In Spite of Us

1“Hear, O Israel! You are crossing over the Jordan today to go in to dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, great cities fortified to heaven, 2a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ 3“Know therefore today that it is the LORD your God who is crossing over before you as a consuming fire. He will destroy them and He will subdue them before you, so that you may drive them out and destroy them quickly, just as the LORD has spoken to you. 4“Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. 5It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 6“Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people. 7“Remember, do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness; from the day that you left the land of Egypt until you arrived at this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.

If it wasn't so common or so tragic, Christian self-righteousness would be funny.  We who confess the need for God's mercy on a daily basis, who base our salvation on His work and not ours, yet somehow turn around and puff up our own sense of goodness before ourselves, within our holy huddles, and to those around us who do not share our beliefs.  I'd like to say that it's because all people have a desire to be self-righteous, so that Christians are really no different than others in this regard, but the evidence I see with my own eyes (including a pointed evaluation of my own behaviors) suggests that we are in fact worse than the world on this issue.

If there is any consolation, it is that the Bible records such behavior as having taken place long before we were ever around, and yet tells of a God hanging in there with His people and still working on their behalf in spite of their God-dishonoring self-righteousness.  I read the passage above earlier this month in my morning personal Bible study time, and, after I had gotten a triple shot of the message, "it's not because of your righteousness that you've gotten this far" (verse 4, and then 5, and then 6), I wrote in my Bible, "OK, God, I get it!"  I felt like my son Aaron feels when I harangue him over and over again about something.

Only, however much Aaron deserves to have to have things repeated to him by me, more so do we by God.  It would be comical, except that it is sad and wrong, our repeated urge to find satisfaction in our holiness and lord our rightness over others.  In fact, it is doubly sad and doubly wrong.  First, we do in fact stand only on the basis of God's mercy in our lives, as even a shallow examination of our walks with Him should bear out.  Second, because of that fact, any hope to plead our case to others around us who are similarly in need of mercy is lost if the focus of our goodness is ourselves (which is not only false but also of no help to them) rather than a God who can forgive us of our sins, cleanse us of our righteousness, and love us unconditionally throughout. 

In spite of us, God continues to shine through.  Much as we try to muddy it up with our self-righteousness, God is still at work for us and through us.  Would that we unclench from our sense of having worked our own way to His favor, receive unconditionally what has been unconditionally offered, and shine a bright light on others that they too might emerge from any of their dark parts into the same place of unmerited favor and overwhelming love.

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