by Mike Ratliff
Tsadhe. Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules. You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness and in all faithfulness. My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words. Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it. I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts. Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true. Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight. Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live. (Psalms 119:137-144)
It was 1998 or 1999. Ina and I were at church on Wednesday night in Yukon, Oklahoma participating in a Q&A class lead by our pastor. He was a very brave man. He would field questions from anyone in the class and attempt to answer them. Over time, it came to be a challenge for one or more of us to come up with questions that perhaps could stump him. We were never able to do it. That Wednesday night in the late 1990s stands out vividly in my memory because someone (not me) asked him to explain the doctrine of justification. I had heard from several of our church leaders, as they taught, say something like, "The best way to understand justification is to say, 'Just as if I had never sinned.'" That night I expected him to reply in like manner, but he surprised me. He gave a very detailed answer that satisfied everyone.
Justification is one of the steps in the "Ordo Salutis," the order of salvation. God took the first step in this order before the foundation of the world.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:3-10 Emphasis Mine)
God chose His people before the foundation of world. That means He set His heart on those people and determined the plan to redeem them. That redemption would include the processes by which His people become holy and blameless before him. It would also include adoption through Jesus Christ. This is the essence of election. Many confuse election with predestination. Even though they both speak of God's determining the eternal blessing for His chosen, they speak of different aspects of that election.
The passage above speaks of God choosing His elect. God based this choice on His "foreknowing" the ones He chose.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)
Notice in this passage that this foreknowledge is speaking of people not what people are going to do. This foreknowledge is the act by God of His placing His love and affection on a specific group of people for a specific purpose. Election begins by God choosing those he foreknew. Since He placed His love and affection on His people, he determined to accomplish their redemption spoken of in Ephesians 1:3-10. To accomplish this He predestined them to be conformed to the image of His Son. Since Jesus Christ is holy and blameless, His characteristics are the pattern God predestined for His chosen. God set out from the beginning to redeem His chosen and He determined a specific way to accomplish it. Somehow, God must impute Jesus Christ's righteousness unto God's chosen. How did He accomplish this?
The death of Jesus Christ on the cross satisfied God's justice and eliminated His wrath against the sin in all who receive Jesus' righteousness. How does sinful Man receive this righteousness? All of Adam's descendants are born with a depraved sin nature. There is no love for God in any of them, and none seeks after God.
as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." "Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.", "There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Romans 3:10-18)
So, how does God save sinners who have no desire for salvation? He must somehow change sinners so they can believe, repent, and turn to Jesus for salvation.
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:30)
Those whom God has chosen He must also call. What is this "call?" This effectual call comes from the Holy Spirit. God the Father elects and predestines. Jesus Christ, God the Son, provides His particular redemption through His death and shed blood on the cross. God the Holy Spirit performs his efficaciously gracious work in the heart of the sinner that God has chosen. He begins by calling the sinner. He uses the general call of the gospel from preachers and faithful witnesses to strive in the Heart of the sinner. However, this is only the preparation work. The effectual call draws the sinner to God.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)
Once God draws the sinner to Himself, the Holy Spirit regenerates the sinner's heart making them a new creature. (2 Corinthians 5:17; Deuteronomy 32:18; John 1:13; John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Peter 1:23) This regeneration opens the conscience of the sinner to God's value system and it tears away the spiritual blindness between the conscience and the soul that results from hardheartedness. With this new spiritual awareness, the sinner sees the enormity of his or her sin then repents and turns to Jesus in belief. God is not done. Because the sinner received Jesus as Lord and savior and repented God the father declares the sinner in right standing before Him based upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Jesus died in their place and became the propitiation for their sins. It is Jesus' righteousness that God the Father sees when He looks upon the chosen. This is Justification. It is God's work alone.
The title of the stanza we are examining in this chapter is "Tsadhe." The first line in this stanza is, "Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules." Many feel the doctrines of grace present God in an unfair light. They believe our holy and righteous God would not do something unfair such as choosing only some people for salvation while sending the rest to hell. They are missing the point. No one deserves salvation. If we got what we deserved we would receive justice. Fairness speaks of justice. If we received justice not one of us would be saved. We would all go to hell. (Romans 3:10-18) Election is neither fair nor unfair because its basis is totally within God's grace. God's efficacious grace whereby some men are saved speaks of God's mercy. His ways are right because He is righteous. We have no leg to stand on if we accuse Him of being unfair by electing some and not others because not one of us is worthy of His grace. That is what makes grace what it is. It is unmerited favor. God extends His grace to the His chosen as an act of love and mercy.
The second line in this stanza is, "You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness and in all faithfulness." God is faithful. What God says He will do He does. He never fails to be faithful. Those in Christ should have a wonderful peace knowing God chose them before the foundation of the world by setting His affections upon them. Because of that, He predestined them to be conformed unto the image of Jesus Christ. To accomplish that, He provided His son to die in their place thereby purchasing them with His blood. At the appropriate time He called them with His effectual grace, regenerated their heart so they could repent and believe then He justified them by declaring them righteous. According to the doctrines of grace, all whom God saves are secure in their faith and can never fall away because He preserves them by His grace.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The LORD preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. (Psalms 145:17-20 Emphasis Mine)
The third, fourth and fifth lines in this stanza are, "My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words. Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it. I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts." After God breaks through our understanding and we accept, by faith, the veracity of the doctrines of grace a wonderful change occurs in our hearts. We see the incredible work of God in our salvation. We see that our salvation was a work by God alone. He did it all. There is not one thing we can boast about when it comes to our salvation.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
After this sinks home, we become humble because we realize the Lord saved us without us choosing or deciding. We are not in Christ because we made the right decision while the lost did not. No, we are saved because God chose us and saved us. This new reality produces an incredibly deep love for God that only grows deeper as our sanctification proceeds. When we experience persecution or ridicule for our faith we do suffer, but it only increases our joy. We see the Lord's faithfulness in every circumstance. With humility driving how we walk through this life we no longer seek self-promotion or self-protection. This makes us appear small and insignificant in the world's eyes. However, this draws us even closer to the Lord because we have entered the Valley of Humiliation where we can experience the depths of God's love and grace.
The sixth, seventh and eighth lines in this stanza are, "Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true. Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight. Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live." How true! This is the cry of our hearts as the enormity of our salvation sinks home. When God revealed the doctrines of grace to me along with the "Ordo Salutis," all of my misunderstandings and questions about salvation vanished. I have a friend who told me the moment for her came as a sudden crystallization of truth. The peace and joy we experience when God opens our hearts like this are the substances of a very profound defining moment. My joy at finding these truths rivaled that of when I learned to walk in the Spirit. God's righteousness is forever and He has imparted it to all of those in Christ. How profound is that?
The simplicity of the doctrines of grace compliments the simplicity of the gospel. That should not surprise us since the former defines the latter. One of the things God used to bring home the veracity of the doctrines of grace in my heart was their beautiful simplicity. All alternative forms of the gospel are complex and ever evolving. The doctrines of grace never change because they are grounded in scripture. These doctrines express the simplicity of the gospel. The Arminian and Pelagian gospels take the profoundness of God's efficacious grace and replace it with a corrupt man-based decision oriented gospel that glorifies the sinner.
We see in v143 in this passage where those in Christ will still suffer trouble and anguish. It think it is very interesting and revealing that most Arminian churches teach that perfection is obtainable to Men along with freedom from pain and suffering. In the last chapter, we looked at the sanctification process God uses to mature us unto Christ-likeness. That process is actually innumerable tests and trials designed specifically for each of us to guide us to trust God and build up our faith. Sorrow and suffering are our dearest companions in this as we remain in the Valley of Humiliation completely within the grace of our Lord. This truth should reveal the fallacy of any version of the gospel that is decision based.
God justifies whom He calls and saves. That means the Father sees all who are in Christ as having the same righteousness and Jesus Christ our Lord. In the light of that how should we live? In this stanza, we see a zealous yet humble believer who sees his suffering as an instrument of God's grace. The psalmist is not running away from God's sanctification. He is hurting yet He submits to it fully trusting that God is perfecting his faith. We must learn to model him.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.