The truly righteous man attains life,
but he who pursues evil goes to his death.
As I read through some proverbs today, this one hit me pretty hard. Not with the more obvious, broader sense that in the end, righteousness is rewarded and evil is punished – that’s true, too, of course, but I saw something else. I saw the words “truly” and “pursues.”
I write proverbs out when I read them – helps me to focus – and as I wrote the first half of this one, I felt a little uneasy. Truly righteous. What does it mean, being truly righteous? How can we know that we meet the standard? I know I try, but I also know I’m pretty weak. (For confirmation, you could just ask my husband.)
What if we’re not up to par?
So I was sitting here at my desk, writing out this phrase, “The truly righteous man attains life,” and my spine was kind of tingling, ’cause this is a pretty heavy question, and then – huzzah! – the next line came along, and I took a deep breath.
“He who pursues evil goes to his death.”
Now, I know the line of thought in Proverbs isn’t always really clear-cut or obviously parallel. Sometimes, I can’t for the life of me figure out how the two lines of a proverb are supposed to go together. But whether it was meant this way or not, I had my answer. If it’s not evil itself, but the pursuit of evil, that leads to death, isn’t the same true of righteousness? After all, we are all corrupted (“None is righteous, no, not one,” Rom. 3:10), and we know someone’s making it to eternal glory, or the whole Bible would be moot.
Pursuit. That’s what matters. That one word reinstated peace.
See, beforehand, there had been an error in my logic. I was treating “true righteousness” as if it were synonymous with “perfection.” Thank goodness, God’s not concerned with perfection. If He were, we’d be toast.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
My thought process in reading the first line (“I know I try, but I also know I’m pretty weak.”) actually contained the answer to the nagging problem it addressed: the answer being the pursuit of holiness. “I know I try.”
Now there’s a potential danger in this reassurance.It can easily lead to a skewed perspective – if we don’t have to be perfect, why try? Here’s my favorite verse in the entire Bible. Normally I pull verses from ESV, but this time we’ll use KJV:
My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise.
My life comes up short – matter of fact, it’s kind of a pathetic display. God accepts people into His kingdom who are kind of pathetic displays. But we can’t skate by with duplicitous hearts. We can’t just say we’re trying, and then not really try, and fall back on, “Well, you know, none of us is perfect.” Our hearts must be fixed on Him.
It’s okay to be weak. It’s not okay to pretend.
Paul Washer addresses a similar issue in this video, which I’m rather fond of:
What do you think, guys? Where is the line between trying to be righteous and being righteous? Is it a spectrum, or two camps – those who try and those who don’t?