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Is your righteousness based on the level of other people’s sinfulness?

One of the great challenges on the path to maturity is our tendency to compare ourselves with others.

Comparison is something we do on a regular basis day in and day out.

We compare which bunch of bananas meet our criteria for the grocery basket.

We look at reviews on the internet when looking at a new product we are considering, and we compare the reviews of others with each other to see how they stack up with our own assessment of the product.

Young people compare themselves to some popular standard of looks and popularity.

That standard is usually set by a magazine or movie screen, and the young person has no idea that all the images have been doctored photographically so as to remove any possibility of imperfection.

C’mon. Do we really believe that 18-year-old starlet never has a zit?

This practice of comparison carries over into the Christian life as people want to know how they are doing in the race for eternity.

It wasn’t too long ago when the limerick of comparison was a popular way to declare one’s right-standing with God.

I don’t cuss and I don’t drink. I don’t smoke and I don’t chew, and I don’t run with those that do.

That is pretty much what the pharisee did in the gospel reading from Luke.

The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus:
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers,
or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
Luk 18:11-12

The pharisee was declaring his own righteousness before God.

He made note of all the things he didn’t do which others did.

And he stated his righteous acts which he thought should make God pleased with him.

In a very subtle way we still do the same thing.

When we judge someone for their sin, are we not essentially saying the same thing the pharisee said?

We usually only pronounce a judgment on a sin with which we do not have a personal problem.

We believe we have justification for our pronouncement because that sin is plainly spoken against in the Bible.

However, we usually tend to downplay our own minor peccadilloes.

Yet, we are told that to fail in one point of the law makes us guilty of being a major law-breaker.

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.
Jas 2:10

If you are one who has never failed to keep every point of the law, please leave a comment below.

In the parable that Jesus told, the tax collector who was despised by the pharisee confessed neither his sins nor his righteousness.

He only begged for God’s mercy and admitted that he was a sinner.

But the tax collector, standing far off,
would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying,
‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
Luk 18:13

I was taught that I had to list my sins one by one in order to be forgiven.

This man did not do that in the story Jesus told, and yet Jesus said that the man was justified.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.
Luk 18:14a

What does it mean to be justified?

We use it in our language to mean that there is no fault nor blame for whatever it was I did.

For instance, we may say, “My anger was justified, because he deliberately drove his car on my lawn.”

We are saying that our anger was not illegal, not wrong, not a sin.

Therefore, we are in the right. We are righteous.

That is essentially what the word ‘justified’ means in our language and the Greek word from which it comes.

Justified means to be declared righteous.

Billy Graham defined this way.

JUSTIFIED = Just if I’d
never sinned

However, have we not all heard the verse from Romans 3?

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Rom 3:23

Graham was correct to say that justification means that the slate is wiped clean.

The records show that when one is justified there is no record of sin.

Their record of wrong doing has been wiped clean. Erased.

That is what Paul writes in the very next verse as he continues his thought.

and are justified by his grace as a gift,
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
Rom 3:24

Verse 23 has been quoted so often by so many people, that almost everyone has it memorized.

But verse 24 is never mentioned.

I find that interesting.

There are many possible reasons for that, but the important thing is that we see it now.

The same ones who sinned have now been justified.

These sinners have had their record of wrongs erased from the books.

In that place, they are declared righteous.

Their righteousness was not dependent on anything they did or didn’t do.

The pharisee was operating from a faulty concept of what God required of His people.

He thought that he had to do right in order to be right.

For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own,
they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
Rom 10:3

That idea has followed us throughout the history of the Church.

Preachers have told us that we must do this, that and the other thing in order for God to accept us.

I, too, was one of those preachers.

I was as skilled as any pharisee in pointing out the things you needed to be doing if you wanted God to like you and receive you into His heaven.

And I was just as deceived as that pharisee, thinking that was the righteousness which God required.

God does require righteousness, but it is not our self-made righteousness.

It is not a righteousness based on our own efforts, because “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

That is why the Lord established the New Covenant which we looked at the last time

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD:
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.
And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Jer 31:33

However, even in this our righteous behavior is beyond our grasp.

Thankfully, God is not concerned with our behavior being right for our acceptance.

I am not saying that behavior doesn’t matter. It does.

I am saying that is not what God bases our acceptance on.

Righteousness is found outside ourselves, outside our own abilities.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2Co 5:21

The words to an old hymn admit this same truth.

Jesus paid it all;
all to Him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain.
He washed it white as snow.

The apostle Paul was not the only one who was aware of this truth which he shared with us in his letters.

Old Testament writers also knew this.

The lines from that hymn come from Isaiah.

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
Isa 1:18

Everything that God has done; everything that He set in motion has all led up to the redemption of our souls through the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our righteousness has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Him.

Since righteousness has everything to do with Jesus, Jeremiah tells us that is His name.

In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely.
And this is the name by which he will be called:
‘The LORD is our righteousness.’
Jer 23:6

True and complete righteousness has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Jesus.

We can do nothing to earn God’s favor.

Fasting, praying, paying tithes, helping the poor are all good things to do.

Avoiding degradation, immoral behavior and criminal behavior are all good things to keep yourself from.

However, we must understand—we must accept and believe the fact that none of those things cause God to look any differently at us from the way He looks at everyone else.

I will conclude with the two verses we considered earlier from Romans.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
and are justified by his grace as a gift,
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
Rom 3:23-24

All—that means everyone—have sinned.

All—that means everyone—have fallen short of the glory of God.

All—that means everyone—have been justified by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

He is our righteousness.

He is the only true manifestation of complete righteousness before God which has ever been or ever shall be.

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus,
who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,
1Co 1:30

Anything else I might say would be redundant and superfluous, and detract from the truth which is in Jesus.


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