Do you ever start something not really sure where it is going to go?
That usually isn’t me. I want to have “the plan”. I want to work “the plan”. “The plan” might even have multiple paths and checkpoints. Now I’ve never been crazy about this. I’ve always known full well in the wise words of Iron Mike Tyson that “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” But when you get punched in the mouth is when you hope your plan is more like a Bach fugue. The melody is solid, you just have to shift to a different mouth.
Something like that might be the secret to a successful and happy existence on earth. Can you roll with the punches? Do you have enough grit such that you don’t have a glass jaw? Are you limber enough to play the rope-a-dope occasionally, or at least get your head out of the way of the haymaker? If you are good at it, or never come up against Mike Tyson at least, you might even think you can go the full 15 rounds and grab the belt. Define “the belt” however you want to.
You can file all of that under what Luther called civil righteousness. The world works a certain way. Some of those ways are not very Christian, using that word in the sense of nice or meeting a certain decorum. But that starts to point out the problems with Civil Righteousness. Everyone around you might think you are the best person on earth, a living saint. But, none of them get a vote that counts. And even if they absolve you of great crimes because you have donated enough money to get your name on a building, their absolution lasts until you leave the building. If you plan for civil righteousness you have received your reward. Enjoy the belt.
The other type of righteousness Luther calls the righteousness before God. And the brutal truth about this type is you can’t plan for it. In fact, the more you plan and scheme and try to earn it, the more it punches you in the mouth. Eventually, bloody and bruised and knocked out, you might conclude that it’s a funny game, the only way to win is not to play. Because you can’t win the righteousness of God. It only comes as a free gift. It only comes to broken sinners. It only comes to those who are flat on the mat admitting they are not going to beat the 10 count. That is the stink of desperation in the civil realm, but before God that is when He can start to do something. That is when we put down our plans and seek out God’s plans. When we are raised by the Spirit.
Part of the good news is that God has told us where this goes. This conforms us to his son, Jesus. He has also told us what to expect. The punches of the world will keep coming. But the plan of God is your eternal salvation. Your reward will be great in heaven.
Part of the good news also is that it is good, not nice. Nice is always defined socially. Nice is always changing. What is good? Conan the Barbarian’s answer isn’t it. What is good doesn’t really change. “Keep justice, do righteousness (Isa 56:1), and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).” For soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance will be revealed. With our plans we never really know where they are going; with God’s plan we know.