Righteous Sinners

From Ron Julian’s “Righteous Sinners: The believer’s struggle with faith, grace, and works“:

Righteous SinnersOur salvation is pure mercy; we do not deserve God’s kindness. However, who in this life is destined to receive God’s mercy? Not those who hate God. Not those two can’t admit their own sin. Not those who refuse to trust God. Not the “wicked” of Psalm 32. The hearts of such people are marked. Something is fatally wrong with them: They are spiritually blind. Mercy comes to those who loves God, those who know how sinful they are, those who believe God’s promises, those who seek God’s instruction. Their hearts are also marked. Although much is wrong with them, something is also very right: They are children of the light who have been given “eyes to see.” The Bible sometimes calls them “righteous”:

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. (Luke 2:25)

These “righteous” ones are not hypothetical, sinless people; they are flesh and blood believers. In spite of their own sinfulness, God has blessed these righteous ones with spirits alive to Him. Their hearts are rightly oriented toward God. They believe His promises and admire His goodness and lament over their own evil. Abraham’s nephew Lot is a particularly interesting example of such a “righteous sinner”:

righteous Lot oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds)….(2 Peter 2:7-8)

Peter calls Lot “righteous”; yet it is hard to read the story of Lot and conclude that he was an example of sinless perfection. He was a timid man with small faith. Although he believed the angels, they had to drag him out of Sodom. His daughters twice got him so drunk that he had sex with both of them and never knew it. But for all his faults, Lot was a believer in Yahweh. He cared about what was right, and he mourned over the eagerness with which Sodom gave itself over to sin.

The children of God in this life are righteous people. They are not sinless people; they do not have the righteousness of moral character that would earn them salvation. But their faith is a flag marking a certain righteousness in their hearts. Unlike those in the world around them, their eyes see and their ears hear. In a blind world, such sight deserves to be called “good.” …

All human beings live according to a dishonest double standard. When others sin against us, we can think of little else but the wrong and hurt and evil of what they did. On the other hand, when we sin against others, we find it easy to excuse, to defend, and to downplay our offenses. We are self-centered people. When justice is in our favor, we want justice; when mercy is in our favor, we want mercy. This tendency shows itself in the most trivial and the most serious aspects of life. I have seen this in my own life so often it has taken on a tragicomic flavor. I have lost count of how many times I catch myself benig irritated by another person’s actions, only to realize I do exactly the same things myself. When I mess up, I want you to be tolerant; when you mess up, I want you to stop it.

The gospel demands that we abandon the double standard. If we take the gospel seriously, it will not let us downplay our own guilt; we are so morally unworthy that it took the death of Christ Himself to pay the penalty. When we face the choice to forgive others, we are confronting that double standard directly. If I condemn the one who has sinned against me, how can I expect to escape condemnation myself? When struggling with whether to forgive others, it is as if God is speaking to us like this:

Look at the evil this man has done to you. You are right to be upset. This man has been unloving; this man has shown contempt for Me. This man has done evil and deserves to be condemned. But what do you deserve? Will you call down the lightning from heaven on his head? If you do, what will keep it from striking you at the same time? Has he been unloving? You cannot begin to count the times you have been unloving in your life. Did he show contempt for a holy God? Think of all the times you have ignored and distrusted and disobeyed Me. Is he evil? Are you trying to tell Me that you are not? When you look into the eyes of your enemy, you are looking into your own eyes. There is no difference; you are both guilty. Are you willing to see your own sins in the light of his? I have no double standard. Do you demand justice? You will receive justice, and you won’t like it. Do you want mercy? You are as guilty as your enemy; if sins like yours can be forgiven, then so can sins like his.