A Foundation for Righteousness

When we lived the nomadic life of a bush missionary, habits were a constant battle.  I have heard that it takes about six weeks to form habits and a few days to break them.  Well, when we were living in the bush, we would be home about six to eight weeks, the perfect amount of time to make a habit.  But then team meetings and the need for English conversation and groceries would send us to town for about a week.  During that week of rushing to accomplish doctors’ visits, government paperwork, meetings, shopping, one special activity for the children, the habits I had worked hard to form slipped away.  When I returned home, I would have to start all over again.  I never found anything that worked for me.

One thing which really troubled me was what to do when the children were stressed in transition.  Did I make allowances or keep exacting standards?  I remember talking with an older woman about this.  She told me that I must always maintain strict discipline because if I didn't the children would be lax and undisciplined adults.

This idea bothered me.  It certainly seemed valid.  We've all seen "spoiled" kids.  It certainly seemed Biblical:  "Spare the rod; spoil the child."  Yet something troubled me, and I didn't understand what or why.

However, here I had a very good reason why God had to be a Father who drives us to obey Him by fear rather than leading us to obey Him by love.  If God were to spare the rod, He would spoil the child.  He has to maintain strict discipline or we will fall away.  That's just the way we are.  We backslide, so God has to stay behind us with the rod.

While I was trying to work through this thought and before I was able to put it into words as an objection, God spoke to me.  "If that is true, Heaven becomes impossible."  Suddenly, I began to remember Scriptures about Heaven:  no pain, no crying, no suffering, perfect love without punishment.  God spoke again, "You are trying to build your righteousness on a foundation of punishment and rewards."  Here, I don't remember the words, but rather the idea.  If we build our righteousness on a foundation of punishment and rewards, in Heaven where there is no punishment, the very foundation of our righteousness will be removed, and our righteousness will crumple.   I remember God's next words, "You have to build your righteousness on a foundation of love.  Love will remain."

I don't know whether this is as thought changing to anyone else as it was to me.  Punishment and rewards may be the steps that move us from ground level into the house of righteousness, but they are not the foundation.  Even these steps themselves must be built on the foundation so that they don't separate from the house.  In order to enter righteousness, we must move off the steps and over the threshold.  We must be people who will obey fully and completely, simply because we love.

This revelation didn't answer all my questions.  It actually brought more, but it did bring some serious challenges to my faith.  God basically said that I cannot hold onto both my hope of Heaven and my belief that our righteousness must be maintained by fear and external pressure.  Only one can be true.  I have to let go of one or the other.

One thought on “A Foundation for Righteousness

  1. Bob Kircher

    I think what you have shared is so true Ruth. I have thought about this in the context of becoming mature in this world. I hadn’t thought about it altogether in the context of God, righteousness, and our life in heaven, but I believe it is true in both contexts.

    I thought about a baby or a toddler. In the beginning, we learn to obey in the strictest sense of discipline. We don’t know better. We haven’t yet learned about “things”. If we are to be safe in the world we must do what our parents say without question. Some form of punishment is applied because we don’t know better. When we disobey, we are punished so that we won’t again do the “bad” thing. We are probably rewarded so that we will again do the “good” thing. We begin to separate good and bad things. Of course our self will gets in the way and so we are punished or rewarded accordingly.

    During our elementary days we still do a lot of things out of punishment or reward, but eventually we just start righteously on some things because we have been taught it is the better road. We are not yet acting in maturity even though some will equate this to maturity. We don’t touch the hot burner because we have already suffered the consequence of this mistake. In a certain sense our reaction to the hot burner issue is still one of punishment because the “burner” punished us for our failure to obey what we had been told. The difference is that we didn’t need our parent’s punishment on this issue — the punishment came as a direct consequence. We are still not mature.

    Into our adolescent days we have begun to understand things that are bad or good without necessarily having to be taught through punishment or reward, or even necessarily to be “told”. We use our head (not our heart) to recognize that there will be consequences associated with things — either good or bad. We are still acting immaturely because we are using punishment and reward (consequences) to make our decision. Hopefully we are making good decisions, but not always and then we suffer those negative consequences.

    Hopefully our parents and other teachers are patient through all these phases. Hopefully they do not loose hope. Hopefully they love us unconditionally and they hurt when we suffer negative consequences and they rejoice when we experience positive consequences. They of course MUST “give us a little rope” or we will be nothing more than robots acting only by their punishment or reward. By this time we need to be acting at least by the punishment or reward of the learned consequences of our behavior.

    As a young adult we may have reached what the world considers to be full maturity. We are doing all the right things (mostly). We obey the laws of the land and the laws of the universe. We doing things for others. We have reached a level of “love” for our parents where if they suggest that we do or not do something we respond from that love — because they are our parent and they know best. However, I believe we have still not reached full maturity. We have not reached spiritual maturity. I think this is not full maturity because the only reason we are behaving righteously is because we “agree” upon what is righteous and unrighteous behavior, or at least we agree that the one giving us advice is fully qualified to do so.

    Finally, hopefully, we do reach full maturity (I think few reach this point — I know I have not yet reached this point in all areas of my life). At this point we act because it is the right thing to do. Not an intellectual righteousness and not even a righteousness born from love. It is not a righteousness of agreement. Disagreement is not even in the picture. Not because we don’t want to disagree, but because we just know the right thing to do and because it IS right to do it. It doesn’t matter “why” or “if I agree”. We just do it! Our intellect and our love brought us to this point, but we no longer need consequences or anything of that nature to direct us to the right behavior. I don’t think we behave righteously from any sense of habit. We simply acknowledge that it doesn’t matter, we know what is righteous behavior and we execute that behavior simply because it IS.

    The best example I can think of is obeying speed laws. When we are learning to drive we obey our parent’s (or our teacher’s) “speed” laws. Hopefully their speed laws are the actual laws. Then when we are on our own, and if we are typically a little rebellious and adventurous we drive a little faster than the law. If we go way too fast we get a ticket (consequences) — hopefully not an accident. We probably discover that driving 5 to 10 miles over the speed limit is usually “safe” (a type of reward), but occasionally we get a ticket even for those infractions and we try unsuccessfully to “fight” the ticket in court. We probably lie a little in our attempts to ward off the ticket or the penalty. We find that middle ground. Eventually we understand that it is not only safer in the sense of a ticket but also safer in the real sense if we obey pretty closely. But we probably still “push the limit”. Perhaps we finally come to agreement. But not until we follow the speed limits simply because they are what they are, only then are we truly acting with full maturity. In a certain sense we don’t even need the speed limit signs anymore because we just know what is the proper speed and where. We don’t agree, we just do. And consequences are not even in the picture.

    In the final level of maturity in this “speeding” example we may still occasionally drive a little over the speed limit and we may even get a ticket. However, it is not a matter of immaturity or any type of disobedience that has cause this to happen. It is a human failure. When we realize on our own that we are driving faster than intended we simply slow down. If we don’t realize it soon enough we may even get another ticket. But we are not “mad” because we got the ticket — not at the officer or the law and not even at ourselves. We don’t try to fight it. We accept that we are human and we make some mistakes. If the police officer actually knew of our maturity he would not even need to give us a ticket. He would simply identify to us our human mistake and we would thank him. We would actually appreciate that he noticed and helped us.

    I cannot say that I’ve reached this full maturity with driving “speed” — not all the time at least. I still push the limits sometimes because I am in a hurry or because I just can’t agree with some of the limits in some places. I rationalize my behavior. But there are times now in my life when I will choose to drive exactly the limit (not even 5 miles over) simply because I know that it is right to do this. I still don’t necessarily agree, but it doesn’t matter, I do it because it is right to do so. I think I’m getting closer to full maturity.

    Hopefully you can see how I equate all of this to the way I see God dealing with us as His children. His goal is for us to become full mature. Mature in all things. Full spiritual maturity. And when we make those human mistakes (“sin”) he understands. He does recognize our maturity and so he will graciously show us our mistake and we will acknowledge our mistake gratefully.

    In this world we are tempted. I don’t always feel the temptation is to do or not do something. I think the “temptation” is just part of that human experience. Even at full maturity we make mistakes. We are not yet perfect. When pass from this life into Glory our humanness will be removed and thus we will not be tempted. We will not make mistakes. God is preparing us for this time. Thank you Lord!

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