“Oh, the unspeakable greatness of that exchange,—the Sinless One is condemned, and he who is guilty goes free; the Blessing bears the curse, and the cursed is brought into blessing; the Life dies, and the dead live; the Glory is whelmed in darkness, and he who knew nothing but confusion of face is clothed with glory.” Trailady

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A person God turned around many times.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Righteousness by the experience of humbling, a commentary on Saint Job, the Great

This post is not an attack on this servant of the Lord. “The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord’s anointed.” Job was stuck in a trap that only the Lord could deliver him from. It’s a real event in history that we can all learn from because we are all in the same trap, from the most religious person to the most secular. We were born in it.

When one keeps reading beyond the first two chapters of Job, he finds that Job wasn’t totally perfect, even though God said he was. God can declare us righteous in name and begin to make us so in heart, but there will always be room for improvement in the life and character. And we need to always be aware of this fact and never think we are a finished product of God’s grace, a lesson which we learn from the experience of Job.

The reality was that although Job was “perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil,” (Job 1:1) and was genuinely seeking God, he still had a “secret love.” (Prov. 27:5). No one had known of this darling sin, not even Job. But God saw it; and so did Satan. And Job’s secret sin is still a mystery to multitudes of Christians, as it was to Job’s family and friends. Largely, it is a mystery because multitudes are indulging it, too; therefore they can’t see it.

If you keep your ears perked today you will occasionally hear the common sentiment, “How great was Job’s patience! Even in such pain he maintained his faith!” It seems we have beatified Job and made his experience a super-human fiction, as if it belongs to the Apocrypha. But, the last third of the Job account would reveal a totally different picture of St. Job if people would read that far.

We love heroic stories and are quick to make heroes of anybody and everybody. The ancient myths come down to us due to this propensity to exalt the human. The gods were originally men and women—sinners like us, who gained widespread celebrity status because of some extra endowment of intellect or physical strength or beauty, or even, a seemingly great morality. Satan used their extra God-given endowments to make them objects of worship. He gave these individuals notoriety, and thus kept multitudes’ focus away from God and on the sinful human hero, whose worship was a proxy for self-worship, and, ultimately, the worship of Satan. The devil still uses this tactic today. Too often, those who are best known in the public eye, who make the newspaper headlines for doing some great good for the nation or the world, are Satan’s best agents for destroying the earth through the worship of other gods instead of the Lord. Without the word of God as our guide to unmask this tragedy, we humans are easily misled.

Especially did the post-exilic Jews and the apostatized early church exaggerate the practice of setting moral giants as their center of focus. Yet, the church looking to these moral heroes—even to newly invented characters for Paul or Peter or John—was bold idolatry of the darkest hue, on a par with everything vulgar paganism had produced. It has sent billions of lifelong devotees to their hapless graves miserable from worshiping humans. The resultant ascetic life has plagued every religion from the beginning of time. From time immemorial, vanity and vexation of spirit has been the fruit of false religion in men who could not see their sinfulness to repent of it for all their morality and outstanding religiosity, and by multitudes who inherited a less than praiseworthy willpower for good but were taught that praising the moral heroes would satisfy God for the lack of willpower in the multitude. This we see in the life and times of St. Job, and in the response to Job by so many Christians today.

Job had failed in a big way. But because Job didn’t recognize in himself any fault that could have contributed to his calamities at the beginning of the story, in the end we hear the Lord coming on to him with some pretty strong language that seems surprising—almost incomprehensibly arbitrary—since He praised Job in front of Satan at the beginning. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou Me.” (Job 38:1-3).

Before I go on, right here I need to confirm that Job did love the Lord. He was seeking and striving to know God. His morning and evening offerings were genuine and from his heart. But, something prevented the Lord’s perfect blessing on Job’s family. Something was making all of his children go awry. The first two chapters of the book don’t say what the problem was.
Where was Job’s failure? Was it in a bad life? No, quite the contrary. What plagued him so much that the Lord was forced to unleash Satan on him with full fury, was that Job had never done anything wrong. I mean nothing really wrong. He wasn’t really a sinner, like others. Read his self-assessment in chapters 29-31! He had been a really good person! But by his own admission, he had become a moralist. His words were of himself, and not of his Lord. Since out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, his focus had been on his own goodness. He had lost his focus on his true strength. This caused the attack by Satan.

Recently, I attended a conference on Righteousness By Faith that was misguided in its understanding of sin. And at one point the comment was made that babies aren’t sinners—using the definition of James 4:17, babies aren’t culpable for sin because they don’t know what they do wrong, therefore sin cannot be imputed to them! But that’s trying to pull good news out of a wrong premise. Wow, that was good news if I ever heard it, even though it is very wrong! With that reasoning, according to Rom. 5:13,14 babies should never die.

The good news isn’t that we aren’t born sinners until some age of accountability; the good news isn’t that we are free from condemnation for sins not realized. The truth is that everyone of us are born sinners and are culpable for every sin we ever commit against God; yet the good news is that God is so infinitely forbearing that He gives the whole planet grace for the duration of this lifetime when we don’t even know we need His grace. His mercy endures to the infinite depths of forbearance, and His mercy has endured on and on with this world bankrupt of His love and goodness.

Our first birth was messed up; otherwise, there wouldn’t be such a dire need for a second birth. If our first birth were only a little evil, then we need only a lukewarm remedy for it. A lukewarm burnt offering on a cross. Preachers who are trying to ease the burdened consciences of people by telling them they aren’t such bad sinners are only making things worse for their followers. It’s only the power of divine rebuke that will bring us to our knees. And these false pastors are diminishing the divine rebuke, and thus cooperate with Satan to prevent their parishioners from ever getting to the breaking point. “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of My people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” (Jer. 6:14). But, as we see from the Lord’s words to Job, He didn’t mind bringing Job to the breaking point.

The good news of the gospel is that “open rebuke is better than secret love.” “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Pro. 27:5,6). The open rebuke of a faithful friend is the power of God unto salvation, especially when that friend is Jesus or His servants. Reproof also means the demise of Satan. Our Savior, the friend of sinners, said to saint Peter, “Get thee behind me Satan.” He said this because His beloved disciple was trying to water down the plan of salvation. As many as He loves, He rebukes and chastens. Thus, we see the Lord’s use of conviction in His work to save us and we see Satan’s continued effort to minimize the strong language of the Bible which leads souls to repentance and faith.

The problem with St. Job is summed up in Elihu’s judgment on him, “Surely thou hast spoken in mine hearing, and I have heard the voice of thy words, saying, I am clean without transgression, I am innocent; neither is there iniquity in me. Behold, He findeth occasions against me, He counteth me for His enemy.” (Job 33:8-10). Basically, St. Job is saying, “I never did anything wrong! I was framed! I don’t deserve all this torment!” What we actually deserve is hell. But God gives us all a lifetime of opportunities to come to repentance and surrender, to save us from hell.

But how can anyone really need God’s justification if they have never done anything really bad? Yet, I know many miserable moralists, in church and outside of it, who are making a wreck of their lives and the lives of their spouse and children because they can never own up to their sins, and then know the peace of God. They can never know how good Jesus is because they refuse to admit to being bad, really bad, deserving of nothing but eternal death. So, they can never be converted; they never get more than lukewarm justification. Of course, they admit to being sinners, but not really bad sinners; just little sinners, lukewarm sinners. The devil has convinced them that they should not have to hear strong reproof because they are pretty good people. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that no one can be perfect, except Jesus? (A tragic misquote of Romans 3:10,23.) They have turned away from the rebuke of the Spirit of truth, the straight testimony of the True Witness.

In the meantime, they are blocked from having the peace of God and the love of Jesus. And if they continue with this rebellion until the day they die,—and multitudes are going to their graves in this condition—they will wake up one day and hear the horrifying words of Jesus, “I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt.7:23). How can they be workers of iniquity when they can say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matt. 7:22). Yet, they will hear His one answer. “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 25:30).

Happily we can say that Job broke under the pressure of God. He bowed his pride and closed his mouth. But with this backdrop of Job’s saintliness, let’s look at some of the things that St. Job said to distinguish himself as a great moralist.

“I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem.
I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame.
I was a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out.
And I brake the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth.
Then I said, I shall die in my nest, and I shall multiply my days as the sand.
My root was spread out by the waters, and the dew lay all night upon my branch.
My glory was fresh in me, and my bow was renewed in my hand.
Unto me men gave ear, and waited, and kept silence at my counsel.
After my words they spake not again; and my speech dropped upon them.
And they waited for me as for the rain; and they opened their mouth wide as for the latter rain.
If I laughed on them, they believed it not; and the light of my countenance they cast not down.
I chose out their way, and sat chief, and dwelt as a king in the army, as one that comforteth the mourners.” “I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?
For what portion of God is there from above? and what inheritance of the Almighty from on high?
Is not destruction to the wicked? and a strange punishment to the workers of iniquity?” (Job 29:14-25; 31:1-3).

Then comes a series of “ifs” from the mouth of Job and moral oaths of appropriate divine punishment on wicked sin, as a great finale of his last soliloquy. “If I have walked with vanity, or if my foot hath hasted to deceit; let me be weighed in an even balance, that God may know mine integrity.” (Job 31:5,6).
“If my step hath turned out of the way, and mine heart walked after mine eyes, and if any blot hath cleaved to mine hands; then let me sow, and let another eat; yea, let my offspring be rooted out.” (vs. 7,8).
“If mine heart have been deceived by a woman, or if I have laid wait at my neighbour’s door; then let my wife grind unto another, and let others bow down upon her.
For this is an heinous crime; yea, it is an iniquity to be punished by the judges.
For it is a fire that consumeth to destruction, and would root out all mine increase.” (vs. 9-12).
“If I did despise the cause of my manservant or of my maidservant, when they contended with me; what then shall I do when God riseth up? and when He visiteth, what shall I answer Him?” (vs. 13,14).
“If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail; if I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or any poor without covering;
if his loins have not blessed me, and if he were not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;
if I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, when I saw my help in the gate:
then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone.” (vs. 16,19-22).
“If I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence;
If I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much;
If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness;
And my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand:
This also were an iniquity to be punished by the judge: for I should have denied the God that is above.” (vs. 24-28).
“If I covered my transgressions as Adam, by hiding mine iniquity in my bosom: did I fear a great multitude, or did the contempt of families terrify me, that I kept silence, and went not out of the door?” (vs. 33,34).

Job was God’s servant and under extreme physical agony and the force of despondency. His record had been good, and leaves us a high standard to study for our obedience to God. However, as righteous-sounding as this all was, it was vanity, and ended up with vexation of spirit. It was self-manufactured and self-exalting. If it were not, then he would not have received the powerful rebuke from Elihu and then from the Lord after His servant finished reproving Job. “Oh that one would hear me! behold, my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine adversary had written a book.” (Job 31:35). Solomon had the right answer to all this, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” (Ecc. 1:2).

But with all due respect God couldn’t let this self-righteousness in His servant continue. So, He who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will gave Satan full reign (except to end Job’s life) and then permitted Job’s wife and three friends to heighten his misery until he would incriminate himself.

Finally Elihu brought St. Job some relief, but not without severely rebuking him. Said Elihu, “Job hath said, I am righteous: and God hath taken away my judgment.
Should I lie against my right? my wound is incurable without transgression.” “What man is like Job, who drinketh up scorning like water?
Which goeth in company with the workers of iniquity, and walketh with wicked men.” (Job 34:5-8).

St. Job had become victim of one of Satan’s oldest tricks. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” (Rom. 1:18). Job became full of “great swelling words of vanity.” (2Pet. 2:18). Without anyone realizing it, St. Job was on the road to doing the original work of Satan, who had “a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows.” (Dan. 7:20).

Satan’s greatest success has been in stifling the authority of God to rebuke sin. This has left the church unrepentant and lifeless. She is “dead in trespasses and sins.” (Eph. 2:1). Without the humbling that comes with conviction of sin, and then the resulting repentance, we sinners are most miserable. Proud morality might feel good to the unregenerate heart, but the result is a restless, living death, an eternally burning hell. “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” (Rev. 3:1). This condition is further described in the 3rd angel’s message, and in light of Israel’s bitterness from turning away from Jehovah’s reproofs, which reveals that Christless, loveless, proud morality is the cause of the Mark of the Beast. “The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” (Rev. 14:11).

The sinner must be humbled before he or she can accept the grace that God offers and have true peace. Self must be broken, and Jesus billets Himself as the right person to make that happen. “Whosoever shall fall on this Stone shall be broken.” (Matt. 21:44).

His strong language and harsh consequences to sin will be just the tonic to quicken us and bring us back to life. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12).

Let us avail ourselves of His power through His humbling. But to those who choose not to be tested and tried and have their pride planted in the dust, crucified with Christ, He says, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.” (Jn. 13:8). “My soul shall have no pleasure in him.” (Heb. 10:38).

Let us trust the Lawgiver and High Priest, our Prince and Savior, that He will not give needless pain to our sensitive soul. “A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench: He shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” (Is. 42:3). “Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for He hath torn, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up.” (Hos. 6:1). The offense of the cross may hurt now, but it will feel better later. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1Cor. 10:13). In Christ, we will know that we have a true father, one who really cares about us. “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isa 9:6).

The suffering and the humbling will be doable; for He has done it all before us. “Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He hath poured out His soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Is. 53:12).

“Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:29,30).


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