Right and Separate
I have been thinking lately on righteousness and holiness. I had a conversation with my Pastor at church Sunday about it and his perspective was enlightening. We were discussing religion and how the truth gets all confused and twisted in our minds when we start focusing on legalism instead of what God wants...restoration. He pointed out that righteousness and holiness are not the same thing. I was puzzled by that so I asked him to elaborate! :-D He explained that holiness is being set apart for God and righteousness is being in right standing before God. So, I brought my perplexed self home and continued thinking on that and went to God's word to see what I could find about all this.
I looked up the definition for righteous. Righteousness is defined as: 1.morally right or justifiable; virtuous. 2. Perfectly wonderful; fine and genuine. Just reading the definition makes me want to shrink and hide. Virtuous? Perfectly wonderful? I have never been perfectly anything and I strive, but often miss the marks of virtue. If I am required to be these things in order to be in right standing with God then it is hopeless. So, I went to Romans three. Paul, who is so eloquent in his writing, lays this topic out for me. Picking up in verse 20 he says: "For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are."Did you catch the part in bold? God has shown us a way to be made right without keeping all the laws. The way is faith in Jesus. God has made it so SIMPLE! He knew I could never be perfect in my own power. He has made a way for righteousness but it doesn't have anything to do with the law. My right standing before God comes through the cross of Christ! My heart and my mind need forgiving every day of my life. So what if I followed the law and had bitterness in my heart? It would be meaningless. That is why sacrifices had to be made all day every day under the law of Moses; because there is no one that is righteous. Jesus is the one who brings me before God in right standing. It is because of Jesus' sacrifice that I never have to be out of fellowship with God. It is because of mercy and grace that I am righteous.
So does this mean we are free to sin because we are "covered" by Christ?
No, not at all. Paul brings this up in chapter six of Romans. "What then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it". Paul is telling us that if we are going to claim to be forgiven, then we ought to live like we've been forgiven. I looked up the definition for holiness: 1. Dedicated or consecrated. 2. Dedicated to service. It seems to me that one could be dedicated to good service or bad service. I think those who are deceived, as I was, and still attempt to be righteous through the law, develop the idea that being holy means being better. Religion, as I have talked about before, creates a false sense in us that there are others who need forgiveness more than we do. It shocks me to write that and realize that at my worst place, I probably thought the same thing. Being set apart for God has nothing to do with being better. It is about being different. Of course, I realize that this "different" brings me freedom, relationship, peace, eternal life...all those good things, but the only thing that separates me from those who don't choose this is just that...choice. Just because I surrender myself to God and choose to face the reality of my own sin doesn't make me better...it simply makes me restored. When we see holiness as being better than others, that can only breed sin which of course the enemy wants. When we see ourselves as better, we start holding the truth from others, deciding they are not worthy as we are worthy because of their sin. What a powerful deception of the enemy! I see now how easily this can infiltrate our lives, how it infiltrated mine. I am set apart because I am redeemed. I ask God to give me the strength to live by his law and choose life over death every day but I know I will not always choose right. I can remember, before God opened my eyes, actually thinking I was good, that I didn't need forgiveness on a daily basis because I didn't sin everyday. That I was "holy". How wrong I was! When God revealed to me the condition of my own heart and mind, I realized that there would not be a day in the rest of my life on this earth that I would not need his forgiveness, mercy and abounding grace. I see clearly now that holiness has nothing to do with being better than the world, it is all about being Jesus to the world. When I set myself apart for him, I testify to who he is. His way is not the way of wickedness and it will always turn heads when we choose right over wrong. Those are the moments we get to show the grace of Jesus and mercy that is endless. Is grace and forgiveness and compassion and mercy not the way of holiness? I now see that I can live my life for God without being condemning or judgmental because I realize that I am not better, just different.
I pray we will not trample the message of Christ with the way we live our lives. The world is hungry for truth. The people around us are looking for someone, anyone, who will back all their talk with action. Someone who will extend the hand of compassion and grace. Someone who will be honest about their failure, and excited about their redemption. This message is for everyone who will receive. May we be bear it with honor and integrity, grace and compassion and mostly, love that knows no end.