“For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5.17 NLT).
Occasionally, I would tell my kids to make their beds. I feel like a tidy bed is just the thing to slip into every night after a full day. My boys did the best they could to align the sheets, quilt and pillow; but it was obvious that they didn’t take too much care into the process. I wasn’t consistent about enforcing the bed-making standard, so their understanding and appreciation of it hadn’t been developed.
One morning, I decided to make their beds for them. I went to each of my three kids’ rooms, and neatly arranged their bedclothes. It took me only a few minutes to sweep through their rooms with an organized hand, and I felt a sense of love for my two sons and daughter as I straightened their crumpled blankets.
I enjoyed this morning process so much that I continued to do it each day, except for Saturday. Saturday is my day of rest and the day my kids sleep in. There is no school the next day, so I let the beds stay in their unkempt, weekend state. However, after about a month of making their beds, I noticed that my sons started making it themselves Saturday night right before bed. They had become so accustomed to the standard of a nicely made bed that they were willing to make the bed themselves to keep this standard.
I watched as my kids carefully arranged their sheets, quilt and pillow to the exact location that I place them every morning. They even turned down the top sheet and blanket like I had the habit of doing for them. In all the time I started making their beds, I never asked them to make it themselves. But here they were initiating a bed cleaning session on their own!
During this same time, I had been struggling with the truth that I am the righteousness of Christ. I’d hear the words and understand them, but I knew my actions weren’t reflecting this belief. I still chased after righteousness (right-standing with God) like it could be achieved, even though I understood that I could never have righteousness on my own (Romans 3.28 NIV).
One night I wrestled with God, and I opened up about hidden behaviors that were not rooted in Truth. I told Him that I was always trying to be good enough in His eyes. I constantly analyzed my thoughts, words and actions; eager to change so God would find me worthy to bless. I felt like I was chasing righteousness instead of living in it.
Then God reminded me of my kids’ beds. My kids did not claim the tidy-bed standard until they saw their beds made every day (minus Saturdays) for several weeks. They had to slip into wonderfully neat beds every night for them to begin to appreciate and embrace this standard. And once they became accustomed to that standard, they made actions toward keeping and promoting it. They began living in this new standard on their own.
By grace God has freely given us His standard of righteousness, but many Christians don’t live in this standard because they haven’t fully embraced it. They either don’t completely grasp the profound fact that they are blameless before a perfect God or they are stuck, like I was, in the vicious cycle of chasing after righteousness. But we are the righteousness of Christ—all of our past, present and future mistakes are hanging on a cross, buried in the tomb and swallowed up in Christ; and we are dead to their sting (Romans 5.17).
The world’s way is backward in God’s Kingdom. Instead of telling people to act righteously, we need to tell them that they ARE righteous in Christ over and over again until they believe it (2 Corinthians 5.21). And once people embrace the standard of righteousness that was given to them freely, they will start living righteously—not because they have to but because they have adopted that standard as their own! When we start acting righteously because we believe ourselves to be righteous, our actions and faith will work together to demonstrate to the world our belief in Jesus Christ (James 2.22).
“Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law” (Galatians 2.16 NLT).