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“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24)
Once a year, I like to use this space to interact with a book that I find intriguing, looking at a chapter every week. I particularly enjoy interacting with books that examine our cultural climate in the light of the gospel and can help us share the gospel with our neighbors. Over the next 10 weeks or so, I will be interacting with the book “Seculosity: How career, parenting, technology, food, politics, and romance became our new religion and what to do about it” by David Zahl.
You are probably aware that belief in God, as well as religious attendance, has been declining in America. This reality means that most people instinctively divide the population into two camps: believers and nonbelievers, or religious and irreligious. Zahl takes an intriguing approach in his book, arguing that the religious impulse has not gone away in our culture; rather, those in the category of “nonbeliever” or “irreligious” have simply replaced God with things of this world (like career, romance, parenting, politics, etc.). He defines “Seculosity” as “religiosity that’s directed horizontally rather than vertically, at earthly rather than heavenly objects.”
Zahl explains religion this way: “It is what we lean on to tell us we’re okay, that our lives matter, another name for all the ladders we spend our days climbing toward a dream of wholeness. It refers to our preferred guilt-management system. Our small-r religion is the justifying story of our life… Our religion is that which we rely on not just for meaning or hope but enoughness.”
That last word, “enoughness,” is a key word in Zahl’s book. It is his plain English alternative to the central Biblical term “righteousness.” Believers and unbelievers alike question whether or not they matter, whether they have self-worth, whether they are worthy of love, and whether they are good enough, however they define that good. We are deathly afraid that we are worthless, unlovable, or not good enough, whether or not we are brave enough to admit this to ourselves. For this reason, we expend our energy trying to prove our worth through a variety of pursuits, a mission summarized by the term self-justification. We try to prove we are worth something by curating the persona we display online or in our real-world interactions with people, or by overworking, or by trying to be smarter, more successful, or more “woke” than the masses, or by trying to land or be the perfect husband or wife, or by obsessing over our appearance, our children, or any number of other things. We are caught up in an endless pursuit to validate our existence, to assert that we are worth something, that we are enough.
Zahl points out that a close relative to self-justification is self-righteousness. Whatever we are trusting in for our justification tends to become the barometer by which we judge others. If we believe our self-worth comes from our appearance, then we tend to look down on those who look bad. If we trust in our intellect, then we scoff at those who are not as smart as we are. If we take pride in our parenting, then we shake our head at those whose children are not as well-behaved or successful as ours. If we are justified by how hard we work, then we can not stand those who we see as lazy. If you look closely at where you tend to be the most judgmental, you will likely find the place where you are most prone to self-justification.
The good news of the gospel is that we are justified not by how intelligent, hard-working, or moral we are. We are not righteous, or right with God, because of how successful we have been as a spouse, a parent, or an employee. And we are not worth something because of our bank account, post likes, or Facebook friends. The good news of the gospel is there is a righteousness, a justification, that does not depend upon our performance, but is offered to us as a free gift of grace from God. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24). Jesus, by living the perfect life that we could not live and dying a sacrificial death on the cross for our sins, has made us right with God. He has sealed once and for all that we are lovable and of infinite worth. And He has declared us “enough.”