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Posts Tagged ‘virtuous’

Following all the rules, obeying all the laws, coloring inside the lines, striving for perfection: these are the phrases that come to mind when I ponder the phrase, “legalistic righteousness.”

Philippians 3:4b, 6
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: . . . as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

Actually, to be honest, just the word righteousness all by itself conjures up all kinds of negative vibes. Well, not completely true. I mean, if I connect the idea with God, then the word smooths out. God can carry righteousness as a banner and that seems perfectly natural. God is righteous and always does the “right” thing, says the “right” words, always has the “right” motives.

Not so, human me.

The synonyms are a lot nicer. I don’t have any problem in my desire to be good or virtuous. I also wouldn’t mind being viewed as holy or godly or devoted. How about benevolent, generous, honorable, or honest? All, quite fine.

But righteous? Blech! I see myself standing there with arms crossed as I look down my nose at the rest of the world. It does not feel loving or friendly or considerate of others.

In the name of the “narrow way,” I see other followers of Christ take this stand. There are Christian sects who go from door to door to proselytize their brand of righteousness and when they are shooed off the property or have a door slammed on them, they consider it a blessing, a confirmation of their way.

And still other faithful, perhaps their God has a different name, and yet, they too act out of a strong sense of righteousness to the point of death for the cause.

Righteousness is elusive. “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. . . . ” [Luke 18:19] Here is the heart of true righteousness, in God alone and thereby, through the Spirit within. Any righteousness or “right living” that is grounded in my own efforts is, by its very nature, “legalistic righteousness.” It’s a show and a sham.

Keep me mindful, O Lord, of your presence within so that my words and actions are joined by the threads of your Spirit. Selah.

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Am I virtuous?

Doubt it. I’d be hard pressed to call myself even close to virtuous. Why is that? Why is being virtuous or “morally excellent” such a high compliment that I’d be afraid to claim it as my own without feeling prideful as well … and probably, I’m guessing, others would think of me the same way.

And so, if it is true that we should be pursuing excellence and virtue, why does it feel nearly impossible to claim it or attain it? I know Proverbs 31 is one of the most popular discourses on being a “virtuous woman,” but I’m not sure it really resonants for me in this discussion. I find her more practical, clever, or wise than I do virtuous. (That is, until verse 30, where she is praised for her “fear of the Lord” or her faith, I would say.)

In fact, in today’s world, “virtue” (as a term) may carry a bit of a stigma. I can hear it now. “Oh, she’s so virtuous!” wink, wink. Or, it becomes synonymous with pictures of perfection that we tend to avoid putting such a label on anyone we know well, like a friend next door or an acquaintance across the aisle or a colleague at the coffee shop. We save up that designation for the “saints” like Mother Teresa.

We should be seeking the compliment, but it’s rarely heard. We should be giving the compliment, but it’s rarely spoken. That’s a sad commentary on our day and age.

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