Even as I type, a blasted hole in the floor of the Gulf of Mexico is pouring out millions of gallons of oil, threatening to destroy the animals, livelihood, and ecology of at least four U.S. states. The destruction is beyond my rather fertile imagination. The scenes of the suffering break my heart. However, even as vignettes from Louisiana pour through my mind, I am reminded that this disaster pales in comparison to the devastation wreaked in the Garden of Eden.
At that particular Ground Zero, Death itself originated. Our brains began a restructuring that would allow them to survive the process of grieving, a function for which we were not designed. Our enzymes began to shift, allowing our stomach and intestines to cope with a diet that was not in the original blueprint. In the blink of a decision, our very psyche changed from one whose initial impulses were that of generosity, safety, and trust to a character whose basic impulses acted out of selfishness, a desire for power, lack of trust, and an innate inability to “do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8).
The result of Adama’s decision at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil promised the disintegration of the integrity and existence of animals, ecology, atmosphere, and humanity — death for all. The intergalactic legal code, like the legal codes of many earthly countries, demanded capital punishment for a capital crime.
What is remarkable at this juncture in early history is that the Founder of the legal system, though innocent of any fault in the Edenic decision, took responsibility for our choice because He gave us the power of choice and sentenced Himself to death for our crimes against Creation. That one death paid the capital punishment for all human beings and the pain and destruction each one of us has caused to those around us. It is a simple, eternal, infinitely costly legal transaction. We get eternal life because the Innocent One paid for our crimes. The caveat here is that, just like there was the gift of Choice in Eden, we have the choice about whether or not we accept Heaven’s legal transaction of life.
A theological term used to describe this transaction is righteousness by faith. To make an informed decision about whether to participate in this legal transaction, it might help to understand its component parts: righteousness, our need for this righteousness, faith — faith in Whom?
In Hebrew the word sedeq, translated as "righteousness", means justice, rightness, acting according to God’s standard, doing what is right, being in the right, integrity, accurate, fair, honest. In Greek the word dikaiosyne, also translated as "righteousness", means what is right, justice, the act of doing what is in agreement with God’s standards, justice, the state of being in a proper relationship with God.
Simply stated, righteousness is love. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;” and, “Love your neighbor as yourself. On this hangs all the law and the prophets” (Luke 10:27). “Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love” (I John 4:8). A further definition would delineate that
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (I Corinthians 13:4-8).
This standard of God called righteousness and love covers our motives, the focus of our thoughts, and our behaviors. It includes principles found in Eden such as: power is to be used in service; relationships (both vertical and horizontal) are sacred; our relationship with our Creator is based on our trust in the benevolence of the Deity; and the wisdom of following Heaven’s commands. It includes Biblical policies based on those principles such as: lifting the burdens of the vulnerable, Sabbath rest, tithing, hospitality to those not of your culture or nations, honoring the reputation of the Divine ones and mortals, respect for property, and personal integrity.
Righteousness was once an innate aspect of our being. When our brains rewired, it became the standard by which we can see our legal standing. I don’t know about you, but all I have to do is read the texts above and I am convinced that I don’t meet the criteria for righteousness. Some of my thoughts would scorch steel. If investigated closely, many of my motives are remarkably selfish. I have said and done things to people that caused them stress and therefore affected their health and length of life. I have stolen property, time, and hope. Selfishly, I don’t want to pay the price for the harm I have caused. I would like a way out…
It’s not about what you do; it’s about the relationship you accept.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen. — Hebrews 11:1
I have been raised in a time of fierce individualism, wariness of those in authority, and focus on the tangible. When offered a “free gift” I look for the fine print. I can’t see eternal life. I can’t see the God that offers it.
I am staking the risk of my existence on the character of an Eternal One who, at the center of Great Controversy theology, is proving His love to those who look for His failings. How many of us see the command to destroy the Canaanites described in the Book of Joshua as the end of four centuries of yearning probation to people who insisted on harming others and set out to destroy those who had been chosen to demonstrate Heaven’s principles? The fate of Rahab shows what God wanted to do. The story of Ruth demonstrates God’s focus on drawing all who choose to follow loving, selfless principles. This God offers the legal pardon that is righteousness by faith. This God named what we call “The Judgment” (or Day of Atonement), Yom Kippur, the day of Mercy.
In Genesis 3: 8, 15, God introduced Righteousness by Faith as He came looking for our first parents. In Romans 3: 21-26 Paul describes the theology of this grace-filled pardon. In Revelation 3: 17-20 Jesus says:
You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me.
In this message to the last church of time, I believe the gold is love, the standard of God’s righteousness. I believe the eye salve is to help us see the standard clearly and understand that we are not meeting its requirements. I believe the white raiment is God’s garment to cover our defects. I believe that Jesus at the door is the Deity yearning for us to choose pardon. I believe the meal we are invited to eat is the first one of eternity.
It’s not about what you do; it’s about the relationship you accept.
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Catherine Taylor works as a private practice therapist in Virginia and is a regular camp-meeting speaker. She is particularly interested in the principles and object lessons found in the Old Testament.