Since it’s not every week that we get the opportunity to mention surfing culture, we’re not going to pass up this one! Because, you see, the way ‘surfer dudes’ understand that title word is arguably more to the point than the way many Christians think about it.
The word ‘righteous’ (and derivatives) is used 556 times in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments, where it expresses the idea of being perfectly aligned with God’s divine will. Needless, to say, righteousness is one of the characteristics of Jesus, and also the target that is held up for those who follow Him. So, righteousness is obviously a most desirable thing!
But the problem is that ‘righteousness’ is sometimes perceived in a kind of negative way. Now some of that is probably due to the association with ‘self-righteousness.’ The plain truth is that anyone who labels himself as righteous is probably someone we’d rather avoid: most likely he’s one of those obnoxious people who sees himself as above criticism and looks down his nose at everyone else. And who wants to be around (or be like) that kind of person?
The other problem with the word ‘righteous’ is that it often carries the connotation of dreary obedience. For many of us, that idea was planted when we were small children: it seemed so often that when we were really starting to have a good time – like splashing in a mud puddle – that there was an adult eager to end the fun! As a child, being ‘good’ meant not doing a lot of things that we really wanted to do. And though we’re now a lot more mature and hopefully perceive the wisdom of those rules and restrictions, there’s still a certain part of us that finds it burdensome to fight against our ‘natural’ impulses and instead do the ‘right’ thing. Though we may know that striving for righteousness is what’s best for our eternal soul, we may still regard it with the same lack of enthusiasm that many of us feel for the daily disciplines of exercise and diet that foster a healthy body. Frankly speaking, a righteous life can sound like a ‘grind.’
But we get a completely different understanding when we shift our thinking from the idea of doing things rightly (i.e, correctly) to being in a right (i.e., harmonious) relationship with the One who created us. And that’s why we can learn something from the lingo of the surfer, who might say something like “Dude, that was totally righteous the way you shredded that curl!” — which translates as being so ‘rightly’ attuned to the wave that the ride represented the ideal experience. Though we may not be part of the surfing culture, we too glimpse that same exhilarating feeling of ‘righteousness’ at times in our lives: watching a perfectly struck drive soaring long and straight down the fairway; walking hand-in-hand with our sweetheart on a glorious fall day; the exquisite moment when our healthy newborn lies softly breathing on our shoulder. At such moments, it all comes together, and all is right with our world! And that’s what Godly ‘righteousness’ feels like!
God created us for righteousness – not for the constant battle against unwholesome impulses and selfish longings that always threatens to undo us, but for the effortless joy that comes when our will is perfectly aligned with His – not the futile pursuit of fleeting pleasures that always disappoint, but the lasting satisfaction of knowing God’s good gifts exactly as He intended them. The hallmark of true ‘righteousness’ is not the work of obedience, but the freedom of being precisely what God in His love created us to be!
Of course, we can’t in this fallen world achieve that perfect harmony that would make our lives a continuous paradise. But that’s nevertheless what God longs to give us! It’s the reason He sent His Son to confer on us His own eternal righteousness by His sacrifice on the Cross, and it’s why He sends His Holy Spirit into our hearts to daily shape our will to His. Thanks be to God, righteousness isn’t an assignment we are given, but the free gift that God works in us when we turn our lives over to Him!
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)