August 28, 2007

Righteous Roots

No one finds security by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved. -- Proverbs 12:3

"Righteousness" gets a bad rap lately, in popular conception too often confused with self-righteousness. (Try not to imagine overly pious Christians thumping their chests and judging the rest of us for our various infidelities.) The good news is that a person can be righteous without it absolutely ruining him … or his friendships! Thank God.

Simply speaking, in the Bible, the righteous man or women is one committed to God, one loyal to the bond God has made with us. In the Old Testament, that bond was the great covenant secured with Abraham and Sarah, later through Moses. The Lord says to Israel: "I will be your God. You will be my people." In a sense, they get married … and just like in a marriage, each side must stay committed to the relationship. So, the righteous members of God's family were those who took seriously what God had done for them and then pledged to live accordingly (Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18, etc.). To be a part of God's covenant brood was both a blessing and a burden, both a gift and calling.

In the New Testament, the wide beam of the covenant is narrowed to shine squarely and solely on Christ, and what secures us to God now is the living bond that Jesus makes with us. What we celebrate as believers is that God has accredited us as righteous, i.e. allegiant, in good standing, faithful—not of our own merit, but by virtue of Jesus' immense qualifications (see Romans 5). The free gift of grace is that we are accounted in God's family by God's generous action, not our own credentials. This is why self-righteousness will never do in Christian faith: Our good standing with God is wholly God's own doing, a free act of his ineffable grace. Show me an arrogant Christian and I will show you someone who has never really experienced God's grace. In the New Testament, he who is righteous not only accepts this remarkable gift with humility and gratitude, but pledges to live a life of love in light of such good news (Colossians 3:12-17).

Now we are ready to hear the promise of Proverbs 12:3. The root of the righteous will never be moved. Most of the schemes and shortcuts available to us for securing ourselves turn out to leave us empty, ashen, and without substance. Winds of trouble blow hard, and our house falls for lack of any livingness. (See Matthew 7:24-27 for Jesus' parable on the matter.) But the gospel is a strong tap root that anchors our lives in God's good grace. There is a durability to the covenant, it will not come undone because both God and we have pledged our part. (Compare Proverbs 10:25, 18:10, 28:1, and 30:5)

Note well, however, that righteousness—both the free gift and the resulting calling—is not a get-out-difficulty-free card. The mystery of why sometimes things are not the way they are supposed to be broods over all of us, righteous or not. The difference, I imagine, is that in righteousness one is not "moved" out from under the canopy of God's good provision. The "wicked" have nothing on which to stand in a storm, but the winds of trouble do not blow a righteous one out of the grip of God's grace. The promise of Proverbs 12:3 teaches one to say in all matters under heaven, "Whatever my lot …"

"Whatever my lot." These are perhaps the best three words in the classic hymn It is Well With My Soul. When five of our members offered Spafford's words and Bliss' tune as their anthem last Sunday, I sat humming along and was again reminded of the promise and power of standing firm in God's grace—regardless of circumstances.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well with our souls; we are counted as righteous. In this we rejoice. Let us once again commit ourselves to a life of grateful obedience.