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Christ-righteousness Over Self-righteousness

May 2nd, 2018

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. (Phil. 3:7-9 ESV)

C.S. Lewis shared a thought that many others also hold: “A cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to Hell than a prostitute.” We have all known such people, and, I fear, that many of us have been such a person upon occasion. May God forgive us for our blinding pride.

However, a self-righteous person is not always a prig, not always arrogant before others, nor rude, nor unkind. He may, in fact, in most ways be an exemplary person, a good neighbour, and a successful person in life. He may have been humbled on many occasions and thinks that he has learned his lessons in life, and, in fact, he may even be sensitive to the people around him. I have known many successful business people who through “sensitivity training” learned to relate to those around them in a better way.

The self-righteous person is the one who thinks that by his good works alone he can enter into the life of God. Often he has a strong sense of morality, of right and wrong, but he believes that he himself alone can atone for his sins or mis mistakes, or whatever he considers them to be. Of this person C.H. Spurgeon said: “The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation.”

The Apostle Paul had been such a person. The Pharisees had a bit of a twist to their self-righteous, that they interpreted the Bible legalistically, thinking that God had ordained that they could gain righteousness through self-discipline and adherence to the Old Testament Law. Through the Law came the knowledge of sin, not the attainment of righteousness, but they sought to make it their way of salvation and acceptance by God.

But what blessings did it bring? When compared to the life of grace and of the Spirit in the believer in Christ, Paul said it was like rubbish – worse than worthless. A self-righteous person may have some sense of self-satisfaction, but he has chosen that over the life of Christ that is to be like the sap to a branch. He had found that to believe in Christ bore a thousand times more fruit in his soul than to believe in himself.

  • Christ-righteousness completely satisfies the requirement of holy God, whereas self-righteousness always leaves some doubt whether we have done enough.
  • Christ-righteousness introduces us to the life of the Spirit which bring joy and peace, whereas self-righteousness merely leaves us with what we have attained.
  • Christ-righteousness brings us into a life of no boundaries as we experience the fullness of God’s life, whereas self-righteousness leaves us merely planted in the dead soil of self-attainment.
  • Christ-righteousness brings us into the future with hope and confidence, as we can always say that the best is yet to come, whereas self-righteousness is based on the past and has us looking back upon our lives.
  • Christ-righteousness bring us into a family of living souls, all of which are also anticipating the future together with Christ, whereas self-righteousness is exclusive and judgmental.

In short, Christ-righteousness brings us into something and some One greater than ourselves. The self-righteous person is often blinded to the reality of life in the Spirit. He believes only in the law of getting what you work for, receiving what you deserve, so he never sees anything beyond. But the gospel of Christ preaches love from beyond this earth that can flood our hearts and change our directions.

The self-righteous person piddles along the beach and imagines he has plumbed the depths, but the Christ-righteous person has truly launched out into the rich bounty of the love of God. Carried along by grace he never wants to return to the dry desert of self-righteousness.

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