“What Possesses our Hearts?”, from L.Willows (forgiveness, righteousness, justice)


Positions about being right can be held like possessions that are dear to our hearts.

But is it for our good and does it bring us closer to God? Is it possible that the need to be right, especially in times that can feel so ‘out of control’ can actually separate us from the very help from God that we are seeking and deeply needing? What possesses our hearts will own us. Then it controls us and our lives.

Righteousness and Being Right

In today’s world, it appears acceptable to feel “right” yet no one wants to claim the possibility that we might actually be moralizing. It seems to be everywhere. Being true to something is different than being right. True means being devoted or being loyal to something that you believe in.  That can be “positional” based upon your beliefs. We all admire that quality but start to argue about what truth is and what to be loyal to.

Being right is entirely different. It is a moral point. Right and wrong go deeper than cultural or historical or even personal beliefs. (For the sake of this writing)

Moralizing is the very common action of personally commenting either to ourselves or to others about what is right and wrong. Is anyone immune? Be honest. We see it constantly in the world around us. It appears to be encouraged. It becomes easy to gather momentum with a sense of right and wrong. Moralizing is judging. It casts ourselves as superior, as the one with the power to weigh right and wrong. When we do that to ourselves and to others it is equally wrong.

Romans 13:13 -“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”

Matthew 7:1-5 -“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Can our Judgements Possess us?

Have you had an experience when afterward you reviewed it to yourself and decided that someone or something was “right” and the other was “wrong”, and you placed yourself in the role of the commentator or judge? As the judge didn’t you feel that you had compiled knowledge about the subject? From that did you eventually feel wiser. Then comes a sense of relief, perhaps even satisfaction. But did the issue feel resolved? Maybe not. It may have recirculated. This can happen to us.

We review and review. As judges, the “court” of appeals is never over. Have you noticed that? We, as moralizers and arbitrators of right and wrong, are imperfect judges. We weigh with mortal hearts. We make ourselves the “eye” of the righteous one.

Proverbs 21:2 -“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.”

Romans 2:1 – “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”

Matthew 12:36 -“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”

The reason for that is because when we judge, we are stepping away from our purpose. We slip into moralizing and into pride. We lose grace. We step away from our relationship with God because we start to make little gods of ourselves. We make ourselves the ones that try to control the Outcomes. When we insist on making things right and wrong, especially taking sides in the arena of life we are literally lowering ourselves into a battleground that is not “ours to fight”.

Finding our way Back

1 Peter 3:4 -“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.”

Philippians 2:3 -“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

The rights and wrongs of this world are injustices that are seen by the Eyes of God.  When we are appointed to speak out, and those moments will be known to us vividly and boldly, God will lovingly supply the moment, the words and the message.

Psalm 34:15 -“The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.”

1 Corinthians 16:13 -“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”

Deuteronomy 31:8 -“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

That is different than judging and moralizing by a longshot, don’t you agree? Can you tell the difference in your own life, in your own world? We are asked to be merciful and to trust that the Lord is with us and will not forsake us. We are not to fear or to be dismayed.

When we trust that the Lord goes before us, that He prepares the hours, the days and each detail of our lives – we can rest in faith. We live in trust in God. Then, we stand firm in Faith.

Standing Firm in Faith

In Corinthians we are reminded to be watchful, to stand firm in our faith and to be strong! When Psalm 34 says that the eyes of the Lord are towards the righteous it means that those that serve the Lord are called into obedience to His Law. It asks that we submit our hearts before God at all times for review, asking for his blessings in obedience to the laws of forgiveness and with the observance of His sovereignty in justice and mercy.

We place the desire for righteousness in the space that is reserved for the invocation of God . In that sacred and holy place where we are meant to step back and understand that we do not have the power to make all things right, that God is sovereign even when This World appears to be moving ‘out of tilt’ with what makes sense to us, it may be the very moment of opportunity for a door to open that we ourselves by our own power could not. 

Invoking the Righteousness of God

Galatians 6:9 -“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

1 Peter 3:14 -“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.”

Psalm 112:6 -“For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever.”

Proverbs 21:3 -“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”

The biblical definition of Righteousness is that it is one of the chief attributes of God as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. Its chief meaning concerns ethical conduct (for example, Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:1; Psalm 1:6; Proverbs 8:20). In the Book of Job the title character is introduced to us as a person who is perfect in righteousness.

Beholding Holiness

What is suggested is that rather than acting from our moralizing which encourages us to step away from God by creating a false right and wrong of our own, we lean into the character of God, beholding His holy righteousness. 

Acts 18:9-10 –“And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Colossians 3:12-14 -“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.

God’s holy presence shows us that He embodies forgiveness. How can we hold one another as right and wrong in our hearts and also behold Him as Forgiveness? When we see how much we have been forgiven ourselves, it becomes very difficult to view others, even the world through such a lens of right and wrong.

Yielding to the Power of Forgiveness and Love

We yield the perspective back to God, who surely must be the One WHO sees and KNOWS, the One that has prepared a way for us all to walk forward. I pray that we can each prepare our heart to receive His Blessing and live our lives boldly and courageously so that we are led to participate in that Holy plan. We each have a way to walk in it. Only the Lord can impart that to you.

The only one that must Possess your Heart is God.

© 2019 Linda Willows

“He Trusted to Him Who Judges Justly” by John Piper

He Trusted to Him Who Judges Justly
Resource by John Piper

1 Peter 2:18–25
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing. For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it, you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

If you are a Christian this morning, God has called you to endure unjust suffering without bitterness or revenge or the desire to hurt back. That’s what I want to talk about this morning—not returning evil for evil, but doing good to those who hurt you and let you down.

Two Reasons for This Message
There are at least two reasons I feel the need for this word today.

Justifying Anger by the Wrongs Done to Us

One is this: it seems to me a lot of people today, Christians included, justify their anger and their critical spirit by the wrongs that have been done to them. In other words, there are lots of people who, if you point out to them that they seem to be unduly angry or bitter or critical or slanderous of others, immediately tell you about how badly they have been treated or how they’ve been let down or how they’ve been hurt.

There appears to be an automatic and deeply rooted sense that if I’ve been mistreated or let down or hurt, then the other person deserves to be shown up and brought to justice, and paid back, and therefore I have the right to make sure that happens and I can use criticism or slander or put-downs or threats or grudges to make sure they get their comeuppance. And it seems to me that less and less do I hear people say, “Yes, I have been unjustly hurt, let down, mistreated; and yes, they deserve to be shown up and brought to justice and rebuked; but no, I will not be bitter, I will not retaliate, I will not criticize or slander; I will return good for evil and I will bless rather than curse.

I think we need to recover this deep biblical teaching that God has called Christians to endure unjust suffering without bitterness or revenge or the desire to hurt back. That’s the first reason I bring this message this morning.

I want to say from the outset that this is not merely a rule to be kept, but a miracle to be experienced, and grace to be received.

My Own Need to Grow in This Grace

The other reason I focus on this grace this morning is that I am desperately in need of growing in this grace—and I think I am pretty normal at this point. I use the word desperately without exaggeration. The desperation is there more or less depending on varying circumstances, but it is there more and more, it seems, as I get older. I do not think that I can survive and thrive as father, husband, pastor, or crusader for truth and righteousness, if I do not grow in this grace, and if the people around me don’t show me this grace.

It would be very hard for me to overstate how strongly I feel about this right now in my life and the life of our church and the life of the evangelical movement around the world. Marriages, parenting, friendships, employment stability, ministry in the church (of every kind!), perseverance in fighting for social righteousness—surviving and hanging in for the long haul of effectiveness depends more on this grace than most people realize. I know beyond the shadow of doubt that my family and my ministry at Bethlehem and my role in movements beyond this church radically hang on whether I and those near me experience the miracle in our lives of not returning hurt for hurt.

So I hope you join me in taking this very seriously as we look at God’s Word together. He is calling for nothing less than a death to what we are by nature and a new life radically different from the way we were born (cf. v. 24).

The Nature of Our Calling as Christians
Start with me at verse 19 to see the nature of our calling as Christians:

One is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain [the word implies mental anguish and grief, not physical] while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it, you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it [these two words are not in the text] you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called . . .

Please let this sink in! When you do RIGHT, you will suffer. When you do RIGHT, you will be criticized. When you do RIGHT, things won’t necessarily get better. When you do RIGHT, someone will say a hurtful thing. When you do RIGHT, people will not even notice and there will be no appreciation.

Yet there are so many of us who act as though such abuse of us when we have done right is absolutely intolerable. This is wrong. I’ve been violated. Any decent person wouldn’t respond to me that way. The least they could do is notice . . . And there arises this overwhelming emotional force inside of us that we have a right and a DUTY to set this thing straight, and make sure that the words come back on their own head, point out their flaws, and get vindicated. Because we’ve done RIGHT!

How many of us live in the liberating knowledge that it is our calling—our CALLING, our vocation!—to be misunderstood, criticized, ignored, and hurt for doing what is right, and not to return hurt for hurt?

The Calling of All Christians
Now, lest anyone think that this teaching here relates only to servants and masters, look with me at 1 Peter 3:8–9.

Finally, all of you [not just servants], have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind. Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called . . .

This calling belongs to every person in this room who trusts Jesus. Verse 21 (chapter 2) shows why: “For to this you have been called [you were called to be hurt for doing right and to bear it without bitterness or revenge], because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

Two Things Were Happening When Jesus Suffered
What this verse says is that two things—not just one thing, but two things—were happening when Jesus suffered. One is found in the words, “Christ suffered for you.” When Christ suffered—more than any of us have suffered—he was standing in your place. He was bearing your sins so that your condemnation became his and he took it away from you. So the sufferings of your life in Christ are NOT condemnation for sin, they are discipline for holiness (1 Peter 1:6–7; Hebrews 12:3–11). The sufferings of Christians are not divine condemnation. That is precisely what Christ bore “for us” (1 Peter 2:24; Galatians 3:13). And that’s why our sufferings come just as often from doing what’s right as from doing what’s wrong. It is not divine condemnation; it is divine CALLING!

Because the second thing that was happening when Christ suffered was that he gave us an example of how we were to live. He died for you in order that you might suffer like him. Then the example is spelled out in verses 22–23:

22) He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. [The point of that is to show us that he was doing what was RIGHT. He did not deserve to suffer. He deserved it less than anybody in the history of the world deserved it.] 23) When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten . . .

So this is our calling, Peter says. Not to hurt back. And not to plan to hurt back. And not to seethe with bitterness because you’re not allowed to hurt back. So you can see this is not a simple rule to keep. This is a miracle to be experienced. It’s a grace to be received. And it is the only way that many marriages can survive and flourish. Spouses can hurt each other worse than anybody else. And how many are consumed day and night with indignation and “justified” self-pity and numbing frustration that they are doing RIGHT and all they get is pain.

Where Does This Miracle Come From?
So where does this miracle come from? How does the grace get channeled to us? First, let me give the overarching answer of the text, and then see how it works out in experience.

“Mindful of God”

The overarching answer is found in verse 19: “One is approved if, mindful of God [or conscious of God], he endures pain while suffering unjustly.”

The miracle happens—the grace comes—when we are conscious of God. It comes by reckoning with God. Including God in the equation of your relationship. Thinking about God. Looking to God as a third party who is really present. Taking God as seriously as we take the offense against us. The source of this miracle is GOD!

But let’s be more specific. What are we to think when we think of God in such situations of unjust hurt? What are we to believe about God?

“He Trusted to Him Who Judges Justly”

The answer is given in verse 23: “When he [Jesus] was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly.” Let’s get the translation straight. The NIV and the NASB go beyond the text when they say “he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” The text does not have “himself.” The RSV is right to say that Jesus simply “trusted [or: handed over] to him who judges justly.”

That is, he handed over to God the whole situation including himself and those abusing him and the hurt done and all the factors that made it a horrendous outrage of injustice that the most innocent man who ever lived should suffer so much. He trusted it all into God’s hands as the one who would settle the matter justly someday. He said, “I will not carry the burden of revenge, I will not carry the burden of sorting out motives, I will not carry the burden of self-pity; I will not carry the burden of bitterness; I will hand all that over to God who will settle it all in a perfectly just way and I will pray, Father, forgive them they don’t know what they do (Luke 23:34).”

Your Calling Today

This is your calling this morning. It’s not merely a rule to be followed. It’s a miracle to be experienced. A grace to be received. It’s a promise to be believed. Do you believe, do you trust, that God sees every wrong done to you, that he knows every hurt, that he assesses motives and circumstances with perfect accuracy, that he is impeccably righteous and takes no bribes, and that he will settle all accounts with perfect justice? This is what it means to be “conscious of God” in the midst of unjust pain.

If you believe this—if God is this real to you—then you will hand it over to God, and though nobody in the world may understand where your peace and joy and freedom to love is coming from, you know. The answer is God. And sooner or later they will know.

Two Illustrations of How This Works
Let me close with two illustrations of how this works in two kinds of situations.

When the Good You Do Goes Unnoticed

The first is the hurt you experience when the good that you do is not noticed or not appreciated, especially by those who mean the most to you. Parents who never say (or never said), “Good job,” no matter how hard the kid tries. Children who never thank mom for hundreds of rides and meals and launderings. Or husbands and wives who long ago stopped looking each other in the eyes and saying: “I love you. Thanks for all you do.”

How do you survive and thrive when all your love disappears in a black hole of silence?

The answer is God. Jesus said (in Matthew 6:4, 6, 18), “Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” So you go to your room and you say to your Father in heaven, “Father, of all the audiences in the universe that I might want to notice the efforts of my love, you are the most important. I believe you have seen all. You write it in a book. You will reward me far more than any human could. I thank you. I love you. I need you. Keep yourself more real to me than my closest friend. Give me the grace now to be done with self-pity and all anger and to go forward in love to everyone.” The answer is to be “conscious of God” (1 Peter 2:19).

When the Good You Do Is Rejected

The other illustration is the hurt you experience when the good you do is rejected, or twisted, or criticized, or persecuted. Someone lies about you and you lose your job with no justification at all. You confide in someone and bare your soul, and it comes back in your face as a criticism and rejection. Or like Karen Sorenson, you sit down for the first time prayerfully and non-violently in front of an abortion mill in Fargo and you get sent to do nine months in the Bismarck State Penitentiary for peacefully trying to save the lives of unborn children.

How do you survive and thrive and go on loving when your deep judicial sense cries out: NO! It isn’t right. This can’t be tolerated. It is not fair.

The answer again is God. Paul said in Romans 12:19–20, “Beloved do not avenge yourselves, but give place to wrath. For it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink.'”

In other words, do what Jesus did. Hand it over to God. God sees it. And God judges justly. Nothing escapes his notice. Nothing falls from his memory. He will settle all accounts more fairly than we ever could. Lay it down. Let it go. This is your calling.

It all boils down to this. Remember God. Be conscious of God. Trust God. He will remember and reward you for every good forgotten by everyone else. He will avenge you for every injustice overlooked by men. So you are free. I send you out as free men and free women and free children. Leave behind in this room the yoke of self-pity and the yoke bitterness. God is there in every relationship. Remember him. Be conscious of him. Hand it over to him. Trust him.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, and most recently Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship.

© John Piper August 25, 1991