Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A Veneer of Righteousness

On one of the trees from which I recently was asked to remove some lower boughs so as to raise the canopy and to provide better symmetry to the tree’s canopy, I encountered a surprise. From the exterior of the limb through which I was sawing, the branch appeared to be healthy and strong. But as I cut through the limb, suddenly a brown and smelly liquid gushed forth. The following pictures display what I found inside.

From what the tree produced on its outside it was impossible to see what existed inside the tree.

This brought to my mind such Scriptures as these:

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? (Matthew 23:24-33)

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand: Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. (Matthew 15:8-20)

How true! The Lord Jesus lays before us the depiction of the sinful human heart. He being the one who knows the hearts of all mankind, who came to sacrifice Himself to redeem mankind, speaks truly of our miserable condition.

And we know this to be true even as we search our own hearts. Our continual inclination is to lie, to cover over what we know is deep within us. Our hearts are selfish, so we try to act generously, especially when we know that others are watching. Our hearts lust after every pleasurable thing in the world, so we try to cover this over with various sacrifices in our lives. Our hearts seethe with frustration and anger and even hatred, so we try to act kindly and to smile and to suppress our outward reactions. We doubt God’s goodness and we secretly desire to do things that we know are contrary to His good and gracious will, so we try to do various acts of goodness that are easily observed that give the appearance of right living and honesty. We do this both for what we hope others will see and thereby think of us, and even more importantly we do this for ourselves in an attempt to hide what we know really lurks deep within our hearts.

We pray, but we do not listen to what God has already declared. We attend worship, but we do not heed what God has ordained.

We apply a veneer of attempts at goodness and righteousness on the outside, but underneath the old Adam continues to act rebelliously against the Lord our God.

So how do we find help?

First the Holy Spirit must work repentance in our hearts, so that we humbly acknowledge the depth of our depravity and sinfulness. Then we willingly hear His call to the waters of salvation and confess our sins and receive His holy absolution. This changes us within as St. Peter writes:

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him. (1 Peter 3:18-22)

The Lord has ordained Baptism as the means by which our conscience is cleansed and set free of all that works against the holiness that God has decreed for us. In Baptism God takes all of our inward filth and fills us with His own holiness. This is called sanctification. Through Baptism the Holy Spirit enters our heart and justifies us, declaring that for Christ’s sake and through the power of the faith of Jesus that the atonement that He made for us truly redeems us. In connection with this declaration of justification we are set apart with the gift of God’s own name of holiness, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This name is bestowed upon us as our very own, now set apart as God’s own children of righteousness.

This knowledge that is made to be ours through the faith that the Holy Spirit creates within us changes us from the inside out. The baptized believer does not need an outward veneer of self-righteousness for a covering, for God has placed upon His newborn child His own robe of righteousness, namely, the righteous of Jesus Christ in connection with God’s holy name.

God has also ordained the Sacrament of the Altar where the body of Jesus is fed to us under the form of the bread that is blessed and the blood of Jesus is given to us to drink under the form of the wine that is blessed. Since God Himself has spoken this blessed Sacrament into being and commanded it on the night of His betrayal, we receive it in absolute confidence and receive through faith that which He promises. So we are renewed with the strength that He alone can give, strength to believe the impossible, that we are justified and sanctified as His beloved and holy children. Our confidence is because God is the one who is working this for us.

Because of this, we have no need for veneer. God removes all that is corrupt and rotten within us. Because of His grace nothing remains to cover with a veneer of righteousness. He has declared that for Christ’s sake we are righteous. Thus, our lives then begin to demonstrate the works that He has prepared for us that we may walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10 .

No comments: