For the past week and a half, I along with the rest of the nation, have been mesmerized by the unexpected rise of Jeremy Lin. I knew I had drunk the Kool-Aid of Linsanity when I found myself rooting for the Knicks and against my beloved Lakers. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with a Laker loss in my life.
In any case, I came across a quote in an article posted by the San Jose Mercury News that got me thinking. Reflecting on his toils and struggles during his stint with the Golden State Warriors, Jeremy shares:
“That affected my game last year and my joy last year. With all the media attention, all the love from the fans (in the Bay Area), I felt I needed to prove myself. Prove that I’m not a marketing tool, I’m not a ploy to improve attendance. Prove I can play in this league. But I’ve surrendered that to God. I’m not in a battle with what everybody else thinks anymore.”
He goes on to say, “I was on pins and needles. I was putting all this unnecessary pressure on myself. Now, I feel like I’m free out there.”
His reflection reminds me of one of the great struggles of the Christian life, the struggle between resting in Christ’s righteousness and working for our own righteousness. One of the great blessings of the Gospel is that we no longer have to work towards our own righteousness because Christ’s perfect and complete righteousness becomes ours by faith. His righteousness now speaks for us. His righteousness becomes our résumé. When God looks at us, He sees us in Christ. That is certainly good news!
Our sinful flesh, however, resists such an invitation. We don’t want to boast in Christ alone. We want to boast in Christ plus our own works. We want to make a name for ourselves. We want the spotlight to shine on us. Our flesh wants to prove to the world that we are worthy of praise and adulation apart from Christ.
This was Jeremy’s struggle. Instead of resting in Christ’s righteousness, he pursued basketball righteousness. He wanted to create his own righteousness through his performance on the court. He wanted to prove to himself and to the world that he belonged as a professional player. Basketball became the prism through which he evaluated, identified, and esteemed himself. As a result if he failed on the court, then he saw himself a failure. If he disappointed on the court, then he saw himself a disappointment. No wonder he was on “pins and needles” whenever he played. The pressure of basketball righteousness suffocated him.
I too can relate. No, I’m not pursuing basketball righteousness by any means. I am only 5’ 6” and have the vertical of a tortoise. I struggle with church-planting righteousness. Instead of resting in the Gospel, I find myself wanting to make a name for myself through my church plant. I want to prove to others that I can make it as a church planter. Instead of letting Christ alone speak for me, I want others to know me and esteem me for my ministry.
However, such a pursuit inevitably undermines my ability to shepherd God’s people. Fear, not faith, will characterize my decisions. If ministry becomes my righteousness, then I will be deathly afraid to fail. I will be afraid of criticism. I will be afraid to take risks. It chokes out my ability to lead.
On the other hand, if Jesus alone is my righteousness, then I will be free to fail. I will be bold in my decisions. I will be courageous in my shepherding. I will humbly learn from criticism. Instead of shepherding from behind with eyes measuring people’s approval, I will lead from the front with eyes fixed on God’s glory. This freedom is what Jeremy experienced on the court. This is what I hope to experience in my ministry.
How about you? Apart from Christ, what type of righteousness are you currently pursuing? Other than your identity as a child of God, what do you want to be known for? What do you want to prove to yourself and others that you can do well? Career righteousness? Parenting righteousness? May we see the foolishness of every form of works righteousness and experience the true joy and freedom of resting in Christ alone.
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