…That was basically the theme of a sermon I heard this morning. The speaker defined righteousness as “good people doing good work.” And here I thought “none is righteous, no, not one” and that any righteousness Christians have is solely due to the imputed righteousness of Christ. The only reason we can be considered righteous is because God gave us this righteousness, and it’s not of ourselves. There’s nothing we can do to gain righteousness. Compared to God’s law, our “righteousness” is like filthy rags.
The speaker insinuated that we could attain righteousness through our own efforts. That through training and discipline, we could become righteous and live lives full of joy and peace.
Whatever this ideal life is, it’s certainly clear that people like the Apostle Paul never attained it. Paul clearly wrestled with his fallen nature and never suggested anyone could live a righteous life through their own power.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
– Romans 7:18-20
Today’s speaker didn’t mention anything about the limitations of our fallen natures and our total reliance on Christ to sanctify and redeem our lives to prepare us for good works. Want to be righteous? There are no tips and tricks. Ask God to make you righteous. All of your unrighteous living is due to an unrighteous heart and your fallen nature. There’s nothing you can do to change those. You need God to do it for you.
So, instead of telling people that they can affect their righteousness through behavior-modification, you should be driving people to their knees, asking God to make them more Christ-like by changing their hearts, and thus enabling them to do good works and live “righteous” lives. Instead of depending on ourselves, we should be depending on God.
And you shouldn’t set the expectation that people can attain totally righteous lives in a fallen body and a fallen world. That’s not possible. We won’t be capable of that until Christ returns and we have new, righteous bodies.
Like Paul, we should expect to fight a constant battle between our desires to serve God and the desires of our flesh. We will never overcome this until Heaven.
Thank God our righteousness is not based on our own behavior, but is solely based on Christ’s behavior. His perfect righteousness is ours by faith alone. When you find yourself sinning and in the midst of guilt, just have faith in Christ’s righteousness and be grateful that you will always be considered righteous in God’s eyes, because of what Christ did for you.