Innocent

What do the news anchors mean when we hear, over and over: “More innocents were… today in…?” One definition of the word ‘innocent’ is:

In·no·cent

adjective

Not guilty of a crime or offense.

“the arbitrary execution of an innocent man”

Synonyms: guiltless, blameless, in the clear, unimpeachable, irreproachable, above suspicion, faultless; honorable, honest, upright, law-abiding; informal: squeaky clean

“he was entirely innocent”

Antonyms: guilty

Turns out, this is almost the same as the third definition for the word ‘good:’

Good

adjective

Possessing or displaying moral virtue.

“I’ve met many good people who made me feel ashamed of my own shortcomings”

Synonyms: virtuous, righteous, upright, upstanding, moral, ethical, high-minded, principled; exemplary, law-abiding, irreproachable, blameless, guiltless, unimpeachable, honorable, scrupulous, reputable, decent, respectable, noble, trustworthy; meritorious, praiseworthy, admirable; whiter than white, saintly, saint-like, angelic; informal: squeaky clean

“a good person”

Antonyms: wicked

The similarity is especially noticeable when we compare the synonyms. However, over the millennia, there has been only One among us that’s been unqualifiedly good. Speaking with the rich young ruler:

…Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. Luke 18:19 English Standard Version (ESV)

Recounted again:

…Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. Mark 10:18 (ESV)

And, getting to the core of the matter:

…He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” Matthew 19:17 (ESV)

The last remark seems outrageous, especially to our modern ears. How can we do such a thing as keep the commandments blamelessly (i.e., in innocence)? Concerning this very question:

[Jesus]…told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

“The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’”

Luke 18:9-12 (ESV)

The Pharisee claimed to practice the Law and thought himself righteous before God and better than his fellow-men.

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:13-14 (ESV)

The tax collector, on the other hand, fully expecting his due punishment, confessed his unworthiness under the Law and received mercy.

So we see it is by God’s mercy and unmerited favor, alone, that we can be justified (i.e., made right) before a holy and righteous God.

Who then is this holy and righteous one? To that, the scriptures attest:

Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.

Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.

Luke 23:46-48 (ESV)

Calvin and Spurgeon both comment on these verses. Let us look at what Calvin said:

Now the centurion. As Luke mentions the lamentation of the people, the centurion and his soldiers were not the only persons who acknowledged Christ to be the Son of God; but the Evangelists mention this circumstance respecting him for the purpose of heightening their description: for it is wonderful that an irreligious man, who had not been instructed in the Law, and was ignorant of true religion, should form so correct a judgment from the signs which he beheld.

This comparison tends powerfully to condemn the stupidity of the city; for it was an evidence of shocking madness, that when the fabric of the world shook and trembled, none of the Jews were affected by it except the despised rabble.

And yet, amidst such gross blindness, God did not permit the testimonies which he gave respecting his Son to be buried in silence. Not only, therefore, did true religion open the eyes of devout worshipers of God to perceive that from heaven God was magnifying the glory of Christ, but natural understanding compelled foreigners, and even soldiers, to confess what they had not learned either from the law or from any instructor.

Examining the confession, he said:

When Luke represents [the centurion] as saying no more than “certainly this was a righteous man,” the meaning is the same as if he had plainly said that he was the Son of God, as it is expressed by the other two Evangelists. For it had been universally reported that Christ was put to death, because he declared himself to be the Son of God.

Now when the centurion bestows on him the praise of righteousness, and pronounces him to be innocent, he likewise acknowledges him to be the Son of God; not that he understood distinctly how Christ was begotten by God the Father, but because he entertains no doubt that there is some divinity in him, and, convinced by proofs, holds it to be certain that Christ was not an ordinary man, but had been raised up by God.

Calvin then clarifies our understanding of the Centurion’s confession:

The words, he feared God, must not be so explained as if he had fully repented. It was only a sudden and transitory impulse, as it frequently happens, that men who are thoughtless and devoted to the world are struck with the fear of God, when he makes an alarming display of his power; but as they have no living root, indifference quickly follows, and puts an end to that feeling. The centurion had not undergone such a change as to dedicate himself to God for the remainder of his life, but was only for a moment the herald of the divinity of Christ.

And, finally, he explains the multitudes’ reaction and gives us warning:

As to the multitudes, by [beating] their breasts, they expressed the dread of punishment for a public crime, because they felt that public guilt had been contracted by an unjust and shocking murder. But as they went no farther, their lamentation was of no avail, unless, perhaps, in some persons it was the commencement or preparation of true repentance.

And since nothing more is described to us than the lamentation which God drew from them to the glory of his Son, let us learn by this example, that it is of little importance, or of no importance at all, if a man is struck with terror, when he sees before his eyes the power of God, until, after the astonishment has been abated, the fear of God remains calmly in his heart.

Therefore, be not amazed at these things, but truly repent and believe.

Jesus and His Active Obedience, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries, Published on January 17, 2013

Whose Strength?

Some days, we might wonder, “How can any of us continue this way?” The children, our spouses, the relatives or neighbors, our work schedules, these contentious elections, worries about terrorism here and war overseas; the list is endless. Perhaps your trials have dragged on over weeks, months, or even years. Can anyone bear up under such persistent pressure? Where is there strength to carry on one more day? The song writer, Asaph, penned these words:

My flesh and my heart may fail,

    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin summarizes the import of the entire song this way:

[The Psalmist]:

…Extolls the righteousness and goodness of God.

…Confesses that when he saw:

the wicked abounding in wealth, …scornfully mocking God, and cruelly harassing the righteous…

and the children of God […, who] practice uprightness, …weighed down by troubles and calamities, …were pining away…

while God, …did not interfere to remedy [this injustice.]

[This disparity] almost [caused] him to cast off all…religion and [his] fear of God.

[But, the Psalmist] reproves his own folly in rashly…pronouncing judgment, merely [based on] the present state of things…

…He concludes that, provided we leave the providence of God to take its own course, …in the end, …the righteous are not defrauded of their reward, and that, on the other, the wicked do not escape the hand of the Judge.

It is in this context that Asaph declares his own powerlessness to face what seems unjust: the wicked prosper, the godly suffer, and God doesn’t seem to care. Asaph also acknowledges his dependence on God for any ability to stand under this weight. As Calvin explains:

…There is here a contrast between the failing which [the Psalmist] felt in himself and the strength with which he was divinely supplied; as if he had said,

“Separated from God I am nothing, and all that I attempt to do ends in nothing; but when I come to Him, I find an abundant supply of strength.”

It is…necessary for us to consider what we are without God; …We will seek nothing from God but what we are conscious of [lacking] in ourselves. Indeed, all men confess this, [but the majority] think that all which is necessary is that God should aid our [weaknesses], or [give us assistance] when we have not the means…ourselves. [However, the Psalmist’s] confession…is far [stronger] than this when he lays, so to speak, his own nothingness before God.

He, therefore, …adds, that God is his portion…[denoting] the condition or lot with which every man is contented. …The reason why God is represented as a portion is, because He alone is abundantly sufficient for us, and because in Him the perfection of our happiness consists.

Whence it follows, that we are chargeable with ingratitude, if we turn away our minds from Him and fix them on any other object, as has been stated in Psalm 16:4, where David explains more clearly the import of the metaphor.

None of this means that we will escape from trouble in the here and now. We will go through it, and yet we have hope if we do well.

***

The Apostle Paul lived in the truth Asaph wrote about. When commending his service for God to the Church, he said:

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God. 2 Corinthians 3:5 (ESV)

We can see that Paul’s witness stands to this day. Since our sufficiency comes from Him, will you give up your own methods? Will I? We must rely on the Lord Jesus Christ’s strength alone in these perilous times.

Michael Roe – I Could Laugh (feat. Chris Taylor) – bd’s house 2014, Lyrics

There, But for God’s Grace and Mercy Through His Providence, Go I

John Calvin

John Calvin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why are we shocked when things like this, this, or this happen?

These sensational stories are tragic, no doubt. Scary, even. But we seem to think we’d never do or even be capable of such heinous acts. Then we bolt our door against our neighbor (rightly or wrongly, I can’t say; that’s up to you). Some believe we’re naturally moral. Still others say: red in tooth and claw.

The scriptures conclude we all fall short of God’s glory. But isn’t this an overstatement of our condition? Aren’t we really good, but just misguided, unmotivated, or low informational?

Paul, in the letter to the Romans, elaborates on what he concludes in case we were unsure:

11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16   in their paths are ruin and misery,
17    and the way of peace they have not known.”
18   “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

So, we have no excuse to be shocked at these sensational stories. This is the condition of man. However, if this is so, why then do we not claw and bite until we are no more?

John Calvin, a theologian not often cited now–a–days, suggests in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 1, chapter 17, and paragraph 11:

…How comes it, I ask, that their confidence never fails, but just that while the world apparently revolves at random, they know that God is everywhere at work, and feel assured that his work will be their safety? When assailed by the devil and wicked men, were they not confirmed by remembering and meditating on Providence, they should, of necessity, forthwith despond. But when they call to mind that the devil, and the whole train of the ungodly, are, in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how much so ever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless in so far as he permits, nay, unless in so far as he commands; that they are not only bound by his fetters, but are even forced to do him service,—when the godly think of all these things they have ample sources of consolation. For, as it belongs to the lord to arm the fury of such foes and turn and destine it at pleasure, so it is his also to determine the measure and the end, so as to prevent them from breaking loose and wantoning as they list…

So God not only constrains the evildoer but commands him to do His bidding, yet without complicity or taint thrown back upon Him. But why, if we’re this way, are we guilty at all?

Calvin says in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, book 1, chapter 17, and paragraph 5:

… As all contingencies whatsoever depend on it, therefore, neither thefts nor adulteries, nor murders, are perpetrated without an interposition of the divine will. Why, then, they ask, should the thief be punished for robbing him whom the Lord chose to chastise with poverty? Why should the murderer be punished for slaying him whose life the Lord had terminated? If all such persons serve the will of God, why should they be punished?

I deny that they serve the will of God. For we cannot say that he who is carried away by a wicked mind performs service on the order of God, when he is only following his own malignant desires. He obeys God, who, being instructed in his will, hastens in the direction in which God calls him.

But how are we so instructed unless by his word? The will declared by his word is, therefore, that which we must keep in view in acting, God requires of us nothing but what he enjoins. If we design anything contrary to his precept, it is not obedience, but contumacy and transgression. But if he did not will it, we could not do it. I admit this.

But do we act wickedly for the purpose of yielding obedience to him? This, assuredly, he does not command. Nay, rather we rush on, not thinking of what he wishes, but so inflamed by our own passionate lust, that, with destined purpose, we strive against him. And in this way, while acting wickedly, we serve his righteous ordination, since in his boundless wisdom he well knows how to use bad instruments for good purposes.

And see how absurd this mode of arguing is. They will have it that crimes ought not to be punished in their authors, because they are not committed without the dispensation of God. I concede more—that thieves and murderers, and other evil-doers, are instruments of Divine Providence, being employed by the Lord himself to execute the Judgments which he has resolved to inflict.

But I deny that this forms any excuse for their misdeeds. For how? Will they implicate God in the same iniquity with themselves, or will they cloak their depravity by his righteousness? They cannot exculpate themselves, for their own conscience condemns them: they cannot charge God, since they perceive the whole wickedness in themselves, and nothing in Him save the legitimate use of their wickedness

So, it is apparent that Romans 3 is true and we are not only held back from what we could do but others are employed to execute God’s judgments and, yet, are solely guilty of their transgression.

I see the tendency to do wrong in myself all the time. Do you? The only remedy is falling at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ in surrender because he says: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.