Sunday, The Third Week of Lent

Living in the Moment

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  — Matthew 6:34  

The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Dallas, my home parish, was established in a farmhouse on Central Expressway in 1960. At that time, this area of north Dallas was totally undeveloped. In 1964, we bought 3 acres of land on the other side of the highway for $30,000 and built a very nice sanctuary. Less than 20 years later the city of Dallas had expanded and the corridor of Central Expressway became prime real estate. The diocese received an offer to  relocate the church to Greenville Avenue. The capital investment company would buy the new property for us, and would pay $3,000,000 to purchase our current building. The Sunday Bishop Davies came to the parish to tell the congregation that he had accepted the offer, he said, “Every person in this room has visions of what the new church will look like. Some want us to rebuild the church on the new site exactly as it is here. Others have visions of a gothic cathedral. And others want an ultramodern, multi-use facility. What we should all be asking is, ‘What does God want?’”

These are anxious times. Over the past year many have asked, “When will things get back to the way they were?” We want our lives to return to “normal”. We want to return to church as it was. That is not going to happen. God is dismantling the Church. There are things about the Church that have needed changing for a long time. There are new things that God wants to put in place. And we all have visions of what we want the Church to be. But God is in the process of rebuilding the Church in the image of Christ. We should be asking, as Bishop Davies exhorted my home church, “What does God want?”

God is rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem; He is reconstructing His Temple. The old walls are being dismantled, and construction on the new walls has begun. We can hope to revisit the past; we can long for some brighter future; or we can live in the moment, fully trusting that God is doing better things for us right now than we can either ask for or imagine. Jesus said in the passage quoted above, “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” These are troubling days, but Christ is sufficient for the day. Time and eternity intersect in this moment. When we live for the past, or have our eyes fixed on the future, we miss the visitation of Christ in the present.

The rebuilding process may be long and it will require of us patience. We must give God the time and space to do His work in us, remaking us in His image. We don’t know what needs to be done. We need to humbly submit to His plan and purpose for our lives and the life of His Church moment by moment. For those who are in Christ, there is “fullness of joy”, just as He promised (John 15:11; 16:24). To know Christ is to be confident in His ability to provide for our every need in every circumstance. St. Paul wrote to the Church at Philippi from prison during a very troubling time of persecution. He could not be with the Philippians face to face (and Zoom wasn’t available at that time). They faced the prospect of losing everything, even their lives. But Paul assured them, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christand be found in him…” (3:8). These are words of hope for today.

So let us look at the virtues to which God is calling us in our present circumstances. And let us rebuild the walls of Jerusalem with the materials that He has chosen, according to His plan for His Temple. 

Saturday of 2 Lent

Confess

As we reflect upon the virtues of this week, we can recognize from the Word that God is calling us to be remade in the likeness of Christ Jesus. This remaking is a matter of transformation, a purifying of our character, allowing God to burn away that which does not belong, and filling our hearts—our lives—with Him. 

When we are honest, we can admit that we are not always Christlike in our actions. And even when we, on occasion, behave in a manner worthy of Christ, our motives are not always pure.  We may appear gentle, honest, or good, but our hearts are not always in line with our actions.  We can become envious of others, dissatisfied with our place in the walls of the Temple. We allow jealousy to take root in our hearts, holding others in contempt, and ridiculing them behind their back. However, our God is gracious. Through prayer, we can ask God to give us a spirit of gentleness and take away any feelings of self-righteousness. We can ask Him to work His transformation in our hearts, and to reveal ways we can show the virtues of this week to others so that we may reflect Christ’s character.

But it all begins with repentance. We have strayed from His way like lost sheep, following our own devices and desires. When we hold on to those desires, God will not try to overrule us and force Himself upon us. When we humbly admit our need for His grace, He will flood our lives with His love, filling us with His grace and truth. Then the transformation can begin.

So, let us confess our sins, and ask God to begin transforming us into the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ, filling us with the virtues of His character.

Almighty and most merciful Father, we have strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. O Lord, have mercy on us.  By your grace cleanse and purify us in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; and grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of your holy Name.  Amen.

Friday of 2 Lent

Graciousness

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” —Colossians 4:6  

“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”  —1 Peter 2:19-20  

At the beginning of this series of meditations it was noted that this past year has been difficult for everyone globally. There has been much turmoil, suffering, sorrow, and death. How has the Church handled these crises? In truth, not well at all. Though St. Paul declares that we are to obey the governing authorities (Romans 13:1), many local churches defied the government’s restrictions during the pandemic, and some individual Christians claimed unjust suffering at the hands of the government. Many Christians have struggled with depression, despondency, and doubt. Families have broken apart and marriages have severed. But St. Paul says in the passage above that the “gracious thing” for the Christian to do is to endure sorrow and suffering. “This is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” But how?

The word gracious comes from gratia, the Latin root for “favor”. Graciousness is rooted in God’s favor, His grace. The one who is gracious of heart is someone who exhibits God’s favor and is “full of grace”. When something is full it has no room for anything else. A person who is full of grace has no room for self, sin, or the devil.  There are three people in the New Testament who were declared to be “full of grace.” In John 1:14, it says of Jesus, the Word, that He “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Of His mother Mary, Luke recounts the angel’s greeting: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). And in Acts 6:8, Luke describes the ministry of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, saying, “Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.” Each of these three had to endure sorrow and suffering. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus endured the cross. Mary had to watch her Son die (John 19:25). And Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the Word (Acts 7:58). And each of them exhibited God’s grace in their suffering. But what about us? How do we tap into that grace and favor? In John’s Gospel, after declaring that Jesus was full of grace and truth, the evangelist says that “from His fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (1:16). And that this “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (1:17). When we are in Christ, we receive “grace upon grace.”

In building the walls of the Temple, we must, as has been stated, use the most excellent building materials. There must be no impurities in the clay, or the bricks will crumble and the walls will collapse. The process of becoming Christlike requires our humility. We must be willing to recognize that there are things in our lives which are not of Christ, and these impurities must be removed, burned out by the fire of the Holy Spirit. It is not something we can accomplish by our own efforts. As St. James declares in his epistle, “He gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (4:6). This is not a one time experience. We must continue to grow into that Christlikeness. St. Peter exhorts the saints to, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18).  We must grow in grace.

When we have grown in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, then the fullness of that grace will be self-evident in our lives and our dealings with others in the Body and with those outside. Paul exhorted the church at Colossae (4:6), “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” And when we have grown “full of grace” then we can, as Paul told young Titus (2:7-8), “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works…and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”

Thursday of 2 Lent

Goodness

“Walk as children of light(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”  —Ephesians 5:8-10

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life…”  — Psalm 23:6

In Genesis 1:31 it says, “God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good.” Everything that He made was good because it is in God’s nature to do what is good. His goodness became incarnate in Jesus Christ, and any person who is in Christ will pursue that same goodness.

The Greek word for goodness conveys the sense that the thing, or the person, who is good is wholly pure and righteous. Literally, goodness is godliness. It is being who and what God created us to be. He made us, and it was good. It is important to note that none of us are currently in a state of perfection, of being perfectly good.  We are fallen creatures, and we are in dire need of being remade in His image. Goodness, therefore, is part of the process of becoming holy, of pursuing excellence in our relationship with God. It is not merely a matter of moral behavior, but of transformation in our character. It is not something that we can accomplish by our own will or power. To be truly good we must rely upon God’s grace.

Don Moen sings that “God is good all the time, He puts a song of praise in this heart of mine.” God is good, and he puts not only a song of praise but His very being into us by the Holy Spirit. When we are walking in the power of the spirit, the nature of God will become more and more evident in our lives. We can exhibit the goodness of God in our relationship with others when we let God do His work through us. Saint Paul exhorts the church at Ephesus to “Walk as children of the light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” The fruit of light is the fruit which comes from the One Who is the Light of the World. That is why we find “goodness” in the list of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

An essential characteristic of Christlikeness, therefore, is goodness, because God is good, and everything He made is good. So for us to live in God’s goodness we must live in such a way that if people should see us they will see God’s goodness in us.  Another way to describe this type of virtue is to say that goodness is the love of God put into action. Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” As noted before, none of this originates in us, because we are fallen creatures. Goodness originates in the One Who is Good.  When we are walking in step with Him, then He will look on all that He has created through us and declare, “behold it is very good.”

Wednesday of 2 Lent

Faithfulness

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”   —Matthew 23:23

“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.”  —1 Corinthians 4:1-2 

Four times a year we renew our baptismal covenant: on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, at the Easter Vigil, on the Day of Pentecost, and on All Saints’ Sunday. In that covenant renewal we profess our faith by reciting the Apostles’ Creed, then we make a series of five vows (BCP p. 304).  We promise that “with God’s help” we will:  

  • continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers
  • persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord
  • proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ
  • seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves
  • strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being

Faithfulness is keeping the promises and vows that we make.  Are we keeping these vows that we renew quarterly each year? Or are we slipping on a few, making excuses for why that might not be a problem? A husband or wife who slips on the vows of matrimony to “be faithful to him (her) as long as you both shall live” (BCP p. 424) is considered an unfaithful spouse. We are the Bride of Christ. Are we being a faithful spouse, keeping the vows we have made?

Faithfulness is not easy when we try to do it in our own strength. That is why the Apostles’ Creed is contained in the Daily Office services of Morning and Evening Prayer.  We renew our covenant four times a year, and we renew our commitment to God twice a day! We need to make a commitment daily to remain in faithfulness in our walk with Jesus Christ. Faithfulness is to be loyal, dependable, and true to one’s commitments. 

The Greek word for faithfulness means dependability, trustworthiness. Can those around you depend on you to keep your word? Are you trustworthy? Do you do what you say you will do, when you said you would do it? Jesus said, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10). True faithfulness begins with your commitment to Jesus. Are you faithful in keeping your commitment to worship, to the breaking of bread, and to your daily prayers? Without that relationship with God all other commitments will falter. 

We are striving to be Christlike, servants of the Most High God. Our Christ is the God who keeps covenant, and He is faithful. Paul told Timothy (2 Timothy 2:13) that even “if we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny himself.” And in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 he said, “He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” Literally, faithfulness is the state of being full of faith in the sense of steady devotion to God and to those around us.

If the walls of the Temple are to stand we need to know that those around us are going to stand with us. And the other “bricks” in the wall around us need to have the confidence that we will stand fast in the faith regardless of the circumstances. Will we continue in the worship and prayers of the Church? Will we resist evil, proclaiming and living the Word, loving our neighbors as ourselves? Will we strive for justice, and respect the dignity of every human being? In a nutshell will our hearts be knit to the One who has called us into covenant relationship? 

To be Christlike we must be in Christ. That is the covenant that we profess and renew four times a year. Are we living in that covenant relationship?

Tuesday of 2 Lent

Honesty

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” —2 Timothy 2:15

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practicesand have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” —Colossians 3:9-10

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  —Philippians 4:8

“Whatever is honorable…think about these things.” It is important to practice honesty; that is what a Christian is expected to do. But to be honest, to be honorable, requires that our character be changed into the likeness of Christ. St. Paul says, “think about these things.” He is exhorting us to make these virtues a part of our very being. Honesty or being honorable therefore, is not simply a matter of speaking truth, it is a heart transformed into the likeness of Christ. In the parable of the sower, Jesus explains that the seeds sown in the good soil “are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15). Honest men and women hold the Word fast in their heart, and from that honest heart will flow the good fruit of God’s grace.

In his letter to Colossai, St. Paul says, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practicesand have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Paul is pointing toward the transformation that we each need in order to truly live the truth in Christ, and practice honesty one with another. It means having a “new nature” that is made “after the image of its creator.” We may think that a “white lie” will win a victory, but it would be pyrrhic at best. In Shakespeare’s play, Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey has been conniving to encourage the king to divorce his wife in hopes of establishing a marriage alliance with France. His dishonest dealings with the king lead to disaster, and in a moment of humble revelation he says to Cromwell, “I charge thee, fling away ambition. By that sin fell the angels; how can man then, the image of his Maker, hope to win by it?…Corruption wins not more than honesty.”

The practice of honesty in our interactions with others manifests the quality of our heart. It bears fruit. It leaves a legacy. As St. Paul instructed the young clergyman Timothy in the passage above, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” We are servants of Christ, workmen called to rightly handle the word of truth. We are expected to be honest in our dealings with one another. The walls of the Temple will not stand if they are built on dishonest dealings. Think on these things.

Monday of 2 Lent

Gentleness

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in loveeager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  — Ephesians 4:1-3  

“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”  —Philippians 4:5 

“Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work,to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”  —Titus 3:1-2

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”   —Matthew 11:29

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me…for I am gentle and lowly in heart” Jesus said. A yoke is something that a beast of burden has fastened around its neck so that it can be driven and guided by someone else. A yoke is for one who serves the purposes of the other. That is the character of Christ. He lived to serve. He bore the yoke of His Father, carrying out the work that the Father directed Him to do. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). Christlikeness is servanthood, letting Him direct our every movement. And that is manifested in gentleness.

A common misconception is that gentleness is weakness or passivity. True gentleness, however, is just the opposite. It requires great strength and active self-control. A gentle heart comes from having love for others, a desire to serve the other and to minister to his or her needs. This is shown in our thoughts and in the way we interact with those around us. Gentleness comes from a state of humility, a lowliness in heart. It is a willingness to lay aside our agenda and look to the needs of those around us. That is not something we can do in our fallen nature. We need to be remade in the image of Christ. We need to become Christlike. Through prayer, we can ask God to give us a spirit of gentleness and take away any feelings of self-righteousness. We can ask Him to reveal ways we can show gentleness to others so that we may reflect His character. 

Paul tells the Church at Ephesus in the verse above that we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,with all humility and gentleness…” Worthiness is not something that we can attain by effort. To be worthy is to be in the One who has ultimate worth. The word worship comes from the Old English word “worthship”—showing worth. To be “worthy” of the calling requires us to be in relationship with God who is the One who is worthy of our worship. When we are walking in our calling then, we are in right relationship with God, worshiping Him, and in right relationship with our neighbor “with all humility and gentleness.”

As we rebuild the walls, in gentleness we accept the yoke of Christ and allow Him to place us where He determines we belong. And in gentleness we accept God’s plan and work closely with those who are around us. This is what Paul was emphasizing when he said that we are to walk in our calling, “bearing with one another in loveeager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The walls of Jerusalem will stand only when we are at one with God and with one another.

The Second Week of Lent, Sunday

Christlikeness

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  — Philippians 2:5-11

The English author and theologian, John Stott, said, “There can be no life without the life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christlikeness of character apart from His fruit, and no effective witness without His power. As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead.” Christlikeness of character comes when we are yielded to the Holy Spirit, when we allow the Spirit to mold us into the image of Jesus Christ. This is not a matter of imitation, of reading Scripture and then trying to be like Christ. This is a matter of trusting God to transform us, ridding our lives of that which is not of Him, and instilling in us His character, His Spirit. C.S. Lewis, in the book Mere Christianity, said, “Putting on Christ…is not one among many jobs a Christian has to do; and it is not a sort of special exercise for the top class. It is the whole of Christianity. Christianity offers nothing else at all.”  Putting on Christ, becoming Christlike, is “the whole of Christianity.”

We see a wonderful example of this in Acts 4:13.  Peter and John have been arrested for preaching Jesus Christ in the Temple.  The elders sent soldiers and the two were taken prisoner before the High Priest. “Now when [the elders and High Priest] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” The goal of this transformation into the image of Christ is that our lives, like those of Peter and John, would manifest Jesus to the world.  But what does this Christlikeness look like?

In the passage quoted above, St. Paul says that Jesus “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…”  To be Christlike is to take on “the form of a servant.” Jesus declared this to His disciples as He issued His call to the twelve. “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’” (Mark 9:35).  We are to be remade in His image, taking the form of a servant.  We are to take on the characteristics of Christ Jesus.  Again, not trying to imitate Him and remake ourselves into what we think that He should look like, but allowing Him to make us become like Him.  As C.S. Lewis said, “putting on Christ…is the whole of Christianity.”  

When the whole Body begins to seek Christlikeness then we will have a sound structure, sturdy walls for the Temple of God. We will all be pursuing the same goal, singing the same tune, and striving for the unity that comes from being one in Him.  A.W. Tozer, in his book The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine, said, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”

This week we will look at the virtues characterized in the servanthood of Christ.  When Christ begins to remake us in His image, and we become more and more Christlike, the walls of Jerusalem can begin to be rebuilt as one unified whole.

Saturday of 1 Lent

Confession

Throughout this week, God has exhorted us to pursue excellence. We must admit that we have not always been faithful in that pursuit.  As we review the virtues examined in these meditations we can honestly acknowledge, as the confession of sin in the Book of Common Prayer declares, that “we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.”  It is, therefore, a good time for us to pause and examine our lives in light of the Word and do as the invitation to a Holy Lent encourages us:

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and selfdenial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” 

So let us take a moment for “self-examination and repentance.”

Each of the virtues we examined this week flow from the heart of God.  It is His nature to be kind and merciful, the fount of peace, and the Truth incarnate.  Righteousness abounds in those who are in right relationship with God.  But in our pride we want to be in control, trust our own wisdom, and pursue our own paths.  We want to right perceived wrongs against us or our family, and we refrain from speaking the truth for fear of what others might think of us.  In the self-examination found in Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, it says that “Pride is putting self in the place of God as the center and objective of our life…It is the refusal to recognize our status as creatures, dependent on God for our existence…”  And in the list of the ways pride is made manifest in our lives Augustine offers these prompts:

  • Deliberate neglect of the worship of God every Sunday in His Church
  • Dependence on self rather than on God
  • Refusal to recognize God’s wisdom, providence and love
  • Rejection of God’s known will in favor of our own interests or pleasures
  • Insisting that other conform to our wishes

So, let us pause and reflect.  Then take a moment and thank God that provision for the forgiveness of our sins has been granted us in Jesus Christ.  Again, in Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, we have this prayer of thanks:  “I thank thee, my God, for giving me the forgiveness of my sins, through the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ my Savior.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His Holy Name.”

Now let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen. 

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Friday of 1 Lent

Righteousness

“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  — 2 Corinthians 5:20-21

In this week of pursuing excellence we have been looking at some foundational virtues for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  As we have examined the previous four virtues there has been a specific action associated with each: show mercy, declare blessings of peace, speak truth in love, and be kind.  But righteousness does not sound quite as interactive as these others.  And yet, it is truly a foundational principle for those who are in Christ.  But how do we “do” righteousness?

There is a key in the passage quoted above.  Paul says that “in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Righteousness cannot become a reality in our lives unless we are “in Him”.  And Paul speaks of us “becoming” the righteousness of God. Pursuing righteousness means we become a work in progress. It is perfected over time through our obedience to Christ, and it slowly reveals itself as evidence of our faith. To pursue righteousness we must work at it every day.

In the current climate in our nation it is essential that those who are in Christ do not succumb to the ways of the world.  Sadly, many have compromised their faith and relationship with Christ. We have looked for an expedient solution to problems we are facing and have relied on our own wisdom and insights, allied with political factions or social causes, and broken our reliance on God’s Spirit to direct us. The practice of righteousness means having the courage to maintain our integrity regardless of the circumstances. We cannot compromise our righteousness because we fear the outcome of an election or what a change in political leadership might mean. “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked” (Prov. 25:26). We must never be so desperate that we turn our backs on our values. Remember that Christianity has most often flourished and grown stronger in times of trial rather than in times of prosperity. Our God will supply all that we can ever need (Phil. 4:19), and He alone can deliver us out of all our troubles (Psalm 34:17).

Righteousness is about “becoming” like Christ.  The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) St. Athanasius in the fourth century stated that principle even more strongly.  He said, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.”  And St. Thomas Aquinas said that “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in His divinity, assumed our nature, so that He, made man, might make men gods.”  God wants us to be remade in His image, to make us “partakers of the divine nature”, and “sharers in His divinity”.  That is the goal of our pursuit of righteousness, that we walk in a right relationship with God. 

We have been looking at verse 21 in the passage quoted above, but the context of that verse is extremely important for us in understanding how to pursue righteousness, and how it impacts the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.  In verse 20, St. Paul says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  Ambassadors represent the one who sends them, and as ambassadors for Christ we re-present (present again) Him to those both inside and outside the walls.  God is at work in those who are in right relationship with Him, and “God [is] making His appeal through us.” We have not always walked faithfully in relationship with Him.  As Paul says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23).  Therefore to pursue this right relationship with God “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  The beginning of righteousness is reconciliation with God through repentance of sin and reception of God’s abundant grace and mercy.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Righteousness IS interactive.  We are called in righteousness to an intimate relationship with God in Christ, to be reconciled to God in Christ Jesus.  And when we are walking in that right relationship with Him we can faithfully re-present Him to our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and to those who are not yet part of the Body of Christ.  The world is looking for the righteousness of God to be revealed.  St. Paul told the Church at Rome (8:19) that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”  When we walk in righteousness, as ambassadors for Christ, we become more and more like Him, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” and the world will see His righteousness “revealed in the sons of God.”