What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
A recent conversation with a life-long dedicated Christian revealed what I like to call the “dragon’s tale.” In my way of thinking most dedicated Christians do not struggle overly with obvious moral failure. We struggle with our inner self, our thought life. Words sometimes slip out when they shouldn’t. Often enough we will catch ourselves regretting not doing or saying something we ought to have done or said. We all sin, and sin damns us.
But most committed Christians live a morally pure and decent life – stumbling once in a while, to be sure – but without grave moral failure. When we do sin we repent and get back on the path again of godly living. We abhor also how the world seems to be going farther and farther away from the ways of God. Marriage is a forgotten relic of overly-religious morals. Let’s not even talk about gender issues, sexual preferences, the misuse of God’s name, or irreverence toward God and life. The sanctity of life is dismissed in favor of choice. Women’s rights do not extend to the rights of unborn women (or men for that matter).
So we strongly reject and object to such a moral slide and abandonment of anything truly good. And that’s when the tail of the dragon gets us. Having been delivered from the destructive power of ungodliness, and resisting the temptation to obvious and outward moral failure, we forget that the devil has a long tail that can snag us and pull us down.
Remember the scene in the Lord of the Rings movie where Gandalf faces down the fiery Balrog only to be snared at the last moment by the long tail (or whip) of the evil being. Just when you think all is well, and the battle has been won we learn otherwise.
So too with our struggle against sin. We stand against immorality, indecency, ungodliness, and irreverence only to fall prey to the idea that we are justified by such heroic feats. We pursue righteousness apart from faith. And that’s a fatal failure. If we would, rather, pursue godliness out of faith in God our pursuit would be far less frenetic, far more powerful and productive and effective.
We do not earn our identity as God’s sons and daughters by means of our morality, but rather in spite of our moral flaws and failures our loving Father in heaven calls us his children. We obey because we are God’s children, not in order to become God’s children. Likewise, if we are to properly reflect God’s character and express his reign in our hearts, our expression of goodness, truth, and righteousness will always be seasoned by grace, love, mercy, gentleness, kindness, and mercy.
Satan’s long tail entangles all those who would suppose to speak for God in judgment and prideful self-righteousness. But it has no power over those who rest in their identity as God’s sons and daughters by grace through faith in Jesus, and who seek to express the fullness of God’s character of grace and truth. Jesus was constantly confounding the self-righteous and welcoming sinners. That’s because he knew that the tail of the dragon is ready to snag the self-righteous, and has no power whatsoever over the humble and repentant sinner.
Don’t let the dragon wrap his fiery tail around you!