For years, I spent my life as a Christian focusing on some of the most obvious sins in my own life. It’s true, that the sin in our lives should be a daily focus, for without acknowledging our sins there can be no confession of sins or repentance, and without these, no man shall see God.
But it dawned on me years later that instead of focusing on my sins and how I kept repeating them, I ought (while continuing to acknowledge, confess, and repent from my sins) to focus on God’s forgiveness and mercy.
When we are commanded to take off the Old Man and to put on the New Man, that is, to mortify our flesh and sanctify ourselves, we can only do the former by doing the latter.
Do you want to cleanse yourself and become a vessel for honor, sanctified for the Master’s use, and prepared for every good work (verse 12)? Then put on the New Man of Jesus Christ first, and the Old Man will begin to shrivel up. They say, “You can’t beat something with nothing.” This is never more true than in the spiritual world. The Old Man of sin and death is a very powerful Something, and when we attempt to defeat him by using our own strength, surely we are attempting to beat this Something with a Nothing.
The answer to sin (and any spiritual question, as any Sunday school kid can tell you) is Jesus Christ. We must put on Jesus Christ the Righteous, and put on His righteousness by being united with Him. It is never our own righteousness that cleanses or saves us: it is always the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
But then a funny thing happens on the way to heaven: because we are a part of Jesus Christ now and are truly united to Him by faith, then we too are truly righteous – but only if we continue to sanctify ourselves.
The way we do this, the way we continue to make ourselves acceptable in God’s sight, is to continually put on the New Man of Jesus Christ that the Father has given us. And the way we put on Jesus Christ is by being holy.
Therefore, St. Paul says for us not only to flee youthful lusts, to avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, and to not quarrel, but also to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. By pursuing these things, you will put on Jesus Christ and take off the Old Man. Do you want to not quarrel (an Old Man pursuit)? Then learn to be gentle to all, apt to teach, patient, and humble (New Man pursuits). Do you want to spread God’s Truth? Then flee profane and idle babblings and unprofitable words (Old Men pursuits) and pursue reading, studying, meditating on, praying with, and living by the Word of God.Paul commands Timothy to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace (verse 22). It’s amazing how much St. Paul assumes that we will have an active role in our own sanctification. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God” (verse 15). “If anyone cleanses himself . . . he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified . . . prepared for every good work” (verse 21). “Pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.”
We are to pursue these things with a zeal unmatched by any of our other pursuits. Have you ever seen someone really pursue righteousness? It’s a rare and beautiful thing because such a man will also be seen pursuing faith because he knows that his faith lives with his holiness. What would happen if we truly pursued righteousness, faith, love, and peace “with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (verse 22)? What would happen if an entire church pursued the Lord by ruthlessly pursuing His righteousness?
I must admit that the things in life I’ve pursued have been pursued in a half-hearted way. At one time or another I’ve collected stamps, coins, books, records, and baseball cards. For a while, I faithfully (well, to some degree) pursued the writing of novels. But my efforts pale in comparison to the way I’ve seen people pursue some of the following things: women or men; cars; shoes; a comprehensive wardrobe; financial security and luxury; a golf swing; the perfect entertainment center; or mastery of the latest video game.
What would happen if just one of us truly pursued righteousness in this way? What would happen if an entire church did?
The world is waiting to see the answer to these questions in action.
Prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is righteous and who has lovingly shared Your righteousness with Your people, give me a passion for pursuing You and Your righteousness today. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
Meditate on one thing you have passionately pursued in life. How does it compare with your pursuit of God and His righteousness? Meditate on why you pursue this human endeavor more than righteousness. What is one practical way you can value the pursuit of holiness more highly? What resources has God given you to more adequately pursue righteousness that you have not been using?
Resolution: I resolve to spend some time today considering how passionate my pursuit of God and His righteousness is. I resolve further to take one practical step to assist my pursuit of God.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson