In my previous post, On Asking for Wisdom Part One, I shared a bit on how and why I’ve typically sought wisdom, particularly through prayer. As an aside: I somehow neglected to mention other forms of asking for wisdom which has always been particularly important to me: via other people’s insight and experiences. Personal experience, self-awareness and counseling have also proved important components on my own search for wisdom.
Today, I wanted to delve more into the nature of wisdom itself, according to the Bible. In the Old Testament, King Solomon describes wisdom as such:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Here, we have the beginnings of wisdom. The pathway to wisdom begins with fear of the Lord. But there is an air of distance implied. “Fear of the Lord” is akin to an awe and reverence. Biblical knowledge is almost always more holistic and intimate than our American left-brained, logical variety.
However, with Christ’s coming as a fulfillment of God’s promises in the New Testament, Paul describes wisdom in this way in 1 Corinthians 1:9:
“It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
From the Old Testament, wisdom has progressed from fear of the Lord as a prelude; in the New Testament, wisdom has become the symphony.
Wisdom is no longer simply spiritual and practical guidelines; wisdom has become a Person. And his name is Jesus.
Thankfully, Paul expands this idea even further and gives us three words that embody this Person/wisdom: righteousness, holiness and redemption. Let’s explore these words together…
Righteousness: A State of Being
I often think of righteousness as a quality of someone who is ethical, good or noble. Someone who does or behaves in a righteous way. However, the Bible often portrays righteousness as a state of being acceptable to God or having right standing with God. As we explore relationship between God and humanity through Scripture, this truth slowly emerges: righteousness is rarely earned through morality or behavior.
The Bible is full of examples of imperfect, broken, flawed people whom God nevertheless uses to achieve a greater purpose–usually deliverance, salvation, freedom or redemption of some sort:
- Romans 4: Abraham–the paragon of faith who was willing to slaughter his own son in obedience to God–never actually went through with this seemingly barbaric act; however, his legacy of faith brings about a right standing with God, or righteousness: “his faith was credited to him as righteousness.”
- Deuteronomy 4:4-6: God reminds the Israelites that they took possession of the land of Jordan not because of their righteousness, but because of “the wickedness of these nations,” as a fulfillment of God’s covenant Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; He even goes as far as to remind them that they are “a stiff-necked people.” Clearly, their righteousness was not predicated upon behavior.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is wonderful example of righteousness as a state of being. The younger son squanders his inheritance, is brought to ruin and then finally comes to his senses when he’s found himself impoverished in a pig sty. On his return trip home, his father sees him while he’s still a long way off and comes running to help bring him home. He doesn’t see a rebel, only the son he loves. The Prodigal Son receives a robe and a fattened calf to celebrate not because he did anything to deserve it; but because the father extends his own identity as a son: namely, his state of being acceptable. The father imparts his own righteousness to His undeserving son.
Now, if righteousness is a state of being, what does that mean for holiness?
Holiness: A State of Doing
When I’ve typically thought about holiness, holiness has appeared to me as a state of being. “‘Be holy, therefore as I am holy,’ says the Lord” always seemed to me to be an unreasonable (dare I say impossible) request. The word holiness conjures up images of the pope, of Gandhi, of countless holy men and women, saints alike.
And certainly, most uses of the word in Scripture are applied–not to people–but to God himself:
Exodus 15:11: “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?
Psalm 96:9 :“Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.”
The Old Testament Law is also concerned with matters of holiness as it applies to keeping the law, keeping the Sabbath “holy”, and all of the necessary Temple requirements. The New Testament explores holiness–not only as an attribute of God or religious requirement–but as the natural effective of life transformation; holiness is absolutely necessary effectively live as a Christ-follower.
The relationship between righteousness and holiness is explored even further in Romans 6:19:
“I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.”
… and in Ephesians 4:22-24:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
The Bible clearly shows righteousness and holiness as two separate entities, but entities that work in concert with one another.
If righteousness is state of being; holiness is a state of doing.
Holiness is a process, comprised of strategic, intentional choices in our lifestyle to set ourselves apart as distinct, counter-cultural embodiments of God’s kingdom. Whereas the Old Testament focused on the law and temple as a means to pursue holiness, Jesus breaks that wide open to encompass all of life:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)
Redemption: A State of Loving
I believe redemption takes this concept of wisdom one step further. Righteousness and holiness are anchored in reality by redemption. Redemption loves and saves. Redemption moves into the neighborhood and responds to needs and suffering with love and sacrifice, even when it’s uncomfortable and messy. In the same way we were redeemed, God calls us to live redemptive lives.
And so yes, I believe Jesus is the pathway to wisdom. But not as some divine access to pie-in-the-sky prayer requests.
If wisdom = righteousness + holiness + redemption, then we have a lot of work to do.
Wisdom is so much more epic (and complicated) than me praying for direction on a morning run or asking people for advice, although that certainly is an aspect of seeking wisdom. Wisdom is our righteous identity imparted to us by a loving God through Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice; wisdom is re-orienting our lives, decisions and relationships around holy living.
Wisdom is being, doing and loving with every single aspect of our lives.
For those who struggle with simply being, there is wisdom for us in being. When we keep fear and guilt and shame at bay with endless activity and scheduling, there is an invitation to simply be. Performance, behavioral modification and perfection will never earn us the relationship or identity that we crave. Our Father imparts a righteous relational identity to us through Christ. He loves us and finds us acceptable, not because of what we do, but because of who we are.
For those who struggle with simply doing, there is wisdom for us in doing. When we withdraw or escaped from the uncomfortable or the unfamiliar, wisdom draws us out to do, to create, to produce, to pursue because living out our God-given identity always leads to change in the real world. Holiness doesn’t mean we blend in anonymously or stand out obnoxiously. Rather, holiness compels us move out distinctly into this world with humble strength and confidence. He invites us to be holy, because of who we already are.
For those who struggle with loving, there is wisdom for us in loving. When we feel alone, aimless or disconnected from purpose, we are reminded that we are part of something greater than ourselves. Redemption can encompass and yet transcend personality type, relationship status, socio-economic class, racial identity, political affiliation or gender norms. We can step confidently and obediently into purpose and relationship with God, with the people around us, with our city, with our world. Through who we are and what we do, He invites us to reorient our lives around His redemptive power as experienced in community.
What part of this speaks to you? Do you struggle with simply being? Do you struggle with doing? Loving?
For those of you out there are like me and struggle with all three, perhaps there may be hope for us yet.
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:1-2, MSG)