Self-Righteousness vs. Real-Righteousness

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If you come to Christianity looking for black and white I think you might be out of luck. I grew up in my faith thinking that with Christianity there were no shades of gray, that a relationship with God dealt only in black and white. By that I mean that there was an absolute right and wrong in every situation that was irrespective of the individuals involved in the situation. As I have grown in my faith I have learned that there is actually alot of things left up to us.

To me a reliance on absolutes shows a shallow faith. I don’t say that as a judgement, its an observation from my own life. It’s really easy to stand up for “what’s right” when you believe that your idea of right is the absolute truth. It’s easy when you believe what is right for you is right for everyone. You don’t have to question whether what you are doing violates your own conscience. You don’t have to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your life. You don’t have to let Him tell you how your relationship with God is. You can really ignore him completely. The question is what do you do when you read, “ So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.,” Romans 14:22? What do you do with the passage when it says if you believe its wrong then for you it is wrong? How do you apply a blanket black and white rule when God says, “Really that’s up to you how to interpret this?”

I think maybe one of our flaws come in viewing Christianity as a corporate lifestyle with individual elements instead of an individual relationship with corporate elements. Looking at it this way we start dealing with entitlements and judgement that I don’t think have any place in a relationship with Jesus. I think of it like looking through the eyes of a younger sibling. This is completely speculation because I neither have, nor am a younger sibling. To me its like the younger sibling and looking at all the things the older sibling is allowed to do that the younger is not. Now we all know that there is nothing wrong with making mac and cheese on the stove, but letting a 4 year old do it isn’t a good idea. So we tell the younger sibling that its wrong for him to make mac and cheese on the stove top but it’s not wrong for the 15 year old to do it. Looking at Christianity as a corporate lifestyle would be like that 4 year old saying that, instead of it being wrong for him, it is wrong for everyone to make mac and cheese on the stove. Then anytime the 15 year old older sibling makes mac and cheese on the stove the 4 year old giving him a sound scolding for doing something that is wrong. The thought of it is ridiculous but it really isn’t all that different. Looking at Christianity as a personal lifestyle would be like the 4 year old realizing that its not right for HIM to make mac and cheese on the stove, but it doesn’t mean that making mac and cheese on the stove is wrong. Maybe this is an oversimplification of the issue but it makes sense in my head.

Now don’t get it twisted and think that I’m saying there is no absolute right and wrong. I believe they are, and they are specified in God’s word. For instance infidelity is one of those things that is absolutely wrong. And everyone would agree that extramarital sex is wrong. But if that’s all we have to worry about that’s a pretty low bar set. All I have to do to be faithful to my wife is not have sex with another woman that’s easy. But to me infidelity means alot more. It means that if I put anything, other than my relationship with God, in front of my relationship with my wife I am being unfaithful. To me the man who spends more time and energy at his job than he does on his relationship with his wife, he has been unfaithful. To me the man that holds his own desires above the needs of his wife, he has been unfaithful. To me the man that turns to other women or other people for the emotional relationship he should have with his wife has been unfaithful. But that’s what I believe, and while I think its a great way to look at things, I have no right to hold you to that. That’s is what the Holy Spirit said to me. I have to work hard at not judging the people I see doing what would be wrong for me. Now does that mean I can’t tell other people about what I believe? Absolutely not and to do that would be selfish. The Holy Spirit has revealed something to me, I should share that. But if I go beyond telling you what I was told then I step into that judgement realm and my study has led me to believe that’s wrong too. Judgement is not my job, that’s Jesus’. My job is to tell what I’ve been told.

In an effort to be righteous we have equated with being right with being righteous. So instead of studying and listening to what the Holy Spirit tells us, we look to the word to find out what is absolutely right and wrong and then apply our interpretation as what the word says as absolute truth. The problem is we can all read the exact same thing and come to different conclusions, so who is right? Is your interpretation right because you can read Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Ethiopic? Is mine right because I know more about the culture it was written in? WHO’S INTERPRETATION IS RIGHT?!?!?!

There was a group that set about to define that for everyone and when THE authority came he said “You’ve heard it said, but I say to you.” Basically he took the bar and set it even higher and harder. The message I got was it wasn’t about righteousness because righteousness for us is unattainable. The message was about relationship. Only through a relationship would righteousness be available to us. And it doesn’t belong to us.

You have an option: You can have self-righteousness, which no one says they want but we all tend to choose that more often than not, or you can have real-righteousness, but that only comes with giving up the need to be right. When we are presented with flaws in what we thought were absolute truths an option is placed in front of you: Do I hold to what I have always believed to be right and sink my heels in and refuse to let go of the righteousness I’ve built up for myself; OR do I value my relationship with my Brother and Savior enough to let go of it and do what I know to do now? The problem is I have to admit that I might have been wrong about something, and I don’t like doing that.

Have you ever ridiculed a child who just learned to walk for having crawled previously? Why not? You and I both know that humans were made to walk on two feet and that’s the best way of propulsion available to us. Why wouldn’t you think a baby was stupid for ever crawling? We weren’t made to crawl. Giraffe babies are running with in minutes of being born so I mean there’s that. So why wouldn’t you ever consider a crawling baby as foolish? The idea sounds funny doesn’t it, but its not a joke. If you would no more consider a baby foolish for getting around the only way it knew how until it was ready for a different way, why would you do the same thing to yourself and to your brother in your faith. Maybe we could get alot further as a people if we would stop kicking crawling babies and help them learn to walk. Maybe if instead of pointing out what you are doing wrong I could spend my time showing you what I have found to be a better way. Maybe we could realize that we aren’t as far along in our faith as we think we are and maybe we can realize that there are others ahead of and behind us. Maybe we can realize that God works in us all differently but loves us all equally. Maybe if we could stop expecting babies to run and start helping them learn to walk we could have more people crossing the finish line. Righteousness isn’t a goal its a gift. Self-righteousness is a hobble, an anchor, a stumbling block, and a hindrance to you and anyone you throw it at. You would do well just to do away with it all together.

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