The following is often asked if we are justified by faith, how do we understand all of those promises in the Old Testament saying that if we do good stuff, we get good stuff and if we do bad stuff, we get bad stuff?
Reading Micah has given me a lot to think about.
Is it being said, O house of Jacob:
‘Is the Spirit of the Lord impatient?
Are these His doings?’
Do not My words do good
To the one walking uprightly? (Micah 2:7)
You who hate good and love evil…[These men] will cry out to the Lord, But He will not answer them. Instead, He will hide His face from them at that time because they have practiced evil deeds. (Micah 3:2, 4)
Certainly God blesses those who do good. He also punishes those who do evil. This is what Micah is speaking about. Good works do good for the upright and evil deeds result in God hiding His face. The way I interpret these is that God blesses those who do good with spiritual blessings and those who do wrong with no such blessings, leaving one open to temptation by Satan.
As Job observed, God does not necessarily give wealth and health to those who do good alone. In fact, the opposite is often the case. The Lord Himself stated that “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45)
So, we should not get confused when God promises blessings or lack thereof with the idea of justification (how we are judged by God). Now, the Bible is clear concerning how we are justified. Only those who do good are judged as upright before God. This is not legalism, this is the clear testimony of Scripture:
“I, the Lord, have spoken; it is coming and I will act. I will not relent, and I will not pity and I will not be sorry; according to your ways and according to your deeds I will judge you,” declares the Lord God. (Ezek 24:14)
Before it is said, “We have to interpret the Old Testament using the New Testament,” let us not forget Revelation 20:13 which says: “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.”
This is why the doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers is so important. Because, those who have faith in Christ in effect are righteous and have fulfilled the Law:
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:4-5)
It is my contention that those who have faith in Christ are equipped by the Holy Spirit to do good deeds that are actually pleasing to God. All good deeds apart from faith in God have unholy and selfish motivations. God does not want us doing good so that others may loves us (even the wicked love those who love them), or for the sake of duty, or the sake of pride, or because our mom told us to when we are five and we do so out of vain conditioning.
No, God wants good deeds to come from not hearts of stone, but hearts of flesh, hearts that yearn to obey God and do His will. This is why Paul, who says we are not under the Law, in fact “uphold the Law.” (Romans 3:31)
Furthermore, Ephesians 2:8-10 says that we are saved by grace, through faith. The reason God has chosen a peculiar people, an elect, is so that they may do the actual good works God has predestined for them to do.
This is why Paul says, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:12-13)
The deeds do not permit us to live, it is our faith in Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit that does. Faith makes us justified before God, because God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us. Because there is something supernatural going on, being that we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, we will and must do good deeds. Those that don’t, it is safe to say, do not have the Spirit abiding in them and are unsaved.
Thus, deeds are not the basis in which we are saved, but they are the hallmark of a saved people.
Even in Old Testament times, this was true. God never desired rote legalism, sacrifices, or anything else. He desired obedient hearts in all things.
Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:7-8)
And what can be more humbling than the fact that we are not saved by our own works, or wisdom, but by His grace alone through faith alone? There was nothing good in us that would make God desire us, yet He had mercy.
The godly person has perished from the land,
And there is no upright person among men.
All of them lie in wait for bloodshed;
Each of them hunts the other with a net.
The best of them is like a briar,
The most upright like a thorn hedge. (Micah 7:2, 4)
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“I will assemble the lame
And gather the outcasts,
Even those whom I have afflicted.
“I will make the lame a remnant
And the outcasts a strong nation,
And the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion
From now on and forever.” (Micah 4:6-7)
The beauty of this promise! Even though none of us are righteous, the best of us like a briar, God will take those whom He punished beforehand for their wickedness, such as me, and He will change them! Shouldn’t we understand hardship in this light?
In a dream, a vision of the night,
When sound sleep falls on men,
While they slumber in their beds,
Then He opens the ears of men,
And seals their instruction,
That He may turn man aside from his conduct,
And keep man from pride;
He keeps back his soul from the pit,
And his life from passing over into Sheol. (Job 33:15-18)
So, obviously God disciplines the ones He loves, so that they will grow in spiritual maturity and grow in humility!
Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy.
Though I fall I will rise;
Though I dwell in darkness, the Lord is a light for me.
I will bear the indignation of the Lord
Because I have sinned against Him,
Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me.
He will bring me out to the light,
And I will see His righteousness. (Micah 7:8-9)
So, don’t be confused when you reap what you sow, because of your sin. But, when others see you suffering, may they not rejoice over it. Because, even though you are blessed for good and punished for your own evil, you do not plead your own case. Jesus Christ pleads your case from His own righteousness, as there is no such righteousness of your own, you briar, that you can boast about. So, “let Him who boasts boast in the Lord!” (1 Corinthians 1:31)
Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity
And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?
He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights in unchanging love.
He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquities under foot.
Yes, You will cast all their sins
Into the depths of the sea.
You will give truth to Jacob
And unchanging love to Abraham,
Which You swore to our forefathers
From the days of old. (Micah 7:18-20)
Thanks be to God, who though we sin will remember it no more. Though we have broken His ordinances, He abolished “in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances,” (Eph 2:15) “having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Col 2:14) This has always been the plan and promise of God.