I have found that for short stretches of time I can convince myself that I am being faithful to God if I define faithfulness in terms of only one behavior.” That is an insight from Nate Larkin, author of Samson and the Pirate Monks, and I think he is on to something. We all have a desire to be seen as good and faithful and righteous, yet we cannot deny that we are bad and unfaithful and unrighteous. We are neither who nor what we want to be.
Our lack of faithfulness leaves us in a predicament. Either we deal with it by crying out to One who can forgive and redeem us, or we define-down faithfulness to a standard that is manageable. We choose a behavior we are good at, or perhaps a behavior that addresses a major source of guilt in life, and we define faithfulness to God in that narrow way. As long as we do that thing, or as long as we succumb to its opposite, we are convinced that we remain in God’s graces, that he is pleased with us.
What is your one behavior? What is that one behavior, that if you maintain it, you are convinced of God’s love for you? And what is that one behavior that if you do not maintain it, you feel as if you’ve slipped out of God’s reach? You may know that self-righteous behavior because your entire life can be a mess, but you still feel good about yourself because that one pillar is still in place. Even while your life spirals out of control, you look at others who are missing that one pillar and somehow feel good about yourself.
And for a time this self-righteousness makes us feel better about ourselves. But as Larkin points out, “Self-righteousness, however, is a double-edged sword. If I have reduced holiness to a single behavior, then I am standing on one leg. One slip and I am nothing again, absolutely useless.” If righteousness is built on a single behavior, it is also destroyed on a single behavior. Self-righteousness is woefully perilous.
Here is the understanding Larkin came to:
God, in his grace, has used [sexual sin and addiction] to shatter my moralistic understanding of the Christian faith and force me to accept the gospel. I am not a faithful man. That’s why I need a Savior. I cannot live victoriously on my own. That’s why I need a Helper and brothers. I cannot keep my promises to God—the very act of making them is delusional—but God will keep his promises to me.
God does not measure by a single behavior, but by complete and utter conformity to his perfect law. This truth will either drive you to despair or drive you to Christ, the One who lived a completely righteous life and offers his righteousness to those who have none of their own.