How You Can Learn To Do The "Right" Thing




I was picking up one last thing in the greeting card section of the grocery store earlier this week when all the lights blinked off. A couple minutes later the fire alarm blared and little red warning lights flashed overhead. Many of us made our way to the front of the store. There was one checkout lane open served by two diligent employees. The bagger looked from side to side, seemingly seeking help, her eyes calling out the question we were all asking: "What is going on? What are we supposed to do?”. A manager did not appear. No instructions were given. Was it a false alarm? Was there a fire or a sign of smoke somewhere near? What was the right thing to do?

There were three people in front of me and I claimed the last in line spot. We quietly waited, our eyes looking and seeking clarity as well. Then the woman in front of me turned around and looked at me. “You don’t have many things,” she said, “you should go ahead of me.” I was thanking her, sinking deeper in my place in response to her kindness when another employee appeared and called her to the next aisle to check out. Again, she insisted that I go first. More people were piling in behind us now so I took her lead. By the time I got to my car, the fire trucks had arrived and it was clear that everything was fine. In fact, it was better than fine as I was reminded once again of what it means to do the right thing. In the midst of uncertainty, the woman ahead of me took an interest in me. It seemed to bring out the best in her. She would not let harm come to me by needlessly waiting for her cart to be scanned. She looked to the interests of others.

What does it mean to do the right thing? It’s not always easy. People, organizations, and institutions don’t always do the right things. They can disappoint you, hurt you, and fail you. The Bible talks about doing the right thing as righteousness. We are told to pursue righteousness, along with godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. (1Tim 6:11) We often think of righteousness as correct thinking or strict adherence to the law. Truth be told, there are few who can achieve perfection in following the law.

I have always loved a verse in James: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend.” (2:23) Our righteousness is not something we earn but something we are given by the Righteous One. We are invited into relationship. We are invited into friendship with God which is possible through Jesus Christ. In his death and resurrection, the purpose of the law, to help people be in covenant relationship with God, is fulfilled. As a result, everyone who believes in Him is made right with God. (Rom 3:22, 10:4; 2 Cor 5:21) We are righteous when we are in right relationship with God. As we grow in our friendship with him we want to obey him and follow him and be like him. We realize we are valued not because of what we do but because of who we are. Our friendship with him changes us. We become a new person. This is very different from striving to be good, keepers of the law. On our own, our efforts to be virtuous and do the right thing can lead to mixed motives. Before you know it, it is fear, the esteem of others, the desire for success or worthiness that starts to drive us. At some point the lights will blink. The warning alarm may even sound as you realize your efforts are going up in smoke.

Abraham made lots of mistakes. He lied about who he was on more than one occasion. Yet, he was counted as righteous. Even more he was called a friend of God. The law is not able to give us life. Only the Righteous One can lead us. He is also called the Good Shepherd. He will guide us along the right path, for his name’s sake. (Ps 23:3). Let us befriend him today.