1999-07-10 - Righteousness
Hab 2:4 "Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith. (NAS)
Imagine you are living in a monastery, or convent for the ladies, during the middle ages. The organized church holds great political and spiritual power. You have been taught from the time you were very young that sin is something that must be removed from your life by penance.
You climb the steps of the cathedral as you kneel in prayer. The steps are scattered with bits of glass that cut through to your knees. With each small wound, you might think that another sin has been expunged. You return to your small room to rest and study. Your legs argue with you as your try to focus on your Bible when you read 'the righteous will live by his faith." A turning point has just been reached in the life of Martin Luther in Wittenberg, Germany. The year is 1517. This is a surmization, a dramatization, on my part. But it is a plausible dramatization of the young man who would rock the world with the idea that indulgences, purchased or earned through works for the forgiveness of sin, were sadly misguided 'tares sown while the Bishops slept'.
Am I railing against confession or a penitent heart? Not at all. We are told to confess our sins one to another. We are instructed again, that if a brother sins against us to go to him and try to work things out. Again, Jesus warns us that, if a brother has something against us, to leave our offerings and go to reconcile with that one before we return to present our offering. A penitent man, a repentant man, a broken heart before God is an acceptable offering to God.
Ps 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise. (NAS)
Do any of these things make us righteous? Jesus Christ has already given His followers His righteousness when we accepted His life and His salvation. At this moment, we stand righteous before the Father - even as we struggle with our flesh, the world and the enemy in time and space. The Father sees our righteousness as a completed fact.
Rom 3:21-24 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; (NAS)
There is no one, save Jesus, who has lived this earthly life and did not sin. We despise the word "sin," but all it means is that we disobey God's law in any way. Since none of us will seriously stand up and call ourselves perfect, it should not be so hard to admit that where perfection is required, we need help. Jesus is willing to extend His righteousness. Once you have become imperfect, there is no way for you to go back and become perfect again. The law is our teacher, to show us that we can not make it to Heaven on our own merits, or works and to make clear our need of a Savior.
Gal 3:11-14 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "The righteous man shall live by faith." 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "He who practices them shall live by them." 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"-- 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (NAS)
Proud efforts to 'be good enough' - in some naive hope that our "goods" will outweigh the "bads" when we stand before God and give an accounting of our actions - will fall short of Heaven and eternity with God. When we are willing to put aside that pride, Jesus frees us from the bitter labor of working to be good enough. He promises rest for our souls where there was once a constant struggle - to be good enough. Only pride would turn down a benevolent gift from a King.
Jesus - make it clear to Your followers that their righteousness is by faith in You. The gift You give is complete, so that there is nothing we could ever do to add to it, nor is there ever the need. Break the proud hearts that insist on 'doing it their way'. Show them the futility of their efforts and make clear the freedom You offer from the struggle to be perfect, when we can never be perfect. Amen.