Are You Over-Righteous?
By Lori D'Augostine
"May all who come behind us find us faithful." I can still remember chanting those words in our daily chapel meetings in Bible school. Girded by the breastplate of righteousness, a batallion of young soldiers were well-equipped to become the next Billy Graham or Elizabeth Elliot. Was it true righteousness though? Admittedly, I sometimes wonder.
Those were the days. Young and ambitious, we'd draw maps of how to capture continents for Christ. We jointly pledged that our spiritual fervor would never diminish. We kissed dating goodbye and married ourselves to our plans for spiritual domination.
Then reality struck, and it was time to graduate. Suddenly advancing the Kingdom became much more hum-drum. It took a lot of faith to jostle work applications and student loan consolidators. My Christian bubble bursted, and defiantly glaring at me was a world I could not connect with, nor wanted to.
Everywere I looked, there were casualties -- even in the church. I was hardpressed to find any solid Christians who were "on fire," let alone ready to face another day.
Lord, this is too much work! I can't do this alone! I felt completely burned out and hadn't even begun. That's when His still, small voice came:
"Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty (Zechariah 4:4-7, NIV)."
It seemed a juvenile lesson but nonetheless, one that would comfort my over-zealous, idealistic heart again and again. Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with having high hopes in advancing the Kingdom. And yes, this generation does need more Billy Grahams. Yet, we must be guided by the Holy Spirit because we are a part of something much larger that goes way beyond our scope.
1 Corinthians 12:4-6 says,
"There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us (NLT)."
God has wired each of us very differently. Some of us are called to be Pauls, while others are called to smaller lots. Actually, it was Paul who paid special honor to those who were the less well-known, everyday Joes.
"In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity (12:22-24)."
God is not impressed by the number of lives we've touched. We are merely His vessels, and He rejoices when one truly repentent sinner comes to Him (Luke 15:10). We can't impress God anyways. Our righteousness really is but a drop in the bucket.
Did you know that there is such a thing in the Bible as over-righteousness?
"Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise— why destroy yourself?" (Ecclesiastes 7:16)
What does it mean to be over-righteous? According to the Bible, true righteousness is only imparted through the Holy Spirit. Anything else is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). God's righteousness is imputed to us at the moment of salvation and thenceforth, any true righteousness that flows from us is not from us, but from the Holy Spirit.
George Whitefield, one of the great evangelists of the Englightenment said:
"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and we hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth. Now till the Spirit of God is felt on our souls as the wind on our bodies, indeed, my dear brethren, you have no interest in him: religion consists not in external performance, it must be in the heart, or else it is only a name."
Many times our efforts may outwardly appear unto Christ. We busy ourselves with the "work" of the Kingdom. Outwardly, we paste on a smile, while sweating bullets inside. You know the drill ... early to rise for 7 am prayer at church and then off to visit a friend in the hospital. We can hardly keep up with this Christian life. We're not sure how to fix this, but if we don't, our friends will be visiting us in the hospital. Martha, Martha, Martha ....
The reality is that all of our toiling is in vain. Our over-righteousness destroys us and perhaps even the people around us. Somewhere in our work for the Lord, our desire to be great for God has deterred the ability to hear His voice. Our walls of pride may have been built up so much that it is difficult to see this coming disaster.
We need to STOP! We are not the Savior of the world. We need to stop filling up our self piggy banks and flaunting our righteousness. We don't have to strive and struggle any longer. Jesus came for people like YOU and ME!
When Jesus came to this earth, His actions seemed rather un-righteous to the religious folk. He broke the Sabbath, declared Himself equal to God, spent a lot of time with sinners, and urged his followers not to pray in public as the hypocrites. Maybe we should follow His example. The very man who was righteousness embodied, did not even try to out-do the Law. He was always consumed with His Father's business, no matter how great or small and never wanted to make a name for Himself or be like any other person under Heaven.
"Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work (John 4:34, NLT)."
If you think that you may be suffering from over-righteousness, I urge you to repent and reconsider that Your soul is starving. Get alone with God immediately and be open to His will no matter how menial or trite. He might surprise you! You may find that the secrets of advancing the Kingdom of God are to be found right under your nose. If you humble yourself , you will see that the smaller, less noble things are the greatest. The last shall be first in the great Kingdom of God (Matthew 20:16).
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