God wants men to be upright, like Him. To those who choose Him, He gives life and righteousness and instructions on how that should look like lived out.
I could compare the righteousness to a bicycle. We couldn’t ride it if we were still dead. This bike of righteousness is a gift; it’s not something we already had, like feet. Now we just need to learn to ride.
The hardest part of learning to ride a bicycle is learning the balance. You must learn to shift your weight in a way that keeps you upright. Too far one way or the other means a crash.
This is similar to the way a Christian needs to balance truth and love in his life. Micah 6:8 tells us that what God calls for is to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
In pursuing righteousness, we are easily sidetracked in comparing are progress to those around us, especially when the comparison is favorable to us. This gives us the tendency to be smug rather than sympathetic when someone is struggling. And if they should fail… “You did what?! I never did that.”
There goes mercy. And if you consider the sinfulness of pride, righteousness is right there in the dust, too. Crash.
One the other hand, sometimes in following after mercy, we start to gloss over sin. The message goes from ‘God loves you anyway and has provided a way of forgiveness’ to ‘It doesn’t matter if you’ve sinned, God loves and forgives’ to ‘Don’t worry about if it’s sin; God is gracious’.
Sin does matter. Jesus Christ died on the cross because sin matters. He rose again to offer forgiveness and new, holy life apart from the abomination of sin.
So what’s in the middle? Loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, and strength; loving your neighbor as yourself. Speaking the truth in love. Lots and lots of practice.
One of the reasons I like the analogy of a bicycle is because it constantly takes adjusting. Even when the balancing has become natural, you still have regular adjustments. Tweaking the direction of your handlebars or your lean just becomes so natural that you don’t think about it.
I don’t need to be discouraged over constant adjustment between mercy and truth. It’s normal. The important thing is to correct myself when needed. Don’t stubbornly tip and crash; remain upright.
As with biking, there are times when leaning to one side or the other is useful in changing course.
An example would be the righteous zeal of Phinehas (Numbers 25). Israel had just evoked God’s judgement and wrath over fornication and idolatry with the Midianites. In the midst of the judgement and weeping, an Israelite brought in a Midianite woman in front of everyone. At this brazen rebellion, Phinehas took his javelin brought the pair to death immediately. It was because of this sharp leaning after righteousness that God turned his wrath away from the Israelites.
On the other hand, in the account of the prodigal son we are told of a father who shows overflowing love and mercy when his son comes home after forsaking his home and wasting his entire inheritance in wild living. (Luke 15:11-24) This lean toward mercy restored the repentant young man into his family.
Knowing when and how far to lean comes with time and learning. In the meantime, God is the great physician; get those knees patched up and try again. And don’t forget to check your balance.