Paths of Righteousness
BY Alan Christensen
Over and over again, the Bible gives us a message about lifewhat life should be and what life can be. And in the wonderful words of Psalm 23:3"He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake"I've found three great truths on this subject:
I. He guides me.The first great truth is that our relationship with Christ is personal. He guides me. He and me. How much more personal can you get?
Even more, if a person is able to say, "The Lord is my Shepherd," that person is also able to say, "I'm His sheep. I belong to Him." To be owned by God is supremely important when we consider what life should and can be.
At one time in his life, David, the writer of this beautiful psalm, discovered through many bitter experiences that he was owned by God. And it was in that discovery that he was able to say, "He guides me." The secret to believing these words, "He guides me", you see, is to acknowledge ownership by God.
Divinely owned. If you've come to the place in your life where you believe and understand that you are divinely owned, then it should come as no surprise that God would guard and guide what He owns.
That God owns all mankind is clearly set forth in the scripture. We read in Psalm 100:3, "Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture." He owns us because He created us.
God is not only the creator-owner, He is the sustainer-owner as well. We read of this in Acts 17:28, "For in him we live and move and have our being." We are His because He sustains us.
But for believers, there's a third kind of ownership, and it's redeemer-ownership. Paul made it very clear when he said, "You are not your own; you were bought at a price" (I Cor. 6:19,20). And the apostle Peter wrote in his first letter, "you were redeemed...with the precious blood of Christ" (1:18,19).
No matter who you are and what you believe, you belong to God. But the only way to be a child of God and to have eternal life is to belong to God under His redeemer-ownership. If you know God in that way, then you can have the same assurance that David had and sing from your heart, if not with your lips, "He guides me in paths of righteousness."
It is only natural for God to guard what He owns, and in that guardianship, to guide what He owns. And the Lord Jesus guides His own in a very personal way, because He died for their sins in a very personal way.
II. In paths of righteousness.The second important truth is that the divine guidance we get is protectively right. "He guides me in paths of righteousness."
Sheep are notorious path takers. They walk on a trail and stay on the trail, the same trail. They walk it again and again until that trail becomes a gully. They walk on that trail because they are following others. They have the herd instinct; they follow the sheep before them.
In a sense, humans are the same way. We have an expression, "Everybody's doing it." When we see what everybody else is doing, we tend to do the same. We follow no matter how unusual the appearance may be, no matter how strange the attitudes may be, or no matter how odd the behavior may be. We follow that instinct until something "better" comes along and wins our heart.
Those paths that we follow are terribly destructive, however, the Bible warns. In Exodus 23:2, we read, "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil." And of course Matthew 7:13 is very clear, "For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it."
"But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it," Jesus says in the following verse. And as the redeemer-owner, our Good Shepherd guides His own in these narrow paths of righteousness!
What are paths of righteousness, anyway? Well, the phrase can be more literally understood as paths that are right with God, paths for our lives that are in accord with the will of God. Actually, Christ guides us on two kinds of right paths.
Spiritual paths. First, there are paths that are spiritually right. In the New Testament, the phrase "the will of God" appears in only two places, both of which are in the Book of I Thessalonians. "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification" (4:3), and "Give thanks in all things for this is the will of God concerning you" (5:18).
We need not trip over the word sanctification. To sanctify something simply means to set that something apart for its intended use. This pulpit has been set apart for its intended use and, because I'm speaking behind it now, it is serving its purpose.
In connection with the Lord Jesus, though, sanctification takes on a new meaning. When God possesses someone, He sets him aside to be used for God's purposes. So, it is God's will that we are set apart for His use. He guides us with His word so that we become more and more useful to Him.
God also guides us spiritually so that we grow spiritually enough to give thanks in all things. He helps us to see all things as He sees them. He gives us the faith to believe that God indeed "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Eph. 1:11).
Circumstantial paths. Somebody is going to say, "You can talk about spiritually right paths and all of that. But I have to make a lot of practical decisions, like which job to take or whom to marry. How can I know which path God wants me to walk in?"
Well, this is where the second kind of path comes inthe circumstantially right paths. Significantly, when you are walking with God on the right spiritual paththat is, when you realize that it is God's will to set you apart to serve Him, and when you can thank Him for all thingsyou can be sure that God will guide you to walk in the right circumstantial paths.
But there are some principles that are involved, principles that we are to employ:
I have to make a lot of practical decisions...How can I know which path God
1. Trust in the Lord. In Proverbs 3:5,6 we read what is probably a very familiar verse to many, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths." God is talking about circumstantially right paths here.
Notice that for God to direct your paths, you must trust Him with all your heart. In other words, you must put your whole-souled trust in Jesus, and Jesus alone, as the Lord of your life, even as you have trusted Him as the Savior of your soul. You must have confidence in the Lord's ability to put you and keep you on the right path.
2. Pray without ceasing. Before you make any decision, pray to God and ask Him to give you His direction. This is how you acknowledge Him in all your ways. We read the same thing in Jeremiah 6:16, "This is what the Lord says: 'Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is.'"
3. Walk humbly before the Lord. In Psalm 25:9,10 we read, "He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his path. All the paths of the Lord are loving and faithful."
To be humble means, among other things, to recognize that God's plan for your life is infinitely better than what you yourself want. It also means that you can say as Paul did, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want" (Phil. 4:12).
When you trust, pray and humbly obey, you cannot help but find God guiding you in the right circumstantial, as well as spiritual, paths.
III. For His name's sake.The third great truth I've found in this verse in Psalm 23 is that God promises to personally guide you in the right spiritual and circumstantial paths for His name's sake.
Do you know what is at stake in God's going on record in making a promise like that? His name! His name stands for His character. His name stands for His reputation. The Lord is concerned with which paths His people are taking because they're going to reflect on Him.
Sometimes, you may find yourself in a difficult circumstantial path. Things are so tough that you begin to wonder if you could last any longer. In these times particularly, remember that His name, His reputation, is at stake.
If you are truly a child of God, you can be assured that He will see you through. He will give you deliverance for His name's sake. In II Timothy 2:13, the Bible says, "God is faithful. He cannot deny himself."
Primary concern. We need to realize, however, that God's primary concern is to guide us in the right spiritual paths, to make us more and more like Christ. It is to refine us that He puts us through trials of many kinds. Don't forget, though, that He has promised that He will not test us beyond what we can bear.
If a shepherd goes out with 100 sheep and comes back with 75, something's wrong with the shepherd, right? Thankfully, nothing is ever wrong with the Shepherd of our souls. He's never, never, never lost a sheep. He reveals His paths, not His plan. We do not know His overall plan, but He reveals His paths. His paths are both spiritual and circumstantial, and they all lead us to eternal glory.
Psalm 23 is David's song. Do you have David's song on your heart? Can you sing in your heart, "He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake"? This is how life can and should be lived in this worldexperiencing the great joy of divine guidance. How do we know He is guiding us for good? His name's at stake. His character is at stake. His reputation is at stake. o
Rev. Alan B. Christensen is senior pastor of Hope Church, 240 Wolfpit Road, Wilton, CT 06897.
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