Susan: “He seemed nice enough to me.”
Harry: “No, not self-righteous. Righteous. The real deal…he lives his ideals…”
I read this conversation in a book recently, and it struck me immediately. The man presented is kind, and brave, and pure. He fights evil (very obvious, very frightening evil), wears a white cape with a red cross on the back, wields a large broad sword, and gains his “power” from his “faith”. Also? He doesn’t use foul language, is always truthful, and takes promises very seriously.
But I have some problems with Michael.
My first irritation with him was his demanding that the main character not swear. This reminded me so much of myself back in high school, thinking I was standing up for my beliefs by demanding much the same thing of my friends. The problem? This reeks of legalism and sounds a lot like what the Pharisees were all about.
“Why aren’t your disciples washing their hands before they eat? Dude, they’re going to hell!” (Matthew 15…ok, maybe they didn’t use the word ‘dude’…)
My question for Michael here would be, “What good will it do Harry not to swear? Will it do him any good at all, or does it just make you feel better not to hear harsh words?”
My second problem is less to do with Michael, and more to do with the conversation. Harry calls Michael righteous rather than self-righteous because he lives his ideals, he’s not a “hypocrite”, he doesn’t say one thing and do the other. Now, I grant you, if this was possible, if Michael really could live out his ideals then we could certainly say he had integrity, that he was not a hypocrite, but could we really call him righteous?
Not according to scripture.
“There is none righteous, not even one.” Romans 3:10
“Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” Luke 18:19
By human standards, Michael might look pretty good, just as I thought I did in high school. No foul language, honesty, hard work, washed hands…but according to God’s standards? How utterly short we fall; mixed motives, setting ourselves as the standard for what is good, ungracious thoughts…And it goes deeper still. Created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) we are meant to represent God, to live for Him, and to enjoy Him. Going a moment without fulfilling this is unpardonable rebellion against the One Who breathed life into us. None of us can claim our own righteousness; none of us can claim innocence, on our own there is no hope.
Of course this isn’t the end of the matter. We don’t throw our hands into the air and say “to hell with it then!” Instead, we place our trust on the only One Who did fulfill the law perfectly, Who was righteous Himself, the lamb lifted up. Our only means of obtaining righteousness is to ask Christ to give us His, and so abide in Him.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
This is the only way we can avoid self-righteousness and hypocrisy; to claim the righteousness of another and ask Him to sanctify or make us holy as He is holy. We will never be this on our own. May we remember this and be greatly humbled.