Whoever is acquainted with the nature of mankind in general, or the propensity of his own heart in particular, must acknowledge, that self- righteousness is the last idol that is rooted out of the heart: being once born under a covenant of works, it is natural for us all to have recourse to a covenant of works, for our everlasting salvation. And we have contracted such devilish pride, by our fall from God, that we would, if not wholly, yet in part at least, glory in being the cause of our own salvation.
To do this though, to hold onto this last idol is utter foolishness. As the apostle Paul proclaims:
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. 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 7:14-19, ESV).
Even if we were to achieve some form of external righteousness – Jesus knocks that down in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). There is no way we are good enough to earn righteousness on our own merit. How many of us are truly pure at heart, (Matthew 5:6)? Jesus’ blood cleanses our heart, our works can’t accomplish that. How many of us have had contempt for another, (Matthew 5:22)? How many of us have lusted, (Matthew 5:28)? How many of us have lied, (Matthew 5:33-37)? How many of us have sought revenge, (Matthew 5:38) or hated an enemy, (Matthew 5:44)? That’s just going though some of Matthew 5.
We can not be righteous on merit. So let go of the idol of self-righteousness, and instead trust in the Christ who will impart His righteousness to us. In what Martin Luther called “the great exchange” Jesus takes our sin and gives us His righteousness, (2 Corinthians 5:21). Claiming that righteousness depends on faith, (Philippians 3:9) on Christ’s work on the cross that accomplishes it for us.
We can either be ignorant of His righteousness or believe.
For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes, (Romans 10:3-4, ESV).
Amen and Amen.
Update: Linked at The Tree of Mamre – Thanks!