The Power to Act Righteously
Posted: 28 Feb 2014 04:00 AM PST
It can feel overwhelming to try and understand Jesus’ life and all of the implications it has in our lives. This week Joel looks at one powerful element that can help us see one kind of daily impact. -Editor
We are told many times in the Writings that the Lord’s life on earth is essential to our salvation. That somehow, what He accomplished thousands of years ago on this earth still has ramifications on our own lives today. Certainly, as a historical event, it is important that the Lord conquered the hells. He conquered them then, and so they remain conquerable in our time.
But we might start to wonder why we are told so many things about the Lord’s process. Surely the Lord does not simply want us to know about His life as a history lesson. Knowledge of what He did contains an infinite amount of truth about who our God is, the same God who is with us even now.
We could not possibly cover all of the Lord’s life in so short an article; but if we explore even just one aspect of His life, we can learn much about how He works with us today. Take for instance the teaching that the Lord, in His lifetime, became righteousness itself. This is a powerful teaching, yet it can be hard to see what it means for us. So let’s take a closer look.
First of all, the Writings inform us that for the Lord, being righteous was
“doing everything in accordance with Divine order, and restoring everything which had slipped out of order” (True Christian Religion 95).
The Lord took these actions by separating the evil and the good, creating a new hell and heaven for them to dwell in, and establishing a new church on earth. In other words, the Lord led a righteous life, because He did everything in His power to bring the world, both spiritual and natural, into order, that is, into a structure in which people could make true spiritual choices.
Every righteous choice the Lord made along the way made Him that much more righteous. Since He is omnipotent, He was entirely righteous; and since He fulfilled every righteous act possible, He became the definition of righteousness, or righteousness itself. If something we do is in any way righteous, by definition the Lord is present in that act.
Now, there is an idea out there that we cannot do anything that is righteous, or that fits with God’s order; only the Lord could do that. The idea is that unlike us, the Lord was actually able to live up to God’s expectations. In this mindset, which the Writings say is false, the Lord gifts us some of His righteousness. And He gifts it to us not when we try to be righteous and fail, but when we believe in Him. It’s the mindset we adopt when we start to think that we don’t even have to try, because the Lord will work everything out in the end. In some sense, it’s the feeling that we’ve accomplished something when we’ve succeeded only in understanding it.
And wouldn’t that be nice if it worked? It would be like saying, “I’m a righteous person because I know how to treat people well.” Or, “I’m good, because I can see what others need.” Or, “I have insights into who the Lord is and how powerful His love is, so I am wise.”
The problem, as the Writings point out, is that all these ideas imply that we can be righteous people without ever doing anything that is right. The Lord did not live a righteous life so that we wouldn’t have to. He lived a righteous life so that we would be able to as well. This is where it becomes so important to understand that the Lord became righteousness itself.
True Christian Religion presents it this way:
“Living in accordance with order is living in accordance with God’s commandments. When a person so lives and acts, he acquires righteousness for himself, not the righteousness that comes from the Lord’s redeeming, but the Lord Himself as righteousness” (96).
We are not righteous because we know about the Lord’s process of redemption. We become righteous when we live a righteous life. When we live righteously, we receive the Lord Himself as righteousness. That is what makes us righteous: the presence of the Lord in our choices, because any righteous choice we make must by definition have the Lord in it.
Here is the crux of the matter. It is true that we cannot be good, or righteous, apart from the Lord. But we also cannot be good apart from doing good things. We don’t store up goodness. It does not work to imagine, as we so often do, that those kind words we said so many months ago make us a good person today. We are good today if what we say and do today is good:
“righteousness is acquired the more a person applies it, and he applies righteousness, the more the love of what is right and true inspires his dealings with his neighbor. Righteousness dwells in the actual good, or the actual service, which he performs” (True Christian Religion 96).
So the Lord, in all His life, chose to act righteously. And He did so to such an extent that He became righteousness itself. And because of that process, and that result, we too can be righteous. Not because we store it up or earn it in our good deeds: but because when we choose to do what is right, for the sake of the Lord, He is present, and so too is His righteousness, guiding us further and further into a love of serving our neighbors.
Joel is a second year theolog at the Bryn Athyn College Theological School. He is looking forward to graduation in 2015 and the many opportunities to teach and share the ideas of the New Church in the coming years.