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Clinging to a Counterfeit Cross

Clinging to a Counterfeit Cross

by James P. Shelly


Righteousness vs. Self-righteousness

In the church, it seems we are predisposed to label any perception of righteousness in self as being "self-righteous." The truth is, Scripture requires each of us to come to an honest assessment as to whether or not we ourselves are indeed righteous when evaluating our own spiritual condition. Again, when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9 that, "The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?" Who then will? Is it not the righteous? Paul is certainly not speaking of the positional, imputed righteousness we have in Christ, for the context in which he speaks is one of right or wrong behavior. He says in the verse that follows, "Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God." Paul is saying in essence, "If you think that your profession of faith in Christ somehow absolves you from the necessity of living a righteous life you are deceiving yourself." If these verses are to have their intended effect on our hearts, we must of necessity come to one of two conclusions; We are unrighteous, walking in the flesh, and thus recognize our need for repentance and grace if we are to inherit the kingdom of God, or, we are indeed righteous, walking in the Spirit, and thereby confident that we shall inherit the kingdom of God. Simply stated, these verses require every professing believer to see himself as righteous and saved, or unrighteous and damned. Paul leaves us with no other option.

He assumes that this was a well established truth of the Christian faith; that those characterized by unrighteous behavior would not be the recipients of the kingdom of God. He says, "Do you not know?" Are you ignorant of this central truth? That the unclean, the lewd, the hateful, the contentious, the jealous, those who exhibit outbursts of wrath, the selfishly ambitious, those who sow discord, heretics, enviers, drunkards, revilers, homosexuals, sodomites, thieves, the covetous, extortioners, the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall not inherit1 the kingdom of God(1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Gal. 5:19-21; Rev. 21:8)?

There are many such passages in Scripture whereby we must assess our own spiritual condition according to how we live, whether in godliness, humility, love, good works, holiness, righteousness, etc. When John writes, "He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar" (1 Jn. 2:4) we must evaluate whether or not we are keeping His commandments if we are to have any confidence that our profession of Christ is valid. In other words, we must discern whether or not we are truly righteous in practice. However, this has nothing to do with being "self-righteous" as the term is commonly understood. Scripture makes a vital distinction between a self-righteousness, an artificial righteousness which is a product of the flesh, and an authentic righteousness, which is a product of the Spirit of God. John is simply stating, in essence, the principle set forth in John 15; anyone who professes to be a branch in the tree of Christ who is not bearing the fruit of Christ, is a liar. John is indeed making the assertion that self must be righteous if it is to be saved, but since the righteousness he speaks of is not self produced but rather a product of the natural consequence of being in spiritual union with Christ, bearing the fruit thereof, it wholly eliminates any notion of self-righteousness.

We read in Romans 8:13, "If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." Here, the "you" or "self" is the one who must "put to death the deeds of body" but it is by the work of the Spirit that precedes the action of the "you" or "self" that results in the accomplishment of the stated goal. In other words, it is the Spirit that initiates the action, which then further empowers the "I" to carry it out. It is as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:10, "I labored more abundantly than they all (speaking of the other Apostles), yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Simply put, Paul says I labored, but it is God Who deserves the "pat on the back." He says in Galatians 2:20, "It is no longer I who live", the "old man," the "I" or "self" living according to the flesh, walking by sight, producing a righteousness independent of God, resulting in "self-righteousness" "but Christ who lives in me," the new man living by faith, according to the Spirit, producing a righteousness wholly dependent on God, rooted and grounded in the heart. Paul was indeed a righteous man but any thought of "self-righteousness" would be abhorrent to him. For He says, "By the grace of God I am what I am".

David was a man after God's own heart and yet he says of himself in Psalm 7:8,

Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to my integrity within me.

And in Psalm 18:20-24,

The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all His judgments were before me, and I did not put away His statutes from me. I was also blameless before Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity. Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in His sight." (italics added)

David was certainly not being self-righteous because God Himself agrees with him as stated in 1 Kings 15:5, "David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite." Job says of himself in Job 27:6,

My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; My heart shall not reproach me as long as I live. (italics added)

God Himself says of Job,

Then the LORD said to Satan, 'Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?'"(Job 1:8) [Italics added in all the above]

Was Job self-righteous? Was David a legalist? Are we as Christians such if we speak in like manner? No, for we are very much aware that the source of our righteousness is not of ourselves, but of divine origin. David says in Psalm 4:1, "Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness!" "Not 'the God who imputes to me righteousness,' as some render, but 'the God who sees that I and my cause are righteous.'"2 In Psalm 16:2 he says, "I said to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.'" And in Psalm 19:12-13, "Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression." Here, David expresses his complete dependency on God for any hope of righteousness in himself. By faith he is confident that God will respond to his supplication and he shall therefore be blameless and his sin shall not have dominion over him. Likewise, we read in the New Testament, "For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Rom. 6:14). In other words, sin shall not have dominion over those who trust, not in the written law, but in the One who wrote it.

We read in Ezekiel 18:21, 22,

But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. (italics added)

Here we see that unless a man turn from all his sins and live righteously before God he shall perish. Again, this is not speaking of the righteousness of Christ imputed to a man, but a righteousness based on what the person himself does. But how is this accomplished? The answer is found in v. 31, "Make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!"(NASB). "'To make' in Hebrew is constantly used in the sense of 'to procure for oneself,' 'to acquire.'3 This new heart is essential if any hope of righteousness is to be realized in us yet to acquire it one must look beyond one's self to the maker of all things. God says, "I will give you a new heart", etc. (Ezek. 36:26).Praise God He is ready with open ears to hear the sinners plea for this new heart in response to the eyes being opened to just how desperately wicked is the one they now possess (Jer. 17:9). "For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened... If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:10-13). So again, since the righteousness does not originate from self, but by God alone through faith alone, there can be no legitimate boasting or self-righteousness. That would be like a man having a heart attack and going into surgery to receive a heart transplant and coming out from under anesthesia boasting in how he saved his own life while the surgeon stands over him in utter bewilderment. In our salvation, God is not only the surgeon but the heart donor as well. How absurd then is self-righteousness and how detestable it must be to God.

Self-righteousness then, is just that, a righteousness that originates from and whose source is self. The dictionary definition is "confidence in one's own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others." It is a righteousness that is self-centered, ugly, boastful, arrogant, and therefore repulsive to God. It results in sinful pride and carnality, causing one to be puffed up on behalf of one against the other (1 Cor. 4:6). It is a righteousness that is obedient to words while disregarding their intent. Typically, these are of the character that say, "'Keep to yourself, Do not come near me, For I am holier than you!'" (Isa. 65:5), which are smoke in the nostrils of God, a fire that burns all the day. However, in contrast, the righteousness that David and Job speak of, in reference to themselves, is just the opposite. It is God-centered, spiritual, beautiful, humble, without pride or boasting, wholly honoring to God having its focus entirely on His glory with none to spare for self.

Therefore, the determining factor as to whether or not the righteousness is acceptable to God is dependent on the source from which it is derived and the motive whereby it is initiated. If the flesh is the source of the righteousness, it results in pride. If the Spirit is the source, it results in humility. For in both cases, the source of the righteousness rightly receives the praise for what it produces. In the practice of a so-called righteousness that originates from self, man is glorified. In the practice of a righteousness that originates from the Spirit, God is glorified.

When Scripture exhorts us, in Colossians 3:12, to put on humility, are we being self-righteous if, after an honest self examination, we believe that we are indeed doing so? No, for if recognizing humility in oneself is self-righteous, and self righteousness is pride, it would negate the assessment. For we can never be proud and humble simultaneously. This would make it equally impossible to determine whether we were obedient to any of the commands in Scripture. Yet, this we must constantly do. Therefore, when we see an exhortation or command in Scripture and we believe in our hearts that we are obedient to that command that in itself is not being self-righteous, but rather it is simply coming to a conclusion as is necessary in assessing the spiritual condition of our souls. It is only when we credit and exalt ourselves for our obedience rather than God and His grace, that it becomes self-righteous. If we credit ourselves for our obedience, we think we have merited something from God and He is then indebted to us. When recognizing the truth that it is entirely by the grace of God, praising Him for our obedience, knowing we have merited nothing, we are then wholly indebted to Him. Understanding that these various fruits of the Spirit are simply the consequence of abiding in Christ, "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me" (John 15:4). We can no more boast of our own righteousness than a branch can boast in that it bears fruit. That would be equivalent to thinking we could boast of our own birth or in that we have the capacity to walk or talk. We read in Isaiah 10:15,

Shall the ax boast itself against him who chops with it? Or shall the saw exalt itself against him who saws with it? As if a rod could wield itself against those who lift it up, or as if a staff could lift up, as if it were not wood!

Even as an ax cannot chop wood without the one who chops with it, a man cannot live a righteous life apart from God who works in him. It is like a farmer making butter. He puts cream in the churner and begins to work it, churning it, gradually transforming the cream until the butter is formed. Apart from the work of the farmer it would remain cream and eventually perish. Even so God takes a repentant sinner and begins to work righteousness in him, gradually transforming him into the likeness of Christ until the likeness is fully formed in glory. Apart from the work of God he would remain a sinner and eventually perish. In John 15 God is depicted as a Farmer or Vinedresser, Christ is the Vine, we are merely the branches and therefore Christ says, "He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing (John 15:5). The branch is indeed the bearer of fruit but it has nothing to boast of because without the Vine it would remain baron, wither and die. Even so the Christian is indeed righteous but he has nothing to boast of because without Christ he would remain a sinner and die. Therefore, a self-righteous Christian is a contradiction in terms.

It says in 1 Cor. 4:7,

For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

And in 1 Cor. 9:16 Paul says,

For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!

We read in Romans 11:18,

Remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.

And in Psalm 34:2, 3,

My soul shall make its boast in the LORD; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together. [Italics added in all the above]

But does Scripture not say that no one is good? When Jesus said, "No one is good but One, that is, God" (Matt. 19:17), He was speaking in terms of absolute and perfect goodness. If this were not the case then He would be contradicting Himself and numerous other passages of Scripture. Christ speaks of a "good man" in Luke 6:45,

"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil..."

When He separates the sheep from the goats, He says, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21).

And in other places,

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way. (Psalm 37:23)

A good man deals graciously and lends; He will guide his affairs with discretion. (Psalm 112:5)

A good man obtains favor from the Lord, But a man of wicked intentions He will condemn. (Prov. 12:2)

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous. (Prov. 13:22)

The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied from above. (Prov. 14:14)

For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith" (Acts 11:24).

Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts (Ps. 125:4) [italics added in all the above].

We see then, that scripture often speaks of "good men." We understand as well that in these passages the term "good man" is in reference to good behavior as opposed to wicked or sinful behavior. These were considered good men because, by God's grace, they were men of good character, "full of the Holy Spirit and of faith," living according to God's will and purpose. They were not perfect nor were their works perfect, but Scripture calls them good nonetheless.

When it says in 1 Kings 15:5, "David did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite," David's sin with Bathsheba, it was not his only sin, but one that particularly grieved God. For it was done, not in ignorance or weakness of the flesh, joined with confession and repentance, but with a casual disregard for the blessings of God toward him and a negligent lapse in his regard for the law. We discover then that those considered as righteous, according to Scripture, are not perfect men, but those characterized by doing what is right. Psalm 15:1-4 speaks of those who shall dwell in His presence,

Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; He who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but he honors those who fear the LORD

Thus, the Christian, if he is to have any confidence that he is in right standing with God and hopes to abide in His presence, he would be wise to discern in his own character whether he is indeed an upright man; a man who works righteousness, does not gossip, does not speak evil of his friends, does no harm to his neighbor, does not lie, despises the vile, fears God and honors his Christian brothers. Not with a puffed-up self-righteousness but rather with a profound humility, knowing that all that we are and all that we shall ever be, is achieved by God alone in and through the work of Christ and apart from Him we are nothing, have nothing, can do nothing, merit nothing and therefore are forever deserving of nothing but death.

Does Paul not say in Romans 3:9 that, "There is none righteous, no, not one"? Paul is quoting from Psalm 53. When we look at the entire passage, we find that Paul is referring to those outside of Christ.

There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.

This is certainly not a representation of the believer in Christ. For nearly every word is the antithesis of what we read in Scripture to describe the Christian's character. The Psalm that Paul quotes begins this passage with the statement, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity; There is none who does good" etc.(Psalm 53:1). The "none who does good" is one and the same as those who say in their heart "There is no God." Furthermore, it would contradict those same passages of Scripture listed previously in reference to "good men" as well as numerous other passages of Scripture. Righteous men in contrast to unrighteous men are a continuous theme throughout Scripture:

Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. The righteousness of the blameless will direct his way aright, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the unfaithful will be caught by their lust (Proverbs 11:4-6).

The wicked man does deceptive work, but he who sows righteousness will have a sure reward. As righteousness leads to life, so he who pursues evil pursues it to his own death. Those who are of a perverse heart are an abomination to the LORD, but the blameless in their ways are His delight. Though they join forces, the wicked will not go unpunished; But the posterity of the righteous will be delivered (Proverbs 11:18-21).

A righteous man hates lying, but a wicked man is loathsome and comes to shame. Righteousness guards him whose way is blameless, but wickedness overthrows the sinner (Proverbs 13:5-6).

You have shown great mercy to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You (1 Kings 3:6).

My defense is of God, Who saves the upright in heart. God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day (Ps. 7:10-11).

Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous; and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Ps. 32:11).

The righteous shall be glad in the LORD, and trust in Him. And all the upright in heart shall glory (Ps. 64:10).

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD will give grace and glory; no good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly (Ps. 84:11).

Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart (Ps. 97:11).

Surely the righteous shall give thanks to Your name; the upright shall dwell in Your presence (Ps. 140:13).

For the upright will dwell in the land, And the blameless will remain in it (Prov. 2:21).

The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, And the unfaithful for the upright (Prov. 21:18).

An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous, And he who is upright in the way is an abomination to the wicked (Prov. 29:27).

Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, he who despises the gain of oppressions, who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, and shuts his eyes from seeing evil (Isa. 33:14-16).

A certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless (Luke 1:5)

[Italics added in all the above].

We discover again that the term "righteous" in these passages pertains, not to Christ's righteousness imputed to us, but to righteous conduct as performed by righteous men. They are not self-righteous men, nor are they perfect men, but they are those whose life or walk is characterized by obedience to God. And although Scripture refers to them as "righteous" they all with one accord would react even as righteous Job when in the presence of the Holy and Majestic God, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6) or as Isaiah, "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5).

In Isaiah 64:6 it says, "all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags"? Many have interpreted this passage in the sense that as believers even our best acts of righteousness, being tainted with sin, are as filthy rags. However, if we examine the context of this passage I think it will become clear to the reader that this is not Isaiah's meaning at all. The preceding verse, v. 5a, says, "You meet him who rejoices and does righteousness" and then in v. 6, "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags." We notice that the term righteousness in these verses is stated in two contrasting and distinct forms; a righteousness met with God's approval and a righteousness that is as "filthy rags"; The one expressed from a sincere and upright heart, and thus pleasing to God, the other from a hypocritical and hardened heart and thus displeasing to God. We then read in v. 5b, "Who remembers You in Your ways. You are indeed angry, for we have sinned—In these ways we continue; And we need to be saved." The filthy rags righteousness Isaiah is speaking of is that of apostate Israel as a nation, not of the true Israel of God, i.e., the redeemed remnant. The JFB Bible Commentary states,

But we are all as an unclean thing - legally unclean as a leper. True of Israel, everywhere now cut off by unbelief, and by God's judgments, from the congregation of the saints.

And all our righteousnesses is as filty rags - plural, 'uncleanness' extended to every particular act of theirs, even to their prayers and praises. True of the best doings of the unregenerate (Phil 3:6-8; Titus 1:15; Heb 11:6).4

And in Barnes' Notes,

And all our righteousnesses. The plural form is used to denote the deeds which they had performed—meaning that pollution extended to every individual thing of the numerous acts which they had done. The sense is, that all their prayers, sacrifices, alms, and praises, were mingled with pollution, and were worthy only of deep detestation and abhorrence.5

If this were referring to the righteous acts of the saints, then we would have to conclude that every act of obedience that Christians lovingly do to please their Father are worthy of only deep detestation and abhorrence. It would make a mockery of the words of our Lord "Well done good and faithful servant." Keil and Delitzsch say of this passage,

Doing right in all its manifold forms (tsedâqooth, like Isa 33:15, used elsewhere of the manifestations of divine righteousness), which once made Israel well-pleasing to God (Isa 1:21), has disappeared and become like a garment stained with menstruous discharge (cf., Ezek 36:17).6

The God centered and heart-felt righteousness, which once pleased God, had disappeared from among the people and what was left was a polluted self-righteousness that was detestable to God. They had not abandoned the God ordained, sacrifices, feasts, New Moons and Sabbaths, however, their hearts had grown cold toward God. What were, in time past, righteous acts faithfully performed with godly intentions, had now become an abomination to God, and all their so-called righteousnesses had become as filthy rags. Isaiah 66:3 gives us God's description of their self-professed righteousness:

He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog's neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig's blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations.

Matthew Henry comments,

The sacrifice of the wicked is not only unacceptable, but it is an abomination to the Lord (Prov. 15:8); this is largely shown here, v. 3, 4. Observe, How detestable their sacrifices were to God. The carnal Jews, after their return out of captivity, though they relapsed not to idolatry, grew very careless and loose in the service of God; they brought the torn, and the lame, and the sick for sacrifice (Mal 1:8, 13), and this made their services abominable to God; they had no regard to their sacrifices, and therefore how could they think God would have any regard to them?7

In other words, all their righteous acts were filthy in God's sight. God says at the beginning of Isaiah 1:11-15,

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, To trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood.

Again, Matthew Henry comments,

The Vanity of Mere Ritual Obedience. What their wickedness was which made their sacrifices thus detestable. It was because they had chosen their own ways, the ways of their own wicked hearts, and not only their hands did, but their souls delighted in their abominations. They were vicious and immoral in their conversations, chose the way of sin rather than the way of God's commandments, and took pleasure in that which was provoking to God; this made their sacrifices so offensive to God, ch. 1:11-15. Those that pretend to honour God by a profession of religion, and yet live wicked lives, put an affront upon him, as if he were the patron of sin. And that which was an aggravation of their wickedness was that they persisted in it, notwithstanding the frequent calls given them to repent and reform; they turned a deaf ear to all the warnings of divine justice and all the offers of divine grace.8

Yet in all this, their attitude was one of self-righteousness saying, "Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am holier than you!" (Isa. 65:5)

We see then that the "filthy rags righteousness" Isaiah speaks of, is a righteousness of the letter and not of the Spirit. It is a hypocritical righteousness performed in and by the flesh, rather than a divine righteousness performed in and by the Spirit. The prime example of a "filthy rags" righteousness is that of the scribes and Pharisees. It is the righteousness of those "who cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence." (Matt. 23:25). Still performing what they thought to be "righteous deeds" in their own sight, but they were as filthy rags in the sight of God.

When we read passages such as 1 John 3:22, "And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight," are we to understand this keeping of the commandments as repugnant to God? Are we to think that God is pleased with filthy rags? When Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:9, "Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him," are we to think that a righteousness that is as filthy rags will be pleasing to Him? When we read, "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure"(Phil. 2:13), are we to believe that God's good pleasure is to produce in us a righteousness that is as filthy rags? We find nowhere in Scripture any hint that the fruit produced through this mighty work of God in sanctification is in anyway "filthy." To say otherwise does an injustice to the glorious work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. It is not our righteousness but the extent to which we have not yet obtained to righteousness that remains filthy in God's sight. Furthermore, it renders as unintelligible numerous passages of Scripture, such as we find in Revelation 22:11,

He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.

When Jesus said, "For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven," He was not insinuating that the scribes and Pharisees were in fact righteous. What He is saying is that unless our righteousness exceeds a mere outward show, unless we exhibit a true and living righteousness, a righteousness from the heart towards God, a righteousness that is not as filthy rags, but that which is truly pleasing to Him, we will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Notice again, he says "your righteousness" meaning he is not speaking here of that which is imputed to us but rather that which is practiced by us. This has nothing to do with self-righteousness or legalism. It does however, have everything do to with the profound, glorious transforming power, splendor, and majesty of God's, loving, merciful and magnificent grace. Amen!

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Comments (9)

Topic: Righteousness vs Self-Righteousness
0/5 (0)
Bob Wagnon says...
Holiness is of The Lord
The only way to qualify is through the righteousness that comes by faith! Masses believe that is all you have to do is claim "a relationship" and your good. It all sounds a little like a clubhouse mentality! "be holly because I am holy" The Law is like a rear-a-view mirror, if used correctly it will help but if you stare in it to long you will crash!
8th December 2014 1:46pm
lyonga walterson L. says...
it was a good one
thanks for the good teachings
9th July 2015 3:31am
mike says...
I Seen in this article was job a proud legalistic the answer is yes 3 until the end of the book god does not rebuke elihu but jobs friends
22nd January 2016 3:14pm
James - webmaster says...
It says in Job 1:1, “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil." This is God’s own description of Job. If he were a “proud legalist” God would have never described Job in this way. Job was a righteous man who walked with God. Was he perfect? No. But he was among the most righteous men that ever lived. Again, in v. 8, God says to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” According to Scripture a blameless and upright man would be the antithesis of a legalist.
22nd January 2016 4:05pm
Curious Bible Enthusiast says...
As much as I agree that a self-righteous mentality is one of the most abominable and detestable sins a Christian can commit, I feel as if when Christians see other Christians who live very pure and holy lives, they have a tendency to assume that those people are pretending to be something that they are not. They are legitimate Christians who have lived extremely righteous and sincere lives, through God's grace alone of course, but nevertheless, people like that exist. If you look at Job, who God called blameless, or Daniel, whose character was so Christ-like his enemies could not file any accusation against him and God called him greatly beloved, or Joseph, who although not perfect, had no single recorded instance of moral flaws in the Bible (and God doesn't hide the faults of his saints, so that says a lot about Joseph's character and faith). The same thing with Daniel too. In all of Daniel's story, you never hear of him committing any of the sins the other Patriarchs ... Read More
16th January 2018 8:56pm
Kalema George says...
I am requesting for a summarized work about righteousness
3rd June 2016 6:01am
Michael Young says...
I think you are confusing un-righteousness with self-righteousness.
23rd July 2016 1:09pm
James - webmaster says...
Not at all. Un-righteousness is outwardly immoral behavior (1 Cor. 6:9-10); self-righteousness is outwardly moral behavior with immoral motives. As Jesus said to the self-righteous Pharisees “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.” (Matt 23:25). In other words, the Pharisees appeared outwardly moral but they remained inwardly corrupt. Self-righteousness is a hypocritical righteousness; a “filthy rags” righteousness (Isa. 64:6). True righteousness (Isa. 64:5) is a righteousness which is obtained, not by a mere moral reformation, simply cleaning up our outward behavior through our own self-effort, but by the inward cleansing of the heart by God’s grace (Ezek. 36:26). The solution to self-righteousness is found in Matt 23:26 when Jesus says, “Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish [the heart], that the outside of them may be clean also ... Read More
23rd July 2016 3:31pm
Steve says...
I see it simply as this: The LORD, our Righteousness. All any rigtheousness is filthy rags. The only way we can do a 'righteous thing' is it is fully in His Name and not of ourselves. The leading verses in the post though are misleading put right at the top of the page. Made it look like there was a hidden motive behind it. It's pretty clear paul was regarding unbelievers who had not intention of coming to God. Though he does write; "that some of us were just like them' What, were some of them no longer gay? Impossible. They might have been child molesters though.
25th November 2017 7:41am
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1. see Chapter 2, footnote 19, on inheriting the kingdom of God

2. The Pulpit Commentary, Psalms 4:1 (Hendrickson Pub, October 1, 1985)

3. A Popular Commentary on the New Testament, Ezekiel 18, D. D. Whedon: 1874, (London - Hoddard & Stoughton)

4. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Isaiah 64:6 (PC Study Bible, Electronic Database by Biblesoft, Inc. )2006

5. Barnes' Notes, Isaiah 64:6 (PC Study Bible, Electronic Database by Biblesoft, Inc. )2006

6. Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition, Isaiah 64:4-6, (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.)1996

7. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Isaiah 66:1-4,(PC Study Bible Formatted Electronic Database by Biblesoft, Inc.)2006

8. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Isaiah 66:1-4, (PC Study Bible Formatted Electronic Database by Biblesoft, Inc.) 2006

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