I was reading Matt 3-5, and it stood out to me how Jesus described righteousness:
- Matt 3:15 “…for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (fulfill = make replete, cram, level up)
- Matt 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”
- Matt 5:20 “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Fulfill – hunger – exceed, all of these words bring up pictures of something to be filled or grown larger.
This caught my attention because I’ve heard two distinct takes on this reality of righteousness (described in my own “terminology”)
- “Empty” or Reductive Righteousness – a righteousness achieved by removing or reducing the sin/flesh/self in our lives in order to become acceptable to God
- “Full” or Additive Righteousness – righteousness characterized by filling our lives with God-like thoughts, actions, and attitudes
To my consideration both are very flawed:
- Empty righteousness can create boring and unattractive, even hermetical Christians that can never be salt or light to the world (a characteristic Jesus describes in Matt 5:13-16). They just have no witness except that they are purer than the world.
- Full righteousness can create flamboyant and active Christians that are often motivated by fleshly motives and even fleshlier dreams of their role in God’s kingdom. They have much to boast and yet could never be the lowly people described in the beautudes (Matt 5:3-12).
What really touched me in this light was Matt 5:38-48:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
If this doesn’t require emptying of all of me, then I don’t know what would.
My conclusion is that God delights in humble fireworks. The gospel and his Spirit must empty us, and then set us aflame with holy life that we could never produce or sustain.
Our holy God, we worship you. Only you can create and sustain the impossible life we have in Jesus.
We love you and desire to be righteous in Jesus. Thank you that you make us empty vessels for your presence, persecution, peace, glory, humility, joy, and saving grace. We love you