When it comes to arguments, most of us like to be right. We want to win the contest of words. And there are those few who always have to have the last word, who always have to be right about everything. We hate them, because we can never get the upper hand.
Being right, then, is a competitive sport. Opinions are lethal weapons with which we destroy the opposition, by making them into statements of Absolute Truth. Whether by force of volume or repetition, whether by subtle arguments or twisting logic, the goal is to make our Rightness prevail.
In the spiritual realm, we need to be right, but not by our own lights. More than that, we need to get right (with God) and to do right (obey God). We need to get right, because we are at cross-purposes with God. We need to do right, in order to reflect God’s right-doing.
Before we can do right, we must get right. The latter serves as the framework or the proper dimension in which the former can actually function. Some people try their version of doing right without paying attention to getting right first. They tell themselves that it works. The future will disabuse them of that notion, however.
That notion has a name in modern religious parlance: works righteousness. Some call it legalism. Paul describes it this way: “For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” Romans 10.3.
It fails because it believes that man has a good idea of what is right.
Though they start in different directions and have opposite procedures, legalism and liberalism wind up in the same place, at man’s idea of what is right. The Pharisees and Sadducees serve as the classic example of the two. The former group couldn’t stop at God’s law; they had to make up their own rules. Their idea of rightness created rules that turned into traditions that superseded God’s law. So when Paul in his letter to the Romans speaks of keeping the law, it’s this kind of attempt he refers to.
The Sadducees on the other hand cut down the canon to a mere five books. They chipped away at what God said. They were also cultural accommodators. They felt the need to update the ancient laws to fit the demands of the times. What was needed in their mind was a new reading of Scripture.
In both cases, man becomes the final arbiter of right and wrong. In practice, the Pharisee and Sadducee, for all their antagonism toward each other and for all their contrary goals, had a lot in common. They were both great re-definers of right.
So let’s get back to the struggle to be right. There is a sense in which we need to be right, but not competition with other people when it comes to opinion. We need to be right about the truth of God’s message to man.
So let’s start there. If we don’t understand properly what our real problem is, how helpless we are to do something about it, and where the ultimate solution lies, we won’t get anything right nor will we be able to do anything right.
Here’s the proper order for the rightness of our total transformation: be right, get right, do right. These three just might be a good summary for the whole approach to what the Bible calls righteousness. And they all come from God:
- Be right: listen to God’s truth
- Get right: receive Jesus’ sacrifice
- Do right: depend upon the Spirit’s power
These are encouraging thoughts. They bring hope. We can do this. Christ calls us to walk the narrow path, without deviating to the right or the left, 2 Chronicles 34.2.
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we may cease from sinning and live for righteousness. By his wounds you were healed” 1 Peter 2.24.