Today I got lost in the mall. I believe that I am the only person on earth that can get lost in a mall, especially one I have shopped many times. (Many, many times. Check my closet.) I came in through an entrance that I generally don’t use, and it’s an unusual one with a fairly long hall before you actually enter the mall.
When it came time to leave, I couldn’t find that hall. I knew I was back in the right area – there were Scooters and Suncoast and the kiddy playland… I walked around the playland so many times I’m surprised nobody called the police to report a suspicious person stalking the children. I wandered up and down that little end of the mall like the kid who gets his bumper car stuck in the corner and can’t get out – just bounces off the wall, over and over, in the same corner. In my mind, everyone was staring and pointing, wondering what that crazy redhead was doing walking in circles, looking a little bit wild and disoriented. In reality, I’m sure nobody paid any attention to me, but at the time I felt like I had a neon sign over my head that said “Too stupid to find her way out of a mall.”
Eventually I found the exit (totally by accident) and escaped before the police came to take me away from the kids. But, of course, being lost in the mall made me think about righteousness (what else?)
Last Sunday I asked my community group , “How righteous were you this week?” The reactions ranged from “Do you mean while I was asleep?” to “Well… great, on occasions…”
I asked them to turn to two scriptures:
You are partners with Christ Jesus because of God. Jesus has become our wisdom sent from God, our righteousness, our holiness, and our ransom from sin. I Corinthians 1:30
Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. Philippians 3:8-9
We talked about the fact that our righteousness before God doesn’t depend on what we do or don’t do, but on the fact of our faith in Jesus. When God looks at me, he sees Jesus. He doesn’t see my failures and faults and screwups. Does that mean I should just do whatever I want and not worry about it? Exactly the opposite! Knowing how deeply God loves and accepts me, and everything he did to save me, makes me want to obey him and please him – not out of an attempt to win his approval, but out of a desire to show my love and gratitude. The more I understand God’s forgiveness, patience, and unconditional love for me, the less I want to go against his will. I find it easier and easier to believe that what he wants for me must be the best even if I don’t see or understand it.
Righteousness doesn’t come from doing good works, or from hanging on with both hands till my knuckles are white to keep from doing the “bad things”. When I try to do it myself I might bite my tongue when someone annoys me but the thoughts that go through my mind are definitely not kind or patient. (I have to admit they can be pretty funny sometimes. Well, in a mean way… Yeah, I guess that isn’t funny, is it. But it sure seems like it at the time.) When I try to manufacture my own righteousness I may read the Bible, but it’s because I “should”, and I do it to check it off my list. Maybe I’ll get something meaningful from it, maybe I won’t- but it’s not coming from a heart of desire to be in the presence of God. Sometimes I try so hard to achieve something I already have, and end up with a very poor imitation.
Righteousness, by God’s definition, isn’t about what I do at all. It’s about being covered and surrounded with the grace of Jesus. And that comes simply by putting my faith in him.
Ok, I can hear you asking “What does this have to do with your pathetic/funny misadventure in the mall?” I’ll tell you. (Don’t forget, patience is a fruit of the Spirit.) I started thinking about how many attempts I made to leave the mall but kept hitting dead ends. I was pretty positive I knew the way, so much so that I went to the same place three different times, and guess what? There was a wall there every single time. You would think that I would have figured it out after the first time, but no, I had to keep going back to see if maybe the exit mysteriously appeared where I “knew” it was.
But the truth was, there was only one way out. It didn’t matter what I thought or how many times I tried to make my way work. I wasn’t leaving till I found the way and followed it. Living in righteousness, walking in the Spirit, is very much the same. I can keep bouncing off the walls in my little bumper car for as long as I like. I can keep going to the same wall expecting it to open up. But I’m not going to get anywhere until I follow the only actual path that is open. My only job is to follow, and to stop trying so hard. So why is that harder than it sounds?