“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt.5:20)
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them;
otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt.6:1)
I want to begin this article with a question. When do you feel righteous before God? I don’t know about you but I feel better before Him when I finally do the things that God wants me to do but which I have avoided, either because I was afraid to do them or thought it wouldn’t be very productive. Perhaps it was sharing the gospel with a friend or talking with a brother in Christ who had offended me. Whatever it was, I felt really good when I did such things because I finally faced something that I have avoided for a long time. Often I discover that there really wasn’t any need on my part to be afraid of doing such things in the first place.
As Christians we all have a “righteousness” that is noticed by all who know us. It is either one that stinks with arrogance and self-righteousness and is devoid of God or it is one that displays itself humbly so that those who notice it will comment, “I see that you are a Christian.”
The Jews felt that it was very important to keep the Law of Moses. If they didn’t keep it then they didn’t feel righteous before God. But was righteousness before God obtained by law-keeping? One might think so after reading passages like Deut.6:24-25 where Moses wrote:
“So the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today. And it will be righteousness for us if we are careful to observe all this commandment before the Lord our God, just as He commanded us.” However, Paul helps us to think correctly about this, when he wrote: “For the Jews don’t understand God’s way of making people right with Himself. Refusing to accept God’s way (through Christ), they clingto their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law (Law of Moses)” (New Living Translation). Romans 10:3)
Certainly God wanted and expected the Jews of old to keep and obey His laws and He does the same with Christians today. Yet in neither case did ‘law-keeping’ earn God’s acceptance and forgiveness. The Jews in the Old Testament were God’s people as are Christians today. We keep God’s laws not to be made righteous but because we are already righteous before Him. God has made us righteous through the marvellous grace that He has expressed towards us in Jesus Christ. As sinners, there is nothing that we could ever do to undo our sins or to atone for them. Only Jesus has ever kept God’s perfect standard of righteousness and God has accepted his death as our atoning sacrifice. It is then that when we are found in Him, that His righteousness is shared with us. (I Cor.1:30).
Yes, God expects us to obey and to keep His laws, but the reason that we should do these things is because we are already righteous through Jesus Christ. However, if we willingly and continually refuse to obey and keep His commandments then we fall short of being righteous in His sight. We renounce His righteousness, by acting as if it is trivial and unimportant (Heb.10:26-31).
When people see our righteousness what do they see? Do they see a self-righteous individual who always feels that they are spiritually better than anyone else? Or do they see someone who humbly goes about doing God’s will even when they think that no one notices?
“And Jesus also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Luke.18:9-14)
“And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew.23:12)
“The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom, and before honor comes humility.” (Proverbs.15:33)
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
“Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” (Numbers.12:3)
“…God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
“Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (James 4:10)
Owen Sound ON