Saturday, April 21, 2012

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The Ministry Of Rebuke: Is It Self Righteousness, Arrogance, Or True Christian Love?

My older brother has often asked me to whom I was addressing a particular topic when I was writing. I never pondered about the importance as to whom. More often than not, my writings have resulted as a result of questioning and wanting to gain a deeper understanding of something for myself. The search for that understanding may have been initially inspired by something I heard or read. Sometimes it may have been a conversation or discussion that may have taken place with someone which then led me to seek further insight. At other times, the topic could have arisen out of a sincere concern for loved ones or the way of the world in general. In reflection, I suppose it could be said that what I write about may not really be pointed toward any one person or group, but rather as a journey of learning more about God, who He is, and what it means to have a closer walk with Him. I do share my writings with others, some of whom may be on a path of their own journey in life, either with God or away from Him. In doing so, I know that I am placing myself in a situation that is going to result in agreement with some, but in disagreement, and even scoffing, from others. Ultimately, I pray that what I write and share may result in inspiring others to start, or continue, their own journey of seeking knowledge of and from the one true and living God.

In addition, I must admit that my nature is to try to be a ‘fixer’. I realize that my own maturity level and growth to be more Christ like is glaringly insufficient. And yet, I praise the Lord for having brought me thus far and for His promise never to give up on me. He has promised me, if I will yield to and put my trust in Him, He will continue His work of perfection within me. (Notice I said His work – nope, can’t take credit for any of His wondrous works.) I know, that I know, that I know the difference that He has made in my life. He is so wonderful that there are no words of ours that express how marvelous He is. Because I know I serve a risen Savior, it just boggles my mind when others choose to reject the free gift of salvation for the meager act on our part of just believing in Him as Lord and Savior. Even our faith itself is a gift from God, and yet still some will refuse it and choose to put their trust in self or some other false god. Knowing the joy and peace that only comes from the Lord, it is hard to understand why anyone would turn away from all that He is, all He has done, and from all that He so freely gives.

I do believe that we are living in the latter days. ‘Latter days’ to me is not based on any specific time period as man calculates time, but rather as God has spoken about time, when He refers to a day being as a thousand years, or a thousand years as a day. No one is guaranteed a tomorrow, so if I were to be taken from this world tomorrow, my ‘latter years’ would be today. Realizing that life is short, and knowing that God does not wish that any would perish, I pray that I might be able to do my part, as a servant of the Lord, to plant seeds of faith in the hope that others might be drawn to Him and begin their own journey to eternal life with Him, rather than an eternal life in Hell. We live in dangerous and perilous times, and yet so many of us are living our lives as if our relationship with God is either of very little importance, at best, or completely irrelevant, at worst. So, to answer my brother’s question, why or to whom do I write? I write as a method of furthering my own growth in the Lord, and to hopefully play a part in the big picture of saying to others, “Wake up people, today is the day of salvation,
Tomorrow may be too late!”

As a Christian, there have been those that have accused me, some times to my face and others behind my back, of speaking in a self righteous attitude or manner. I take the accusation seriously and wish to seek understanding if I have rightfully earned that label. I ask the Lord to “search me, O God” to root out and cleanse me of wicked ways. In my heart, I know that this is a constant battle, a life-long process, and not something that is ever going to end until I see my Savior face to face when He has completed His work in me. I realize, and acknowledge whole heartedly, that there is no righteousness within me that is earned or deserved, for I know that no matter how hard I might try I could never attain ‘goodness.’ There is no such thing within me for only God is ‘good’. There is no one, except Jesus, that attained that full measure, and that is because He is God. I can’t even say that I am better than anyone else. God doesn’t look at me and say, “You don’t smoke or drink so you deserve to be labeled as superior to one who does.” No, He has told me, in no uncertain terms, that “all have fallen short of the mark.” What mark? The mark, or full portion, of perfection and goodness as is found only in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The only righteousness that I can boast of is that which is imputed to me by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I did not earn it, nor do I deserve it. It is mine only because of the infinite mercy and grace of God. Every thing I am, and every thing I have is a gift from God. There is not one thing I can point to and boast of as being my own creation or doing. If I ever excelled in anything, it is simply because God gave me the talent or ability to do that which was done. I can not, and pray that I never have or will, take credit for anything of worth that I have ever done. I can but give all thanks and glory to God, and pray that I yield to His will for His purposes to be accomplished in me and through me as He wishes. As He has taught us, and so I pray, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven,” and let it begin in me.

Acting or speaking in a self righteous manner can be a deep and ugly pit. As I understand it, the definition of the term self righteous is as follows: Piously sure of one’s own righteousness; moralistic; exhibiting pious self-assurance: self- righteous remarks. It all boils down to pride in self. It is exhibited in attitudes and behavior that suggest that mankind can rely upon him self as he believes in his own goodness. Anything that exalts man’s own ability to attain goodness is self righteousness. If one is relying on his own abilities to gain salvation then that is pride, self righteousness. It is often exhibited by such expressions as: “I do the best I can.” “I follow the Ten Commandments and go to church every Sunday.” “I never go to bars or drink like my neighbor does.” “I work hard at being kind and understanding of others.” “I never criticize others, gossip, or cheat on my spouse like that person does.” All of these things may be very good in their outward appearance. That is not the point. It is the inference that ‘in comparison’ to someone else, you are better and therefore you can put your trust in your own abilities to earn, or deserve, salvation. This attitude of self centered assurance is the real source of self righteousness for it denies a need for God.

Let’s face it, Christians are not perfect. We still have to fight against our old nature daily. That being said, Christians do need to be wary of falling into the pit of “self righteousness,” for we must be ever mindful that there is no righteousness aside from that which is given to us by the mercy and grace of God, through faith in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Righteousness can not be attained by what we do, but depends solely on what God has done for us. The Christian can never act morally superior to another. We must always remember ‘There, except for the grace of God, go I.’

There is a history of alcoholism in my family. I know the devastation caused by it. Because I have not fallen prey to it, does that give me the right to become ‘holier-than-thou’? Absolutely not! If anything, it should move me to a greater compassion for one who has. Does it mean that I should sit idly by, saying and doing nothing, watching another go down the path of destruction? Again, absolutely not! The Bible instructs Christians to warn each other about behavior that is not based on God’s standards as a means of helping one another escape from the snare of the enemy that seeks to destroy us. We are to do this out of sincere care and love for each other, not with an attitude of sanctimonious superiority. This is a part of the ministry of rebuke within the body of Christ.

The ministry of rebuke is vital and important to the lives of believers and to the health of the church. It is not an easy or popular ministry, and yet we are all called to be an instrument of rebuke from time to time. The Bible tells us that it is good and necessary to give, receive, and even invite rebuke as a tool to help each other grow and mature in the faith of the Lord. (Rom. 15: 14 – 16; Acts 20: 17 – 38) If we make no attempt to help one another by at least giving a warning, we become partially responsible for their demise. If a parent does not teach a child about the dangers of fire, then the harm that comes to the child is very much the consequences of an uncaring and negligent parent. Of course, the Christian who gives the warning (admonition, or confrontation of sin) must realize that the person on the receiving end may, or may not, be receptive to even considering the validity of what has been imparted. If we truly love one another, shouldn’t we take the risk?

All too often, we are unwilling to take part in the ministry of rebuke for fear of appearing arrogant, or as though we have everything together in our lives while there is a plank protruding out of our own eye. Then too, we are afraid that in telling the truth, we may place ourselves in a position that opens the door for someone to accuse us of being self righteous, and incur rejection from the very ones that we love and care about. However, I think the more important question is, are we to do that which pleases man, or focus on that which pleases God? I remember my Mama telling me that she would give me advice from time to time. At the same time, she also told me, it was up to me as to what I might decide to do with it- act on it, ignore it, or store it away to refer to at a future time. She was a pretty wise woman. She never demanded that I obey her advice, but only suggested that I might want to at least take it under consideration. That’s pretty much what God does. He gives us His Word and His Holy Spirit to advise and teach us, and then He leaves it up to our free will to either obey or disobey. We then “reap” what we “sow.” Christians are taught to lead godly lives, not as a means to earn our way to heaven, but to glorify God in all our ways.

The warning, advice, or rebuke, can often have a bite to it. No one ever truly enjoys having our sin pointed out to us. However, it’s all a part of the discipline of life. I may not always receive every criticism as being a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ moment, but even if it hurts, I believe it is wiser to consider it and then seek the Lord’s wisdom in dealing with the possibility of its truth in my life. I have favorite Bible verses that have helped me whether I have had to be on the receiving end of the criticism, or warning, or on the giving end. I have even ‘invited’ someone to tell me when or if they have thought I was in the wrong. In inviting such a rebuke, or correction, I was prevented from falling into an even bigger problem. The following are a couple of verses that have helped me many times over the years. “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil which shall not break my head…” (Psalm 141: 5) “The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise.” “He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.” ( Prov. 15: 31, 32 ) Far better to receive rebuke from one who loves you, than flattery from someone more interested in telling you what you want to hear, rather than caring enough about you to tell you the truth, even if it hurts. The one who loves you will remain by your side to help you through to the other side of the problem, if you so desire. The one who is more interested in ‘pleasing’ you by refraining from imparting truth, regardless of harmful consequences, will be content to sit on the side lines and watch you go slowly down the path of destruction and even death.

Read the Book of Proverbs and you will receive jewels of truth to live by. Oh, that we would all hunger and thirst after His Word that He could fill us with His wisdom. I truly am sorrowful for the children of this day whose parents see little or no need to bless their children by bringing them up under the nurture and admonition of the Lord. They are not even given the opportunity to “taste and see that the Lord He is good.” Children are robbed of the joy, peace, and sense of security that comes from praying and seeking God’s wisdom together as a family. Thank you Lord, ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I.” Lord, thank you for my parents, brothers, and sisters who all planted seeds of faith that I might be rooted and grounded in the Word of the Lord. That is my prayer for my children and their children. May the seeds of faith find fertile soil in the heart of each one.

Before we accuse someone of being self righteous, be willing to consider whether they are speaking truth that exalts the Lord, or are they simply stating their own opinions and thereby exalting themselves above God and His Word. Christians are, more often than not, criticized of being self righteous when simply proclaiming the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If in proclaiming Jesus as The Way, The Truth, and The Life, one is labeled as a self righteous person, then that Christian is in pretty good company. That proclamation came from Jesus Himself. He was ridiculed, scoffed at, persecuted, and crucified for having done so. If one is self righteous for saying that there is no other name by which one can be saved, then again, that proclamation came from Jesus when He said no one could come to the Father except through faith in Him. Giving all honor and praise to the Lord can not be equated as being self righteousness, though many make that assertion. When one gives all glory and honor to God for who He is and what He alone has done that can only be deemed as ‘Christ’s righteousness,’ not self righteousness. Jesus said: “It is written; man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”(Matt.4: 4) Either Jesus is who He said He is, or He is the biggest bigoted liar that has ever lived on earth, or He was a complete lunatic. He can’t be considered as a prophet or a ‘good’ man if He is a liar or a lunatic.

I believe the ministry of rebuke is an important biblical tool provided by God to contribute to one’s growth and maturity into the image of God. If we love one another, we must be willing to take the risk to receive and give admonition to one another in love. How will the child grow into a loving and caring person if he never receives correction along the way? The easiest way, for each individual to receive rebuke, is to be willing to recognize and condemn our own sinfulness, confess it to God, and ask Him to teach and correct us through His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s what I call being ‘Holy Spirit disciplined.” Also, before accusing another of being self righteous, shouldn’t we first be willing to at least consider the possibility that the word of warning or criticism may actually be given for our own good, as a reminder of what is acceptable in the sight of the Lord? It may sting us to the very core, but if it opens the door of correction to set us free from slavery to sin, isn’t it worth it? I personally owe a big thanks for all the times that my brothers and sisters have been willing to rebuke me in love. Sometimes they were not even aware that they were being used of the Lord, but I did. I can not count the times they have saved me from some disaster just by giving me a simple warning. When Christians care enough to tell one another that a certain behavior does not meet God’s standards (based on God’s Word, not man’s opinions), it is not to try to be sanctimonious or superior, but rather to warn them of the danger to their soul in light of their thoughts, words, or deeds.

The world is never going to accept Jesus as the only path to God. They imagine that they can make their own path to God because then they can also set their own standards, or lack thereof. A world view without the one true God enables man to forever sink into the mire of believing that “a man’s ways are right in his own eyes.” When self is the center and focus, it is exalted to position of god and there is no room for the true God. Christianity is the only religion that has a Savior. He alone came to earth, died and paid the price to redeem us from sin. He loved us first and provided the path to salvation and eternal life in heaven. Faith is the key to receiving salvation and the righteousness of Christ. All other religions depend on man’s own ability to ‘work out’ their own path to any god as they see fit according to their own opinions and vain imaginations. Jesus told us that He was going to be crucified. He said He would arise from the tomb and did so, as witnessed by the disciples and over five hundred other witnesses who saw Him over a period of forty days after His resurrection. Jesus said, “After I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me so that you may be where I am.” (John 14: 3) Witnesses saw Him as He was taken up in a cloud to return to Heaven and take His seat at the right hand of God the Father, and thereby forever intercede for us. Either He did all of this, or He did none of it. His Word is true and forever will stand. If that wasn’t enough, He has sent His Holy Spirit to indwell all who believe in Him, to lead and guide us into all truth. It is the Holy Spirit that calls to our hearts, and pleads with us to hear the Word of the Lord and receive Him as Lord and Savior.

Furthermore, He has told us to watch and be ready for His return. He is coming back to receive us unto Him. This life is but a small part of a journey which either leads us to our real home with Him, or eternal damnation without Him. We will either choose to believe in Him, or reject Him and go our own way. There is no other option. I stand on the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The world may deem that as proclaiming ‘self righteousness’, but I stand firm, without compromise, that it is not ‘self’ but rather ‘Christ Righteousness.’

When I was a little girl, I was given a book of Bible stories. It was my favorite book. One of the pictures was of Jesus standing and knocking on the door. I loved that picture then and now. My sister pointed out that something was missing on the door – it has no doorknob on the outside. Why, because Jesus does not enter unless He is invited in by the owner of the house. So it was and still is today, He stands at the door of your heart and waits for you to open the door, and for you to invite Him to come in to be your Savior and Lord. Won’t you open the door? Are you willing to tell Him that you are a sinner and that you need Him to forgive you? He wants to be Lord in your life and not just a convenient guest from time to time. He loves you and wants to be there with you at all times, and not just an occasional experience or visitor like a mere acquaintance.

Below are two entrees written by Max Lucado, a preacher and author, in his daily devotional book “Grace for the Moment, Volume 1”. I hope they will touch your heart as they have mine.

Sole Provider, Sole Comforter
(pg. 82)

“As long as Jesus is one of many options, he is no option.

As long as you can carry your burdens alone, you don’t need a burden bearer. As long as your situation brings you no grief, you will receive no comfort. And as long as you can take him or leave him, you might as well leave him, because he won’t be taken half-heartedly.

But when you mourn, when you get to the point of sorrow for your sins, when you admit that you have no other option but to cast all your cares on him, and when there is truly no other name that you can call, then cast all your cares on him, for he is waiting in the midst of the storm.”

The Only Path
(pg. 125)

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me.” (John 14: 6)

“Tolerance. A prized virtue today. The ability to be understanding of those with whom you differ is a sign of sophistication. Jesus too was a champion of tolerance:

Tolerance of the disciples when they doubted.
Tolerance of the crowds when they misunderstood.
Tolerant of us when we fall.

But there was one area where Jesus was intolerant. There was one area where he was unindulgent and dogmatic. . .

As far as he was concerned, when it comes to salvation, there aren’t several roads…there is only one road… There aren’t several paths…there is only one path. And that path is Jesus himself.

That is why it is so hard for people to believe in Jesus. It is much easier to consider him one of several options rather than the option. But such a philosophy is no option.”

Ginger Rahn


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