Tag Archives: Righteousness

John Owen on Romans

John Owen writes in the Introduction to Calvin’s Commentary on Romans:

“We have set before us in this Epistle especially two things, which it behoves us all rightly to understand — the righteousness of man and the righteousness of God — merit and grace, or salvation by works and salvation by faith. The light in which they are exhibited here is clearer and brighter than what we find in any other portion of Scripture, with the exception, perhaps, of the Epistle to the Galatians. Hence the great value which has in every age been attached to this Epistle by all really enlightened Christians; and hence also the strenuous efforts which have often been made to darken and wrest its meaning by men, though acute and learned, yet destitute of spiritual light. But let not the simple Christian conclude from the contrariety that is often found in the expositions on these two points, that there is no certainty in what is taught respecting them. There are no contrary views given of them by spiritually-minded men. Though on other subjects discussed here, such men have had their differences, yet on these they have ever been found unanimous: that salvation is from first to last by grace, and not by works, has ever been the conviction of really enlightened men in every age, however their opinion may have varied in other respects. It may seem very strange, when we consider the plain and decisive language, especially of this Epistle, and the clear and conclusive reasoning which it exhibits, that any attempt should ever be made by a reasonable being, acknowledging the authority of Scripture, to pervert what it plainly teaches, and to evade what it clearly proves. But a right view of what human nature is, when unrenewed, as exhibited in God’s Word, and as proved by history and made evident by observation, enables us fully to account for what would otherwise remain an enigma. No truth is more fully confirmed by facts (and it ought ever to be remembered) than that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” and that he “cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” This declaration clearly accounts for the fact, that men of great learning have often misunderstood many things in Scripture, and such things as are plain enough even to the unlettered when spiritually enlightened. The learned Scribes and Rabbins were blind leaders of the blind, when even babes understood the mysteries of the kingdom of God: and no better then the Scribes are many learned men, professing Christianity, in our day.

There is indeed a special reason why, on these points, unenlightened men should contrive means to evade the obvious meaning of Scripture; for they are such things as come in constant contact with a principle, the strongest that belongs to human nature in its fallen state. Other doctrines may be held as speculations, and kept, as it were, at a distance; but when we come to merit and grace, to work and faith, man’s pride is touched; and as long as under he is its prevailing influence, he will be certain, in some way or another, direct or evasive, to support merit in opposition to grace, or works in opposition to faith. When the authority of tradition supplanted the authority of Scripture, the doctrine of merit so prevailed, that the preposterous idea, that merits were a salable and a transferable commodity, gained ground in the world. A notion of this kind is too gross and absurd to be entertained by any who acknowledge God’s Word as the only umpire in religion; and yet what is not essentially different has often been maintained; for to say that salvation is partly by faith and partly by works, is really the same thing, inasmuch as the principle of merit is thereby admitted. Man naturally cleaves to his own righteousness; all those who are ignorant are self-righteous, and all the learned who understand not the gospel; and it is wonderful what ingenious evasions and learned subtleties men will have recourse to in order to resist the plain testimony of Scripture. When they cannot maintain their ground as advocates of salvation alone by merits, they will attempt to maintain it as advocates of a system, which allows a part to grace and a part to works — an amalgamation which Paul expressly repudiates, Romans 11:6.

But it is remarkable how the innate disposition of man has displayed itself in this respect. Conscious, as it were, in some measure of moral imperfections, he has been striving for the most part to merit his salvation by ceremonial works. This has been the case in all ages with heathens: their scarifies, austerities, and mechanical devotions were their merits; they were the works by which they expected to obtain happiness. God favored the people of Israel with the rituals of religion, which were designed merely as aids and means to attain and preserve true religion; but they converted them to another purpose, and, like the heathens, regarded them as meritorious performances, and expected God’s acceptance for the very religious acts which they exercised: and in order to make up, as it were, a sufficient quantity of merit, they made additions to those services which God had appointed, as though to multiply acts of this kind was to render their salvation more certain. The very same evil crept early into the Christian Church, and still continues to exist. The accumulation of ceremonies is of itself a sufficient proof, that salvation by faith was in a great measure lost sight of: we want no other evidence; it is what has been ever done whenever the light of truth has become dim and obscure. We see the same evil in the present day. Outward privileges and outward acts of worship are in effect too often substituted for that grace which changes the heart, and for that living faith which unites us to the Savior, which works by love and overcomes the world. The very disposition to over-value external privileges and the mere performances of religious duties, is an unequivocal evidence, that salvation by faith is not understood, or very imperfectly understood, and not really embraced.

The only remedy, as means for this evil, is that which we find employed by Paul in this Epistle. He begins by showing what every man, Jew and Gentile, is by nature; he proves by the clearest evidence, that all have sinned and become guilty before God. And having done this, he discloses the way of salvation which God himself has planned and revealed; and he teaches us, that it is altogether by grace and through faith that we can be saved, and not by works. In order cordially to embrace this latter truth, it is necessary to know the first, that we are sinners under condemnation. It is impossible, according to the very constitution of man’s mind, that he should really and truly accede to the one, without a real and deep knowledge of the other. The whole need not a physician, but the sick. It is only he who is really convinced of sin and who feels its guilt and its burden intolerable, that ever will, or indeed ever can, really lay hold on that free salvation which God has provided. And when this free salvation is really known, all other things compared with it will be deemed as nothing; and then all outward privileges will be viewed only as means, and all outward acts of religion only as aids and helps; and then also all our works, however great and self-denying, will be regarded in no way meritorious, but imperfect and defective, and acceptable only through the merits of our High Priest at God’s right hand.

-John Owen

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Confronting Sin

“And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.” (2 Samuel 12:1–9 ESV)

The Lord sends Nathan to David in order to confront him on his sin. The strength it took for Nathan to confront the king is incredible.  His hope was not in David’s response or even in the hope that He was a man after God’s own heart.  He could have been killed for confronting David.  Nathan feared God more than He feared man.

Nathan started by telling David a story of a poor man who had a prized lamb and a rich man who took it, killed it and served it for dinner for a guest.  It’s a tearjerker.  We, like David, can have so much empathy for others and be so blind to the ones close to us that we have offended; sin always blinds us.  David’s empathy and zeal for justice is real, but he is blinded to the parallel in his own life.  Sin always blinds us.  David starts rolling out how to make restitution.  David took Bathsheba just like the rich man who took the poor man’s lamb.

Nathan is not afraid to call sin what it is – SIN!  He boldly confronts David, proclaiming that David is the man who did this thing!  We don’t like to call sin, sin.  We have more sophisticated words for it today – like dysfunction – words that are less offensive and harsh so that we won’t feel bad about ourselves.  By doing this, we dumb down the justice of God and make His grace less than amazing.  In order for grace to be amazing, we must feel the crushing weight of our sin under the perfect standard of God’s law.

In verses 7 & 8, God reviews His grace to David.  God anointed David king, delivered him from Saul, gave him Saul’s house, wives & kingdom.  And God adds a comment on the end:  “And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.”  God had been good to David.  Remembering God’s grace and goodness is important in walking uprightly.  We have nothing that we have not been given (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Nathan calls out David’s sin for what it was – murder and adultery.  How did Nathan know this?  Was there a group of people who gathered together to strategize how to confront David?  No, there is profound rest in believing that Yahweh sees all, knows all and rules over all so we don’t have to.  The specifics of David’s sin is no match for the Sovereign eye of the Almighty.

When we are called to approach a brother or sister in sin, we normally experience uncertainty, doubt or fear.  In these moments, we must learn to rest in God’s goodness and His sovereignty; we must fear Him more than we fear man – this is easier said than done!  As we approach another, we must do it boldly, but with grace – never self righteously because except for God’s grace towards us, we would walk the same path.  We don’t love others well if we are not willing to help them see their blind spots and we are not loved well if we don’t have people in our lives who are willing to point out our blind spots. 

Lord, help us to see you as the greatest treasure in the world so that other things pale in comparison to knowing and following you.

Concealing Sin

So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab was doing and how the people were doing and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” And Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.” Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. And David invited him, and he ate in his presence and drank, so that he made him drunk. And in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” And as Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant men. And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab, and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite also died.
(2 Samuel 11:6–17 ESV)

The conniving wickedness of David should not make us feel self righteous, but should serve as a mirror to us in our own sinfulness.  Unconfessed sin is never content to live by itself.  Though David had supreme rights as a king, some things were off limits – like another man’s wife! Instead of confessing and repenting of his sin, he set a plan in motion to cover it up.  Getting sin out in the open with confession and repentance is freeing.  David summoned Bathsehba’s husband, Uriah, and asks how the battle is going.  Then he sends him home to clean up – and expecting that he will have sex with his wife.  But Uriah did not cooperate!  He slept outside with the king’s servants.  David asked Uriah why he didn’t go into his home.  Uriah responds, ““The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing (v11).”  Uriah is a righteous man, he viewed this as being improper.  It is ironic that he is righteous and the king is not.  David doubles his efforts and throws a party for Uriah and gets him drunk, thinking that would do the trick.  It did not.  Uriah again will not go into his house and have sex with his wife.

David is consumed with covering up his sin.  That is what sin does, it drives us to conceal it.  But, concealed sin will destroy you.  David sends a letter by way of Uriah (ironic!) unleashing a plan to have Uriah killed by placing him in the most fierce fighting area and then withdrawing all of the troops so that he is alone.  Joab is complicent in this and Uriah is killed.  Living an upright life, in the fear of the Lord like Uriah, does not ensure a good outcome in this world.

Sin rules and reigns in this world. Don’t miss how unconfessed sin always drives us to conceal it and that we will go to great lengths to hide it.  But, just because we think that sin is hidden does not mean that it is absent.  It is still swirling around below the surface, wreaking havoc on our lives and the lives of others – destroying our communion with God.  Even in this story, don’t miss the echo of the gospel – the righteous (Uriah) dies for the sins of the unrighteous (David).  It is because of the beauty of the gospel that we can boldly approach the throne of grace.  Confess your sins and repent of them and receive the cleansing grace of God.

Law versus Gospel

Notes:

  • You are not what you do, rather you are what has been done for you by Jesus Christ!
  • The Christian life on the ground is that you are simultaneously sinner and justified.
  • Not both sinner and justified before God – before God we are clothed completely in the RIGHTEOUSNESS of Christ!
  • There are only 2 messages in the Bible.  Law which is everything that says what we should “do,” and Gospel which is everything that God has “done” for us.
  • The failure to distinguish Law and Gospel accurately always leads to the abandonment of the Gospel.
    • The Law gets softened and produces moralism.
    • The Gospel gets hardened into a list of demands that must be lived out.
  • The Law is God’s unwavering demand for Perfection… BE PERFECT!  The Law demands everything, but gives nothing.  The Law illuminates sin, but is powerless to eliminate sin.  The Law points to righteousness but is powerless to produce righteousness.  The Law shows us what love is, but cannot produce love in us.  The Law informs us of our sin but cannot transform the sinner.
  • The Gospel tells us that since we can’t meet God’s demand, Jesus met it for us.  It’s anthem is, “it is finished!”  There is nothing else that we must do.  Christians live their lives under a banner that reads “IT IS FINISHED!”
  • The law forces us to face our sin, but the Gospel alone forgives us from our sin.
  • The Law accuses us, the Gospel acquits us!
  • The Law exposes us, the Gospel exonerates us!
  • The Law diagnoses sinners, the Gospel delivers sinners!
  • The Law shows how quick we are to run from God, the Gospel shows how quick He is to run after us!
  • The Law shows  us our desperation is greater than we ever realized, the Gospel shows our deliverance is greater than we could have imagined!
  • The Law demands perfection, the Gospel declares perfect all who trust in Jesus!
  • The Law demands that we do it all, the Gospel declares that Jesus paid it all!
  • God’s Law is for those who think they are good, God’s Gospel is for those who know they are bad!
  • We should speak God’s demand in such a way that we are reacquainted with our desperation for a Savior!
  • Sins we cannot forget, God cannot remember.
  • Though the accuser roar of sins that I have done, I know them all and thousands more, Jehovah knoweth none!
  • God’s Demand:  BE PERFECT
  • God’s Diagnosis:  YOU ARE NOT PERFECT
  • God’s Deliverance:  JESUS WAS PERFECT FOR YOU
  • The Gospel demands nothing, but gives everything.

In Christ Alone

Our only hope is to rest in Christ alone.  What a beautiful

In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.

In Christ alone! who took on flesh
Fulness of God in helpless babe!
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones he came to save:
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied –
For every sin on Him was laid;
Here in the death of Christ I live.

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave he rose again!
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me,
For I am His and He is mine –
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.

Cornerstone

Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; it is in His righteousness alone that we will stand faultless before the throne.  Once we have been freed from believing that we are justified OR ACCEPTED based on our performance we begin to see that obedience to Christ’s commands actually lead to greater joy.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all

When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil
My anchor holds within the veil

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all
He is Lord
Lord of all

Christ alone
Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless stand before the throne.

Are you obeying well enough to be accepted?

“And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.” (Nehemiah 1:5–7 ESV)

The Israelites current situation (verse 7) was due to their disobedience to the covenant relationship that God had established with them.  The Mosaic Covenant was given at Mount Sinai to the Israelites (Exodus 19:4-6) and it said that if they would obey then God would bless them.  The Old Testament chronicles a people who consistently failed to obey God’s commands because they had defective hearts (their hearts were stained with sin and lacked the ability to fully obey).  A major hope for the Israelites was the day when God would give them new hearts – hearts upon which His laws would be written (Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:16, 29:4, 30:6; Jeremiah 31:31–34; Ezekiel 36:26–27).

But, we are no longer under this covenant (Rom. 6:14–15; 7:1–6; 2 Cor. 3:4–18; Galatians 3:15–4:7).  He has written His laws on our hearts (Romans 2:25-29, 8:14; Galatians 5:16, 18, 25; Colosians 2:11; Hebrews 7:18-19, 8:8-12, 9:9, 14, 10:1, 15-18, 10:22).  We do not live under performance based righteousness; we do not earn additional favor from God when we obey.  Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly so God’s blessing toward us is based solely on the finished work of Jesus Christ – not on our performance or obedience to the law.  The old covenant said, “If you obey then I will love and bless you”; the new covenant says, “you are loved and blessed because of the sacrifice of Jesus – now obey”.  One attempts to earn favor with God, the other is a reflection that we already have God’s favor.

God Centered Perspective: Dependent

God Centered Perspective:  Dependent.  There comes a point in our lives, God willing, when we begin to realize that we can’t fix ourselves, those around us or the world that we live in.  The rage, bitterness, insatiable desire to achieve, need for the approval of others, pretending, coveting, idolizing or hopelessness that follows us around is something that we cannot fix on our own.  This brokenness follows us from relationship to relationship, job to job, season to season and place to place.  Hopefully there comes a point at which we recognize that we don’t posses the power to fix ourselves and realize that our primary problem is not outside of us, but is inside of us.  A quick trip to the bookstore will demonstrate humanity’s obsession with fixing our broken psyches and attempting to make ourselves “whole” – the largest section is entitled “self help.”  To be fair, a large portion of modern Christian books are nothing more than “Christianized” versions that one can find in the “self help” section of any other book store.  How many times have we resolved to stop a certain behavior, banish sinful thoughts or terminate dangerous relationships only to find ourselves doing the same things that we don’t want to do.1  Our best resolutions, discipline and white knuckled effort yields very little progress toward true, ongoing change in our lives.  We must recognize that we are powerless to effect true ongoing change apart from God’s intervention; we are utterly dependent upon God.

We don’t like being dependent – Adam & Eve certainly didn’t.  Every sin that we battle has, at its root, the sin of autonomous self rule.2  We have to answer the same question that Adam & Eve had to answer in the garden – upon whom will I truly trust and depend?  They chose themselves, and we normally do too.  We don’t like being told what to do and what not to do, but even worse than being told what to do and what not to do is realizing that we don’t have the ability to adhere to these requirements.3  This is why God gave us His law – to show us what He requires, that we can never measure up and to push us to depend upon Him & His grace.

We must get to a point where we understand, at a deep level, that we were indeed objects of wrath.4  Wrath is not a popular concept to discuss, but an understanding of it is central to the Christian’s maturity and joy.  Most of us have such a low view of God that we tend to perform in an attempt to earn His favor and an overly inflated view of ourselves that we don’t think that we’re really all that bad which leads to pretending we have it all together despite knowing that we don’t.5  Until you feel the weight of your offense toward the Creator of the cosmos, you will never see a need to live dependently; you will think that you can handle most things on your own.  Jerry Bridges summarizes this well, “we can’t begin to appreciate the good news of the gospel until we see our deep need.  Most people, even believers, have never given much thought to how desperate our condition is outside of Christ.  Few ever think about the dreadful implications of being under the wrath of God.  And none of us even begins to realize how truly sinful we are.”6  The deeper our understanding of the massive gap between God’s holiness and our depravity, the more dependently we will walk; the byproduct of this is true humility and a walk that is refreshingly absent of any sort of self righteous swagger.

Jesus’ first point in the sermon on the mount was “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”7  Jesus, in one of His earliest sermons, says that we are profoundly fortunate to be aware of our spiritual inability – to recognize that we are spiritually bankrupt before God is a good thing.  There are two types of bankruptcy in the United States:  chapter 7 & chapter 11.  Chapter 7 bankruptcy is for companies who have no hope of restructuring, reorganizing or surviving; it is permanent.  Chapter 11 is for companies that need assistance in working through their financial problems and given some time and effort can get their books in order, restructure their debt and emerge from bankruptcy to stand on their own; this is temporary bankruptcy.  The question is, “what type of spiritual bankruptcy did you file?”  Permanent or Temporary.  The church at Galatia had filed chapter 11 and were now trying hard to emerge from their dependent posture, attempting to prove their worth and ability – to stand on their own.  The bible says that it is not at our worst when we are most offensive to God, but when we are at our very best.8  The currency of our good works is worthless before the Creator; we enter in to the kingdom based solely on the work of Another and we never “pay our own way” with our good works; we were dependent upon the grace of God for salvation and just as dependent today as we were the day we accepted Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.  We add nothing to the finished work of Christ.

Utter dependence upon Christ is not merely our initial posture when we are saved, it is our ongoing posture in relationship with God.  We are justified by dependent grace and are sustained by this same dependent grace.9  We, sometimes, think that we needed Jesus to get our act together, but now it is time to roll up our sleeves and pull our own weight (though few would actually say this).  The book of Galatians addresses this very problem, Paul asks who had bewitched the young church in Galatia10 and said that anyone who added to the sufficiency of the gospel by adding works to it was accursed.11  The church had departed from dependent faith based in grace alone and had embraced a works based righteousness rooted in adherence to the Jewish law.  We are acceptable (righteous) before God based on the perfect life that Jesus lived and gave to us, period.12  Our own efforts to obey and follow God do not make us more acceptable to Him.  There is nothing left to earn, Jesus earned it all for us; the writer of Hebrews tells us that the alter is closed, no other sacrifice is required.13  Though we’d never say it, we often times believe that we needed Jesus to get into His kingdom, but then it is up to our own self-disciplined effort to effect change and transformation in our lives.   We look to ourselves, adherence to rules and formulas for ultimate deliverance instead of the Deliverer; these amount to nothing more than self salvation projects.  When we operate in this mindset, we become glory thieves because the focus is on us and our contribution to any change that we experience.  However, when we realize that we are completely dependent upon God for transformation14, He is the one that is glorified by the transformation that happens in our lives.  We never grow out of our dependence: “Mephibosheth never got over his crippled condition. He never got to the place where he could leave the king’s table and make it on his own.  And neither do we.”15

We bring nothing to the table in our negotiation with God except for our sin that makes our salvation necessary.  There is no room for our morality when coming before God – “for by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”16  We, often times, believe that we bring all of our best efforts to God and Jesus‘ sacrifice makes up the difference between our morality and God’s perfect standard.  This is heretical thinking!17  We were dead, unable to please God and even our morally good & righteous deeds are like filthy rags before God.18  It is not as if God determined before He created the world that we’d be pretty clean and He’d make up the difference – no!  We were objects of His wrath, spiritually bankrupt and utterly dependent upon Him to intercede on our behalf and make our dead hearts alive!  We never depart from this desperate dependent state.

But, surely we can do some good things on our own, we aren’t dependent for everything good.  Jesus attacks this thinking by saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”19  Righteousness does not come from obedience, righteousness comes from faith which leads to obedience.  They may look the same on the outside, but the innards are worlds apart!20  Abraham believed (trusted/depended on) God and it was credited to him as righteousness.  Our obedience earns us nothing before God.  Abraham was a far cry from righteous on His own, but because He depended upon God, he was viewed as righteous.21  “Faith is believing in and relying upon God.  It is “not a work, but a relinquishment of all work, an unqualified trust in God who gives life to the dead (Rom. 4:17), who raised Christ from the dead (4:24), who in Christ gave ‘a righteousness from God.’”22  Martin Luther, in his commentary on Galatians said, “there is no middle ground between Christian righteousness and works-righteousness. There is no other alternative to Christian righteousness but works-righteousness; if you do not build your confidence on the work of Christ, you must build your confidence on your own work. On this truth and only on this truth the church is built and has its being.”23  Many set out to earn God’s approval or prove that they are worthy of it.  You aren’t and you don’t have to.

Jesus addressed our propensity toward self righteousness in Luke 18:  “he also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 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.’ 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!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”24  When we are proud of our moral cleanness, disciplined efforts and good works, we show that we are at odds with the Gospel.  Those who are proud of their ability to manage their behavior treat others with contempt.  When we approach God attempting to impress Him or earn His approval and affection, He sees our most righteous acts as nothing more than a pile of filthy rage in His presence.  The Gospel, however, beckons those who recognize their complete inadequacy and long to lean upon Another.  As Christians, we should view ourselves as nothing more than beggars showing other beggars where to find bread.

The spectacularly good news is that Jesus not only forgave you of your sins so that you could enjoy eternal life, but He also lived a perfect life on your behalf because you couldn’t.  This means that you are approved, accepted and loved despite your own performance and that you have nothing to offer God to win His favor!  The warmth of God that is displayed toward Jesus when He said, “this is my beloved son, with whom I’m well pleased,”25 is the same warmth that He extends toward us.  If you will assume a dependent posture, then you will walk more freely than ever before.  You can stop striving and start depending upon the finished work of Christ on your behalf.  Faith makes us righteous, not adherence to the Law.  Our joyful works are a byproduct of faith.  One is damning & burdensome, the other is liberating and profitable!26  May we all have the same zeal as Paul had when he abandoned all of his accomplishments and boasted only in the cross of Christ.  We don’t merit additional affection and approval from the Almighty by our obedience.27  The question is, “are we willing to rely on God’s grace and mercy alone instead of our performance, to boast in nothing except the cross?  If so, we can bask every day in the grace of God.  And in the joy and confidence of that grace we can vigorously pursue holiness.”28  We must rest in the finished work of Jesus as the only acceptable sacrifice that is pleasing to God.  When we understand this, we begin to move from behavioral modification to heart level transformation and everything changes.

Prayer:  Lord, please help us to remember that we are utterly dependent upon you.  Let us not stray from this place and begin to trust in ourselves or our systems instead of you.

Notes:
1 Paul articulated this struggle in Romans 7 when he says “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.” (Romans 7:18–19 ESV).  All Christians wrestle with this, but Paul ends chapter 7 with resolution and hope:  “wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25 ESV); for Paul, the living presence of the risen savior was the answer to his battle with sin.
2 Adam & Eve abandoned a life of dependency upon God for one of autonomous self rule.  They chose to disobey because they wanted to be the director of their own lives.  See Genesis 3.  Every sin that we battle with has, at its root, unbelief in God’s promises and goodness and our desire to be autonomous.  See Battling Unbelief by John Piper for more information.
3 We don’t like law, but we like grace even less.  As much as we are naturally disobedient to the laws that God has given to us and the ones that He has written upon our hearts, we tend to feel like we have some degree of control when we are successful in obeying these laws to some degree.  Grace, however, derails our glory train and tells us that we can’t obey well enough and that we must completely trust in the obedience of Someone else.
4 “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:3 ESV)
5 “If we are not resting in Jesus’ righteousness, this growing awareness of our sin becomes a crushing weight.  We buckle under its load and compensate by pretending that we’re better than we really are.  Pretending can take many forms: dishonesty (“I’m not that bad”), comparison (“I’m not as bad as those people”), excuse making (“I’m not really that way”), and false righteousness (“Here are all the good things I’ve done”). Because we don’t want to admit how sinful we really are, we spin the truth in our favor.”
“If we are not rooted in God’s acceptance of us through Jesus, we compensate by trying to earn God’s approval through our performance. We live life on a treadmill, trying to gain God’s favor by living up to his expectations (or our mistaken view of them).”  https://thegospelcenteredlife.com/2012/02/28/shrinking-the-cross/
6 Gerald Bridges;Jerry Bridges. Holiness Day by Day: Transformational Thoughts for Your Spiritual Journey Devotional (p. 15). Kindle Edition.
7 Matthew 5:3 ESV.  “In Matthew 5-7, Jesus wants us to see that regardless of how well we think we’re doing or how much better we’re becoming, when “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” becomes the requirement and not “look how much I’ve grown over the years”, we begin to realize that we don’t have a leg to lean on when it comes to answering the question, “How can I stand righteous before God”? Our transformation, our purity, our growth in godliness, our moral advances and spiritual successes–Spirit-animated as it all may be–simply falls short of the sinlessness God demands. And since a “not guilty verdict” depends on sinlessness, assurance is ultimately contingent on perfection, not progress.” Where Can I Find Assurance? by Tullian Tchividjian
8 Relying on our good works to earn us anything of merit before God is offensive to God.  See Isaiah 64:6 & Philippians 3:7-11.
9 “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,” (Romans 3:23–24 ESV); “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2 ESV)
10 “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:1–3 NIV)
11 “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.  For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.” (Galatians 1:8–9, 11 ESV)
12 Paul jettisoned all of his hard fought obedience and accomplishments and viewed them as worthless.  He found that he was righteous before God not because of what he had accomplished or how well he obeyed, but by faith in Jesus’ perfectly lived life on his behalf.  God “imputes” (gives) Christ’s perfectly obedient life to the person who depends upon God for salvation.  When God views the believer, He sees the sinless perfection (righteousness) that Jesus earned for us.  “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:8–9 ESV)
13 This is one of the common themes in the book of Hebrews, especially in chapters 9 & 10.  The author summarizes this in 10:12-14 “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12–14 ESV)
14 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 ESV).  All spiritual progress is rooted in who God is, what He has done and what He has promised to do.
15 Gerald Bridges;Jerry Bridges. Holiness Day by Day: Transformational Thoughts for Your Spiritual Journey Devotional (p. 28). Kindle Edition.  The story of Mephibosheth is told in 2 Samuel 9 and is a poignant picture of our acceptance based upon another, Mephibosheth couldn’t earn his way and neither can we.
16 Romans 3:20 ESV
17 Q:  But why cannot our good works be the whole, or part of our righteousness before God?
A:  Because, that the righteousness, which can be approved of before the tribunal of God, must be absolutely perfect,1 and in all respects conformable to the divine law; and also, that our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.b
________________________
a “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”” (Galatians 3:10 ESV); ““‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” (Deuteronomy 27:26 ESV)
b “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV)
The Heidelberg Catechism (#62)
18 God counts nothing that we do under our own power as good.  Even our most ardent striving at obedience and moral goodness still has stains of sin in them.  “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV); “I will declare your righteousness and your deeds, but they will not profit you.” (Isaiah 57:12 ESV)
19 John 15:5 NIV
20 Righteousness in the old testament was not achieved through obedience, but through faith (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3, 22; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23).  Ultimately, everybody’s righteousness (due to their faith) is accomplished by Christ’s perfect fulfillment of the law.  Our obedience is never a director of God’s favor; it is a reflection that we have already received God’s favor – their is a huge difference.  See Isaiah 58:1-5 & comment at http://wp.me/p1GPj4-in
21 God called Abraham in 12:1-9; in the following verses, Abraham tells the Egyptians that Sarai was his sister (12:10-20) in order to save his own skin!  He again repeats this pattern in Genesis 20 with Abimelech.  This occurred after Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6); in Genesis 16, Abraham demonstrates a lack of obedience by attempting to fulfill the promise of God on his own by having a child with Hagai.  The bible is full of examples of men and women who fall woefully short on their own, but have faith that God will deliver and provide a way.  Let us never lean on our own obedience as a means to make us righteous.
22 Hedges, Brian G.; Donald S. Whitney (2010-12-01). Christ Formed in You (Kindle Locations 1094-1097). Shepherd Press. Kindle Edition.
23 Martin Luther Commentary on Galatians
24 Luke 18:9–14 ESV
25 Matthew 3:17, 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35
26 Isaiah 64:1-7
27 “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people 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 righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:3–11 ESV); “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14 ESV)
28 Gerald Bridges;Jerry Bridges. Holiness Day by Day: Transformational Thoughts for Your Spiritual Journey Devotional (p. 29). Kindle Edition.

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Abandoning accomplishment

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:8–9 ESV)

Paul jettisoned all of his hard fought obedience and accomplishments and viewed them as worthless.  He found that he was righteous before God not because of what he had accomplished or how well he obeyed, but by faith in Jesus’ perfectly lived life on his behalf.  God “imputes” (gives) Christ’s perfectly obedient life to the person who depends upon God for salvation.  When God views the believer, He sees the sinless perfection (righteousness) that Jesus earned for us.