Thursday, March 10, 2011

Seeking After Righteousness

Self-righteousness, The Righteousness of the Law, or The Righteousness of Christ

"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and HIS righteousness..." Matthew 6:33a

There are all types of righteousness to which we can aspire, but there is only one kind that God desires in His children: the righteousness of Christ.

Do you want to live according to what is right in your own eyes or in the eyes of other people?  That is self-righteousness.

Do you want your outward works to appear righteous while you indulge your inner thoughts, appetites, and emotions without restraint?  That is the righteousness of the Law.

Do you want to truly be holy as God is holy?  That takes the righteousness of Christ.

Which do we really desire in our hearts?  With which are we satisfied?


A prominent mark of the unbeliever is not simply that they are going about doing evil or cursing God; lots of unbelievers do many good works.

The foremost mark of the unbeliever is that their life is governed by what is right or wrong in their own eyes.  This is the lie that Satan sold Eve in the Garden of Eden.  They would become gods, able to determine for themselves what is good and what is evil.  Self-determination was man's first sin.

Scripture is filled with references of why man should not follow what seems right in his own eyes, how the heart of man is deceitfully wicked, and that man's wisdom is not God's wisdom (Proverbs 3:5-7, 28:26; Psalm 118:8; Jeremiah 10:23, 17:5-9; Isaiah 55:9; I Corinthians 2:5).

When man disregards God's words and justifies himself according to his intellect or his feelings, such is self-righteousness.  In the New Testament, these are depicted as the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Although they were the religious leaders of His day, Jesus said that they were self-righteous unbelievers and hypocrites (Luke 18:9-14; John 3:12, 8:19-55; 10:25-26).

Being "right" in their own eyes blinded them to the righteousness of God (Matthew 9:13; Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32).  As a result, they strived to appear more "holy" than others.  Their own opinions became the standard of what was Godly and they quickly condemned others by their personal standards of righteousness.  They needed the accolades of men to replace the approval of God and inwardly hated those who walked in obedience to Him.  This is why Jesus said:

"For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:20

Is your "righteousness" grounded in your thoughts, impressions, and ideals about life?  Is it based upon you always being "right", even preventing you from admitting error or asking forgiveness?  Is it validated by the praises of men?  Does it lead you to live your life as if others "owe you" something?  Is it drawn from comparing yourself to the "righteousness" of others?  Then your righteousness has not exceeded the righteousness of the Pharisees.  It is self-righteousness.

The Righteousness of the Law

According to the Scriptures, there is also a type of righteousness that can come from keeping the law.  There were people in the old covenant who kept God's law blamelessly and were even considered righteous because of it.

"There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." Luke 1:5-6

"And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions." Matthew 19:16-22

"Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." Philippians 3:4-6

There is a certain kind of righteousness that comes from keeping the law.  However, it falls short of justifying man before God because - as the rich man notes above - this type of righteousness centers around what man can "do" to obtain eternal life (Acts 13:39; Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16, 3:24).  This is why Paul above notes the righteousness coming from the law as having confidence and trusting "in the flesh".

Unlike the Pharisees and Sadduccees, these individuals were not unbelievers, but those who sought to serve God.  Even today, many who seek to fulfill the righteousness of the law desire to fully serve the Lord, but do not understand that such righteousness has already been fulfilled in those who believe (Romans 8:1-4).

There is nothing man can "do" to redeem himself.  As Jesus responded about the rich man above, with men salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).  What man cannot do through works - even righteous works according to the law - God Himself accomplished in the person of His Son Jesus. 

Individuals could attain the righteousness of keeping the law blamelessly, but these efforts could not perfect their inner man (Romans 8:3; Hebrews 7:19).  Zacharias was righteous in his obedience to the law, but he still struggled with unbelief.  The rich man walked in all the commandments of God, but still had covetousness in his heart.  Paul was blameless in the law, even while he was persecuting the church.  No matter of keeping the law - even blamelessly - could produce the inner righteousness necessary to be reconciled to God.  Such could only come by God Himself, and not human effort.

Under the righteousness of the law, God's favor is earned by what we do versus what Christ has done.  Under the righteousness of the law, one's foremost concern is breaking God's rules, not God's heart.  Under the righteousness of the law, the motivation is fear of God's punishment rather than appreciation for God's mercy.  Under the righteousness of the law, sin is taken to Mt. SINai to be worked off through performance instead of taken to Mt. Calvary to be covered by Jesus' blood through grace. 

"For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. " Romans 10:2-4 

To borrow from the words of Jesus, "Wilt thou be made perfect?"  Then do not settle in striving for a righteousness based in human effort which does not perfect.  Rather, submit to the righteousness of Christ and be made whole (Romans 1:16-17; 3:21-22; Philippians 3:9; II Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 11:7; I Peter 1:1).

The Righteousness of Christ

The righteousness of Jesus Christ is embodied in the fact that He never did His own will, but the will of His Father.  Jesus didn't just do what seemed right in His own eyes.  Neither was He content in just obeying the letter of the law.  Jesus sought to please God in all things and at all times by living as a continual sacrifice to the Father...well before the cross; that is where the righteousness of God rests.

There is a message I heard from Pastor Zac Poonen which perfectly explains this critical difference where he expounds on the following texts:

"All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." I Corinthians 6:12

"All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." I Corinthians 10:23

Essentially, the text above illustrates three levels of living.
  1. Live unlawfully - This is what unbelievers do.  One does whatever they want to do with no regard for God's words. This is the lowest form of living and produces self-righteousness. 

  2. Live lawfully - This is how many believers live.  A person feels justified by outward works; doing that which is permitted or not doing that which is forbidden.  The main concern is that their activity is 'lawful'. This is the righteousness of the law.

  3. Live profitably - This is where disciples of Christ are called to exist.  The concern is not just "is this lawful", but what would the Spirit have me to do?  What is profitable?  The fruit of this is the righteousness of Christ.
The whole-hearted believer may not do that which is sinful, but neither are they satisfied for that which is simply lawful.  They seek the heart of God for only that which edifies.

It may be lawful to eat a particular meal, but perhaps it is more profitable to spend that time in prayer.  It may be lawful to watch a certain TV show, but it may be more edifying to study God's word.  It may be lawful to go to a party, but maybe it is more expedient to spend some time ministering to your neighbor.  It is not sinful to eat, to watch a TV show, or to socialize at a party, but what is the Spirit of God leading you to do at that moment?  Jesus never did what He wanted to do; only what the Father commanded Him to do.

Being truly led by the Spirit of God means to seek God's direction in all things regarding our inner and outer life.  Such is the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17).

Blessed Are They

"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."  Matthew 5:6

Self-righteousness, the righteousness of the law, or the righteousness of Christ?  Which do we truly desire?

The following message from Pastor Poonen on righteousness may make you uneasy.  It might make you squirm as he puts his fingers on what it means to walk in the righteousness of Christ.  Yet I pray that it revives within your hearts a desire to be completely transparent before the Lord and to be made more like Him:


  1. This message is the answer to a prayer I not too long ago submitted to The Lord. You see, I know we as followers of Christ are to seek His Kingdom and His Righteousness, above all else. I now have a clearer understanding of what exactly that means in my day to day life. May Jesus bless you richly :).

  2. I was blessed by this message today Sis! I am now going to listen to the Pastor Poonen audio. Thank you again so much and may God richly bless you!



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