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Monday, March 19, 2018

As Sheep Among Wolves, part 3 - Vindicated vs. Ungodly

Introduction
            My family jokes we live at "Mullis Farm".  This is partially due to the fact we live way out in the country around a bunch of other farms and we have had (or still have) a number of farm animals as pets--chickens, goats, pigs, and turkeys.  It's also because we have so many other animals--three dogs, four cats, and some pet fish! It's quite the farm at "Mullis Farm."
            One of the animals at Mullis Farm is a big black dog we call Cookie.  Cookie showed up on our doorstep as a stray puppy needing a home.  We took her in and she grew to 70 pounds!  She has a deep, scary bark, but she's a harmless scaredee-cat most of the time.  That is, most of the time...
            We usually keep our chickens locked up in a pen to keep them safe from the wild predators that roam around Cohutta like coyotes, owls, and hawks.  We have to keep the chickens safe, because they are more like pets to us than farm animals.  However, we do like to let the chickens out to scratch around for bugs on pretty days when we can keep an eye on them. 
            The first summer we had chickens, we made a grizzly discovery one afternoon while the chickens were out grazing.  Cookie grabbed one and carried it off to the bushes!  We found her chewing on it's dead carcass!  We were devastated.  Since our pets are like family, it was as if on of our family members murdered another family member! 
            Over the years, we've learned Cookie cannot control herself when it comes to the chickens.  If she has the opportunity, she will kill.  When she sees a chicken wandering around the yard, she will even look at us with mournful eyes as if to say, "Please help me!  I don't want to kill that chicken, but if you don't do something to stop me, I know I will."  It's not all Cookie's fault if a chicken dies.  As a natural predator, she has an instinct to kill that she can't overcome.  In the wild that instinct would help her survive, but as a house pet it's a real weakness.  So, when the chickens are out roaming the yard, we either put Cookie in the house or hook her to a chain so she can't get the chickens.  And as long as we do, the chickens are safe.

Matthew 10:16-20 16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. 17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. 18 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.[a] 19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. 20 For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Key Verse – Matthew 10:16 - 16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.
            We haven't had sheep at Mullis Farm (yet!).  However, we’ve had goats.  Baby goats are so cute and innocent.  The first time a held a baby goat, I was struck by the difference between baby goats and puppies or kittens.  Puppies and kittens are cute too--little fur balls who love to play.  If you've ever see one, you know what I mean.  They will chase a ball or wrestle or bat around a wad of paper and it's a joy to behold.  What they are really doing, though, is practicing.  As puppies and kittens chase and pounce, they are honing the hunting and killing skills of a predator.  Puppies and kittens have fangs and claws--tools designed for catching and killing other animals.  That's just a fact of nature.  That's the way they were designed. 
            Now contrast that to a baby goat (and this would be true of a lamb too).  Goats aren't predators; they're omnivores and eat only grass or leaves.  They have no claws, no fangs.  Their simple teeth are designed only for chewing vegetation.  A baby goat or lamb is the most harmless animal.  When it plays, it's full of joy!  It jumps and bounds and runs and prances as playfully as any puppy or kitten.  The difference is it has no predatory instincts at all.  It doesn't grab you or wrestle  or bite.  Those behaviors aren't part of their psychology at all.  They will never grow up to hunt or kill another animal.  That's just the way sheep and goats are designed.
            Now, do you think sheep are good because they never kill?  No.  Sheep are neither good nor bad.  They are merely sheep.  They are just living out the design God gave them.  Do you think wolves are bad because they kill?  No.  Wolves are neither good nor bad.  They are merely wolves.  They're just living out the design God gave them.  You can't really fault these different types of animals for acting on they're natural design.  It's just who they are.
            In Matthew 10:16-20, Jesus uses sheep and wolves as symbols to describe two kinds of people in our world.  The sheep are Christ’s godly followers who go out into the world and face the ungodly people (the wolves) of the world—governors, kings, rulers, and other unbelievers.  The sheep aren't going out to fight the wolves, but to tell them about Jesus.  
            The "sheep" are not necessarily good people; they are godly people because they follow God and have been forgiven and justified by God.  Godly people, saints, are just sinners who’ve been saved by God’s amazing grace and love.  The "wolves" of our world are not necessarily bad people; some of them may be really good people.  They are only ungodly because they don’t yet follow God, but they’re not necessarily bad people.  It’s important to know good people can be ungodly and someone you think is particularly bad might just be one of God’s chosen people.
            Proverbs shares a lot of wisdom about both godly and ungodly people.  As I've been paraphrasing Proverbs, (putting the scriptures in my own words), I came up with the following: Pastor Chris’ Paraphrase of Proverbs 4:18-19 - "Those who are vindicated by God walk a path with a beautiful sunrise--full of hope for the future and increasing each moment until it’s fully realized.  Ungodly people walk blindly down a dark, dark path and don’t even know what trips them up."

Ungodly - Râšâ' - רָשָׁע

            The Hebrew word in Proverbs 4:19 that scholars translate as wicked or evil is rasa.  It means morally wrong, criminal, guilty of sin, and condemned.   Ultimately, it means ungodly and ungodly literally means "without God".  According to Christian doctrine, anyone who is without God is guilty and condemned.  Now Hebrews 13:5 tells us God will never leave us or forsake us.  And since God never leaves us, if we are without God, it is because we walked away from God.  This is the condition of humanity.  We have walked away from God.
             The primary thing that makes a wicked person evil isn’t the bad things they’ve done. The primary thing that makes a person evil is living without God.  Remember, a wolf isn’t good or bad because it kills a lamb.  That’s just what wolves do.  And an ungodly person isn’t good or bad because of the bad things they do.  They’re just living out their nature.  An ungodly person is evil because they are without God. 

Vindicated - Saḏiyq - צַדִּיק
             The Hebrew word in Proverbs 4:18 for vindicated is sadiyq.  It means just, lawful, righteous.  You might look at a person who always does the right thing, a “law-abiding citizen”, and say they righteous.  However, sadiyq means a person is righteousness because of what God says.  God has justified or vindicated someone who is sadiyq.  There can be no question of the goodness of their character because God is the one who said they are righteous.  (And who’s gonna argue with God?)
            So, it is God who makes a person righteous.  We see this in Abraham, the father of the Jewish and Christian faiths.  Abraham was considered righteous because he trusted God.  Genesis 15:6, "[Abraham] believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith."  The idea that people's faith makes them righteous is confirmed in the New Testament.  Romans 4:5, "People are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners."  So, even though we have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and the consequences of sin is death (Romans 6:23), we are saved for eternal life and made righteous when we believe in Jesus Christ.
            Godly people will do good things, but that's not what makes them righteous.  They do good because God did such great things for them.  God loved us even though we didn't deserve it and saved humanity from sin.  Godly people love God because God first loved them.  And if they love God, they will also love the people God loves; and God loves everyone.  Therefore, godly people love even those who seem the most unlovable because it is a a way to love and honor God.


The Fate of Godly vs. Ungodly People
            Proverbs makes quite a lot of distinctions between godly and ungodly people.  Here are a few examples:
·       Proverbs 10:7 – Godly people are remembered fondly as a blessing, but the ungodly fade into oblivion.
·       Proverbs 10:11 – Godly people say things that give life to everyone, but ungodly people lie to cover up the bad things they’ve done.
·       Proverbs 10:20 – The things a godly person says are worth more than silver.  Even the ideas of the ungodly are worthless.
·       Proverbs 11:7 – An ungodly person’s hope is lost when they finally die; their lives come to nothing.
·       Proverbs 14:19 – Evil people are ashamed in the presence of the good.  The ungodly are locked outside and long for the goodness of those who live right.
·       Proverbs 14:32 – The ungodly are cast out because of their own crimes, but those who live right trust God even in death.

            It’s pretty clear from Proverbs that godly people have a much better fate than the ungodly.  Jesus is even more explicit in the Gospels.  He warned that when he comes to judge the world, everyone who ever lived will be brought before him and he will separate the godly from the ungodly.  Then he will say to the godly:  “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.”  And he will say to the ungodly:  “Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.”  (Matthew 25:31-46)

How Can I Be Godly?
            A wise person would take these warnings to heart.  You need to be sure you are in the godly category as opposed to ungodly.  So, how do you ensure you are counted among the godly and not the ungodly?  Here's how. 

First, repent of your sin and turn to God. 
            You have to recognize you have sinned and ask for forgiveness.  Even if you’ve never done anything that might be considered “really bad”, you have still sinned.  Surely you can see you have not always trusted Jesus completely, not lived your life completely for God, done some things you shouldn’t have done, and not done some things you should have done.  Have you ever told lie (even a small one)? Have you ever stolen something (maybe taken a pen home from work)? Have you ever lusted in your heart? Have you ever wanted what someone else had (that's called coveting and it's one of the attitudes prohibited by the ten commandments)?  If you've broken any rule or made any mistake, you have sinned and need to ask God for forgiveness.  The good news is, God will forgive you for every sin--even if it's too terrible to mention--because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.
            John 3:16 tells us, "God loved the world so much that he sent his son, Jesus, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life."  Christ came to earth and lived as one of us.  He lived a perfect and holy life.  He was innocent, but he was arrested and put to death to pay for price for our sins.  He was willing to make this sacrifice because he loves us so much.  And if you trust what Jesus did for you, God will forgive you and vindicate you and call you righteous.  You will be numbered among the godly.  So ask for forgiveness and choose to follow Jesus from this day forward. 

Second, live a godly life.
            If you have real faith in Jesus, you will trust him and do the things he asks you to do.  Faith is not a light thing.  It is serious and it changes everything about your life.  Once there was a man hiking on a beautiful but isolated mountain trail.  As he was admiring a breathtaking overlook, he slipped and fell from the precipice.  However as he fell, he managed to grasp a small branch growing from the side of the cliff.  There he clung for dear life as he desperately called for help.  No one answered and he was unable to pull himself to safety.  The man began to pray, "Lord!  Save me!  I don't want to die!"  To his surprise, God answered--not from above but from below.  And the Lord said, "I am here, even though you can't see me.  Just let go of the branch and I will catch you."  And the man said... "Is there anyone else who can help me?"
            Jesus wants you to let go of the things you were clinging to before for meaning, happiness, and value.  He wants you to cling to him instead.  He is your only hope, but do you really trust him?  When you trust Jesus, you will let go of the past (even if it’s frightening) and trust him to lead you into a better future.  When you really trust Jesus, you will obey his teachings in the Bible, you will let him guide you day by day, and allow his Holy Spirit to gradually change the attitudes and behaviors in you that do not properly reflect the love of Christ.  So truly trust Christ and you will begin to actually live a godly life. 

Last, persevere to the end.             The Christian life is a marathon not a sprint.  Although none of us know how much time we have to live this life, most people will become a Christian and then live another forty to eighty years.  The time after you first become a Christian can be exciting and energetic.  It's like falling in love, but what do you do when the "newness" wears off and the "honeymoon" is over.  Will you continue to be faithful and follow Jesus?  There will be times of excitement and renewed passion, but there will also be times of trials and difficulties.  Sometimes the journey of a disciple is easy and other times it feels like it's all uphill.  Don't give up!  Persevere.  God uses the journey to shape you and build your faith.  Never go back to the ungodly person you were before.  You've chosen to be godly so stay on the path Jesus set before you.
            It has been said that every person has two wolves living inside them--one is evil and one is good.  The bad and good wolf are locked in a vicious battle--biting and clawing, wrestling and rolling in a bloody fight to the death. The wolf that wins the fight for your soul will be the one you feed the most.