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Our righteousness and law and gospel

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent 1

Text: Psalm 25:1-10

By: Kevin Sam

Our righteousness through law and gospel

In the original language of Hebrew, Psalm 25 was written as an acrostic psalm. (explain acrostic, e.g., “christmas”).  There’s 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and there are exactly 22 verses in this psalm.  It was also written as a prayer to God.  It is a prayer asking the LORD God for instruction and guidance.  When You read the entire psalm, vv.1-22, you can really get into the feelings of the psalmist.  He comes to the LORD with a humble attitude and also in faith because he believes that God forgives him of his sins.  He realizes the sins of his past life were many, and that he still has sins.  In v.7, he says: “Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness' sake, O LORD!”

He makes his plea to God saying: “Lord, I know I have a lot of sins.  They go way back all the way to my early days when I was young and ignorance.  He says please don’t judge me from my old days. I know that your love is steadfast, so remember me because you are good.  In v.18, he says “Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive me all my sins.”  Then in v.19, he continues: Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me.  O guard my life and deliver me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.”  Do you know why he’s turning to the Lord and asking for forgiveness?  It’s because he’s in trouble.   This psalmist guy’s just like us.  He is turning to the LORD when he is in trouble.

The words of “steadfast love” have a deep meaning.  I looked up synonyms of similar meaning to “steadfast”:  [ unshakable, unwavering, firm, constant, reliable, stable ]  That’s the love of God. These two words of “Steadfast love” are written all over the psalms.  It was a very well-known characteristic of God in the O.T.  This means that the gospel or good news is also in the O.T.  Even though we get the idea that God is also known as a judge in the O.T., he is also known as very compassionate, loving, and is willing to forgive us of our sins. And that’s the LORD God in whom the people of Israel trusted, even as they looked toward their coming Messiah.

Even though the psalmist is asking for forgiveness, and he’s pleading to God to save him from his enemies who want to see him destroyed, he is lifting God up and saying good things about God.  When you want some help from somebody, it’s in our human nature to boost him up first (you prime the pump a little) and then he’d be more willing to help you.  And that’s exactly what the psalmist is doing.

 “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.  He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” (Psa 25:1 NRSV). The psalmist gives praise to God.  He has nothing but good things to say about the ways of God.   

Then he asks the LORD for direction and guidance.  He is asking the LORD to teach him his paths: “Lead me in your truths, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.”  (v.5).  isn’t that what we do too?

We try to do things on our own.  And us men, sometimes we don’t read instructions.  We think we can put something together more quickly.  Then when it doesn’t work or fit right, then we look at the instructions.  Or have you ever had someone tell you: “when you’re ready to get something done, let me know. I can help you.  Sometimes, we don’t want to inconvenience them.   Why bother them?  I can do.  Then, when you’re doing it doesn’t work, or it actually breaks down.  Then you’re trouble...big trouble.  Then you call them up: “Remember when you said just let me know when you’re going to start this project?   Well, I started on it, but I can’t get it to work.”

This is how we approach God most of the time.  The psalmist here is no different.  He is now coming to God and saying: “Hey LORD!  You’re a good God. A really good God. You do this and you do that.  And you do it well.  Look at all the good things you’ve done.  You’re my man.  But look LORD, I’ve done some stupid in my life before and I’ve done it again.” “Relieve me the troubles of my heart and bring me out of my distress.” (v.17).  “I’m going to listen to you this time.”  “Teach me your ways.  Lead me in your truth, and teach me, because you are the God of my salvation.”

The psalmist is just like us.  I like this guy. He’s honest.  At least he humbled himself and he came to the LORD to seek out wisdom.  We can learn from this guy.  Like for the psalmist, God is able to teach us through his wisdom how to move from our own man-centered ways to the ways of God. As we learn of God’s ways and learn to obey, God allows us to stay on his paths of righteousness—which is what we sometimes call straight and narrow. God shows us not only through the law, but he also guides us through his gospel or good news.  In this psalm, we see how both law and gospel is at work in the psalmist.

In our way of thinking of Christian ideas, you probably heard of ‘law and gospel’ (a term used in theology).  This is a very important term to know. To live as a moral human being, we need both law and gospel.  These two things are very important to us and they go together in our evangelical theology.  I’ll briefly define this term. Then describe what the law is, then describe what the gospel is. 

The gospel is really what the good news of Jesus Christ is about.  It’s about the LORD sending his son Christ Jesus to us so that our sins or wrong doings may be forgiven.  It’s basically a promise or a covenant that God has made to us that tells us that we are forgiven, have been given new life, and have salvation, because we are his children. In the psalmist’s plea for forgiveness, that is gospel.  He is confident of God’s forgiveness and grace.  God’s forgiveness throught Christ is the essence of our Christian faith. Now onto law.

The psalmist also spoke of law when he says that God instructs sinners in the way and teaches the humble his ways.  Instruction is really law that comes from God’s grace and love for us.  Now, in our traditional way of thinking of law, what first comes to mind are statutes or prescribed laws of the land?  They help to steer us in the right direction.  They exist to show us what is right and wrong. We need the law to show us the way we ought to go.  It also shows us our limitations as moral human beings because it’s like a measuring stick that tells us when we fail, or don’t make that ideal mark in life.  Paul in Romans 3:23 says: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  The law is nothing new to us.  We don’t just have laws in the bible. We also have many more laws in civil society. (traffic, environmental, business, education, health, manufacturing, labor, building and construction, etc.).  It seems like it’s almost too much.  We have laws that govern everything in life.

Secondly,  like gospel, the law can also be seen as a promise, but it’s more like a conditional promise.  For example: “If you do this, I will do this for you.  And if you don’t do this, you will die.” [give an example.]  Thirdly, the law is also known as instruction to help guide us (like advice from a wise person).   So law is basically known as prescribed laws and instructions.

The law tells us that there are some consequences in this life.  This is very natural to us as human because we resort to using the law when being nice doesn’t seem to work.  Sometimes, we find it easier to just let things slide, take it easy, sit back, relax.  But then we find that it doesn’t turn out the way we would like it to because people may take advantage of us and our kindness.  It’ in our human nature.  So we run our society by laws.

In the western world, where common law was formed, we are known as a society that follows the law and we run all our affairs by the enforcing the law.  Our laws aim to shape society in ways that are supposed to be helpful to all people rather than be a hindrance.  But our laws does not always achieve this intended purpose.  Sometimes, our laws help us, but sometimes they don’t, and they get in the way of our freedoms and even our rights.  And that is why we complain. Here in the west, we complain about gun laws, and all this bureaucratic red tape in trying to get business done.  We can no longer discipline our children anymore for fear of social services.  In the East, people want more gun control because crime committed with guns can be a big problem.  In some families, child abuse might be a big problem.

It may seem ironic or paradoxical (big word that means that something doesn’t make complete sense but may be true), but societies that are free, need the law to shape our moral consciousness (people) so that we can learn to become a moral society.  That is how a free and democratic society works.  But we also need freedom and freedom comes when we are a moral people.  What also shapes us into a moral people are not just laws but the good news of forgiveness.  We also need the gospel to teach us that there is forgiveness.

The good news comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus came not just to die in our place to remove our sins, but he also wants us to learn how to forgive.  Jesus taught us to forgive 70 times 7.  He taught us how to pray: “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. (Mat 6:12 NLT)”. After the Pharisees dragged out the  woman who had committed adultery, and wanted to stone her, Jesus drew a line in the sand and said: “Those who are without sin, go ahead and cast the first stone.” Jesus showed her forgiveness for sins and told her to sin no more.  This is what the gospel is.  It’s good news for those of us who are sinners or law breakers. 


From Psalm 25, we see how God uses the law to guide us on the right path, but God also uses the good news of his forgiveness to help us stay on the path of righteousness.  How forgiveness does this is that it provides us a way out of the old path so that we can start anew.  Imagine if people kept a list of all your wrongs and held you to it.  Sometimes, children run away from home for many reasons. Sometimes marriages also end for many reasons.  One reason is that children or spouses don’t practice and experience forgiveness at home...only judgment, and they make them remember all the bad things that they’ve done.  There is no way out.  You could not start over again so that you can do things better and improve how you do them.  If our world functioned this way, we would have no chance to start fresh and start new.  But Jesus does provide us a way out of the old.  He gives us a chance, actually many chances to start afresh, to start over again.  He allows us to learn how to live more righteously so that we may be a people who feel close to God.  So that our relationship with God would not have barriers. 

Our church needs to function in the same way. Our church should be known as a place where not only God offers forgiveness, but we as people offer forgiveness.  And how we function and work out our daily lives in the workplace and in our families and in our social lives should be gospel-oriented and Christ-oriented.  We need to practice the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ in every aspect of our daily lives wherever we are in the world, and we need to practice it with all people: our family, our friends, people we know and like and even people we may not like, especially with them.

When confession and true repentance is there, you will find forgiveness.  Forgiveness may not always be easy.  It’s especially hard when the wrongs committed against us are many and grievous. But God can help you.  The Spirit of God can empower you, can comfort you and soften your heart to forgive. You will know it when he comes.  He will come in a gentle way, in a compassionate loving way.  He will also bring conviction into your heart and show you how to forgive. 

This is a path of righteousness.  This may be our prayer as well: “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.”  (Psa 25:1 NRSV).

In this advent season, as we wait for the coming of Christ, may we anticipate the good news that he brings into our world.  And may the Lord show you how to spread the good news of love, hope and peace that brings forgiveness to all people around us.  May all glory, honor and praise be unto our father God, to Jesus his son and to the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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