Perhaps you have heard someone state that if there were no heaven to gain nor hell to shun, they’d live like the Devil and just enjoy themselves. This statement depicts a not uncommon picture of righteous living as a “drag.” The sinners are apparently having all the fun while the righteous must carefully restrain themselves from having any.
This mentality strikes me as seriously at odds with the Gospel message. Did God develop and complete a plan of redemption which shackles man with a multitude of legal restrictions which work against his happiness and fulfillment here on earth? Does this plan bring joy only in the hereafter with no benefit in our present physical existence?
Despite how they may word it, many Christian people seem to view their righteous living as some sort of a required self sacrifice. There seems to be an attitude of physical deprivation in the minds of many religious people. Doing what is right is pictured too often as a “bore and a chore.” Where is the joy in living righteously?
A part of the issue here is one’s definition of righteousness. In the minds of many, the Bible is merely a rule book, full of “thou shalts and thou shalt nots”. The “thou shalt nots” are usually seen as restricting those activities which would be most normal and most pleasing if there just wasn’t a rule against them. If righteousness is, in fact, defined by a very restrictive rule book, then righteousness does become a difficult “tightrope walk”.
Jesus, especially in the sermon on the mount, tried to tell his disciples and others that righteousness was not going to be defined by law-keeping as many of the Jews had long believed. The new righteousness was to be imputed to mankind through the advocacy of Christ. It was a righteousness, not of works. In Matt 11:30 Jesus described his “yoke as easy and his burden light”. If one feels a heavy religious burden and a tight, restrictive religious yoke, that did not come from Jesus. Christ did not bring a difficult, troublesome, self sacrificing, boring sort of righteousness. The new righteousness is all of God and none of man. It is not more of the same Old Testament rules. This new kind of righteous living brings true joy and fulfillment in this life, whereas the old righteousness of rule keeping can only bring frustration and condemnation. Righteous living is now defined by the “golden rule” or the principle of love. A true understanding of this righteousness through Christ confirms that righteous living is rewarding now.