Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Being "Better"

There is post that has been floating about on many of my friend’s Face Book pages over the past few days. It’s a picture post (a virtual poster that you can tack up on your cyber wall) which reads:

Now, at first glance that seems rather nice and innocuous and it is receiving “like” upon “like” upon infinite “like” by buddy after buddy of mine. I get the initial "likes" for it seems sweet and I’m sure is meant to serve as a good ol’ kick in the rump to get us walkin’ our talkin’ and livin’ our learnin’. You know, we could earnestly use a halting of the hypocritical but not at the expense or expulsion of reason or logic or ultimate truth. I think these 11 words may serve to do that very dangerous thing and therefore, underneath the nicety I think there may be a querulous quandary that we might need to consider. Might I ask you to look back again at these well-meaning words and see if anything strikes you as strange. 

"Your beliefs don't make you a better person,
your behavior does."

Two things rise up in my feeble mind almost immediately.
First, are not in reality our beliefs the very beginning of our behaving? A wise king has said: “As a man thinks, so is he.” Our believing fashions and forms our behaving – it is the root from which our fruit flows forth. We don’t act from within an unintelligent and unstimulated vacuum. Our cogitation and conviction culminates in commission. Our meditation and musing moves our motion. Our evaluation and examination engages our energy. We deliberate and then we do.

“Bad” behavior stems from “bad” belief. Murder occurs – be it homicide, genocide, or infanticide – because of a belief that my life will be somehow better off without the deceased in my way. Theft occurs because of a belief that I “need” whatever I have taken and have not previously had. Likewise, “good” behavior stems from “good” belief. Kindness, compassion, helping, healing, patience, pardon – these things all flow from something – from an idea of what the “right” behavior towards our fellow man looks like. Even these notions of what constitutes “good” and “bad”, “holy” and “horrid” – even those concepts come from some copulation of thought and theory giving birth to a thrust of action. (Hitler and Machiavelli surely had differing views of “good” from Mother Theresa and George Muller, and amazingly antithetical actions flowed forth from their beliefs.)

So, in reasoning back through this popular post, that "your beliefs don't make you a better person, your behavior does", is it not fair to say that our beliefs are the starting point for our behavior and the very seeds of whether we act for better or for worse? Our beliefs are that from which the bud of behavior shall blossom.

Second, (and please note that this point comes clearly from my own belief in Christ Jesus as my Savior and Lord – a belief which I can not nor should not extrapolate from my own behavior or else I am a living liar and a woman of worthless words - so thanks for enduring my own desire to behave nobly here) what is it that makes me “better”? What is it that makes me “good”? Is it what I do or is it what Jesus has done? Is it my behavior  that makes me “better” or is it Christ's?

For many it is a difficult question to answer. Our hearts long to cry out, "Yes!!! Look at my life! Look at how I'm living! Look at how I'm making strides forward! I am doing good things! I am OK!! I am OK!!" 

BUT... are we OK?

When the rich young ruler approached my Lord and asked Him, “What good thing must I do to inherit the kingdom of God?” was he not in essence dealing with this issue? “Hey Jesus, what do I have to do to be 'good enough' to be OK? How can I better myself in order to reap blessing? How do I need to behave in order to be sure that you’ll love me? How long do I need to run on the treadmill to make sure my guilt is gone? What will cleanse my conscience? What will it take to make me feel good about the life I’ve lived and therefore not have to be afraid of the death I am one day going to die?”

Have you ever been in his shoes? Maybe not specifically in a prayerful question to the Jesus whom you may not even believe in but perhaps more simply in a woeful wondering within your own psyche? It's a common question to all mankind.

Well, the Son of God had a few things to say to this young man about his desire to be better by behavior. Jesus went and backed this (possibly very sincere “seeker” of "something") into a proverbial corner – a corner which proved that this seemingly together guy was really a sincerely mis-guided guy. Sure, it “looked” to the watching world as if he’d kept the commandments. Hey - nobody had died, nobody had been raped, nobody had been slandered or gossiped about, right?  BUT in spite of all he had or hadn't done, this young man was proud and covetous at the core and Jesus showed him that even his most righteous deeds (the best of his “better” behaviors) were but filthy rags. So are mine and so are yours, dear friends. Let us not deceive ourselves for left to ourselves, the very BEST things that we do in this life are but the peduncle of Narcissism – they are ultimately (at the lowest common denominator) all about "us" – about "me". If really really honest, at the heart of it, I do unto others hoping that in turn they’ll do unto me as I’d like them to do unto me. We are selfish sinners who are soiled even in our most sacrificial services. We need a Savior from self…and I believe (yep, there’s that word again) that His name is Jesus.

God the Father has shown the greatest act – truly the only act – of selfless service. He saw our plight. He saw our utter inability to fix it in and of ourselves and He came and did it for us. Try, try, and try as we might – trudge, trudge, and trudge as we may – the treadmill of the burden of being "better" becomes more and more heavy upon our heads.

Yoga doesn’t yank the yolk.
Penance doesn’t plunder the problem.
Nirvana necessitates nothing.
Free “love” fails.
Buddha ends up a bust.

All the philosophizing and philanthropizing that we can muster won’t take away the problem that we are all (to some degree no matter what our belief) so keenly aware of. We all live longing for redemption from the wreckage that surrounds us. We all long to be “better” because we know we are not well.

So, what shall we do? How shall we improve? What will make us better? Our "behavior"? Oh, friends – your behavior will not make you better it will only wear you out.

The answer lies not within you – not even as much as your pride longs for it to lie within you. The answer to the conundrum lies outside of you and in the merciful hands of the One who made you. God has provided for us the way that we could not provide for ourselves and has done in gracious vicariousness that which we could never do on our own. The just Jesus has become our justifier and has paid the price that we are too poor and puny to pay. In redeeming righteousness perfectly imputed, He took our bad and gave us His best.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him. ” (John 3)

Do you long to be better?

Well, in spite of the sentiments of the post that produced this pondering of mine, might I suggest that “better” begins with belief – belief in this Jesus who binds the broken, re-creates the crushed, heals those who have been so horribly hurt, saves sinners and gives real rest to repentant rebels.

John 3 – the home of the famous “For God so loved the world” quote - goes on to say of the believing, after speaking of judgment to those unbelieving who stubbornly love darkness above light and who strive in their own naked strength rather than resting in robe of Christ’s righteousness, that “he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen as having been wrought in God.”

Do you long to be better and are you weary from all your trying to be better? Beloved, believe in Jesus and in your believing find your behaving transformed not by what your hands have done but by what His hands have done and will continue to do in and through you.

Seeking to be better by believing in the One who truly is,

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