Right or Righteous?

We are all like one who is unclean,
all our so-called righteous acts are like a menstrual rag in your sight.
We all wither like a leaf;
our sins carry us away like the wind.
Isaiah 64:6

Anger is not a primary emotion. It is an expression of another, deeper feeling, such as disappointment, fear, hurt, etc. A powerful generator of anger in my life is offense against authority. When my kids fail to do what I tell them, I get angry. If someone were to break into my house and steal my stuff, I would get angry. And (being the spiritual guy that I am), when God’s laws are transgressed, I get angry.

Each one of us is motivated by our personal code of conduct, which fundamentally defines what is “right” and what is “wrong”. We act in accordance with this code, and while it is comprehensive, it is not necessarily consistent. That is, when I do something, it is “right” and when you do the same thing, it may be “wrong”. This is because what I decide is “right” is really defined by “what I want”. If you want the same thing, we are going to have a problem. Let me illustrate with an example.

Now, let me preface the following by stating up front that most drivers on the road today are idiots. At least, that’s my personal observation. I’ve heard that 70% of American drivers believe their skills are above average (and 82% of all statistics are made up).

I’m really annoyed by people in the right lane on the freeway who are going much slower than me but decide that they need to change lanes in front of me because someone in front of them is going too slow. In other words, their sense of “right” (I don’t want to be behind this slow car) impinges on my sense of “right” (I don’t want to be behind this slow car). In response to their offense against my code for the world (everyone should stay out of my way), I get angry.

The problem is that too many of us (or maybe it’s just me) have substituted our code for God’s. In effect, I put myself in the place of God. God does have a standard of right and wrong. And unlike you and me, God is objective, consistent, and impartial. Sin is sin, and it doesn’t matter who commits it.

But here’s the thing: being guilty is not the same as being condemned. Like the little kid whose face is covered with melted chocolate chips and cookie crumbs, our guilt before God is self-evident. Even, when we think we are doing good things, compared to the perfection that is God, our good is as disgusting as a used tampon (if my choice of words is shocking, consider that the Hebrew of the above verse is equally explicit).

Now, sometimes I (surely, I’m the only one) might point out the cookie crumbs on your face to deflect attention from the cookies falling out of my own pockets. After all, if you are guilty, then we can all focus on that and no one will pay attention to me. Or, as is popularly said today, “don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.” But this deflection misses the very crucial point.

The issue is not how we sin, it is that we sin. God’s standard of righteousness is utterly and absolutely pure. Any sin at all irreparably damages the whole. It is why James says “For the one who obeys the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:10) And why Paul says “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23)

Since we are all hopelessly flawed, does God’s definition of right and wrong go out the window? Of course not. It was for this reason that Jesus came into the world, to deliver us from the power of sin and death. And rather than simply putting a bandaid on a severed artery (like I tend to do), God dealt with the issue at its source. The sin nature had to die, so that those who believe could be reborn as new creations.

There is much more to be said on that, and the new life in Christ is a prerequisite to even having this conversation, but it isn’t my point for this post. My point is that I need to set aside my personal code that has my self-interest at the center, and stop judging and holding people accountable to me, and instead live in whole-heartedly surrender to God’s new creation in me, living according to the new nature of “son of God” that has been given to me.

This is an evolving journey for me. A while ago, I was set free from the need to defend God. This means that when people transgress God’s law, or believe things contrary to his word, I don’t have the compulsion I used to have to make them agree. God is a big boy; he can defend himself. I am just a witness to the truth.

My next step has been to release anger, and not let the offenses of others rob me of the joy of my salvation. When I focus on the wrong suffered, my offense and anger are fueled. When in focus instead on all that I have been given in Christ, “these light momentary afflictions” pale in comparison. I’m still working on this.

Recently, God challenged me: “What would it look like if you released all judgement?” Meaning, rather than condemn the idiot in front of me for failing to drive in a manner conducive to my expeditious and impediment-free commute, I don’t even criticize their failings. This is a God-sized challenge for me, as anyone who has driven with me can attest.

What about you? Are you still intent on holding the world accountable to the law of “you”, where everyone is judged by your standards? Or have you humbled yourself before the holiness of God, to live your life according to his standards? I’ll tell you a little secret: being the judge of the universe is an exhausting job, and one for which you are not qualified. It is enough for me to just be obedient.