Righteousness is in Relationship

Are you a worrier? Do you strive your best in all things, but then wonder if it’s really good enough and what more you could be doing?

If you are like me, it is easy to move from reflecting on one lazy or unfruitful day into stressing out about whole life issues and wondering if you’re measuring up to that elusive ‘potential’ we’ve all heard so much about. I wonder often if in some alternate reality my life would look different than it does right now – married? kids? job and a house payment?

Now before you hear me wrong, I don’t have any regrets about what I’m doing and the sacrifices I’ve made. I love my job, and I love my life. I just sometimes wonder if I’m missing out on some of what life has to offer by walking the path I’m on.

All of those thoughts throw me into a crisis of “what could be” versus “what is,” which in turn throws me down a path to “what should be and is not.” In times like this, it is easy for us worriers to begin to question our own insecurities and become critical of our own faults. “Why haven’t I got that project done yet?” “I need to exercise more.” “Just ask the question! So what if she says ‘no?’” And on and on the introspection goes.

The reality is that as we journey down these paths of introspection and the inevitable self-criticism, we begin to find our value in what we do (or could do) instead of in our identity in Christ and the love He has for us and we once again elevate our ‘doing’ over ‘being.’ This is completely upside down from the gospel.


For the last couple of days I’ve been thinking on Isaiah 53’s prophecy about the atonement:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

It amazes me that my own understanding of the atonement of Christ grows bigger and bigger every day, as the depth of my heart is exposed more and more. I am continually faced with the ever-growing impact the work of the cross has for our lives. A deeper look even at this verse shows how great the atonement actually is:

  • Jesus died for our transgressions, which means our rebellious actions. These are the sins we commit.
  • He paid the price for our iniquities, which literally means our guiltiness or depravity. Iniquity isn’t the sins we commit, it is the sin nature we carry as lost humanity.
  • His punishment brought us peace, which means there is no punishment left for us to face. No condemnation from God (Romans 8:1), and no carrying regret for “the things which are behind” (Philippians 3:12-14).
  • And if all that wasn’t good enough, He didn’t just die for our spiritual health, but because the Perfect One was wounded in our place, even our physical bodies have healing available in Him.

Christ died for us, body and soul, so that we can live free in Him. There is nothing left for us to do to be right with God. We already are. The atonement of Jesus brings us back to ‘being’ over ‘doing.’

Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t do anything. But it changes the reason we do them.


Recently I had one of those seemingly unfruitful days. I had gotten some work done in the morning, but then took a long walk in the afternoon to listen to some Christian podcasts and pray. That time walking was beneficial even in getting my mind ready for an upcoming mission by building my trust that God is with me. However, at the end of the day, it was too easy for me to look back at my to-do list and say, “I didn’t get anything done today,” and then feel guilty for it.

I’m sure you have those days, too, and understand what I’m saying, but think about it. I feel guilty for spending time WITH God over getting stuff done in my work FOR God. It’s crazy. And it isn’t how God prioritizes things at all.

At the end of time, everything I have done for God is going to look like a three-year-old making mud pies for his daddy. The dad doesn’t need those mud pies. It isn’t even what he wants. But he loves the mud pies simply because he loves his son, and accepts them gladly because of their relationship.

That’s how God is with us. He loves us, and no matter what amount of work we get done for Him, it only matters to Him because we are His children. With Him, who we are in Christ is of infinitely more value than what we do for Him. And it shows in how He “parents” us.

Consider this. Again, talking about the atoning work of Christ, Psalm 103 says,

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:2-5)


This passage teaches us the same thing we learned from Isaiah 53. We are forgiven and loved and renewed, body and soul, by the Lord. But then it goes on to tell of how God responds to us after the atonement has taken place.

He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10)

This same thought is reiterated in 1 John 4 when it says that we are perfected by God’s love, and now have no need to fear His punishment:

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:16-18, emphasis mine)

Now yes, God disciplines His children. But discipline and punishment are two different things. Punishment is a reaction to and a retribution for your wrong actions. But Jesus took our punishment on the cross.

Discipline, however, is not retribution, but is in fact a process we endure to become more like Christ. Discipline (from the same root as discipleship) is God working in us to transform us into the family image, and make us able to receive our inheritance as heirs with Christ.

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:3-11, emphasis mine)

So the discipline of God is NEVER in response to our sins. Remember, “He does not deal with us according to our sins.” Rather, in love, God is building in us the identity realized for us in the work of Christ. He is training us for our destiny.


One thing that I love about the discipleship process is that no matter how many rules we keep, or how much we can get done for God, it doesn’t matter at all in how He loves us or comes to accept us.

We are made righteous by one thing, and on thing only, and it is in having a relationship with God as His children, made possible only by the work that Christ has done. We cannot even work to make ourselves more like Him, but are transformed into Christ’s image, “from one degree of glory to another” simply by beholding the glory of God in Christ.

We are not loved because we “do.” (And we will never be rejected because we “don’t”.)

We are loved because He loved and called us into relationship with Him.