As I sit to write this morning, I have made amazing time on my Monday commute to Glasgow for a meeting. So, as I stop for a Costa refuel and have a spare 30 minutes, I thought I'd blog whilst I'm awake… As opposed to in my tired post-7-hour drive state later 🙂
So many of my thoughts over the last few weeks have been on this word righteousness. What does it mean? What does it look like? What does it feel like?
Because I think the Old and New Testaments give us equally important and yet slightly different perspectives on the issue. In the New Testament we often think of righteousness as the gift of grace that we receive through Jesus. We come to Him a sinner, and in His mercy, He clothes us in a robe of righteousness. It's a beautiful Divine exchange.
But in the Old Testament, and I think other parts of the New, righteousness means something a little different. It is a measuring line for our heart and our deeds which asks the question, 'How like God am I?' Not in a conceited way… In fact the opposite. My Old Testament lecturer uses the analogy of a child being measured by standing up against the kitchen doorframe, excitedly running back to it every so often to see whether they're any taller to the lofty mark labelled 'Dad'.
I like that picture. I love it in fact.
And this morning, I hit the Sermon on the Mount in part of my morning devotionals. And it got me thinking again about this question of righteousness. This second question. How can I weigh if I am thinking/feeling/behaving righteously? How can I weigh if others are? And what do I do about it? Because I desperately want to live a life that imitates my Father. I want to live in the grace of forgiveness, but also know that I'm growing upwards. Right at the start of Matthew 5, a passage that so deeply flows out of the Torah, we are told to hunger and thirst for… Righteousness.
So, let's start with what isn't righteousness? Well, it's not appearances. Jesus showed us that pretty well. Those who 'looked' righteous or right in the eyes of the world murdered Him, the only fully Righteous Son of God. It's also not often popular. I really believe that if you're serious about being righteous, it probably means that at some points in life you are going to lose a lot of friends. Because standing up for the way that God would do things, is normally the counter-opposite to the natural inclination of the human heart. And the way God would do things means we don't take verses in the Bible out of context, but that we look at the whole picture of who He is.
I think the Sermon of the Mount gives us some amazing insight. This blog post doesn't offer the time or space to go into the detail I've been praying through this morning on my drive, but read it for yourself and meditate on it.
Righteousness means what you say behind closed doors is the same as what you proclaim from the rooftops. I love that Matthew 5 – 7 deals with the internal and the external, because God is consistent, faithful and steadfast. Being like Him means I don't say I live for Him with my mouth, but fail to press in within the secret place. But it also means that I don't spend all my time in prayer and then treat other people like garbage. We all mess up and get it wrong and make mistakes… But the motives of our heart… Those are what He sees and what He weighs.
Righteousness means becoming dis-illusioned with the world so that we can be illuminated by His Light.
Righteousness means making decisions according to the Word, and what we have tested and heard from God, as opposed to being swayed by the opinions of man. I'm forever glad that when Jesus said He wanted a fallen humanity to be with Him forever, He wasn't talked out of it when He was tempted in the desert, or in the garden, or on the crossbeam. He was righteous. His strength came from the inner place with God.
Righteousness is brave. The Sermon of the Mount isn't an easy or a comfortable lifestyle… At all. It's a walking-backwards-upsidedown Kingdom which doesn't always looks so pretty this side of eternity.
Righteousness means protecting the vulnerable. We see this all the way through Scripture, and the Sermon on the Mount highlights the way we should give and love and forgive and restore. Because acting righteously means that you don't shoot the wounded, and you consistently protect the weak from being put to shame. I will forever be challenged in the out working of justice in the Scripture.
Righteousness stems from who we are and not what we do. Being a lover of Jesus, and knowing that the fruit in our lives is good. This is an easy test if we're looking at the right things in the right places.
Righteousness is beautiful. But it is more than beauty, because it is also perfect in strength. It's when we can say that we are not shaken and not moved. Righteousness means we radiate the qualities of the heart of God. His mercy and forgiveness for others. His generosity. His consistency. His faithfulness to every promise.
I was so completely challenged by my reading. And it made me more grateful for the gift of righteousness in Jesus. But as I finished reading Matthew 7, my thoughts landed here.
Building sandcastles is unrighteous.
The Sermon on the Mount finishes with this famous story that we know about the builders. The wise man builds his house on the rock… On the way of righteousness… And the foolish one builds a sandcastle that is shaken in the first storm.
But the thing is, sometimes in life, metaphorically building sandcastles is fun. It means you get to mess about on the beach with your friends, it means you can sunbathe at the same time, it means that you can you can pretend you're a kid again… But it's unrighteousness. Because it means we're investing all our time and energy into building something that will wash away to nothing as quickly as a wave comes in and out from the ocean.
I long to build in righteousness, learning from the master builder and chief cornerstone. He who was righteous, yet who was rejected as an outsider. He who was steadfast, yet who I have rebelled against so many times. He who lost everything for the sake of righteousness so that He could present me to His Father spotless and blameless.
I've learnt that many human relationships can be so frighteningly temporal in the last two weeks. So easily abandoned. That when the waves come in, they show themselves to be little more than an elaborately constructed sandcastle. And I am more resolved than ever to live differently. To be quick to forgive and quick to love and quick to repent… but also quick to move forward. I want to change and to be changed. To be a person who is steadfast. To allow Holy Spirit to heal my wounds and mould my heart. And those people who just want to mess about build sandcastles? Well, to be honest, have fun… I want to build with something eternal. Not because I want to… But because He calls us too.
I also want to ask for your prayers in this next week. I have a few options coming up for April/May time next year, and will be on some conference calls to Japan in the next fortnight regarding this. I just want to be where God wants me and follow His right decision… If that's to stay at language school longer… Ace. If that's to take a job teaching… Cool. If that's to do something else altogether… That's ok as well. As long as He opens the door. And as long as I'm growing upwards.
Thanks guys and much love!!