Rigid or Righteous
I’ve always been a rule follower. Even as a kid, I wouldn’t dare to go against the rules set by my teacher, parents, or any other authority figure. There were lines I’d never cross and even the thought of getting caught stepping over them was enough to keep me well within the boundaries. Call it fear of punishment or disappointment. Call it conviction. Call it whatever you want, but it was enough to keep me walking the straight and narrow. Even now as an adult I tend to still follow the rules pretty closely. If a sign says, “Do Not Enter,” I don’t. If the recipe says let simmer for 5-10 minutes, I set the timer for 8. If the speed limit is 70, then I drive...well, maybe that’s not a great example. But you get the picture. And because of this innate need to “follow the rules,” I’ve often confused righteousness with rigidness.
My desire to follow the rules, the expectations for performance that I place on myself, and my desperate need to please others has caused me to live an almost rigid lifestyle - determined to be, as Mary Poppins would say, “practically perfect in every way.” This is especially true in my spiritual life. I have often viewed scripture as a checklist of instructions that I must accomplish to achieve holiness. Anything and everything that hinders me from my goal of spiritual perfection must be cast off. And if I fail, well then, I must not be worthy of the love and grace offered to me by my Heavenly Father. I’ll even admit that at times I’ve taken Matthew 5:48, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” as a challenge that I must achieve in my own power. But oh how I’ve missed the mark.
While scripture absolutely instructs us on our journey to holiness and we are challenged to be perfect as our Father is, we cannot achieve holiness or perfection in our own power. No rigid adherence to law or command will make us worthy of God’s love or Jesus’ sacrifice for us. No disciplined spiritual lifestyle will itself alone achieve a sanctified heart or a transformed life.
Not rigidness. Only righteousness.
And only the righteousness of Christ.
All the rule following in the world won’t give me the freedom that is found in Jesus. Consider the Pharisees. They had the whole “rule following” idea down pat. But when Jesus was in their midst, they missed Him completely. They missed the freedom He was offering to them - the forgiveness and opportunity to fully know the Lord and His Word - through a relationship with Him. They were relying on their personal righteousness to make themselves holy. How often I find myself thinking along the same lines and how often I have to be reminded that there is nothing...I mean, nothing that I can do to make myself holy before the Lord. My personal righteousness is “like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) before the Lord. It’s only through the shedding of Jesus’ blood and its covering over me that I stand forgiven and righteous before Him. Only because of Jesus. Only because of His sacrifice and His grace am I being transformed into His likeness and renewed by His spirit. And it is because of His righteousness that I am then compelled to be obedient to His Word. Not forced. No more rule following out of fear of punishment or of disappointing others. There’s no need for that. The punishment has been paid and the approval given. Righteousness is mine for the taking because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
Rigidness compels us to follow the rules.
Righteousness compels us to follow Jesus.