Summer’s hands pressed against the edge of the door as she was trying to finagle it open. She knew her daddy was on the other side doing woodwork and she wanted to watch. Baylor also paced looking at me as if to beg, “please can we go?”
I cracked open the door and asked Ryan if we could join him. He nodded, letting me know our presence was okay. I grabbed a few candy canes and followed Summer outside. There, we played soccer and watched Ryan work under the rumbles of the power tools.
Ryan paused with the saw and moved over to another tool. During the transition, I ran indoors to grab a toy. The silence felt piercing in the wake of his power tools.
While inside, I heard Ryan’s fierce, loud cry, “NOOO! Get away right now. That is never okay. Bad. Do not touch.”
His tone sent a chill down my spine.
I married a peaceful man. I have heard him yell in anger a total of 4 or 5 times in the past 16 years. To hear him yell caused me grave concern.
I ran outside and learned, to my relief, that everyone still had all of their fingers and toes. I saw no blood or bruises. There were no tears. Ryan explained that Summer and Baylor had gotten a little too close to the power tools.
They were just curious. Both of them had watched from a distance as the tools were being used. I’m sure as the silence settled in they saw an opportunity to explore and learn. Little did they know the serious harm that could incur from such exploration.
This experience reminded me of boundaries God outlines in Scripture. What a sweet and tangible mirroring of Father God’s commands given through the Bible and His passionate love for us. The intensity and weightiness with which biblical commands are given can feel restrictive.
It seems righteous living and holiness are either over discussed among communities of Christians with a judgmental tone, or they are gravely under discussed with a sort of “seeker friendly” or fearful disposition. Both situations are deeply troubling. And, unfortunately, this may be because we misunderstand God’s intentions for giving us such commands for living.
I’m taking a dramatic risk posting on this topic. I realize it will not be my most popular (because of the length and content). And I realize many people may disagree with some of my stances.
I desperately want to avoid conveying the message that God’s love, acceptance and salvation is at all contingent on our behavior. It is not. I want to offer clarity to people who do not walk with God regarding why Christianity tends to be associated with a certain way of living, and I want to caution believers, particularly in my generation, to consider their day-to-day behavior, their words, and their heart.
“Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45
While this post is more geared toward followers of Jesus, I recognize there are 3 types of people reading this.
Some of us grew up in the church…
To live righteously is something that has more or less come naturally because of the culture in which we were raised. Many times, these “dont’s” outlined in scripture come across to us as another standard for acceptance and approval. We comply because that’s what our friends do – or that is what the culture expects of us. It’s important to know, God accepts you despite your choices.
If we do all of the “righteous” things God admonishes us to do in Scripture, we are accepted. If we do all of the “unrighteous” things God warns against in Scripture, we are accepted. If we sit in a room and do nothing at all for the rest of our lives but stare at a wall, we are deeply loved and accepted. Jesus did all of the things for us.
Our charge in life is not to mind all of the rules. Our charge is to know God. And an adventurous life with God is a lot more exhilarating than mindlessly obeying rules. The more we press into Him and actually study the Scripture, the more we learn what commands actually exist and which commands have been projected on us through culture and other people’s impression of God. Get to know Him and His word yourself.
Some of us have never stepped foot in a church…
The idea of righteous living sounds a lot like just being a good person. And, well, we are right. Jesus was a good person – and He is our model and standard for this sort of living and being. Even if people do not claim to believe Jesus is God, but follow all of His commands in Scripture, they will live a happier and healthier life.
We know some Christians and find them to be horribly judgmental, rude people. We also know some Christians who are genuinely kind-hearted and who live a “goody tushu life.” And, annoyingly, we know Christians who are extremely hypocritical.
First and foremost, we must admit that none of us are good. We may all typically try our best, but that is not the same as being a good person. At the core of our being we are all selfish. I do not have to teach my child how to steal a toy from another kid, it just happens.
Even the “good” people among us engage in behaviors that the Scriptures urge us against. Under the skin of all people there is a heart in need of redemption.
It is impossible to get to know God apart from His Word. And it is impossible to understand His Word without knowing God. Too often people have tried to do one or the other, but both are required.
Without knowing God, the Bible will appear to be a giant rule book and not the romantic novel it is intended to be.
God’s desire is for you to first know Him and His Love and from the position of wanting to know Him intimately, explore His commands and promises. If you explore the Scriptures from a launching pad of love and a desire to know Him, then you will understand how and why He issues various commands.
And, some of us have been hurt by the church.
We tried to go. We were chastised for wearing the wrong clothes, or dating the wrong person. We said the wrong thing or told the wrong joke. We had the wrong sexual orientation. We got divorced. We had an affair. We got an abortion. We took the drugs or the drink or the condoms. We voted for the wrong person. Our skin was the wrong color. We drank the wrong kool-aid, and because of it we felt judged, ashamed, embarrassed and we were ostracized.
To us, the notion of “righteousness” sounds like an excuse to judge people.
Our experience within the church was not okay. God looks completely different than that.
The church is a collection of broken people. Sometimes, unfortunately, a gathering of broken people who think they are perfect. Jesus always held these sort of churchy-people that hurt us to the highest standard – even calling them “snakes” in the Scriptures.
As we study Jesus’ life, we learn that He breaks through the tidy box many churches have created. In fact, He participated in many of the behaviors some of these churchy people would deem unacceptable. He engaged in premeditated violence (John 2:15), He made way for copious amounts of wine at a party (John 2:1-11), He implies in Luke 7:33-44 that he enjoyed alcohol during his earthly life, He called people names (Matthew 12:34), and He attended some of the greatest parties with not-so-churchy people.
You do not have to let a doctrine dictate who Jesus is – you can allow Jesus to design your doctrine as you read His word and get to know His Spirit.
What Is Righteousness…
There exists in Scripture guidance for how to do life in a way that not only brings God honor, but steers our days so that we can experience the greatest heights of joy, peace and love that are available to us on this side of Heaven.
God’s heart burns for us to experience this type of life. A life unstained by the brokenness of the world in which we live. The Bible refers to this God-instructed way of living as “righteous,” or “holy” living.
The righteous living I’m referencing is described in the Bible through commands such as “do not steal,” “do not give full vent to your anger,” “do not engage in fornication (translation: sexual promiscuity/sex before marriage),” “do not indulge in wine,” ” do not covet,” “do not envy” and “do not lust,” to name a few.
“I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them…you shall not take the name of the Lord in vain…Remember the Sabbath day…honor your father and mother…you shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house…” Exodus 20:2-4,7,8,12-17
To someone who isn’t walking in friendship with God, these commands can sound like barricades to fun and pleasure. In reality, asking for us to refrain from such behavior is His way of protecting us from a dangerous level of pain we cannot always see.
Jesus set us free from the traditional Hebrew law, which required compliance with over 600 standards of living from eating to bathing to resting and beyond. Under such extensive decrees, no one could live a holy life. God did not like how people were distracted by behavior and thus neglecting their hearts. They were missing the point.
God’s desire was much higher and more glorious than behavior modification. His goal was to touch, change, heal and redeem hearts. By restoring people’s hearts, they can come to know true peace, joy and love.
Jesus died so that we do not have to be consumed with the weight of the law. Jesus came to “fulfill the law” by showing us the motivation behind God’s commands was and is always love (Matthew 5:17) and Jesus is Love (1 John 4:8). Through Jesus’ life He spoke to us and healed us and shifted our paradigm for loving God. Through Jesus, God gives us the opportunity to be restored to how He originally designed us to be – in friendship with Him.
“If righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” Galatians 2:21
The simple truth is that we will never do enough good to outweigh a sinful heart. The only way to find true peace and unyielding acceptance, love, and joy is by walking with Jesus in friendship. And as we walk with Him, we get to follow His commands for living, not as a recipe to be loved by Him or to make it to heaven, but as a method for doing life with limited pain. In reality, righteous living is a lot less about restriction and a great deal more about an invitation to know Love and Peace.
As we fall in love with God we will fall in love with His decrees. As we come to know Jesus and fall in love with Him, the desires of His heart become the desires of our own. We come to want what He wants and crave what He craves. We are not called to seek out the commands, we are called to seek Him.
“How blessed are those who observe his decrees, who seek him with all of their heart” Psalm 119:2
But, followers of Jesus are also humans. As humans, our flesh has cravings and desires that do not always align with the ways Jesus calls us to live. He gives us a free will and the freedom to choose His way over our own. And He gives us grace and power through His Spirit to obey His commands.
“Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” Matthew 26:41
We will never get it all right. We will always make mistakes. We have all sinned and we all fall short of holiness (Romans 3:23). Because of this, Jesus died for us. When God looks at us He does not see our bad behavior, He sees Jesus. We become “Holy like He is Holy” when we accept the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf and choose to walk with Him.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” Ephesians 2:8
And so, to those who follow Christ,
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6
In the Scriptures He urges us to not engage in vulgar joking, sex before marriage, getting drunk, gossiping, loving someone or something more than Him, jealousy, abusing our bodies, gluttony, judging others, sexual promiscuity, lust, angry outbursts, lying, financial obsession, and more.
*All of these actions are explicitly identified in Scripture as unrighteous, or sinful (references below).
Unrighteousness desensitizes us to the love of God and steers our lives further away from authentic peace, joy and love. Unrighteous living opens us up to danger and pain.
As we exist in our earthly bodies there will be moments when were are tempted to lean into sin. Moments when we are just curious to test the water. Opportunities during which when we feel it will be okay to press in a little closer and see what we were missing.
As we tiptoe up to the threshold of sin, God is yelling, “NOOO! Get away right now. That is never okay. Bad. Do not touch.” Not because He wants to keep us from having pleasure, but because He wants to protect us and only He can see that we are actually playing with power tools.
In drunkenness we make unsound decisions, fight, and open ourselves up to danger.
Through gossiping we hurt people’s feelings. We build relationships on the backbone of other people’s lives instead of entering into real conversations with one another.
In sexual promiscuity with devalue the sanctity of our bodies and open ourselves up to a myriad of emotional and physical risks.
By lying we harden the soil of our hearts and hurt other people. Entering into authentic friendships becomes difficult, if not impossible. We become emotionally and mentally isolated.
Gluttony leads to suffering and pain in our bodies.
Loving someone or something more than God places our hope and our hearts in something temporary, conditional, and fallible. When that someone or something fails, life-altering heartache ensues.
There are blanket, black and white, statements that God makes through the Scriptures that do not need to be brushed under the rug anymore.
I have seen too many followers of Jesus, particularly in my generation, walk a gray line in the name of reaching the lost, or having some fun, or relating to others, or understanding the culture, or needing laughter, or not being religious, or you-name-it. Yes, there is a reality in that what is wise for you may not be wise for me. We need the Holy Spirit to help us interpret and absorb the meaning of His Word.
But, all we are really doing is playing with power tools. We are setting ourselves up for serious heartache and pain. We are exposing ourselves to toxicity and desensitizing ourselves to the love of God, a love that remains steadfast and unconditional despite what choices we make.
Our salvation is not built on our behavior. His grace is not dependent on our choices. Living a holy life and minding all of the rules will not get us to heaven. God’s precepts are not about rules for acceptance, approval, or getting to the right place after we die.
God loves us big. So, incredibly big that He foresaw recipes for disaster and gave us an entire Book filled with warning signs and commands that will help us skip heartache and live Heaven on earth.
Our earthly life is about knowing the God of Love who designed us with purpose and intentionality. A God that loves us enough to draw boundaries around our lives so that we do not get hurt, just like we love our daughter enough to not let her play with power tools.