The other night I was praying over my kids as they slept. A passionate prayer for the growing and deepening of their faith, and for the protection of their eyes, ears, hearts and minds in this world so full of darkness and lies that sound like truth. When I finished, the second half of James 5:16 came to mind – “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” No sooner did I think of that verse then another thought replaced it, “Well, not that I’m righteous.” It was that voice that whispers, “Don’t get too big for your britches.” “Don’t be proud and think you’re so good you deserve to be labeled righteous.” “Maybe you’re not righteous enough for your prayers to be really powerful or effective.” Ah, that last one is the crux. And the gut level response… doubt. Thankfully at that moment a different voice spoke, and I felt the Spirit of God say, “That’s the lie you’re believing and it robs you of your power. You are righteous because the blood of Jesus has made you righteous.”
I realized that I have been confusing righteousness with perfection, and believing that in order to be righteous, I must behave and perform perfectly. To acknowledge that I fall far short of perfection, not in a self-flogging kind of way, but in a realistic accepting-of-my-limitations kind of way, is humble. I am human and flawed and I accept that I am not perfect. My righteousness, however, does not hinge on my performance, but on my willingness to surrender my life to Christ and accept the atonement that He offers me through His blood. It’s actually HIS righteousness that covers me. One definition of righteousness according to Merriam-Webster is: acting in accord with divine or moral law: free from guilt or sin. Jesus is the only person to ever walk this earth who was free from guilt or sin, but the amazing thing is that He offers to wash away our guilt and sin with His blood so that we may be restored to righteousness.
The truth is that believing we are righteous is not pride. God wants us to stand in that power. His Son died so that we could be offered His power, authority, and righteousness. To look at that offered gift that cost Him so much, and say, “Oh no, I couldn’t.” isn’t humility, it’s actually a painful rejection of Him and what He did for us. I need to claim and own that I am righteous. It’s true that I’m not in and of myself and my own virtue. But by His grace I am righteous, and He doesn’t want me to shrink back from that. He wants me to go and to be powerful and effective.