Rationalizing Righteousness

The other day I was talking to my VP of Marketing who made a prayer request for a friend of hers who is struggling right now. You see, her friend’s daughter, who at the tender age of thirteen, underwent some pretty heinous experiences at the hands of men she trusted. She mentioned that her friend wondered if it was her fault. She wondered if it was because she, as a mother, had not spent enough time in prayer. She questioned if her inattentiveness to the gospel and her wandering thoughts at church had brought this on her family. She wondered what many of us wonder… is God punishing me?

This question brings with it a whole slippery slope of possibilities… because if all the badness visiting our lives is God punishing us for our sins, then all the goodness means we’re living a righteous life and God is blessing us. There is no room for grace in either scenario. We get what we sow, which means God rewards and takes away based on what WE do and not what HE does. And if that’s our mantra, well then, Jesus’ death is meaningless.

The fact is, we cannot rationalize our righteousness at the foot of the cross.

In this Summer Book Club’s selection, “The Ragamuffin Gospel,” Brennan Manning expounds on this topic. In Chapter Seven, he calls this rationalization the “noonday devil of the Christian life.” It’s “the temptation to lose the inner self while preserving the shell of edifying behavior” or to “do the right thing for the wrong reason.” The Bible warns of this very thing in Mark 12:38-40: “Beware of the scribes… these are the men who devour the property of widows and for show offer long prayers.”

Many of us put on the costume of righteousness. We prance and preen at church, bowing our heads in contrition but not really feeling sorrow for our sins. This “pseudo-repentance” only offers “pseudo-bliss” because we know we’re only appealing to a “pseudo-god”–one that blesses the right and condemns the wrong. One without true grace.

The truth is, we can’t dazzle God with a slight of the hand trick–“Now you see the sinner, now you don’t.” We cannot trick God with the “righteous persona” that tricks our friends and colleagues. He’s onto us.

We need to end the pretense and accept the fact that grace is given to all of us. When we do, we can finally take off the mask of righteousness and know that God is good, His Grace is real, and he loves us unconditionally. When we do this, we can truly rediscover our God-given dignity and know that God, in His infinite wisdom, sculpted each one of us with a purpose in mind.

And in spite of our sinful-nature, we deserve God’s Grace and His hand is open, just waiting for you and me to accept it.

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