Tuesday, December 16, 2014

By Your Righteousness

Christians get sort of a bad reputation in the world for being a little...shall we say...zealous. It's a problem that often affects new Christians the most severely, although we have to be honest and say that those of us who have been in a more legalistic tribe also run into this trouble very frequently. What it is is that we get righteousness, or what passes for it, so deeply into our hearts that we can't help but feel like we ought to save the world.

We get high and mighty on ourselves when God begins to transform our lives. We no longer curse, so we firmly believe everyone else should stop cursing. We no longer drink, so clearly there is no place in our world for alcohol. We stop lying, cheating, stealing and we lose our tolerance for those who do. There is a new measure of the good things in us and we set about eradicating the "bad" in everyone else. 

Which sounds holy enough, I guess. After all, Jesus was sent to seek and to save the lost, so we might as well be about doing His work while we're here. That's what most of us think. The problem is that we were not called to do His work.

We were called to do ours.

We have not been called to save the world. Good thing because we have not been equipped to save the world. None of us can do even a measure of the eternally redemptive work that Jesus did. For all that we have about rightness and righteousness in our heart, we cannot infuse that into another single person on this planet. Ezekiel even knew such: By your righteousness, you can rescue only yourself. (14:14, my paraphrase) Ezekiel was talking about guys like Noah and Daniel and Job. His point was that even though Noah believed, he couldn't make anyone else get on the boat. Even though Daniel believed, he couldn't talk anyone into following him into the lion's den. Even though Job believed, he could not convince even his friends to be faithful in the face of his trouble. A man's faith is his own; he cannot convince anyone else to have it.

That's why our zealousness doesn't work. That's why it rubs people the wrong way. It's nice that we have our faith, but my faith is not your faith. Your faith is not your neighbor's faith. Even if you could convince a man to believe everything exactly the way that you do, he would still have to apply that faith to his life and it would necessarily be different than yours. It has to be, if it is to be of any meaning to him. You may convince him to live your way, but that doesn't mean you've taught him to live God's way. Not at all. By your righteousness, by your faith, by your understanding, you can only ever give depth to your relationship with God. 

But you can, in the best of times and the most humble of ways, give a measure of God to another man. See, I think that's where we start to lose our understanding. It's not up to us to give another man faith. It's not up to us to give another man religion. We can't make him believe the things we believe (or we believe he ought to believe). But we can show him what God is really like. We can reveal a little bit about what God means to us. It invites a man to ask the question of what God means to him. Of what he needs God to mean to him. Of what it might mean in his life to come into contact with this kind of God. 

It's easy to get twisted and think we have to take all our fervor and go out and seek and save the lost. Just like Jesus. The trouble is that's just not what we've been called to do. The more we try to bring another man to faith through our zealousness, the more contempt of the Cross we create. What we have been asked to do is to love our Father and go out and love the lost. That's the ministry of Jesus we're called to. That's the ministry we're equipped for. Not trying to give another man faith, but trying to give another man a glimpse of the Father. Not trying to tell him what to believe or how to believe it or how to prove that he believes it, but introducing him to the One worth believing in. We don't give him our faith; we bring him to our God.

Because for all we know, or for all we think we know, about faith, we can only ever bring ourselves to God. But for all we know about the Father, we can do very good work in this world. 

So stop trying to save the world and go out and love it. 

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