What it means to be ‘right’ with God

What does ‘right with God’ mean?  Since God is holy, we have to be holy if we want to spend eternity with Him,

‘…without holiness no one will see the Lord.’  Hebrews 12:14b

God said to the Israelites, 

‘I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.’  Leviticus 11:44

God gave them laws.  As mentioned in a former blog (Expanded short Gospel), Deuteronomy 6:25 says, they will be ‘right’ with God if they keep the laws,.  Yet with meticulous repetition, God proved in history, that it does not work.  To keep laws cannot transform lives (as always there were exceptions).  Most of the heroes of the Old Testament, like Moses, David, Hezekiah and others, sinned.  That is why the Old Testament helps us to appreciate God’s brilliance in the New Covenant –  Jesus was the Sacrifice who paid the wages of sin which is death, once for all.  

By that profound but simple exchange, we are freed from the burden of our sins.  Now we see God’s grace and mercy in action: 

  • Because of the Cross, we are declared holy.  
  • Because we are holy in principle, the Holy Spirit can settle inside each individual who accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on his/her behalf. 
  • Then the Holy Spirit begins to transform us, to make us holy from the inside out (it is the opposite of the Old Testament Law).  
  • The Holy Spirit helps us say good-bye to our sinful nature, 

‘You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.’  Ephesians 4:22-24

What does that mean?  What does God want?  What does ‘holiness’ mean? Scripture defines it in easy to understand language, 

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ Galatians 5:22-23a

Yet it is important to understand that without the Holy Spirit it is impossible, 

‘….through the sanctifying work of the Spirit.’  1 Peter 1:2b

To summarise: God is wonderful, 

‘I will proclaim the Name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God!  He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just.  A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.’  Deuteronomy 32:3-4

To think that it is possible to be in this wonderful God’s presence – eternally!  The condition – to become like Jesus with the help of the precious Holy Spirit.

NB!  What the Old Testament also proves is that there is no such a thing as generational or national holiness.  That is why the emphasis is on the individual in the New Testament.  Person by person God builds His nation – through Jesus,

‘…because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’  Revelation 5:9b

God’s way is the only reliable solution to the ‘old man’ sinful syndrome: Jesus on the Cross forgave our sins because He paid the penalty of death for us.  Then God the Holy Spirit in us, helps us get rid of the old man. 

Can we be moral without God?

It made headlines that the majority of Americans believe that a person can be moral without God (Pew Research Centre, October 16, 2017).  According to the survey, ‘most U.S. adults now say it is not necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values (56%), up from about half (49%) who expressed this view in 2011.’ 

Religious ‘nones’ believe it is not necessary to acknowledge God for morality.  ‘Surveys have long shown that religious “nones” – those who describe themselves religiously as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – are more likely than those who identify with a religion to say that belief in God is not a prerequisite for good values and morality.’

We accept the findings of the survey.  However, the question is, what does the survey prove, and what does it mean for the Church in general?  There are a few questions:

1. Does ‘morality without God’ increase morality in a country?

Does the belief that you can be moral without God mean that pornography will die; that violence, crime, child and sexual abuse will decrease?  It should if it is true.  The future will tell.

2. What is morality?

The definition of morality according to the British English dictionary is, ‘principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good or bad behavior.  A particular system of values and principles of conduct. Goodness or rightness.’

  • The general public uses the word, ‘morality’ according to that definition, but we need to distinguish between ‘morality’ according to the world and ‘morality’ according to God.
  • The Bible refers to ‘morality’ as ‘holiness.’  Holiness is a prerequisite for eternal life with God, because that is the way people will live in God’s future Kingdom.  Holiness is possible for a child of God, because Jesus died for our sins and made us holy in principle. 1  That means we can be filled with the Holy Spirit.  He is the One who then works from inside us to help us to increasingly turn away from wrong behavior to the lifestyle God desires in His Kingdom.

3. Is ‘morality’ a substitute for ‘holiness?’

Being ‘moral’ will not persuade God to accept people into His kingdom as His children.  It is a crude misunderstanding of the Gospel.

  • The Ten Commandments illustrate God’s position beautifully.  The first 3 command us to love God.  It is the foundation that will cause us to obey Him and do the next 7 commandments.  Without love for the Lord, there is no reason to obey His rules that are indispensable for His future Kingdom.  Jesus said in John 14:15, ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command.’
  • So we need to distinguish between morality (good living without God) and holiness (the way the people who love God will live in His kingdom), ‘…Since we have these promises [that God will be our Father], dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.’ 2

4. What other differences between morality and holiness?

As we said, the Ten Commandments give us an idea of what is basically an acceptable lifestyle to God.

  • Some of them like, honor your father and mother, don’t murder, don’t steal, manifest very visibly.  Yet others concern your thought life, like don’t covet your neighbor’s wife or possessions?  Nobody sees your thoughts, but out of them come evil desires. 3
  • In addition few people know what you do behind closed doors.  That is why it is important to distinguish between morality and holiness.  The claim we make is that it is generally impossible to live a completely upright life without an inner restraint, the Holy Spirit.
  • If it was possible, God would not have insisted on holiness.  Then living a moral life would have been enough.  But, as we know, many ‘moral’ upright people do funny things in their minds and behind closed doors.

Conclusion

The essence of ‘true’ morality is, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind… Love your neighbor as yourself.’ This includes the soul, mind, heart and effort.  Yet we can only do it with Jesus’ ongoing Blood of forgiveness for our lapses and the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

References

  1. Hebrews 10:10
  2. 2 Corinthians 7:1
  3. Matthew 15:18-20
  4. Matthew 22:37-39
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