Study # 11
Thesis: The specific content of the understanding of the righteous has three parts: the sinful incapacity of man; the independent efficacy of Grace; and righteousness by faith.
Introduction: [Read Luke 1:15-17.] In our prior studies we have seen that John's ministry was predicted to prepare many in Israel for the coming of the Lord. In our study last week we focused upon the need for a change of heart in order for a person to be prepared for the coming of the Lord. We noted that if the heart is not changed, the person is not prepared -- no matter what he says with his mouth in terms of his claims regarding his possession of a relationship with Yahweh. This morning we are going to look at the second ingredient involved in preparing people for the coming of the Lord. It is given to us in the prediction that John would turn the "disobedient to the attitude of the righteous." This ingredient focuses upon the mind in distinction from the first ingredient which focuses upon the heart. The issues are the heart as the root of the values one holds and the mind as the repository of the beliefs one exercises. There are two questions: who are the "disobedient" and "what is the attitude of the righteous"?
November 9, 2003
- I. Identifying the Disobedient.
- A. In general terms, the disobedient are those who are in contrast to Zacharias and Elizabeth who were "walking in all of the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless."
- B. But in more specific terms, the disobedient are those who "possessed not the faith of Zacharias and Elizabeth" -- because the word translated "disobedient" literally means "the unpersuaded".
- 1. That one will be disobedient who is unpersuaded goes without saying, for faith is the engine that drives all behavior; thus, the translation "the disobedient".
- 2. To use a term that focuses upon "persuasion" is to immediately introduce the question of the content of things believed/disbelieved -- what is it about which they are unpersuaded?
- C. Thus, the disobedient are those who simply have not bought into the concepts that the just consider absolutely basic and foundational.
- II. Identifying the Concepts of the Just.
- A. Here we begin walking upon theological eggshells.
- 1. Since the just are identified in close conjunction with the characterization of them as "walking in all of the commandments...blameless", many folks immediately identify the "just" as those who got to be that way by obedience.
- a. This error is actually reinforced by the translation of the term "unpersuaded" as "disobedient".
- b. The error involves an unsubstantiated jump in reasoning.
- 1) When a person is characterized a given way, it is not unusual for people to start looking for a "cause" that has produced this "effect".
- 2) And, when we factor in a basic pride-based and pervasive error regarding our moral nature, it is almost normal for the cause to be switched with the effect -- taking Zacharias and Elizabeth's being "righteous before the Lord" to be the effect of their "walking blamelessly" instead of the other way around. [Remember the"Woe" Isaiah pronounced upon those who call evil good and good evil -- i.e. turning issues around 180 degrees]
- 2. However, the Old Testament is abundantly clear on this fact: righteousness before God is a given on the basis of faith in a promise without consideration of a person's behavior.
- a. Genesis 15:6 is the early standard.
- b. Habakkuk 2:4 is a New Testament foundation -- quoted three times to validate New Testament theology in respect to the means to justification. [Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38]
- B. But we can identify the core concepts of the Just.
- 1. First, Luke 1:77 identifies salvation with forgiveness of sins and Luke 3:3 identifies repentance with forgiveness of sins.
- a. This means that the first concept to which the Just subscribe is that of the sinfulness of humanity.
- 1) At this point, this question naturally arises: what does the "sinfulness of humanity" mean?
- a) Does it mean free-will aberrations from what is righteous?
- b) Or, does it mean enslaved-will aberrations from what is righteous?
- c) In a word, the question is the degree of human sinfulness: is it a problem that men can rectify so that all that needs to happen is for men to repent and promise to never do it again, or is it a problem that is beyond human rectification to the degree that even repentance is not humanly possible?
- 2) The answer to the question is in our text, in the words "he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb".
- a) The degree of sinfulness is a question of the degree of bondage to which man is held by Sin.
- b) There is simply no point to the idea that one would be filled with the Holy Spirit if his own spirit was sufficiently capable to meet his responsibility.
- b. The Just always subscribe to the thesis that their sin is beyond their capacity.
- 2. Second, Gabriel's instruction to name the boy John tells us that there is a danger that men will jump too quickly from sin to faith and overlook the foundations in Grace.
- a. This means that the second concept to which the Just subscribe is that of the grace of Yahweh.
- 1) As we have seen in earlier studies, grace is a characteristic that maintains a deliberate separation of itself from the activities or attitudes of men so that God does not take man's "qualities" into account when He decides to act or not act in their regard.
- 2) Thus, the Just never attribute their identity to anything in them -- nothing that was in them to begin, nor anything that may have developed in them since.
- b. The Just always subscribe to the thesis that it was divine initiative with no cause in themselves that brought them to their identity.
- c. However, be clear on this point: it was this concept that was weakest in the understanding of Zacharias; and, being weakest, it had the least impact upon him. [In this way, Zacharias is pretty much the standard example of most believers who get really doctrinally confused because they have a weak or false grasp of the graciousness of Yahweh]
- 3. Third, Gabriel's discipline upon Zacharias for being "unpersuaded" indicates that faith is a crucial ingredient in the identity of the Just.
- a. This means that the third concept to which the Just subscribe is that sinfulness is only resolved by Grace through faith.
- 1) This, obviously, means we need to understand what faith is.
- 2) This understanding is, again, given to us in the text as Gabriel reacts to Zacharias' obvious lack of persuasion.
- 3) To believe is to be persuaded that what is promised will be delivered by the One making the promise (Romans 4's classic definition of faith).
- b. The Just always subscribe to the thesis that they were brought to their identity by the persuasion of the Gracious God Who made His promise live in their particular case.
- III. Conclusion.
- A. John was predicted to have a significant instrumentality in the alteration of the hearts of many in Israel.
- B. John was predicted to have a significant instrumentality in the alteration of the disbelief of many in Israel.
- C. As the prophecies unfolded, many in Israel were prepared for the coming of the Lord.
- D. As many since John have considered the seeds of Truth sown by him, many more have become prepared for the coming of the Lord.