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My topic is self-righteousness. I want to suggest to you that this is the commonest and the most serious problem that confronts most religious people. And most of you here this morning, myself included, are religious people. If we weren’t religious people, we wouldn’t be here. So this is a message for you and for me. And I trust by the grace of God to pinpoint and to analyze what as I have already said is the commonest problem and the greatest spiritual danger that confronts religious people. And that includes Christians.
When I see what’s written in the New Testament, I find that it was the main problem of Israel as a nation. And I see also that it was because of this problem that Israel missed their messiah. It was this that kept them from recognizing and receiving their messiah. And if you consider the nineteen hundred years of tragedy and suffering that have resulted from that failure to recognize the messiah, I think you can understand how disastrous this problem can be in the life of an individual or a church, or a nation. For an opening scripture I would like to turn to Romans 10 and read the first four verses.
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” (KJV)
And that’s still their greatest need today, let’s never forget that. It’s not primarily to inherit the land or to defeat the Arabs, it’s to be saved.
“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.” (KJV)
That’s the analysis of their problem; being ignorant of God’s righteousness. Going about to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. Going about to establish their own righteousness, I would say, is the Biblical description of self-righteousness. That’s the problem we’re analyzing today. And then in the fourth verse Paul makes a very emphatic statement.
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” (KJV)
It’s very carefully worded. Paul does not say that Christ is the end of the law as part of the word of God. Or as part of Israel’s history. Or as part of Israel’s culture. But he says Christ is the end of the law as a means to achieve righteousness with God. When Christ died on the cross that finally and forever excluded the law as a way to achieve righteousness with God. And he says Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. There are no exceptions. Neither for Jew nor for Gentile. Neither for Catholic nor for Protestant. Christ is finally and forever the end of the law as a means to achieve righteousness with God. Very important statement, I really believe that few Christians fully appreciate it. I would have to say, according to my observation, multitudes of Christians are living in a kind of twilight between law on the one hand and grace on the other. And they really don’t know where they belong and they lose the benefits of both.
Israel ought to have known that their own righteousness would never suffice because Isaiah had told them that very, very clearly. If you would turn, for a moment, to Isaiah 64:6.
“But we are all as an unclean thing, [that refers primarily to Israel and then to the whole human race] and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags...” (KJV)
A lot of people would understand Isaiah to say all our sins are as filthy rags. But he doesn’t say that. He says all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. The utmost that we can achieve in establishing our own righteousness in the sight of God is nothing better than filthy rags. And he says as a result:
“...we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (KJV)
So let’s bear that in mind right at the beginning that all our righteousnesses in the sight of God are no better than filthy rags. The best that we can do in any way to achieve righteousness doesn’t rise above the level of filthy rags.
Now for an example of self-righteousness I want to turn to Luke 18. The Pharisee who prayed in the temple. The other person who prayed along with him, you remember, was the publican or the tax collector. And I believe that this Pharisee is a perfect pattern of self-righteousness. He represents the five features which are characteristic of self-righteousness. We’ll read the parable, it’s in Luke 18 beginning at verse 9 and going through verse 14. And I want you to note incidentally it’s a parable, it’s not something that actually happened, but it’s something that’s illustrative of principle.
“And he [that’s Jesus] spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican [or a tax collector]. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. [And the Greek says, to me, the sinner. I’m the sinner that needs your mercy. Then Jesus comments:] I tell you, this man [the publican] went down to his house justified rather than the other [the Pharisee]: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (KJV)
Now that’s a law that governs the universe. Every one that exalts himself will be abased. Conversely, every one that humbles himself will be exalted. So it sets before each of us a choice. You can sum it up like this: the way up is the way down. The further down you go, the higher up God will lift you. But if you try to exalt yourself, the further up you go, the further down God will place you.
Now let’s look at the five distinctive features of the Pharisee’s self-righteousness. First of all, he was entirely self-centered. And that’s characteristic of self-righteousness. Let me make this observation. In the past twelve years or so I’ve dealt with hundreds of people that needed deliverance from demons. And I’ve observed that all of them had one characteristic in common; they were all self-centered. I don’t think there ever was an exception to that statement. Self-centeredness is a prison the devil makes for us. Notice his self-centeredness. First of all, he trusted in himself. And then, I think this is so characteristic. It says in verse 11 he stood and prayed thus with himself. Have you ever met people who pray with themselves? You know, they say prayers but they’re not directed towards God. They’re just wrapped up in themselves and their own religiousness.
Secondly, and this is the really dangerous and deadly part of it, he despised others. He trusted in himself that he was righteous and he despised others. And I believe that’s always a by-product of self-righteousness, that self-righteous people come to despise others.
The third feature is that his standard of comparison was totally unscriptural. He compared himself with other people. God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, particularly this publican here. I want to say to you, and we’ll look at it later, that’s a totally unscriptural standard of comparison. God does not compare us with others. And he does not encourage us to compare ourselves with others.
Fourthly, and again this is totally typical, he had his own little list of rules which were tailor made to suit himself. And primarily they were negative. They were not primarily the things he did, they were primarily the things he didn’t do. He wasn’t unjust, he wasn’t an extortioner, he wasn’t an adulterer, he wasn’t even like the publican. And then he had two little positive rules. He fasted twice every week and he gave tithes of all that he possessed. Again, this is typical of human nature.
When I was a soldier in the British Army many years ago, and the Lord saved me in the Army, the change in my life impressed many of my fellow soldiers. They would come to me at odd moments and rather self-consciously begin to talk to me about religion and all that. And I would talk to them about being saved. And then we would get onto the subject of sin. And I noticed as soon as you talk to a sinner about sin, his defense is to come up with a little list of things he doesn’t do. You know, I don’t commit adultery. That’s typical among soldiers, it’s not very common, but it’s one of their first claims. Or I don’t beat my wife, or I pay, what we used to say in those days in England, twenty shillings on the pound. It’s changed now. And I noticed every one had his own little list that just suited him. And that was his defense against any charge that he was a sinner. And this is typical of the Pharisee, he had his own little list of rules.
And the fifth point about the Pharisee’s righteousness was it was entirely static. It allowed no room for change or progress. All he had was a little set of rules and all he intended to do was go on keeping his rules. That was the beginning and the end of his religion.
Now we often talk about legalism, but I think sometimes we don’t define what we are talking about. Legalism meaning in some sense, resting or basing your righteousness on a law or the law, whatever we like to say. The other day a friend of mine, who is a Catholic, offered me this definition of legalism which I think is very, very good. He said, in essence, legalism is making the law an end in itself and thus losing sight of the real purpose for which the law was given. I think that’s excellent. Let me say it again. Legalism is making the law an end in itself and thus losing sight of the real purpose for which the law was given. So a legalist becomes entrapped in his own rules and loses the vision of why the rules were given. In a sense, it’s like the person who can’t see the wood for the tree. He’s so close up to the tree trunks that he can’t see the whole.
Now why was the law given? This is not the subject of this message and I don’t want to dwell on it, but the Bible gives us a very clear, practical, simple answer as to why the law was given. Turn, if you will, to Matthew 22 beginning at verse 35 and we’ll read through verse 40. This speaks about a lawyer, but I would have you know that it didn’t mean an attorney. And if we think that the Lord was somewhat down on lawyers, let’s not think he’s down on attorneys. Because the equivalent today of a lawyer would much more be a theologian than an attorney. A lawyer was not somebody who interpreted secular law and tried cases. He was a student and perhaps a teacher of the religious law of Moses. So when you read a lawyer, if you want a contemporary equivalent I think it would be much better to use the word theologian than to think of an attorney. And I sometimes believe the Lord is down on theologians.
“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him [that’s Jesus] a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? [That was a specific question and Jesus gave an absolutely specific, practical answer.] Jesus said unto him, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. [That was the answer to the question and then he went further and gave another answer that wasn’t asked for.] This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (KJV)
Now when Jesus spoke about the law and the prophets he meant what a contemporary Jew would call the Tanach, that is the Old Testament. And he said the entire Old Testament is hung on two commandments: love God, love your neighbor.
Now if I take my jacket off and hang it on a peg, the peg has to be there before I can hang my jacket on it. And so the law is hung on those two commandments. Those two commandments are primary, the law is secondary.
And the purpose for which the law was given was to produce two things: love for God and love for our neighbor. And any use or application or interpretation of the law which does not produce those two things is a misuse, a misinterpretation and a misapplication. And I think we have to say many of the people who are most occupied with religious laws are on the whole the least loving. Bob Mumford said once you get more kindness out of Joe the bartender than you do out of the average churchgoer. And I’m inclined to think that’s pretty accurate. So, the purpose of the law is love. And any kind of application of the law which misses that purpose is a misapplication.
Look at one other scripture in 1Timothy 1:5–6. I’ll read the King James and then I’ll give you the alternative New American Standard Version which is much clearer.
“Now the end of the commandment is charity [that is what? Love.] out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned...” (KJV)
I think where it says the end of the commandment, the New American Standard says the goal of our preaching, is that right? The goal of our instruction is one thing, love. All right. We have one goal, not a lot of different goals. The goal of our instruction is love. And if we swerve aside from that goal, Paul says, after that it’s just empty words and wasted time. If it does not bring us to the goal of love.
Now, for an example of misuse of the law and legalism in its truest sense, let’s look at the attitude toward the Sabbath in the days of Jesus. First of all, let’s look at the purpose for which the Sabbath was given and you’ll find that stated in Exodus 23:12. It not only states the basic requirement of observing the Sabbath, but it states why the Lord ordained the Sabbath.
“Six days thou shalt do thy work...” (KJV)
Incidentally, those who believe in keeping the Sabbath ought to believe in working six days too! Because it’s all in the same commandment.
“...and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.” (KJV)
There are two words, rest and refreshed. Those are the primary purposes from man’s point of view for which the Sabbath was ordained. That man and his whole household and his animals might enjoy rest and refreshing. And Jesus said, we do not need to turn there, in Mark 2:27:
“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (KJV)
What the Pharisees had done, and we’ll see it in detail in a moment, was turn that upside down so that now man was for the benefit of the Sabbath, not the Sabbath for the benefit of man. I would suggest to you that’s typical of legalism. It takes something God has ordained for man’s good and makes a burden instead of a blessing out of it.
Now let’s look at one example of the kind of controversy there was between Jesus and the religious leaders over the Sabbath in Luke 13. I think if you read the gospels you’ll note that Jesus almost went out of his way to heal people on the Sabbath. And I think he did it because that was the basic purpose for which the Sabbath was given, to bring rest and refreshing. And how can a person who is all crippled and twisted and in agony know real rest or refreshing? But on the other hand, the religious leaders wanted to keep the crippled and the twisted and those in pain in that condition all through the Sabbath just to observe the Sabbath. So they had actually taken the Sabbath and twisted it to accomplish the exact opposite of what God intended it to accomplish. Now that’s typical of legalism. Let’s read this story, we don’t need to dwell on it. Luke 13:11:
“And behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.” (KJV)
Apparently her condition was not spiritual but merely physical, and as a result of a spirit of infirmity her body was bowed together and she was incapable of standing up straight. I’m sure all of us have seen people from time to time shuffling around in that condition, and my heart has always been moved with compassion for them. In fact, I wished I could do what Jesus did for this woman.
“And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.” (KJV)
Notice, Jesus made statements in faith because she was still in the same condition after he had said it as before.
“And he laid his hands on her...” (KJV)
Now some Pentecostals will tell you that it’s not scriptural to lay hands on people who have evil spirits. But she had an evil spirit of infirmity and Jesus laid his hands on her. So I’ll follow Jesus.
“...and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation...” (KJV)
If you could only picture that! To think of that poor woman who had been in that awful situation for eighteen years and here she is gloriously and miraculously released, and the ruler of the synagogue gets very angry. That incidentally, is another typical aspect of legalism which we won’t go into. But it tends to make people angry.
“The ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day. The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? [You wouldn’t let your ox or your ass go twenty-four hours without drink but you’ll let this woman stay bound in this position all through the Sabbath] And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (KJV)
In fact, he was saying to them that’s the very purpose of the Sabbath, to set people free from their burdens.
“When he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.” (KJV)
So that’s a little analysis of legalism, its nature and its effects.
Now I believe self-righteousness has one end result which it produces in people. And I’m going to read from Matthew 23 just some verses from Jesus’ indictment of the self-righteous religious leaders of his day. Matthew 23, I’m going to read portions of five verses, and as I read them, I want you to pick out one word that recurs. Verse 16:
“Woe unto you, ye blind guides... [verse 17:] Ye fools and blind... [verse 19:] Ye fools and blind... [verse 24:] Ye blind guides... [verse 26:] Thou blind Pharisees...” (KJV)
I’m sure you all picked out the key word, what is it? Blind, that’s right. And I do believe that self-righteousness inevitably produces spiritual blindness.
Also, you don’t need to turn there, but in summing up Israel’s mistake, Paul says in Romans 11:25 “blindness in part is happened unto Israel.” The Greek word is not the same, it means hardness of heart. But the two are closely related because it’s with out heart that we perceive spiritually. And I believe that self-righteousness today still has the same inevitable results. It produces spiritual blindness. And this has enabled me to understand some of the things that I see happening around me. Because I see God moving sovereignly in many mighty ways. And I see some people who are religious, churchgoers, Christians, baptized in the Holy Spirit, who apparently are almost totally blind to what God is doing and cannot see. And I have really been concerned and agonized over this problem. And I find that talking to them doesn’t change them. And I’ve come to the conclusion the root of their problem is self-righteousness. And its inevitable consequence is spiritual blindness.
Now, in our present cultural situation where we are, we don’t deal mostly with people who are still seriously seeking to observe the law of Moses. There are such people, in Orthodox Judaism, although I would have to say from my standpoint, Judaism and the law of Moses are two entirely different things. But I do believe we have amongst us in the Christian church multitudes of people who have got their own little list of rules which they use basically the same way that the Jews use Judaism or the Pharisee pushed his little set of rules. And it leads to the same problem. So I’m going to give to you, out of my experience and observations, five different kinds of people that I think are all commonly found amongst us who have all got their particular little set of rules. At this point I always wish I were Bob Mumford because it really needs to be presented in a way that he can do it and I can’t. But I’ll just do it my flat, prosaic way and do my best. I say that sincerely. I’m not making fun of anybody, I really mean that. I preached this message in a congregation where one of my grandsons is one of the elders. It makes me feel rather important to have a grandson who is an elder. And there was one lady who went to the pastor afterwards and said I’m in every one of the five categories that he named. All right. Now I hope I can do this both fairly and kindly. I’ve no desire to be cynical or critical.
The first kind of people with their own little list I would call basically people from what is known as holiness background, which is related much to Methodism and carried over into many sections of the Pentecostal movement; the Church of God, Pentecostal Holiness and others. Now, basically all holiness people have their own little list of rules. And it’s mainly negative. They’ve got a list of rules mainly about women too. What women may wear, how women may adorn themselves, how long their dresses should be, and a whole host of other things. I suppose many of us are familiar with those rules. I’ve never been specifically associated with the holiness movement though some members of my family have been. But I have been very closely associated with the Pentecostal movement and much of their thinking and practice is actually a carryover from holiness. I think in many cases they don’t realize that. And I’m very, very familiar with Pentecostal rules. Believe me, I can quote them in my sleep. They relate to what you may eat and what you may drink or not drink. Where you may go for pleasure and entertainment. What kind of clothes women should wear. Whether you should indulge in mixed swimming or not. And a whole host of similar things.
A good many years back I was teaching in the leading Pentecostal assembly in Copenhagen, Denmark. I was teaching a six week Bible course and I was living in a home in one of the suburbs of Copenhagen. I had to take the street car into the center of the city every day to get to the church. And I needed to know exactly where to get off the street car. So I picked out a very distinctive statue in the middle of Copenhagen, it’s a very unusual statue, it’s in granite with a metal body. And incongruously enough it’s a statue of a bishop named Bishop Absalom who was one of the founders of Copenhagen. But this bishop is seated on a prancing horse and brandishing a sword which isn’t our idea, you know, of a bishop today. And his name was Bishop Absalom. So every time I saw Bishop Absalom on his horse I knew I had to get off the street car.
Well after I had been teaching these Pentecostals for about three weeks I was so weary of their negative attitudes that I gave them a little lecture. And I said I want to tell you about Bishop Absalom because they all knew who Bishop Absalom was. I said I want to tell you some things about Bishop Absalom. He doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t go to movies, he doesn’t dance, he doesn’t gamble, he doesn’t swear. But he’s not a Christian because he has no life. And the essence of Christianity is life. I think they got the message.
Paul says in Colossians 2:20–22:
“Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, [or rules] touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using; [they’re all related to things which have no permanence.] after the commandments and doctrines of men? (KJV)
I would have to say that’s a pretty accurate description of holiness teaching.
Now, I want you to understand that I am not saying that all those rules are necessarily wrong. Many of them are good rules. What I am saying is our righteousness does not consist in keeping those rules. Also, I have to observe that rules tend to get out of date. That’s one of the marvels of the Bible, that it survived two thousand years or more and it’s not out of date. To me, that’s one of the clear evidences of its inspiration. Because a lot of our little religious rules are sadly dated. I’ll give you two examples. I was raising a family in a time when the radio was considered “worldly.” And real good Christians didn’t listen much to the radio. So we had that little rule but we didn’t foresee television. And along came television and nobody made rules for television. See? We were unprepared. Some people did make rules. And then we had a rule that Christians don’t go to movie theaters. But when television came, then you could get the movie in your house without going to the theater. And there were no rules against that. But if you analyze it objectively, which is worse? To go to something that’s wrong outside your house or to import something that’s wrong right into your house and expose everybody in the house to it? If it’s wrong it’s twice as wrong inside as outside.
Then there was another rule which was that women didn’t wear lipstick. I know many of you can’t even remember these rules. As a matter of fact, nowadays it’s almost old fashioned to wear lipstick, but in those days it was considered the thing. Well, the rules were made before eye shade came along. So there were no rules for eye shade. So this is really a fact. You could see for instance, the wives of the Assemblies of God pastors in a meeting. No rouge, no lipstick, but eye shade until they looked like ghosts! Well, if that isn’t ridiculous, you know, I don’t know what is. I don’t say that to be unkind but it’s just an example of how totally inadequate our little human sets of rules are.
We’ll move on. Then we take what I call the Baptists. Now I’m really not very familiar with Baptists. This should be Charles Simpson at this point and he would really be able to lay it on. But I would say the essence of the Baptist rules is activity. You’ve got to be out to meetings four times a week. You’ve got to be on three committees. You’ve got to do door to door visitation and who knows what else. And if you’re not doing those things, you’re guilty. Personally I would say normally any Christian that was out to church more than three times a week is probably doing the wrong thing. And my observation is that Christians that are out five and six times a week are usually neglecting their families and their homes. And I was for six months associate pastor of a church, an Assembly of God church, where basically I think we on the average, we were out to church five times a week as a minimum. And I discovered a whole host of frustrated families and frustrated young people growing up in that church, and the young people just waiting for the day when they didn’t have to go to church ever again.
Now, Paul says something about the righteousness of God which is really breathtaking when you read it right. It’s in Romans 4:3–4:
“For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (KJV)
That’s his faith was counted for him for righteousness. Not what he did, but his believing.
“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” (KJV)
If we achieve righteousness by what we do, then God owes us the reward. We can boldly claim it. But the scripture says God doesn’t owe it to any of us. So we’re not going to get it as a reward. What’s the alternative? Verse 5:
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”(KJV)
That’s really an amazing statement for religious people. If you are going to receive the righteousness of God by faith, what’s the first thing you have to do? Is stop working. To him that worketh not. There’s nothing you can do so don’t try to do it.
The third group of people I would call essentially the Fundamentalists. And their rules center around being right in doctrine. Having every doctrine exactly right, every doctrinal idotted and every doctrinal tcrossed, and having all the answers. They have to know whether the tribulation is going to come before the rapture or the rapture before the tribulation. If they don’t know these things they’re insecure. Now I’ve discovered if you attack the basis of a person’s security, you immediately make him insecure. And you go to a Fundamentalist and challenge his doctrines, he becomes extremely insecure and self-defensive. Why? Because his security is based on his doctrine. And if he’s wrong, then he’s insecure. And I want to say that as I understand the gospel, our security in God is not based on being right. Even if we’re wrong we can still be secure. And the trouble is that of all the people that are attaching importance to being right, most of them don’t agree with one another. So who really is right? If you want to know what I think about the rapture and the tribulation, I’ll tell you. I think there are a whole lot of things we don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows them. I was greatly blessed by what Britain Jones said when he was discussing the first coming of Jesus. And he pointed out three streams of prophecy. He was to come out of Bethlehem. He was to come out of Nazareth. And he was to come out of Egypt. And he said how could anybody ever have got it right in advance? And yet all three were fulfilled. And if there had been schools of prophecy in those days we would have three schools. The Nazareth school, the Bethlehem school and the Egypt school. And each one would have tried to prove the others wrong!
All right. Group number four are the “Spirituals.” They’re the people who get up every morning at 5:30 A.M. and spend thirty minutes on their knees with an open Bible and they are the people who can quote scripture and say you know what Paul said in Romans and so on. And they probably quote Derek Prince too! And they get a lot of revelations and basically they know what’s going to happen next. Well, all that is good but it doesn’t make us righteous. Now I am not knocking getting up in the morning to pray. But I remember when I did it because I thought I ought to. What a flop it was!
Finally group number five is a group that I’m sure is not represented here this morning at all. I call them the kitchen counter scrubbers. They’re the people whose righteousness consists in always having the kitchen spotless, all the counters wiped off, no dirty dishes lying around, no dust in the corners, everything neatly folded, and so on. Now, all my family who know me will acknowledge that I’m basically a very tidy person. You can walk into my office almost any hour of the day or night and you’ll find my desk in perfect order. I don’t say that to boast but it’s just to bring out the fact that I’m not boosting untidiness. But I do say that when you’ve done all that it isn’t your righteousness. And secondly, be careful you don’t despise others who don’t do it because that’s the danger. People who trust in themselves and their little lists of rules almost always end up despising others who don’t keep their rules. Now I’m all on the side of the kitchen counter scrubber, but our righteousness does not consist in that and if we get superior in our attitude towards others, we’re in a very dangerous spiritual condition. A lot of people say pride goes before a fall. The Bible doesn’t say that. It says pride goes before destruction.
All right. Now, to close my message I just want to deal with the alternative. How God’s righteousness works. Now this is hard to communicate because the natural mind of man doesn’t readily accept it. We’re all geared to self-righteousness by nature. That’s part of the essence of sin is that it’s made man desirous of being independent of God. And one of the primary ways that man seeks independence of God is through religion.
Let me just read once more the five points of self-righteousness and then I’ll try to show you the way in which God’s righteousness differs in each one of these points. First of all, self-righteousness as its name indicates is self-centered. Secondly it leads us to despise others. Thirdly it compares itself with others, not using God’s standards. Fourthly it has its own little list of rules which it goes by. And fifthly, as a result, it’s static. There’s no room for growth or progress. And self-righteous people usually resist change because it threatens them.
Now let’s see how God’s righteousness works. And this is merely done by way of contrast, not as a complete study. First of all, God’s righteousness is Christ centered, not self-centered. And in order to enter into his righteousness we have to take our eyes off ourselves and fasten them on Christ. Isaiah said prophetically, putting the words in the mouth of the Lord, “Look unto me all the ends of the earth and be ye saved.” This is true particularly in healing. Many, many Christians do not receive healing because they never get their eyes off the symptoms. And we have to take our eyes off the symptoms and look to the Lord. This is true in the spiritual, it’s true in the physical, it’s true in every area. Christ is alpha and omega. He’s the beginning, the ending. The first and the last. We are complete in him, we need nothing more. In him I hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The more we are Christ centered, the better it will go with us. I’ll give you just one scripture, one of my favorites, Ephesians 1:6:
“To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he [God] hath made us accepted in the beloved [that’s Jesus Christ.].” (KJV)
And notice it’s grace. We cannot earn it, we cannot deserve it, we just have to believe that we are accepted not because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done. Not because of what we are, but because of what Christ is. We are accepted in the beloved. And being accepted in him we are just as beloved to God as he is. That’s incredible but it’s true.
As a result of being accepted by God we accept others. That’s the opposite of despising others. Basically we will treat people the way we think God treats us. If we think God keeps us at a distance and says “Keep my rules and I’ll accept you,” then we’ll keep people at a distance and say, “I won’t accept you unless you keep my rules.” If we believe that God freely accepts us in Christ and loves us without our having to earn it, then we are able to freely accept other people and love them without demanding that they earn our love. Paul deals with this in Romans 14 and 15. Let’s look in Romans 14:3 first. Paul is here dealing with a man who had a set of rules. His rules were dietary. He didn’t eat meat. Paul says that’s fine. If you don’t want to eat meat and if you don’t have the faith to eat meat, don’t eat meat. But he said, don’t despise the one who does eat meat. That’s the problem. So I’ll just read verse 3:
“Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth; for God hath received him.” (KJV)
Isn’t that amazing! God receives the people we despise. One of the most amazing things I think is pointed out by Watchman Nee is when the church splits and two factions go off at enmity with one another, God is so gracious he moves with both factions. He turns up at both meetings. You know, neither side could believe it but God does it. And then in Romans 15 Paul gives the rule in verse 7:
“Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.” (KJV)
Now how does Christ receive us because that’s how we’re to receive one another? Did Christ say get your life straightened out, keep my six rules, come back when you’ve got them all? Well most of us would have never got back, would we? I know how Christ received me, I’m amazed, he just took me the way I was. And then when he had received me, he began to change me. It’s very important to get the order. He doesn’t change us and then receive us. He receives us and then changes us. I’m not saying we don’t need to be changed, but I’m saying we have to get the order right. And basically if you want to change people the right way, start by receiving them. Because as long as you’ve got your little list of rules in your mind which they’re not keeping, they may not understand but they’ll know you’re not receiving them. And you will have no real influence over them.
All right. Thirdly, God has only one standard and one goal for righteousness. What is it? Jesus Christ. All right? And God will not accept other standards. Let’s look at the negative part first. 2Corinthians 10:12:
“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves; but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” (KJV)
What’s the opposite of wise? Foolish, that’s right. So to measure yourself by others and to compare yourself with others is what? Foolish. I’ll tell you a little story about that. It goes back a long way to about l948 or ‘49. I had recently become a “preacher” and I was in Denmark in Copenhagen. In fact, at the very same church that I referred to. And I was new to Denmark, the Danes didn’t know me very well, they knew my wife of course extremely well. And I was to speak at a Wednesday night meeting. And I had to speak through an interpreter from English to Danish. Well, speaking through an interpreter is very tricky. Because you can’t make sudden changes, you can’t make jokes. There’s a whole list of things that are just ruled out, and you have very little flexibility. And I knew my interpreter didn’t know too much English.
Now I thought the meeting was a gospel service to reach the unconverted so I hunted around for a text and I found this one, 2Corinthians 10:12. That it’s foolish to compare ourselves with other people, that God has only one standard. So I prepared my message, got there and discovered it was a meeting for church members only. Admission by card only. Without a members card you couldn’t get in. Well I was absolutely devastated. What could I do? And I did not have the experience or the knowledge to change my message so I thought I would just have to preach this message anyhow. So I preached for the “saints” a message I’d prepared for the “sinners.” And the results were dramatic. It brought conviction such as I seldom see among a group of believers. And people were on their faces before the Lord and I said exactly what they needed to hear. That really opened my eyes to the revelation that this is not for unbelievers. This is for believers. And our biggest problem, often, is comparing ourselves with other people.
All right. What is God’s standard? Turn to Acts 17:31:
“Because he [that is God] hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness...” (KJV)
Notice what God is going to judge the world in respect of. Not in respect of religious denomination or doctrines, but righteousness. The way we live.
“...by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.”(KJV)
The man whom God has raised from the dead we all know is Jesus Christ. So God is going to judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ. Jesus is both the standard and the judge. And God has no other standard of righteousness but Jesus. If we measure ourselves by any other standard, we’re deceiving ourselves. And it’s entirely appropriate that Jesus is both the standard and the judge because if we ever feel inclined to say well, that’s too high a standard, no one can keep it, the judge answers, “But I can.” It’s altogether just and right and appropriate.
Then we’ll look again in this connection in Philippians 3:7–14. I’m going to read these verses rapidly and I don’t want to dwell on them. But I want you to see that Paul totally rejected any other standard of righteousness but Jesus Christ and any other goal for righteousness but attaining to Jesus Christ. And I want you to listen to the words with that in mind.
“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, [notice you have to rule that out] but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith. That I may know him, [that’s the essence of it] the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained...” (KJV)
Let me emphasize what I am going to say again in a moment. The righteousness of faith is never static. It never says I’ve arrived. It always says not as though I had already attained.
“...but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended...” (KJV)
Should we say that together this morning? Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended. Are you sure? Okay.
“...but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”(KJV)
Paul had one goal: Jesus Christ. One standard: Jesus Christ. And until he’d attained to that, he would never be satisfied.
The fourth point about God’s righteousness is it does not consist in keeping a list of rules no matter how good the rules may be. But it comes like this. When we really believe we are accepted of God, through that acceptance God is able to work in us and we work out what God works in. I do believe that God cannot work in us until we come to the place where we’re absolutely assured that we’re accepted. I think acceptance is the key to God working what he wants in us. We’ll look again in Philippians 2:12–13:
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”(KJV)
Notice the double working. God works in, we work out. If God doesn’t work in, we have nothing to work out. We’re totally dependent on what God works in. God works in two things. First to will and then to do his good pleasure. As a Christian we should not always be doing that which is right against our own will. We should naturally will to do that which is right for it is God who imparts to us first the will to do it and then the ability. And when you are continually doing something against your own will, you better stop and examine your relationship to God. Even if what you are doing is right, your relationship is wrong. And so Paul says God works in and then we work out. Notice we’re totally dependent. If God doesn’t work in, we have nothing of ourselves to work out. So we are not able to do it by our own little list of rules.
And the fifth point is, and we do not need to dwell on this, God’s righteousness is progressive, not static. We grow up like children in our father’s home. If you take the picture of the relationship between a father and a child, you’ve got the right picture. The father doesn’t say to the newborn baby, “Now when you learn all the rules I’ll accept you as a child.” Very far from it if I know anything about fathers and I’ve seen some. They’re just delighted with that new baby, they just can’t stay away from it. They’ll get down in the most foolish positions and coo at it. Even grandfathers do that too! And there’s no question about that child not being accepted. That’s where it starts. With acceptance. And any child that doesn’t have that in its home has problems. Because the child is accepted it grows up desiring to do the father’s will. And it doesn’t do it perfectly by any means. It often stumbles, it often makes mistakes. But the father never says, “Well, you’ve made too many mistakes, I’ll no longer accept you as my child.” The father just says, “Well, that was wrong, you shouldn’t have done that. But come on, we’ll start again.” And so acceptance is the basis of our righteousness in Christ. It’s not something we have to earn or work for or achieve, it’s given us through faith. And if we don’t start there, we’ll never get where God intends us to be.
Let’s look at three scriptures and we close. These dealing with the theme that the righteousness of God is progressive. I’ll read them very quickly. Ephesians 4:15:
“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things...” (KJV)
The Christian life is a life of growing up into Christ. It’s not having arrived, it’s being on the way. And then 2Corinthians 3:18:
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass [or mirror] the glory of the Lord, are [being continually] changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord [the Lord the Spirit].” (KJV)
Notice it’s continuing ongoing change. The change is wrought by the Holy Spirit, it’s not the result of self-effort. But it’s dependent on the revelation the Holy Spirit gives us in the mirror of God’s word of what we can be in Christ. And as we behold the glory, we’re changed into it. And then the Holy Spirit says, “That’s fine, now here’s a new glory, I want you to be changed into that.” We are continually being changed from glory to glory by the Lord the Spirit. There is no stopping place, no sense of having arrived, I know it all, I got it all.
And finally, you don’t have to turn there, but Proverbs 4:18, it’s one of my favorite scriptures. It says:
“But the path of the just [or the righteous] is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect [or full] day.” (KJV)
So if we are walking in the pathway of the righteous, the light should be getting brighter every day. And if I today am living by yesterday’s light, I’m in danger of being a backslider. Amen.
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