Your righteousness has nothing to do with you

Your righteousness has nothing to do with you.

1. It does not start with you.
2. It is not facilitated by you.
3. It does not end with you.

Most of us probably do not have issues with the first statement. It is easy to recognize that only Christ’s blood justifies us and sets us on the path of righteous living in the first place. However, the latter two statements tend to be more problematic for the Christian. This calls for constant reminders of the means and ends of righteousness.

We often think that because righteousness is manifested by our actions, the process of becoming righteous is our responsibility. Of course, we acknowledge that God plays a role in this process, and it is common for us to pray and ask for his help. However, if you are anything like me, after you pray for a little while, you return to discipline and self-directed control in order to be obedient to God and grow in righteousness. I tend to think of it as a sort of spiritual conditioning in which forcing myself to desire righteousness and acting on those desires makes me into a righteous person. The problem with this thinking is that both the desire for righteousness and the will power to follow through with righteous actions is only possible by the work of Christ.

16th century theologian, Martin Luther, asserts that righteous actions stem from a primary source of righteousness. This is the righteousness that justifies us, and it is only by faith that we can receive it as a gift. When this happens, Christ becomes ours and our souls are immediately transformed. We are changed and made capable of genuinely desiring and acting on pure things. Hence, success in living righteously is a matter of faith in the transforming power of Christ. This does not mean that we should instead put our efforts into growing in faith so that we can attain righteousness. Rather, it means that we should keep to the faith by which we are justified in the first place. In other words, the faith by which you turned to Christ is the faith that will produce righteous actions. By the grace of God, if you maintain your full dependence on Christ, you will be transformed.

Your righteous lifestyle is for the purpose of bringing others to God. God calls us to live righteously, but it is not for our own gain. Righteous living has everything to do with others.
Love, patience, and peace are qualities of righteousness that affect the way we interact with others. Righteous actions are an extension of God’s goodness from a believer to another person. A prime example of this is Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. Jesus lived as a perfectly righteous man and he spent his life healing the sick and comforting the weary. The Gospels make it clear that Jesus’ righteousness had a greater impact on others than it did on him. Our righteousness is not meant to merely improve our lives but to improve the way we live with others. Also, since this sort of behavior is only possible because of Christ’s transforming power, it can only point back to him. Righteous actions encourage our brethren in the faith and serves as a light to the nonbeliever.

Do not fall into the trap of thinking of righteousness as a progression that ends with you. Rather, think of righteousness as a work of grace in which the Kingdom of God is expanded.

By his grace we can possess a saving faith.
By his grace that same faith will bring about transformation.
By his grace our righteousness will point others to back to him.

Additional Thoughts: Giving Grace to “Crossover” Artists

Last week I penned an article for Biola’s new Center for Christianity, Culture & the Arts. You can read the article here, but I’d like to expand on my conclusion. Here’s how I ended the article (yes, spoiler alert):

Here’s the principle we all ought to keep in mind: grace should govern our every move. We may disagree with certain decisions that No Malice, Brian ‘Head’ Welch, P.O.D., Lecrae, or whoever may make, and we should seek to encourage the Christian scene to carefully consider its actions, but we have an obligation to extend grace, especially to those who are seeking to glorify the Lord. Correct gently, remember that all truth is God’s truth, and pray that these brothers will only get better as years go on.

I stand by the principle, but I was afraid of just one question. A friend of mine asked me the one thing that I knew I hadn’t really touched on: “How do you define grace?”

The question is deeper than the article could hope to cover, and I won’t come close to exhaustively answering it here. I could examine grace in terms of salvation, in terms of interpersonal relationships, in terms of sin, or any number of other options. The core of the question, though, is more pointed. How do we give grace to artists that we don’t really know? What does it actually mean to extend grace to a celebrity? Here’s how I answered the question to my friend:

Let’s remember that some language won’t be viewed the same by all listeners. [No Malice] is a guy whose album is absolutely steeped in redemption language. He has a straight-up altar call at the end of the album (“If you want to follow Jesus, pray this prayer with me”). It’s absurdly Christian. If any other artist did this album, we’d be fighting the cheese, occasionally. But instead, we’re fighting four to five swear words.

The point I’d like to drive home is just that we should carefully look at an entire work, rather than a few missteps; we shouldn’t lose the forest for the trees, as the old saying goes. Most of us (hopefully) already practice this when we interact with fellow believers: you see their sin, but you stay friends with them.Mostly, it is best to look to what is good in someone when you can. Correction is important, of course, but easiest and most effective when enacted or encouraged in those we know very well. If you don’t know someone’s story well, it is much more difficult to speak to their personal lives.

So when a public artist makes a decision that doesn’t make much sense to you, or possibly seems wrong, stop and pray. Consider if you have all of the facts. Was their decision absolutely sinful? Or did it just rub you the wrong way? Did it fly in the face of God or in the face of man? Do you know what position that artist was in when the song was recorded?”

Public figures, whether they are rappers or bloggers, politicians or pastors, should be careful with their words. We all should be, but public figures especially so. Our responsibility as listeners is to seek the best–all truth is God’s truth, after all–even as we discern good from evil. While we need not condone clear and obvious sin, we would be wise to remember that those who create art, write words, or otherwise live publicly are, in fact, not perfect.

Grace and Our Fellowship with the World

Scrolling through old posts for inspiration, I stumbled across Matt Anderson’s article over at Boundless, “Loving Those Who Leave.” Watching brothers and sisters walk away from the faith is difficult, and our instincts may be more harmful than they are beneficial.

I attended a Christian college that emphasized many great standards (and not just through the Contract), and so I never really expected to face a lot of people simply running away from the faith. As Matt pointed out, this is not just a one day decision, but rather the culmination of experiences. How can the experience of living in community with other Christians, studying the Bible (enough for a minor) and attending regular chapel result in someone leaving the faith?

I guess sometimes it isn’t about the right environment or the right knowledge.

This sheds light on the reaction we should have when we hear that someone has left the faith. We have to recognize that not only is it a process, but that fixing the place and addressing the information simply often does not change a person’s soul. Environments are important, as are true beliefs, but they are far from sufficient for soul-level change.

Our reaction should reflect our understanding that those who take years to turn away from the faith are not likely to change their minds back overnight. Of course, the Spirit may work in a heart in radical, instantaneous changes, but this experience is not normative and we should not count on it. Trust God can, but not that He will act on our whims and desires. I think the answer here is, appropriately enough, grace. We all need grace, and those living in grace should be quick to dispense it at every opportunity. This is especially true when a friend has stepped away from the faith.

What this does not mean, though, is that we put on a show of grace for our unsaved friends, whether they be one who left or one who never was saved. Grace shines through reality, and we do not need to make it a spectacle. Not only does it cheapen the experience of receiving grace, but it makes the grace appear to be insincere.

The temptation, of course, is to freak out. Matt’s instinct to go with the “Apologetics Double Barreled Approach” is a common one, especially among intellectuals. When we face doubts, some of us turn to intellectual arguments about the nature of God or the inspiration of the Scriptures, and perhaps even rightly so. But doubt that lasts for long periods of time (think years) is embedded deeply enough that an intellectual argument will not likely help. For some it might, but as rule these will not be the best responses.

I think Matt’s closing statement says it best. Near the end he says:

But as Christians, we do have a fellowship with the world that can unite us. Inasmuch as they stand in need of redemption, so do we. It is a position that removes all grounds for boasting or judgment. When we recognize that, we can fellowship with them out of the love that Christ has for us.

And that hits the nail on the head.

Dangerous Ideas: Complementarian Marriage

Since when are doctrines judged by when they go wrong, as opposed to when they go right?

There seems to be this really weird idea floating around the egalitarian parts of the internet that complementarians are just one step away (or maybe not even that) from outright abusing their wives. This was exposed by a recent post (now taken down) by Jared Wilson which sparked a truly enormous amount of controversy. Jared apologized for the words he used, which had caused pain to many victims of abuse, and his apology was accepted by many. However, it was also rejected by many as inadequate: these were offended not merely by the words, they say, but also by the (perceived) ideas behind them. Continue reading Dangerous Ideas: Complementarian Marriage

Disagreeing with Grace: Why Lines are Hard to Draw

Over the last week or two, we’ve seen large-scale disagreements play themselves out in a variety of locations. The Gospel Coalition’s Jared Wilson posted some troubling words, which offended and hurt many, and he was called out. Wilson’s original post has since been pulled, but both parties have reconciled, at least over the offense. There is a deeper disagreement here–one between different interpretations of Scriptural teaching on the marriage relationship–but it was truly a relief to see apologies pushed forth and publicly accepted. I was worried, for a bit there. Continue reading Disagreeing with Grace: Why Lines are Hard to Draw