GRACE NOTES- PASTORAL LETTER 5.31.23

Monthly memory verse: “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” (Heb 4:14).

Dearly beloved saints of Covenant of Grace,

I hope this note finds you and yours doing well and full of the joy of salvation.  I have been praying for you this week, asking the Lord to draw your minds and hearts ever closer to Him, helping you to continually delight in Him as the sum and substance of your salvation, your peace with God, and your everlasting hope, and to count all as loss compared to the blessing of knowing Him.  That was the mind of the apostle as he wrote his letter to the Philippians long ago, and I pray it will increasingly be ours as well.

As he writes to the Philippians, Paul notes that he of all people might seem to have something to boast about in terms of personal righteousness.  Listen as he writes in manner that he elsewhere characterizes as foolishness in order to make a point: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil 3:4b-6).  And what is his point?  His point is simply that if anyone, anywhere were to have any chance of obtaining a right standing with God based upon his own righteousness, then Paul would be that person.  Born and circumcised into God’s visible church under the Old Covenant.  And, a standout even among those devoted to trying to live according to the law – diligent in studying God’s law and so fervent in opposing those who opposed it that aggressively opposed those who promoted what he previously viewed as heresy (that is, followers of Christ).  Indeed, concerning living according to the law, at least its outward requirements, he could say he was blameless – free from any obvious violation of its commands.  How pious he must have appeared!  How religious and devout!  What a model worthy of imitation!  What a far cry above many today, who, when asked about their hope of eternal life in the presence of God, supposed that they’ll be alright because they believe they are, “better than most,” or, “a pretty good person.”  Here is a man who would be first in line if it were in any way possible to obtain a right standing with God – to be declared righteous and welcomed into everlasting life – by one’s own goodness of life.  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, and so speaking infallible truth, Paul says that, of all people, he might seem to have something to boast about in terms of personal righteousness.

And yet, Paul goes on to say that he considers his supposed personal righteousness as refuse next to the far more valuable blessing of knowing Jesus Christ and having His righteousness.  Having spoken of his own credentials, Paul then adds, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil 3:7-9).  Here, says the apostle, is the only way that anyone – including him, the most apparently “righteous” among men – can hope to obtain a right standing with God.  Not by looking back over our lives and concluding that we’ve done pretty well, or even the best we could.  Not by ensuring that we live so as to be in the top fifty, then, or even five percent of mankind on some kind of “goodness scale.”  Not by engaging in Scrooge-like reforms, being far kinder and more generous from here on.  But only by learning that all our righteousness is, as the prophet declares, is nothing more than a pile of polluted garments, filthy rags (cf. Isa 64:6).  By understanding that we were born corrupt from the heart, and that all that we have ever done and said has been tainted with sin.  By realizing and confessing that we ourselves, and all that we have done, falls short of God’s glorious standard of righteousness.  Therefore, admitting that we have need of a righteousness far better than our own – one given to us from outside ourselves, yet counted as our own – or we must surely perish.  And thus, looking to the One whom God has provided to be that righteousness for all who trust in Him, namely His perfect Son – believing that HIs sinless life and death for sin are fully sufficient to satisfy God’s righteous demands upon us, calling all else (all our supposed goodness of character and life) as loss, and being united to Jesus Christ by faith.  This is what Paul gladly did so long ago, and what everyone must do who would be counted righteous before the perfect bar of God’s judgment.

Let us therefore learn so to think and so to speak.  Let us put away all bragging and boasting about how uprightly we’ve lived, as if we were any more deserving of God’s love and blessing than anyone else.  And let us instead learn to confess that, judged strictly by our own merit, we would be cast away in the same direction as the worst of sinners (a title that Paul elsewhere applied to himself!).  In so doing, we will find renewed humility, a broad place in our hearts and lives for gratitude and praise, and a gospel worth proclaiming to others – the only one that is the power of God for salvation – namely, that Christ came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance, and that He Himself is all the righteousness anyone who comes to Him will ever need (cf. Lk 5:32; 1 Cor 1:30-31).

May He grant that this mind would be found among us, and may the glory be His for the praise that results and as we, and others by us, learn to delight in that name assigned to Him from of old, “The LORD our righteousness” (Jer 33:16).

In Christ,

Pastor Eric

P.S.

Join us for the prayer meeting each Wednesday in the Fellowship Hall – dinner is served at 6:00pm, followed by a brief lesson and a time of prayer at 6:30.  Or, join us