This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood-to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Romans 3:22-26
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
But someone may ask, aren't our hungers natural? Aren't they beyond our control? To some extent I think that is true. But they can also be trained or tantalized.
A child asks, “May I have some more candy?”
The parent answers, “No, it will ruin your supper.”
The parent who loves a child knows she can be trained to desire roast beef and carrots. If she only wants candy she will not find tooth decay, obesity and death rather than satisfaction.
You may not have to think too hard to remember times when you desired something desperately. But when you finally got it, you were disappointed. It may even have turned out to be horrible. Wouldn't you rather have spent all that energy and time longing for something that would have satisfied you deeply?
Real satisfaction only comes from things that are right with God. But we live in a world that is hopelessly rebellious against the will of God. One of the places you can see this most clearly is in our attitudes toward righteousness. If you think of righteousness in terms of satisfaction and joy, you have probably been a believer in Jesus Christ long enough that experience has changed your perspective.
It is more likely that you see righteousness and pleasure as opposite ends of the same scale.
You may want to ask, “Why isn't that, or he, right for me? That is why the Bible uses a word we seldom use in other contexts. The word “righteousness” is more comprehensive. It refers to the whole purpose of something being to please God.
Of course, nothing in this world can completely fulfill our lives. But we can long for and put our faith in heaven where righteousness will be complete.
PURE IN HEART
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
One of my favorite spiritual songs is Change My Heart O God by Eddie Espinoza. The lyrics read,
“Change my heart oh God.
Make it ever true.
Change my heart oh God
May I be like you.”
Purity of heart goes deeper than actions. It is purity of motives, purity of desire, purity of devotion to God and His righteousness. Purity of heart is purity in the very depth of your being. Purity can mean sinlessness. There is a sense in which purity means single mindedness. It also means transparency especially before God. And the promise here fits this latter meaning well. If you are open and transparent before God, He can reveal Himself to you. Purity of heart does not mean ultimate sinlessness except in the life of Jesus. But it does mean a willingness to be honest with God about our sins.
And I think it must extend to honesty with people, not operating with hidden motives. Someone once told me about hearing someone say about a friend, “He pretends to like me, but he probably talks about my behind my back.”
The man answered him, “No, you're wrong. He (the friend he was talking about) is as pure as water.” But to be honest, it is easier to give examples of underhanded motives than pure hearts. That is until we think about Jesus. One of the best places to observe His pure motives is when He was attacked and accused by the religious leaders. His purity always showed up their false motives.
In the 21st chapter of Matthew Jesus entered the temple not long after driving out the money changers. The scribes and Pharisees challenged Him asking by what authority He did those things.
Jesus said, “I will answer you if you will answer one question. ‘The baptism of John was it from heaven or from man?’”They talk among themselves saying, 'If we say it is from Heaven,’ he will ask us why we didn't believe in John. But if we say, 'It was from Men,’ We will lose popularity because all the people held John as a prophet.” He had them by their own prejudices. This is not the only example of their duplicity. Again and again they revealed their false motives.
So in Matthew 5:20 Jesus told us,
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
But Jesus was saying much more about our righteousness in this verse. He was saying unless His righteousness, His purity of heart, was given to us by God, we could never in our own righteousness enter the kingdom of heaven.
I fear many Christians have the notion that we are saved by grace, but we are trained for righteousness by legalism. This is a serious mistake for Christians and it misses one of the most wonderful truths of scripture. In Titus Chapter 2 Paul tells us the grace of God trains us for Godly living. Look with me at these verses.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
Let me point out for you several ways that God uses His grace to train us to live Godly lives.
First, We Are Trained In The Gratitude of Grace.
We do not develop self control and godliness so we will be saved. We obey God out of gratitude that He has already saved us. This gratitude brings great devotion. “Look what He has done for me!” It also produces humility in us that is foundational to a changed life. And focusing on His grace frees us defensiveness about our sin. Our sins were paid for on the cross.
We Are Trained In The Hope of Grace.
We are like a bride being adorned for our bridegroom. We love Him. And we are preparing our hearts to be ushered into His presence. We desire God's grace to be worked into our lives more and more because we are looking forward to seeing Jesus face-to-face.
We Are Trained In The Transformation of Grace.
When we begin to follow Christ God brings about a radical change in our desires. But we still have habits of mind and behavior that must be changed on a deep level. Because the penalty for them has been paid we have freedom to deal with the root motivations of our pride, greed, lust, or whatever sin we would avoid dealing with if we were still being defensive. And God is planting more and more of His thinking and His holiness into our lives. The more we read His word, and live in fellowship with Him, the more like Him we become.
We Are Trained In The Fellowship of Grace.
God's Grace has appeared so that He might make us a people who are zealous for good works. We cannot do this, or be this, alone. We stand together. As we are united with Him by God's grace, we are united with others in the family. We love one another and encourage one another every day while it is still called today. (Hebrews 3:13)
It seems strange to me that so many people are trying to live without thinking about the purpose of their lives. Of course that casts them onto the mercy of their glands. Last week I pointed out several things like comfort and pleasure that are illegitimate purposes for life. This week I will surprise you with two more possible purposes that are often less than God's plan for us.
Success is not necessarily God's purpose for your life. I should say short term success or success as we see it may not be God's will for you. Of course, a major problem with success is trying to win the wrong race. But in fact immediate or short-sighted success in the right area may not be the right goal either.
Let me give you a complicated illustration. Those of you who are directly involved in ministry, whether professionally or as a committed lay person can easily be confused about this. We rightly seek to reach as many people as possible. That is success. But let me call your attention to Jesus in John chapter 6. Our Lord ran off thousands of people who believed in Him, by telling them they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Can you imagine anyone in the church growth movement condoning that kind of preaching? I can hear some of those whose doctrine is soundest saying something like this to Jesus. "Okay, if you have to say that, express it in more acceptable terms." And frankly I'm not sure they would not be right some of the time.
But here we have our Lord, preparing to send His followers to reach the ends of the earth giving us an example of running people away by what He said and how He said it. All I can say is that Jesus showed us that pleasing God was more important than growing the church. So it is more important for us to be in tune with God than it is for us to work at what we assume God wants us to do.
Now of all these things I am helping you to think about, this final conviction of mine will surprise you most. Striving for righteousness is not the ultimate purpose of your life. If I had thousands of readers I would possibly be running most of you away like Jesus did in John 6. But I ask those of you who will listen, at least to show how wrong I am, to consider some things.
You can strive for righteousness in ungodly ways. The Pharisees did it with great zeal. You can try to be righteousness in human strength. If you do that you will sometimes become discouraged and give up altogether. At other times you will succeed enough in your own eyes that you will fall into the trap of the devil who fell from heaven because of his arrogance.
You may also strive to be righteous so God will owe you. You may say, "Since I have done all this, God will have to accept me." Or you might resent God, saying, "What's the use? I went to church; I was sincere; I did my best, but this bad thing still happened to me."
You are putting your faith in your righteousness. And your righteousness will send you to hell. You need to repent of your righteousness, and seek the righteousness that Jesus bought for you on the cross.
So of course I am not quite saying the ultimate purpose of life is not being right with God. Certainly His will is true. But you can seek righteousness with the pride and self-centeredness of a Pharisee.
All true righteousness comes from Jesus who justifies the ungodly. From Him we receive a righteousness we could never achieve. In fellowship with Him we come to desire and delight in righteousness, but we are not righteous to be saved or so God will give us a good life. We hunger to do what is right because we know it pleases God who saved us even though our best efforts were foolish and filthy.
Jesus cried out for the highest purpose for us in John 12:28. "Father, glorify Your Name!" Are you crying out for God to work supernaturally in your life to bring glory to His name?
Proverbs 14:34 reads,
"Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a disgrace to any people."
I recently read a speech by Winston Churchill entitled The Defense of Freedom and Peace. It was subtitled, The Lights are Going Out. The great orator proclaimed to Americans who had not yet entered the war that it is the conflict of spiritual and moral ideas which gives free countries their strength. Especially in the light of history resistance against the domination of the Nazis should not be seen in any other way. By some estimates they put as many as 20 million people to death simply because of their race, or their weaknesses, or unwillingness to support the evil cause.
Even 70 and 80 years later we can feel good about our sacrifices to defeat that evil regime. But where are we in the world today? Where are we as a nation? Since 1973 Americans have brutally extinguished nearly 60 million innocent lives simply because we found them inconvenient.
This was not done by our government. We do not have S.S. troops pounding at our doors in the middle of the night. We did this ourselves to those who by any reckoning were the most innocent among us. Most Americans now admit that abortion is wrong. It is interesting to me that many people say they believe abortion is wrong to justify not doing anything about it. We believe abortion is wrong, so we must be free from responsibility before God, or history for that matter.
But what can we do? I am sympathetic with those who see the crisis as overwhelming. But nothing is impossible with God. Let me suggest three essential approaches to the problem.
First come to this crisis with humility and compassion. We all share in the cultural, intellectual and moral corruption that has swallowed up our nation. This is not simply the problem of churches that did not stand against abortion. This is not simply the fault of another political party or someone else. Most of us would agree that German people who ignored the disappearance of their Jewish neighbors or were afraid to speak up no matter what it cost them, shared in the guilt.
And we who are also guilty need to seek ways of ministering to girls faced with unwanted pregnancy, and unplanned and unwanted children. Do we have means to intervene in the lives of young people who realize they have sacrificed their vision of the future on the altar of sexual freedom?
Next, address the problem with wisdom and intelligence. If we simply demonize political opponents or shout at them in protest, rather than listening to their arguments and seeking to persuade people, we will make little headway in the issue.
Finally, we must face this problem in prayer and worship. We will not turn this evil around without the mighty hand of God. We need to see this as a matter of spiritual war, crying out to God about every issue small and great. We have no greater weapon in spiritual warfare than worship that connects us with God Himself.
The culture of death is a daunting reality. But it is no greater than slavery that the enemy foisted on our fathers a few generations back. Against all social, economic, and political odds Great Britain outlawed the vile trade on her far flung shores. And eventually Americans were willing to plunge ourselves into a horrible civil war.
If your faith is not built on a powerful relationship with Almighty God you will not be able to pay whatever price is demanded of us to defeat this horrible plague.
In Luke 20:1-8 the scribes and Pharisees challenged the authority of Jesus who the day before had cleansed the temple. Incidentally, they also questioned his authority to cast out demons and heal the sick. His question of what they thought was the authority of John the Baptist silenced the rulers. This passage brings us face to face with the question of all authority. And it highlights the genuine authority of Jesus that obviously did not need to be defended.
This story shows us, The Authority of Righteousness.
His cleansing of the temple did not lean on any human or earthy authority. But everyone who saw what he did knew that what Jesus did was right.
He depended upon, The Authority of Revelation.
As He cleansed the temple Jesus quoted Scripture. "It is written!" I once heard Henry Blackaby comment, "I know people who talk a lot about the inerrancy of Scripture who do not submit to its authority in their lives. But authority is the question of inerrancy. Believing the Bible is true does not mean I understand everything I read. It means Scripture has the authority to call me into account.
His presence also brings out, The Authority of His Person.
When Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, I doubt if anyone was thinking about His right to do it. They were too busy fleeing from His presence. I believe that is a sign of nearness to God today. His nearness to you may be wonderful. But it will also overwhelm you with His majesty and authority.
And in this account we see, The Authority of Purpose.
Real authority is not an end in itself. It always accomplishes the purposes of God.
(I have a new video trailer for HOME IN THE WILDERNESS on the book page of my website.
This first post in my new blog THINKING IN THE SPIRIT. Most of the posts in this new blog will not be good to post here on Pray Network. But this post could well have been entered in WATCHING IN PRAYER, which I plan to continue to post every other week. However, I am approaching even this similar entry from a different perspective and intent.
And as I finished writing this entry, I decided that because the segments were so short my readers would be tempted to skip over them too quickly. These are profound truths even though they can be written briefly and are not difficult to understand. So, I will divide them into three shorter blog posts on this subject.
The first of Martin Luther's 95 Theses read, "All of life is repentance."
We may tend to dread repentance and avoid it at all cost. But that is a wrong view of repentance. Repentance is a relief in the light of the gospel. And it leads to a life of freedom and satisfaction.
Look at this powerful prayer of David in Psalm 139.
"Search me O God and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
Searching the Dependence of Your Heart
One of the primary reasons we need God to help us search our hearts is that we fall away from depending on Him for righteousness, meaning and fulfillment. I can avoid examining my heart because I don’t want to admit my weakness and failings. This ignores the source of my righteousness.
The Hebrew word for thoughts here refers to anxious thoughts. If I am depending on my own goodness to be sufficient, I will be stressed to my limit. But we depend on the sacrifice of Jesus for our righteousness. We come to God in the purifying power of His blood. And we depend upon Him for our purpose, dignity and fulfillment in our lives.
It is a wonderful relief to repent of finding our righteousness and fulfillment in ourselves. Repentance does not just turn from lying, but from the motivation that thinks I need to bolster my position, hide my weaknesses or gain respect.
What are you depending on that needs the relief of repentance?
Jesus told us to ask the Father for our daily bread. We are tempted to devote prayer to the chocolate donuts of luxury and comfort. But none of these pleasures are good, if our real needs are not met. Two truths emerge from the wording of this prayer. Needs are immediate. And needs are ultimate.
We have a tendency to pray for God to provide our needs far into the future. These seem to be prayers for God to provide so we will not have to trust him ever again. I have terminal cancer. God has not chosen to remove my cancer. But I have lived and often been basically healthy years longer than my doctors told me I would. Not long ago a friend introduced me as a cancer survivor. I told him later that I couldn't say that. He said, "Every day you are alive, you are a survivor." I told one of my doctors I was doing better than he thought I would because people were praying for me. He was silent for a moment and then said, "That's right."
Our needs are also ultimate. You will die if you do not have food to eat. You have other ultimate needs. Some are physical like the need for bread. Others are emotional, intellectual or spiritual. From an ultimate perspective our greatest needs are spiritual. Life is ultimately meaningless without a sense of wonder, truth, purpose, righteousness and security. These only come from God. They are the fruit of the gospel in our lives. Jesus died that we might have life truly, fully and eternally. Are you focusing on the greatest needs that face us? Or are your prayers distracted by lesser things. My cancer brings an urgency to my life. I don't want to devote most of my energy to praying for a better parking place at the donut shop.
Next week we will look at praying for forgiveness.
Many are saying America and possibly most of the world is under the imminent judgment of God in these days. I am reminded of God's judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah. God said the outcry against Sodom was great. People were crying out to him in oppression and suffering. God could not be a God of compassion and not judge the selfishness, wickedness, prejudice and violence we have turned to today. And yet as He was preparing to rain fire down upon Sodom the Lord invited Abraham to intercede for the city. If God is making you aware of imminent judgment, He is inviting you to intercede in prayer. Do you sense the urgency to intercede in prayer even if you are not sure how to do that? Interestingly enough Abraham came to some principles that will help us pray in these days.
First, Abraham appealed to God's love for righteousness. "Will not the judge of all the earth do what is right?" We need to pray for churches and believers and people who seek righteousness in high places in our society. They may be our only hope against immediate judgment. This week one of the most prominent pastors in America stepped down from his pulpit because of moral failure. I saw several Face Book posts on it. I made a comment on one of them. "If you were our enemy, who would you attack?" But while I had respected this man, I had never prayed for him. God forgive me.
Another principal that Abraham discovered was the intercession of the gospel. Some of you are skeptical of Abraham's understanding of the gospel. But he grasped a core principle in his interaction with the LORD over Sodom. The Lord loves righteousness so much that He was willing to spare the wicked because of the righteousness of the righteous. How does that relate to the gospel? That is its very heart. The only reason any of us are spared from immediate and final judgment is that God has imputed to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He alone is truly righteous. He is our only righteousness. He is our only hope. Interceding in the face of judgment must be based upon the spread of the gospel. Many of us in these days sense an urgency to pray for unreached and unengaged people groups in the world. That is intercession for the gospel. Are you praying and giving and going and sending so the gospel will be available to all who Jesus died to save?
Today, I believe there is another facet of interceding in the face of judgment. That is crying out to God for His supernatural hand in our ministry to hurting people. The first major judgment of God was a mercy on the world because of what we had become. God saw that the thoughts and intents of the heart of man were only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5) I do not know what kind of judgment God is preparing to send. We may well be preparing to taste the 7 bowls of God’s wrath upon the earth. But the Bible speaks of another kind of judgment that is in many ways worse. This is the judgment of what we become. In Romans 1 Paul says that God gives men over to the perversions and corruption of our hearts. 2 Timothy 3 says that in the last days people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud arrogant, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. These are days in which we need to pray for God to use us to heal in the face of incredible wickedness all around and within us.
Father, we cry out for Your mighty hand upon us as we seek to be righteous, as we spread the gospel and as we show compassion to a hurting world.
and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead....(Philippians 3:9-11)
BLESSED ARE YOU LORD GOD, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS, ALL LIFE, ALL LIBERTY, ALL GOODNESS FLOWS. YOU ARE WORTHY OF ALL PRAISE, ADORATION REVERENCE AND AWE. YOU ARE MAJESTIC AS YOU REIGN, SOVEREIGN AS YOU RULE, RIGHTEOUS AS YOU ARE ALWAYS RIGHT, HOLY AS YOUR NATURE IS. LET ALL THE PEOPLE SAY AMEN AND GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD, FOR HIS LOVE NEVER ENDS, LET ALL THE PEOPLE SAY AMEN.
BLESS THE LORD, OH MY SOUL AND ALL THAT IS WITHIN ME, BLESS YOUR HOLY NAME. BLESS YOU FOR ALL YOUR BENEFITS HAVE ACCRUED TO ME, THROUGH THE LOVE, SACRIFICE, FINISHED WORK AND BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST, CREATOR OF ALL THINGS....FOR WHOM ALL THINGS WERE CREATED FOR AND BY HIM. MAY I NOT JUST BE FOUND IN HIM, DAILY, IF ACCUSED OF BEING A CHRISTIAN, BUT MAY THE EVIDENCE BE SO OVERWHELMING THAT THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF JESUS CHRIST IS EMBEDDED IN THE VERY FIBER OF MY BEING, AND ALL WHO ARE CALLED BY YOUR NAME, THAT THOSE WHO ARE ACCUSE US OF FOLLOWING THE WAY OF YAHWEH, WOULD SAY "HE IS ONE OF THEM...OR SHE IS ONE OF THEM"....THEM BEING - FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT, BLESSED TRINITY! OH HALLELUJAH, GLORY TO THE LAMB OF GOD, PRAISE YOUR GREAT NAME!
FATHER GOD, LET THIS LIFE OF CHRIST, FREELY GIVEN LIKE LIVING WATER TO ALL WHO ASK, SO RICHLY DWELL IN ME THAT IT WOULD BE OBVIOUS IT CAME NOT FROM ME, FROM IN ME OR FROM NOTHING ANY OF US HAVE DONE, BUT CAME DIRECTLY FROM THE FAITH YOU IN YOUR LOVE, COMPASSION, MERCY AND LONG SUFFERING GAVE TO EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US. LORD, YOU CALLED FOR US NOT TO BE CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD, BUT TO BE MORPHED, TRANSFORMED, CHANGED TO THE LIKENESS OF IMAGO DEI - THE IMAGE OF GOD, IN WHOSE FASHION YOU FIRST CREATED MAN, THROUGH THE FIRST MAN WHO SINNED, ADAM. THE SECOND AND FINAL ADAM- YAHWEH, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST - NEVER SINNED BUT SUFFERED FOR ALL SIN OF ALL MANKIND FOR ALL TIME.
HE HAS CALLED US TO THAT SAME WITNESS AND THEREFORE SUFFERING IN ORDER THAT WE MAY BE HIS DISCIPLES. MAY WE TAKE UP THE DAILY CROSS AND CRUCIFY OUR BENT AND NATURE TO FOLLOW AFTER THIS WORLD, EVEN IF WE KNOW BETTER, BUT AS WE RISE DAILY, MAY WE PUT TO DEATH THAT TENDENCY TO SIN, TO PERVERT, TO STRAY AND DISTRACT AND MAY WE THEN, THROUGH THE SACRIFICIAL LOVE WE SHOW TO OTHERS AND MORE IMPORTANTLY TO YOU, IN ALL WE SAY DO AND THINK, BE A REFLECTION OF THE SURRENDER AND OBEDIENCE WHICH YOU EXPECT FROM THOSE OF US, WHO ARE COMPLETELY COMMITTED TO YOU.
FATHER, IT IS ONLY BY THE ACT OF BEING A MARTYR, METAPHORICALLY SPEAKING, BEING A MARTYR AND NOT AN INDULGER OF THE CORRUPT THINGS OF THIS SOON-PERISHING WORLD, WOULD BE BE FOUND WORTHY OF OUR POSITIONAL SALVATION IN YOU. THANK YOU FOR THAT TRUTH, THAT KNOWLEDGE AND THE DYNAMIC POWER TO EXECUTE YOUR COMMAND AND EXPECTATIONS IN OUR MOMENT BY MOMENT LIVING. WE LOVE YOU, WE PRAISE YOU, WE WORSHIP AND ADORE YOU, THROUGH CHRIST YOUR SON AND KING, AMEN.
But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked....(1 John 2:5-6)
Oh Most Holy and Heavenly Father, I think You that Your Word, Oh God, is written in the Heavens. I thank You that Your Word is Truth. I thank You that Your Words will never fade or pass away and therefore, because You keep Your Word, I pledge to do my part and keep Your Word hidden in my heart and shown through my actions and deeds, that Christ lives within me.
Lord, may Your Holy Spirit, the Spirit of all Truth, Wisdom and Understand Who keeps me permanently connected to the Eternal, fortify my will to keep Your Word of Truth firmly embedded, to keep it from shame and slander, to keep it from dishonor and degradation and to keep and guard it as jealously as You guard Your Holy Name. Your Love commands, compels and gives me confidence in Your Word to remain faithful to it, to obey it and dwell on it as our Savior did. Your Word says in Hebrews 5:7 that our Savior's prayers, cries and petitions were heard because of His piety, obedience and submission to Your Will and Yours alone.
Let us now walk in that Truth, in the Path of Persistent Obedience where He, the Lord Jesus, walked that we may too be found in Him, to the praise and glory of His Name. By this Truth we know we are His, in Him, in His Will and walking in His Ways. Lord we long to be like Jesus, and to live, walk, talk and rest in You as He did and may ALL our worship be Yours and His, throughout our lives, in the Strong and Mighty Name of King Jesus I pray, amen.
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. - James 5:16b
Our adversary, Satan, knows Scriptures well and is one who works to twist meanings to his own ends. For many Christians, when they read this passage, they surrender, thinking, "I know my sins and my sinful triggers. I'm not righteous as God is righteous. Therefore, God doesn't hear or answer my prayers because they're neither powerful or effective. What's the point of praying?"
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down. - Revelation 12:10
We read on:
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.” - Revelation 12:11-12
Christ-followers triumphed over Satan by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (living out their faith and trust in Jesus- as a result of what He first did for us... giving His perfect, sinless, life to become a holy, spotless, sacrifice for the sins of all)!
We're also reminded that Satan is filled with fury because he knows his days are numbered (and are growing shorter by the moment). He was cast to earth where he currently works to disturb and disrupt Christians' prayers, as well as to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10) Christians' personal relationships with God. He's also working to keep non-Christians from hearing, learning about, believing, and knowing of their hope of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.
But our adversary doesn't have the last word... not even close!
9 What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. 10 As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. - Romans 3:9-20
Here, Paul writes that nobody is righteous by their thoughts, words, or deeds. There's no natural righteousness in self. To think one's self to be righteous, apart from God, is to be deceived. But then he continues...
21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. - Romans 3:21-26
Here, Paul completes the rest of the story and answers our question. While nobody is righteous on their own, Jesus gives us His righteousness through faith in His shed blood on the cross.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. - 2 Cor 5:21 (ESV)
Settling the Matter
So who does James 5:16b apply to? Who has the audacious privilege of powerful and effective prayers? The answer: ALL who have been made righteous by the sacrifice that Christ made on the cross!
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. - Heb 4:14-16 (ESV)
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. - Titus 3:3-8 (emphasis added)
Let's Resume Our Relationship with God
If you've been wrestling in any way with concerns that your life isn't good enough for your prayers to be heard and effective, the matter is settled. Christ settled it on the cross and with His resurrection from the dead. If you believe that Jesus did this, your responsibilities are to confess your sins (all sin is sin against God- whether done privately, to somebody else, or a group of people), and grow in deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. Prayer is the means in which we do both. Resume praying now and continue growing in love, faith, trust, and depth with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! Your prayers are powerful and effective; made so by the righteousness of Jesus Christ- given to all who believe in Him!
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. - James 5:13-18
*Portions of this devotional were written by OnSite prayer partner, Ruth Jackson.
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