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A righteousness not my own
- Jacob Ninan
The Apostle Paul was not only scholarly and clear in his doctrines, but he was also down to earth honest about himself. While he took strong doctrinal positions, he also made it a point to recognise and acknowledge where he was in real life. He guarded himself from the extreme of living in a world of doctrines without any touch with reality and also the other extreme of trying to act being realistic while discarding doctrinal positions. For those who go merely by the letter, it may appear as if Paul is contradicting himself in several places. But if we learn to look at doctrine not just from some proof verses that we are partial to but as a part of the big picture God is trying to reveal to us, we can see how our practical experiences fit in with them.
Paul is well known for standing for the truth of justification by faith in Jesus Christ as an undeserved gift of mercy from Him in contrast to the common concept that we have to qualify in some way before God by the things we do (Ep.2:8,9). He was so strong about this that he was willing to 'fight' against anyone who tried to dilute or distort this truth. But honest man that he was, he realised that it is one thing to believe in the doctrine of free grace and the consequent justification and acceptance, and another thing to live believing that. He recognised that it was possible to hold that doctrinal position and at the same time live as if justification depended on our performance! He understood that accepting the doctrine did not automatically remove the grooves that our long experience had made in our thinking. What does it tell us when we feel accepted sometimes and unaccepted at other times?
As a result, Paul fought a battle with his own thoughts as he sought the Holy Spirit to renew his mind into the new way of thinking (2Co.10:5;Ro.12:2). He noticed how he would slip into glorying in his own righteousness and how he would need to get back to the position of unmerited favour from God (Php.3:8,9). Instead of imagining that because he believed the right doctrine he was right in his living, he sought to bring his life in line with the doctrine. This is nothing new for us who keep hearing, "Walk the talk," and "Practise what you preach." What may be new is that Paul was honest enough to acknowledge the disparity between the two, and also sincere enough to fight to narrow the gap.
Don't we have a problem with doctrine, when our life does not match with it? We may try to focus on the doctrine and repress the truth about our life. Some of us even keep confessing the doctrine so much that the differences in our life fade into the background. Some others think they are very honest with themselves and stop looking at the doctrines. This is not just about the doctrine of justification but everything else too. Where we need to change is to have an honest and sincere approach to doctrines, giving up the dogmatic as well as the don't-care-too-much attitudes.