literature is this book intended to be?’ ‘Is it a book of history, wisdom, doctrine, etc?’ Some books have a mixture of these and we must read carefully to understand the transition in literature types.

In Genesis, which records events taking place before the giving of the Law, the literary genre is ‘history’ (as demonstrated by- among other things- the presence of integrated genealogies). God has condescended to give us a book containing the history of the earliest times, written from a human point of view for our understanding. Even small children can be told stories from Genesis and gain a foundation of understanding, which may be added to as they are instructed in the message of personal faith. Children accept the stories of Genesis in a way that is sometimes harder for adults. This can be seen in the example of Genesis 6:6, “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart” (KJV). A child can be told this verse in the context of the story it is given and simply accept it, while to an adult, this may challenge their entire concept of God- ‘how can God repent?’ ‘How could it have grieved God that He made people?’ ‘Didn’t God know that people were going to sin?’ As mature believers, we must understand that this verse certainly does say something about the heart of God concerning His sorrow over sin, while we also understand that it is conveying history in anthropomorphic language. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines “anthropomorphism” as “assignment of human attributes to non-human things.” And notes, “The use of human terminology to talk about God is necessary when we, in our limitations, wish to express truths about the Deity who by his very nature cannot be described or known.” Passages that are doctrinal in nature should compel us to this conclusion as they affirm “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” (Num. 23:19 NIV).

A similar phenomenon is taking place in the above passage.

This account of history from a human perspective is examining the fruit of justification in a similar way as James 2. Noah is said to have been allowed to enter the ark because God found him to be righteous. But this does not mean that he was perfect in and of himself; we can see an example of Noah’s shortcomings in passages such as Genesis 9:18-27, which records a time that Noah got himself drunk.
But this is the answer to the difficulty posed in the above passage and all passages where the Bible speaks of righteous men: That all of those who have been saved by faith have been placed by God “in Christ Jesus,” the only One who has truly fulfilled the Law by His own righteousness (Matthew 5:17). So that when God looks at anyone with true faith, He views us -in Christ- as having kept His requirements, His decrees, His commands, and His laws perfectly, as His holiness demands. As the Bible declares, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)

And as Bible teacher R.C. Sproul also helps to explain:

Like it or not, God did not save Noah because Noah was good. If He did, then Noah didn't receive grace, he received justice, didn't he? But instead he received grace. And it is true that the Bible frequently speaks of good people- righteous people- and that's- you have to understand, in the context of Scriptures- comparatively speaking. And yet, when push comes to shove [in the doctrinal, rather than historical, passages], they remind you that there's none righteous- no, not one(Romans 3:10)- not Noah, not Abraham, not Paul- no, not one. The only righteousness that Noah had in his account was the righteousness of Christ. Noah was saved the same way you were saved- through the merit of Christ.
[Sproul, R.C. Put On the New Man. Audio recording. St. Andrew’s Chapel, Sanford, FL]

This explanation of Noah's righteousness -that he was considered righteous and his works were considered good only by our righteous Lord covering over his sins- is also consistent with the whole counsel of God's Word, as reflected in the 1689 Baptist Confession:

We cannot, even by our best works, merit either the pardon of sin or the granting of eternal life at the hand of God, for those works are out of all proportion to the glory to come. And furthermore, there is infinite distance between us and God, and no works of ours can yield Him profit or act as payment for the debt of our former sins. Indeed, when we have done all that we can, we have done but our duty and remain unprofitable servants. We are also to remember that, so far as our works are good, they are produced by His Spirit. As far as they are our work they are marred, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection that they fall utterly to meet the searching requirements of God's standards.

Nevertheless, since believers as to their persons are accepted by God through Christ, their works also are accepted as being wrought in Christ. Not as though they were, during this life, beyond reproach and unreprovable in the sight of God, but that, as He looks upon them in His Son, He is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, even though it is accompanied by many weaknesses and imperfections.
(Ps. 143:2; Isa. 64:6; Luke 17:10; Rom. 3:20; 4:6; Gal. 5:22,23; Eph. 2:8,9;
Matt. 25:21,23; Eph. 1:6; Heb. 6:10; 1 Pet. 2:5) ["Good Works" #5-6]

God our Father looks lovingly upon His children, accepts our good yet always imperfect works as righteous and pleasing to Him, and even grants us blessings in accordance with our good works. But our good works and the fact that we are counted as righteous bring glory to God alone, for it is only by God's mercy and grace that we are given spiritual life and enabled to do good works. As Scripture plainly declares:

But God, who is abundant in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved! He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens, in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift-- not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His making, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:4-10 HCSB)

[The above blogpost was originally published on 11/20/05.]

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