Three Kinds of Righteousness: 3. Christ’s Righteousness

“… {A}lthough I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…” (Philippians 3:4-9; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

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As we have seen in our last two posts, neither self-righteousness nor legalistic righteousness meets God’s standards. Many Christians desire to live a righteous life, but most admit that, even after years or decades of following Jesus, we are prone to miss the mark. Let us not grow discouraged. There is a form of righteousness that we can all attain. In fact, if you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, you already have it.

That form of righteousness is one that theologians call imputed righteousness. Jesus is righteous, and He dwells in you. Therefore, God the Father imputes Jesus’ righteousness to you. He treats you as though you have Jesus’ righteousness. It is, as Paul writes in Philippians 3:9, the righteousness “through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”

This righteousness begins on the inside and works its way outward. We do not become righteous by doing good deeds that make God want to like us. We obtain the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, and He begins to mold us to be more like Him.

We can see the conflict between legalistic self-righteousness and the righteousness God desires in the following parable by Jesus:

“And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted’” (Luke 18:9-14).

Notice that the Pharisee was praying “to himself.” He verbally addressed it to God, but his prayers were actually centered around the one he truly worshiped: himself. His prayer glorified his ego. The tax collector, on the other hand, had the eyes of his heart fixed on God, even if he could not bring himself to raise his physical eyes to the sky.

There was not anything wrong with the things the Pharisee was praying. We should be grateful to God for the ways He has protected us from sin. Thank God if you are financially honest and trustworthy, or if you treat everybody fairly, or if you are morally pure. God does not want us to be swindlers, unjust, or adulterers. Fasting is good; more Christians should consider fasting as an act of worship to God. Tithing is good. However, the egotistical attitude corrupted everything the Pharisee prayed. “God, You are so lucky to have me on Your side. I’m awesome! Where would You be without me?” Listening to the Pharisee, God probably thought, “If I tried to speak to him, he would not listen. He insists on talking about what he thinks is so great about himself. He talks about everybody else’s sins. He can’t hear me.”

However, hearing the tax collector, He must have thought, “I can do something in his life. He knows he misses the mark. It sounds like he wants a way out of that life. I can show him the way.”

The tax collector’s prayer is the cry of a heart that hungers and thirsts after righteousness. It is the foundation of the “Jesus prayer,” popular in some Christian circles (including some Eastern Orthodox churches), which says “Lord Jesus Christ, Lamb of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I know people who have received deliverance from different kinds of addiction through that prayer. It is a prayer that pleads for forgiveness and a new start, making it the kind of prayer God is eager to answer.

Do you want to be a “good Christian?” If so, you want the righteousness of God to be manifested in your life. It will not come by trying to be better than everybody else, by looking down on others, judging their sins while ignoring your own, or by following a set of rules. It will come only by recognizing that you need the righteousness of Jesus in your heart, believing that He can show His righteousness through you, and yielding to Him.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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