Recently, after receiving some absolutely disheartening news, a close friend of mine burst out in angry frustration, “I have done all the right things for so long,” she cried, “but God still didn’t answer my prayers! It doesn’t matter what I do. Nothing makes a difference! I quit!” My heart broke for her. I felt her pain and disappointment– we’ve all been there at one time or another– but I also knew that she had put her faith in the wrong things.
Most Christians would outright reject the idea of works-based Salvation, quoting Ephesians 2:8-9;
For by Grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast.
Or 2 Timothy 1:9 or even John 1:12-13.
But when it comes to righteousness, for some reason, it’s a different story. We seem to embrace that we must “work” to obtain righteousness—that we must try hard and strive. That if we can do enough of the right things and behave in the right ways, then God will be pleased with us and move on our behalf, protect us, bless us, or listen to our prayers. Somehow, we end up falling for this lie that is works-based righteousness.
1. When we fall for this, we start to believe that our righteousness, as followers of Christ, is based on our performance. And while we might claim that our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), we end up using our (and others’) fasting, praying, Bible reading, tithing, acts of kindness, abstinence from certain behaviors, along with a whole host of other “good works” as indicators of “righteousness” and our success as Christians.
I know because I have been there at times. I have struggled with the thoughts of “if I could just pray longer or read my Bible more, be more earnest, more sincere, more self-sacrificing… then!… then I will be good enough and God will be pleased.”
But the problem was that I could never be good enough, never do ALL of the right things consistently enough. I would mess up and then feel like I had to start all over again from the beginning. And I would be that much further from the righteousness that would please God. It was disheartening.
2. All of that changed when I learned that righteousness was not a result of what I did, but was a result of who I was… IN CHRIST. This transformed my life and eliminated so much frustration from my Christian walk. It also strengthened my relationship with God because I wasn’t always second guessing whether or not he was disappointed in me. It created freedom and confidence, as well as comfort.
Let me share what I mean. According to Strong’s and Easton’s Bible Dictionaries, righteousness means justification or the quality of being free from guilt or sin.
The Bible teaches that we have been justified by faith (Romans 5:1-2), and that on the cross Jesus Christ made atonement for all of our sin, past, present, and future (Colossians 2:13). Not only has he made atonement for our sin, but he has removed it from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalms 103:12). Even though we might mess up, we are not defined by our shortcomings. The Bible is clear that we have been justified and freed from sin as a result of Christ’s sacrifice (Ephesians 1:5-6)!
Furthermore, 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that Jesus took our sins upon Himself and made us righteous. In Philippians 3:9 Paul argues that we don’t have a righteousness of our own that comes from the Law (or following the rules), but a righteousness that comes only through faith in Christ. It is what Jesus did on the cross that makes us righteous! And not just on the first day of our Salvation, but every single day of our lives.
As if this is not enough, scripture goes even further. 1 Corinthians 1:30, 6:17; Galatians 4:6, and Romans 8:9 are just a few of the places that let us know that the when we invited Jesus into our lives to become our Lord and Savior, we received HIS SPIRIT; His Spirit and our spirit became one—they became the same thing. This means that our spirits are identical—If our spirits are identical, then our spirits have all of the same characteristics that His has! We’ve got what we need, we just have to draw it out (Ephesians 4:20-24).
3. The Good News of Grace is that we are not responsible for creating, supplying, or earning our own righteousness. God knew that we would never be able to achieve that on our own. He also knew that without it, we would never be able to have a relationship with Him, so He made sure we would have all we ever needed through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t insufficient. It didn’t just partially get the job done… so that we would have to come along later and try to finish it… if we were good enough to pull it off. No, His sacrifice was complete. It was more than what we needed (Philippians 4:19).
4. When God looks at us, He doesn’t see us the same way that we see ourselves. He doesn’t see our failures or our junk… or even most of the things we count as successes. When He looks at us, all He sees are our born-again spirits as new creations in Christ Jesus, who have been washed and made new (2 Corinthians 5:17). When God looks at His children, He doesn’t stop and take inventory (Luke 15:11-32, the parable of the prodigal son). He simply sees the finished work of His Son and His beautiful children with whom He is now able to have a relationship. And He rejoices! Zephaniah 3:17 says that God actually rejoices over us with singing. It would be hard for Him to do that if He didn’t find us acceptable.
5. Righteousness is not a thing to be achieved through effort and struggle. It does not exist somewhere outside of ourselves in the abstract. It is a part of the Salvation made available to us through Jesus’ sacrifice. And it is WHAT/WHO WE ARE if we have made Him our Lord. So, as Christians, it is time for us to let go of the lie that says we have to earn God’s approval and stop living with the burden that He is always disappointed in us.
When we base our righteousness on our performance, then all we end up with is self-righteousness, just filthy rags. And those rags aren’t enough to allow us to cry Abba Father, but the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus inside of us is—His own righteousness that He planted there to be ever-present and ever-perfect. It’s time to for us to let go of our filthy rags and embrace righteousness!
If you have not made Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior of your life, there is no better time to do that than now so that you too can experience the freedom and joy of resting in the righteousness of Jesus. Click here to learn more.
For further study:
Romans 10:9-10, 13
1 John 4:17
This week, I am linking up with other Christian bloggers at Grace & Truth Weekly Link Up. Don’t miss out on the encouragement you can find by clicking the link!
Photo Credits (in order): Jay Erickson, Roger H. Goun, joywowjoy, Danielle Henry, Ginny
This post was originally published September 26, 2014.