~~Following my son’s cell group this week, some of the boys stood around in the kitchen yucking it up. One of the boys – they call him Walby, so we do too – had on an unusual jacket, and my husband mentioned it. When the boys began to actually notice the article of clothing (they don’t usually, you know) it became apparent to us all that it didn’t fit. In this case, it was too small. So small, in fact, that he had the sleeves pushed way up on his arms so no one would notice how short they were. Amid the ribbing that ensued, Walby offered no explanation, so the too-small jacket shall remain a mystery – but I remembered it later.
My church, and therefore the youth cell groups, is beginning a yearlong study of the book of Romans. I’m excited about this and so is my son’s group leader, who laid down the law about working through it not only with diligence but with prayer and a teachable spirit. He gave them a brief introduction, (I’m listening from the other room where I’m supposed to be ignoring everything that goes on during their meeting…HA! Like THAT’S gonna happen!) and then he began to discuss and define some terms that they would come across in the meaty book. One of those terms was righteousness. (And here follows the explanation for why I eavesdrop on their meetings.) As I have heard it preached and taught many times before, the group leader launched an explanation of biblical righteousness that comingled the righteousness of Christ with righteous living, and the definition became completely muddied and unclear. I’m sure the boys all left with the idea that while they have the righteousness of Christ…they have to work hard to get it.
When these little…um…distortions arise I make it a point to have a follow up conversation with my son about them, and this evening was no exception. As I was trying to unsnarl the knot his group leader had tangled, I struggled to find a way to explain how we can have the righteousness of Christ and still be working at righteousness, and then I thought of Walby’s jacket. Righteousness is like Walby’s jacket in reverse. See…we have clothed ourselves with the righteousness of Christ, but it’s a jacket so big that we’re swimming in it – so big in fact that, blessedly, it’s all God can see. We’re in there somewhere underneath the yards and yards of fabric, but we’re just flapping sleeves all over the place and trying to keep it from dragging the ground when we walk! We need time to fill it out, to grow into it; while God is seeing nothing but Christ all over us, we are in there trying to get our arms in the sleeves and our neck through the right hole.
Fortunately, unlike Walby, we will never outgrow our jacket, but how well it eventually fits is always our choice. Although we could choose to continue to struggle and flap about in an oversized garment but being content with what we have, the hope is that we will grow until we are comfortable wearing it. In other words, I can be fully covered by the righteousness of Christ, be content with the fact that God is satisfied, and never move beyond that point in my life. Or I can work out my salvation with fear and trembling until my life actually fits the image. I’m sure that I will always have to push the sleeves up on my jacket lest they dangle past my fingertips, but in my wildest heart-longings I dream of a day when not only the sleeves fit, but the buttons just barely meet in the middle and strain a little to maintain hold. Oh, blessed Lord, bring me to a place where your righteousness is like a second skin. Not exactly like Walby’s jacket, but as close as earthly possible.