Crisis of Goodness

Am I a good person?

Someone close to me recently asked me this question. I had replied with a pat answer from the Scriptures where Jesus asked the question, “why do you call me good? Only the Father is good.” My answer reflected the tainted core belief I carried.

Last night, I had a self-condition dream, where I essentially believed I was rotten at the core. I woke up with a sore back and aching bones. I asked my wife to pray for me and I realized that I needed to change my mind about whether I thought I was a good person. Perhaps this applies to you, too.

If you had asked me prior to this morning if I thought I was a good person, I would have told you “no.” Out of my own core belief, I didn’t believe anyone was good (except for God), and was jealous or mocked those who thought they were. Their behavior indicated otherwise, and I thought they were either misguided or full of themselves.

Is someone good because of their potential? Many young children are sweet and appear innocent enough. I can see potential in people where most of us don’t live up to our potential as we grow up and struggle with life.

Are we good because of our choices and the “good” things we do for others? Religions, philanthropy, and our culture would seem to indicate so. We can even come up with scripture to support our claim. You judge actions by the fruit that they bear (Luke 13:6-9) You will know our faith by our works (James 2:24).

What about those of us who have prodigal children who seem selfish and rebel against the status quo and go do their own thing? Are they good? Are they good people? Their actions would lead us to say no. However, have we lost sight of their potential that we once saw when they were small and innocent? Have they lost sight of their own potential? How do they feel about themselves? Do they believe they are good, or have they given up trying to be good enough?

“Can I ever be good enough?” I believe that is a question in the hearts of many and probably causes many to struggle and is the root of many diseases.

I have been trying to get to the root of an internal fifteen-year struggle (i.e. as long as I have been a born-again believer). For whatever reason, the struggle has been getting worse lately. I have tried some new things in life that didn’t have storybook endings (and had critical reviews to go with them).  Like it or not, people will reflect what we carry, and mirror how we feel about ourselves.  I now see that the internal struggle probably has a lot to do with how I feel about myself. Specifically, the question of whether I am inherently good.

I have struggled with understanding the bread when we take communion, and I think I now understand why.

I was excited about a new thought that the bread represents righteousness, out of looking at the opposite of a Proverb. In Proverbs 4:17, it is said of someone who forsakes wisdom “They eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.”

My new working phrase is that when we take communion, we take in the wine of forgiveness and the bread of righteousness. They are opposite words of the proverb above, exchanging the lack of wisdom for having the wisdom of Christ (1 Cor 1:30).

Without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sins. That much is obvious. In John 6, Jesus reveals that He is the bread of life, and saying that the bread symbolizes life is a reasonable answer, but there seems to be more than that. Jesus makes this statement in John 6:58b, “The one who eats this bread will live forever.” He is clearly talking about more than the life that we live in these bodies.

I believe righteousness is a much bigger encompassing word. I believe it includes life, healing, deliverance, and wholeness as part of having peace (Shalom) and being right before God. I believe it includes having the faith that we will be like Jesus, being fully loved and accepted. I believe righteousness means having faith that we both “are” and “will be” good enough. Not because of all the things we did or didn’t to, but because of the price paid for our “good enough” status. I believe that righteousness means that we will have a glorified, resurrected body like Jesus, without sin, decay, or corruption.

Ravi Zacharias said this, “In every religion except Christianity, morality is a means of attainment.”

I would amend that to say morality is a means of attainment in all religious, and self-help forms. It shouldn’t be in the church, but it is there, as well. The good news of Jesus is that righteousness is by faith lest anyone should boast (Romans 3:28).

I have always thought that there was something missing in my faith. I now understand that it is the belief that I am good. In Romans 10:9-10 below, I had received the salvation part through faith, but I failed to believe in the free gift of righteousness (I am now good enough).

Romans 10:9-10 (HCSB)
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.

I would offer the following equation – resurrection = redemption = righteousness = goodness. It is having the faith that you are good enough if you have Jesus.

I believe that is the answer our hearts need.

 

Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit

Romans 14:16-17 (NASB)
Therefore do not let what is, for you a good thing, be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.


In the context of this scripture, Paul is instructing believers not to judge one another on the basis of opinion with regard to what we drink, what we eat, and even what days we consider to be holy (vv1-5). Paul instructs us that each person live according to one’s conscience (v5). These are all matters of individual conviction before God (v22-23). What we approve of is either done in doubt bringing condemnation, or faith bringing peace. Paul concludes that whatever is not of faith is sin (v23).

In a nutshell, religious communities and religious people tend to argue and judge one another about things that have very little to do with heaven. For you, it could be whether a Sabbath rest is from Friday evening to Saturday evening, or whether Sunday is “the Lord’s day, or whether Christmas and Easter are “holy” days. It could be whether Mother’s day or Father’s day should to be celebrated or ignored, or whether new moons, or Jewish feasts are observed. It could be whether you eat shellfish, pork, or Kosher food. Maybe you drink Starbucks coffee. For you, a glass of wine or a beer may be acceptable, or gasp, a mixed drink. While not in the text, we could extend this to what you watch on television, movies, or read. It could be how you feel about ballet, dance, the body, sexuality or a host of other issues of conscience where there isn’t a clear violation of scripture.

When we judge one another about these types of things we put ourselves in a place of self-righteousness. We think we are better than someone else, based on what we do or do not do. Paul warns us about the worthlessness of all these judgments in Galatians 4:9:
But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?

Religion enslaves us to that which has little eternal value.

I was asked many times by my grandmother (whom we called Mimi) whether drinking wine was sinful. I would try to explain to Mimi, why I didn’t think so. I would mention Jesus drinking wine with his disciples, but no explanations that I could come up with could convince her. I wondered why. Was it a religious spirit that she was under? Was it because she saw the abuses of drinking indulgence in her younger days and that formed her belief system?

In the old Mosaic covenant, wine was forbidden in the temple. In fact, you would die from any evidence of intoxication in the temple.

Leviticus 10:9-10:
“Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations— and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean”

Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding celebration. He was accused of drinking and eating with sinners, and yet, He was without sin. I’ve heard it said, that one Jewish perspective is that all sin is idolatry. Jesus went after the sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, and me. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Jesus in a pub, a brothel, an orphanage, or many other places where the self-righteous would refuse to go.

In the new covenant that Jesus made with us, wine was redefined as being a symbol for communion. Jesus took something that was sketchy and of the world, and somehow made it holy. I think that is a good picture of what He can do with us.

In communion, wine goes from the outside to the inside as a sign of our acceptance and recognition of the blood of Jesus, shed for our mistakes. The blood of Jesus ushered in a new covenant with better promises. Here are some examples of the divine exchange that takes place:

  1. We give up our efforts to obtain righteousness in exchange for His righteousness (Heb 12,13) – Jesus is our guarantor of the covenant.
  2. We give up our sins and guilt in exchange for His forgiveness and cleansing (Lev 17, Rom 3, Heb 9, 1 John 1, Rev 1,5) – Jesus is our High Priest.
  3. We give up being common and of this world in exchange for being made holy by His blood (Ex 4,12,24,Rom 5,Heb 9,10, Acts 20)
  4. We give up our fear of death in exchange for His everlasting life (Jn 6,Rev 12)
  5. We give up our blood lines with all their bents and issues in exchange for His pure and spotless blood DNA (Lev 17, Mk 5, Jn 6, Heb 10, 1 Jn 1:7)
  6. We give up our orphan hearts and alienation in exchange for His love and acceptance (Rom 5,Eph 2,Col 1)

The point of all this is not food or drink, but rather what is offered to us through the kingdom of heaven. The point of communion is not the bread and the wine, but the one who IS the bread and the wine.

One of the things that I find sad is to find so many that don’t know that God’s presence is available. They don’t know that in His presence is fullness of joy. They don’t know that the power of God is available to bring shalom to the storms around them. They don’t know that His righteousness is already purchased and available to them. Instead, they keep seeking their own.

I’m learning that there are so many things that religious communities make important that have nothing to do with expanding the influence of His kingdom. I was taught that when you pray for someone, one of the most common results is that the person experiences peace, sometimes, at a very deep level.

I’m starting to look at these three aspects (righteousness, peace, joy) as evidence of the Kingdom of Heaven at work. Without evidence of these, I’m not sure we’re dealing with much more than elemental things of this world.

His righteousness, peace, and joy are available to us in the Holy Spirit. I heard an interesting teaching from John Paul Jackson recently about shalom being a verb rather than a noun. The Hebrew word shalom is often translated as peace, but means to be made whole, nothing missing, and having nothing lacking. Jesus was the prince of Shalom. He was able to cause storms to be still because of what he carried. He brought peace to chaos for the woman with the issue of blood. We have the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. It is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

If so, how can you transform the environment around you by faith? How can you bring peace to areas of anarchy or tumult? How can you bring or impart joy to others? How can you let others know of the good offering of His righteousness?

Perhaps it is through prayer, but it may also be through healthy touch, expressing love, or sharing a word of encouragement.

The kingdom of heaven is righteousness, peace, and joy, freely available for you to partake of and to give away.

Rightly Formed Righteousness

Righteousness is the Hebrew word “tsedeq”.  It is also translated as justice, or rightness.  My working definition is living in right relationship with God, with man, and with ourselves.

How is righteousness to be formed in us?

Isaiah 64:5-6

You meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness, Who remembers You in Your ways. Behold, You were angry, for we sinned, We continued in them a long time; And shall we be saved? 

For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Isaiah asks “We meet the one who rejoices in doing righteousness, who remembers God in his ways.  We continue them in a long time.  Shall we be saved?” 

I know there are things that I have done trying to be holy for a long time.  My efforts towards righteousness don’t seem to amount to much.

What’s interesting is studying out the Hebrew for the two words translated as “filthy garment.”  The Hebrew is as follows:

  • Beged (H899) – Clothing or covering
  • Ed (H5707) – While this is translated as filthy, it also means “witness.”  Blood serves as a witness of righteousness or its lack.

Could it be that our own efforts of righteousness testify against us? 

Paul’s writings in both Romans and Ephesians say the following:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

The Greek word for saved is “sozo.”  “Sozo” is an amazingly rich word, translated as preserve, make whole, heal, save, deliver.  Grace is God’s indwelling power to do that which we can’t do.  I can’t save myself. 

If I could, I am boasting of my own efforts to be righteous or become righteous.  Hmmm, sounds like the tree of pride and self rather than the tree of life (Jesus).

The problem is we think we are the ones forming our spiritual formation rather than recognizes that it can only come from God.  Are there things we can do to foster it?  Absolutely.  Can we make it happen?  No.

Religiously, we think we are the Potter, the one who can shape or form our righteousness. 

Isaiah 64:8

But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.

In Romans 10:3, the problems of self-righteousness are revealed.

For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  We miss the grace of God when trying to establish our righteousness apart from the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 10:4 goes on to say:

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

It can only be through the righteousness of Christ.  The process is akin to gold being refined through fire.  God help us to be still and know.