Proverbs 14:12. There is a way that appears to be right,
but in the end it leads to death.
Proverbs 16:25. There is a way that appears to be right,
but in the end it leads to death.
No, it’s not a typo. This proverb is so important God said it twice. But why? Because this proverb is a summation of humanity’s entire existence without Jesus. From the garden to the end of time, people will continue to live from what they believe appears to be right. But the end will always lead to death.
What is the way that appears right but leads to death? It’s any path that rejects God’s grace. More specifically, let’s consider three ways that many of us embrace that appear to be right, but actually end in death. 1) Law keeping. 2) Self-justification. 3) Living for the moment.
Law keeping. Obeying the law (God’s law, your internal law, societal or cultural law) always appears to be right to us. Isn’t the Law the law because it’s good? But law keeping can never bring life. It can only expose the sin and death that are inside of us.
Because God’s law is perfect it, apart from grace, it can only condemn and enslave us, never free us. A life of law keeping will always scream, “You’re not good enough.” And it’s true. You’re not. None of us are. But law keeping keeps us striving for an unachievable standard. It produces pride when we get it right and despair when we get it wrong, both pushing us further away from God and others.
Self-justification. Proving yourself, performing, showing you belong, that that your life has meaning. Self-justification appears to be the only way to survive in this life. It’s how we make friends, get jobs, graduate, be “cool.” It’s how we deal with our failures. It’s how we know we’re right (even when we’re wrong), and how we know that we deserve to exist. “I am valuable because I am ___.” “My life has meaning because I have ___.” “I’m important because I can ____.”
But self-justifying’s internal standard is just as deadly as the law’s external standard. What happens when the thing that justifies your existence is removed? What happens when your children move out and you’re no longer super mom? What happens when your career success no longer defines you? What happens then the ministry is cancelled, or the game is lost, or you simply find out that you’re not as great as you thought you were? A little piece of you dies inside. What appeared to be life is actually death.
Living for the moment. Go for the gusto. “Live your best life now.” YOLO. Peace, happiness, hope, all hinge on what is happening right now. Pleasure can only be found in the present moment so grab all you can. Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.
But this too is a path toward death. Momentary happiness will never sustain the weight of your heart’s deepest desires. There must be something eternal that we long for, wait for, even strive for. Living for the moment means we have to feel, experience, and enjoy everything right now. By nature, this makes us shallow and self-focused. And it destroys sacrificial living, which is the heart of all love. And without love there is only dying.
Union with Christ offers us a far better way to live. Grace not law keeping. Imputed righteousness not self-justifying. Living for God’s eternal glory not living for the moment.
Admittedly, just as these three ways to live appear to be right, the path with Jesus can appear to be wrong.
Can it really be as simple as receiving grace? I don’t really have to earn anything with God? It’s all free? That doesn’t appear right.
Do I really not have to prove myself and perform in order to be loved and accepted? Is it actually OK to not be OK? To not be the best? To not fulfill my dreams? That doesn’t appear right.
Can it really be more fulfilling to put pleasure on hold for the sake of serving others? To miss out on things for their good? That doesn’t appear right.
“To live is Christ” may not always appear to be right, but the way of Christ will always lead to life. Not an easy life, but a life of love, a life of honor, a life of real joy and peace. Beware, all other ways will only lead to death.
Can you see yourself on any of the above paths?
You in Christ
How can trusting your union with Christ get you off that path?
Christ in you
Christ’s life in you will appear strange to the world. Where have you experienced this?