It is well; it is well. Through the storm I am held. It is well, it is well with my soul.
We arrived at one of the later verses and sang:
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought; my sin, not in part, but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, oh my soul!
As we sang this, I began to think about the absence of bliss at this thought.
It seems we often do not praise because we really do not think that our sin is so bad after all. We are moral, we vote “right,” involve our kids in sports leagues, join some community group to pick up roadway trash and go to church regularly. We live perfectly according to the righteousness that we have determined, but not always according to the righteousness that God’s character reveals.
If God’s righteousness is the standard, my righteousness will never be enough. Jesus taught as much when he instructed us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 5). Paul affirmed it in a personal way, writing, “not having a righteousness of my own” (Philippians 3). In spite of this instruction and warning my tendency is to look at the righteous standard I have erected, compare it to my life and say, “It is very good.” Then, quite inadvertently, my desire to praise God fades; after all, I’m measuring up, my life is where it needs to be.
Which is all well and good, except that my standard is all wrong.
Praise fades when I forget how great God is and it is easy to forget how great God is when I forget how evil my sin is before God. If I’m reaching the attainable goal of my righteous standard, my tendency will be toward the self-satisfaction of a job well done, but if I’m pressing toward the goal of God’s righteousness, then my satisfaction is in his job well done, a righteousness I could never attain but can always enjoy since God has bestowed it upon me in Christ.
The resultant situation then is in singing, “My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,” I will only find bliss and glory if there is some understanding of the benefit I am experiencing because all my sin has been nailed to the cross in Christ. If my own righteousness is the standard, then I cannot help but miss the bliss since I do not see my sin as the affront to God’s standard that it actually is.
After all, I’m not as bad as Bugsy Siegel.
When my righteous standard is how I measure my behavior, it also becomes the platform for self-promotion, even if only internally. When God’s standard is how I measure my behavior, it becomes the motivation for self-denial. I cannot simultaneously promote and deny my own righteousness, nor can I simultaneously seek and ignore the righteousness of God.
Years ago a start up company called Living Epistles shook the Christian world by emblazoning T-shirts with bold and, occasionally, theologically profound messages. One of them read,
The righteousness He requires is the righteousness His righteousness requires Him to require.
This is true and, since it is, there literally is no room for a righteousness of my own. And I am filled with bliss at this glorious thought.