Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The (Vain) Striving for Excellence

One of the many things we incorporate in our spiritual lives is the idea of doing good things unto others in order to gain the merit of God's grace. The most common answer you will get off of people if you do an impromptu street survey on "How They Think They'd Get to Heaven" is this: "I have been trying my best to do good all my life. I've been doing my best to be kind to other people and be a good person in society."

Most of us are wired this way... we strive for excellence in our daily living. Excellence in our dealings with others and excellence in our day to day behavior within society. We consider this a BIG must in hopes to get into the pearly gates to Heaven. We would always have it in us that as long as we do good to others; as long as we help other people and not harm them; as long as we strive to follow the 10 commandments faithfully, God will look at our lives and be pleased because we've strived for excellence!

Excellence is defined as follows:

1. the state or quality of excelling or being exceptionally good; extreme merit; superiority
2. an action, characteristic, feature, etc., in which a person excels

This actually boils down to the world's striving for Righteousness. This word is defined as morally upright; without guilt or sin. Any religion in the world will tell you that the way to "heaven" is to do unto others good and not bad, to at least have morals; to try to be without the guilt of sin. Some have strict guidelines to follow and most have rituals and practices to complete in order to gain personal excellence, or righteousness, that may lead a soul to heaven. 

  • Hinduism, for example, has the primary objective of Righteousness. This attained by following rituals and a wide spectrum of "daily morality" based on the notion of "karma".
  • Buddhism is the religion or philosophy that encompasses varied traditions, beliefs and practices which are largely based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha. One of the principal teachings of Buddha is the Noble Eightfold Path which are to be developed in every individual. This Path includes the eight "Rights" that a person must perform in order to at least attain excellence in wisdom, ethical conduct and mental discipline.
  • Islam is the religion that adheres to the teachings of the Qur'an, which is a text considered by its adherents as the verbatim word of God; and to the teachings and normative example of Muhammad, the last Prophet of Islam. Believers of Islam adhere to its "Five Pillars" of the religion as obligatory acts for all. These are presented as the framework for worship and a sign of commitment to faith, and they include the recitation of oath, the ritual prayers, fasting during Ramadan, alms-giving, and the pilgrimage to Mecca. Believers are also to follow the Islamic Law which touches every aspect of life and society. Islam teaches of a Day of Judgment that will come whereby every individual will be held accountable for his/her deeds and will be judged by God accordingly.
  • Catholicism is the broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole. Catholics believe in the direct and continuous organizational descent from the original church founded by Jesus, who according to tradition, designated the apostle Peter to be the first leader. This apostolic succession guarantees that present-day bishops and the Pope has infallible (incapable of erring) authority in matters of faith, morals, and the valid administration of sacraments. Believers adhere to the traditional administration of Seven Sacraments which are rites that consider God to be "uniquely active". These include infant Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. Though not every individual believer has to receive every sacrament, the Catholic Church affirms that these are necessary for salvation (as the modes of grace divinely instituted by Christ himself), for Catholics also believe that God will one day Judge a person according to his deeds. Worship in the church includes the use of sacred images and items, the veneration of Mary (as the "Mother of God") and the veneration of saints, including prayers for the dead and requests to the departed saints for intercessory prayers.
  • Judaism affirms the existence and uniqueness of God. It stresses performance of deeds or commandments, rather than adherence to a belief system. Judaism recognizes two kinds of "sin": offenses against other people and offenses against God. The mainstream of Jewish view is that God will reward those who observe His commandments and punish those who intentionally transgress them. 
  All are striving for righteousness, working towards the common goal of being rewarded in the end by a higher, supreme being. We all live our lives following rites, practices, beliefs, commandments, rules and regulations in order to make ourselves presentable on the day we die. It is the least we can perform while living, do good to others and do penance for any wrong we have done. We try to accumulate our little trophies and medals of "good works" in order to somehow be approved of by God.

That is NOT what God requires of us, though. Jesus Himself clarified that our striving for excellence by following commandments, rites or whatsoever it is we are following for our own righteousness to be developed is pretty much useless in the end. Listen to what Jesus told the young man in Mark 10 who approached Him and asked Him what he needs to inherit eternal life (or get to heaven, if we want to put it that way)...

"Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me." (Mark 10: 19-21)

Let us be reminded by Scripture that tells us this:

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Our striving for righteousness is useless because no matter what good we try do for others and no matter what kind of ritual, tradition, commandment, and practice we religiously perform every single day of our lives they will only be as good as filthy rags before the throne of the Almighty God

What then is our hope, you ask? Here is our hope...

"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;"
 (Romans 3:20-23)

Are you still striving for your OWN righteousness? Listen to Jesus' call today, 

"Come, take up the cross, and FOLLOW ME."


  1. I dont want to be a "striver!" I want to be satisfied in Him, joyful because of Him, and peaceful with Him. You are right striving for excellence in our society is a dangerous thing. We should be striving not for earlthy things but heavenly ones! Thanks for posting your "angry" link on my post today! I really loved reading it! Nice to know Im not alone in getting angry!

  2. I'm so glad there is nothing we can do and it is all about what He did and does in us! I want to strive only for my relationship with Him and nothing else. Thank you, great post!

  3. Carrie @

    Hi, Cookie!
    Im your newest follower, although youve been following my blog for a while. Your post is excellent. I can tell you worked very hard on that! Great job explaining such a difficult topic.

    I want to let you know Im showcasing your blog on mine today. Each Friday I pick one of my followers and tell everyone else about that great blog--youre it today! Thats my way of thanking you for connecting with me on my blog. I couldnt make it without you.

    Have a great day!

  4. Thank goodness we don't have to get to heaven by our own merits or none of us would ever enter His gates! Thank you for such a profound post that gets to the heart of who we are as believers. I'm so glad you were featured at Comforted By God so that we could find you :) Have a great weekend sister in Christ!

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God



Blog Widget by LinkWithin