I was quoted last night. One of the elders told the church here that I had said that we should not pursue righteousness.
Everyone was nodding. No one minded. Let me tell you why.
There is a useless righteousness. The apostle Paul once wrote:
[The Jews], being ignorant of God’s righteousness and going around trying to establish their own, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness for everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:3-4)
What is the difference between our righteousness, which becomes an idol keeping us away from God, and God’s righteousness?
We are often deceived into thinking that just because Paul was talking about the Law of Moses in Romans 10, then that means that the only false righteousness we can have is one based on carnal, earthly interpretations of Moses’ Law. Or, even worse, we think that now that Christ died, it doesn’t matter whether we live righteously at all. (That last one, as common as it is, has got to be the most egregious misunderstanding of any book of any time period.)
The real problem is that the Jews had a righteousness based on the letter—that would be Scripture—rather than on the Spirit.
We can be just as guilty as they.
First, just in case you think that’s not what Paul was talking about, listen to Jesus’ complaint about the Jews and their righteousness:
You search the Scriptures because you think that you have life in them. But these are they which testify of me! And you refuse to come to me so that you may have life! (John 5:39-40)
Who can deny that today it is a normal, mainline teaching that we should search the Scriptures because there is life in them?
God’s righteousness doesn’t come from the Scriptures. It comes from heaven.
Listen, I’m not making a case against the Scriptures. You may notice that I’m quoting from them in this blog. I know which verses to quote because I read the Scriptures often. This blog post, and all others I write, are founded on the Scriptures.
The Scriptures "are they which testify of [Christ]."
Having read them, I know to go to Christ.
Having read them, I know that the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:14), not just the Scriptures.
Having read them, I know that the church is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), something that the Scriptures never say about themselves.
Having read them, I know that God’s righteousness comes from God, through his Spirit, and not from reading the Scriptures and going off to do what we think are good works.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:10)
Is Jesus Christ our example? Are we not supposed to imitate him?
Jesus didn’t do anything that he didn’t see his Father doing. In fact, he states, "Of myself, I can do nothing" (Jn. 5:19 and Jn. 5:30).
How much more can we not do anything of ourselves? How much more should we not do anything we don’t see our Father doing? How much more do we need to lean on the Spirit of God?
God has prepared some works in advance for you to do! If you get too busy doing your own works, you’ll miss his!
Your Righteousness, God’s Righteousness, and Hypocrisy
All of us have things we’re good at and things that are very difficult for us.
For me, it’s very easy to receive admonishment. I consider all of it. Harsh words don’t upset me, and insults don’t bother me. I bear them patiently, and I try to learn from them. I don’t even have to wrestle my fleshly nature to be that way.
But if I try to explain something to you, and you’re not getting it? Well, then my blood pressure rises. I get frustrated, and I want to yell, "Are you not listening? Why can’t you get this?"
There are worldly temptations that are not a temptation at all to me. There are others that are a terrible difficulty.
All of us are that way.
Left to ourselves, we’ll pat ourselves on the back for our strengths and ignore our weaknesses.
We’ll do that even if we’re reading our Bibles.
I’ve known several men that seemed to be bold, brave speakers. They knew the Scripture, and they weren’t afraid to stand up for God to anyone.
What was really true of them, however, was that they were terrified someone might see or point out their own faults, so they had become experts at jabbing, poking, and stinging others with the Scriptures in order to keep them at a distance.
Oh, what righteous men they appeared to be! Jesus, however, would have pointed his finger at them the same way he pointed his finger at the Pharisees.
There’s no saving such men. You can rebuke them, point out their hypocrisy, then leave them be. Chances are, they’ll never repent.
But you …
You can repent. You can do what’s right. You don’t have to fall into the same hypocrisy.
And don’t fool yourself; you will.
Unless you submit to the righteousness of God.
Pursue a relationship with God. You can always fool a book, even if that book is Scripture.
You can’t fool God. God has something for you to work on today. He knows. He knows what you’re hiding. He knows how hard or not hard it is for you. He knows when to put his finger on your faults, and he has the ability to give you the grace to overcome them.
When the Scripture speaks, it’s possible that you might miss it. It’s possible that you won’t even catch what was said. It’s also possible that even after you catch it, you’ll find it impossible to follow through.
But when God speaks?
When God speaks, you may ignore it, but you won’t miss it. It’ll drop in your heart, touch your conscience, and you will be forced to struggle and wrestle with that word and grow and live, or you will ignore it and slowly die a spiritual death. God won’t say another word until you deal with that one.
And when you deal with it, you will live. As horribly hard as it might be, it will be within your grasp. You will feel the smile and pleasure of God with each step forward even as you struggle.
How many people are sidelined, reading the Bible, looking for their own righteousness, all the while ignoring the last thing God said to them. They’ve been without the presence of God for days or even years. They’re worn out, exhausted, powerless, and unable to find anything in the Scriptures that will set them free.
If you’re one of those, it’s time to look up and ask God, "What was that you said to me?"
A Picture of Righteousness
Aargh, I hate adding one more thing. I’m scared you’ll lose what was already said.
Most of us have a picture of what it means to be a real man or woman of God.
That picture’s wrong.
Crush it. Throw it away. It’s an idol.
Only God knows what it means for you to be a man or woman of God.
Your picture will get in his way.
I’d try to explain it to you, but there’s no way to do that. If you have a confidently held picture of what real righteousness looks like, then you’re hopelessly off the track. I can’t tear that picture down for you; God will have to do that. And he will, if you’re a follower of the Spirit of God rather than a man who pats himself on the back with the Scriptures.
The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruit, without partiality, and without pretense. (James 3:17)