Posts Tagged ‘righteousness


Humble Self-righteousness

     Most often self righteousness is equated with being arrogant and judgmental.  My dictionary defined it as being “convinced of one’s own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others.”   A Google search produced descriptions that were laced with phrases like “holier than thou”, “smugly moralistic and intolerant”, and “pharisaical”.

     But one of the deadliest forms of self-righteousness is when it is cloaked in sincere humility.  I’m talking about a person who is concerned about others and puts that concern into action – a person who despises arrogance – a person who is a pleasure to be around.  I’m talking about a person like the rich young man that came to Jesus one day. His story is recorded in Matthew 19. 

     “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?  And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? [there is] none good but one, [that is], God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.  He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and [thy] mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?  Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go [and] sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come [and] follow me.  But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”

     This young man was different from many who came with a question for Jesus.  As the Bible points out, many came insincerely to Jesus – asking him questions in order to try and trap him in his words. Not this young man.  It is obvious that he is sincere.  He really wants to know what he must do to have eternal life.  And he comes humbly and respectfully.  I’m quite sure if we had known him, we would have liked him. He doesn’t come off as being self-righteous as we normally think of it.

     But what he says smacks of self-righteousness.  He truly and sincerely thinks that he has done a good job of keeping the commandments.  His words come off not as bragging but as fact.  “All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? “  Even though he can point to a life of obedience he senses that he is still lacking something – that he hasn’t done enough.

     Notice that Jesus doesn’t address whether or not he was correct in what he had said.  Instead he goes right to the heart of the matter and uncovers his sinful love of money.  With this one well-placed directive, Jesus was trying to bring him to his knees.  He was trying to show him the impossibility of his “doing” enough to gain eternal life.  No one can do enough – in fact, no one can do anything – to have eternal life.  Eternal life, that is, life forever in Heavenly Father’s presence, is not something we earn – it is something given to us.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)  This, however, is something the young man couldn’t see or accept.

     There are many today who are like this young man.  People who don’t fit at all the usual definition of self-righteous.  People who are humble and caring for others but who still think that they have a good history of keeping the commandments.  Who think that they have to do something to merit eternal life and earn a place in Heavenly Father’s presence.  Who are humbly self-righteous.  This is a danger we all need to beware of.

     Instead of thinking we have a pretty good track record of keeping the commandments, instead of thinking that our righteousness will earn us anything, we all need to see our “goodness” from God’s perspective.  One place he gives that perspective is Isaiah 64:6.  “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”  This becomes all the more sobering when we realize that the Hebrew word translated “rags” is literally used menstrual pads.  That is how appealing our own righteousness is to God.

      That is why the Bible tells us to look for God-pleasing righteousness outside of ourselves.  That is why it points us to Jesus’ righteousness and the wonderful fact that he bestows it on us freely and fully.  That is why one of the most comforting titles for God is, “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS”.  (Jeremiah 23:6)  Only Jesus’ righteousness is good enough to allow us to enter Heavenly Father’s presence.  When we place our trust in it, then there is no doubt where we will spend eternity.  We will spend it with Heavenly Father.  To God be all praise and glory!


The Sin of Trying

     I recently ran across an interesting statement.  “Sin is not just breaking the law but imagining you can keep it.”  Wasn’t that the problem with the Pharisees?  If anybody “kept” the law it was them. They defined it so carefully that they determined things like how many steps a person could walk on the Sabbath before it constituted work.  They were obsessed with keeping the law.

     Therefore it surprises a lot of people to see that Jesus reserved his harshest rhetoric for them. This even startled Jesus’ disciples.  “Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?”  (Matthew 15:12)  Jesus responded by describing the Pharisees as the blind leading the blind. 

     They were blind because they didn’t see the deadly folly of imagining that they could keep the law.  This also holds true for Mormonism.  Here are just a few examples from the first few chapters of Gospel Principles

            “By keeping His commandments we can become like Him.”  P. 6

            “Obey all His commandments as best we can (see John 14:21-23).” P 7

            “He, like our Heavenly Father, wanted us to choose whether we would obey Heavenly Father’s commandments.” P.13

            “As we obey each of our Father’s commandments, we grow in wisdom and strength of character.”  P. 19

            “If we keep His commandments and make right choices, we will learn and understand.  We will become like Him.  (See D&C 93:28).”

     Paul, as he states in Philippians 3, was one of the most zealous of all Pharisees.  He describes himself this way:  “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (v. 6)  He then says all that he now considers dung.  He continues: “And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” (v.9)

     The righteousness that is acceptable to God is not any righteousness cultivated by man.  The only righteousness that God accepts is Christ’s righteousness – the righteousness we make our own by giving up on our works and trusting only in Jesus’ works.  That is what Paul discovered.  That is what, I pray, many LDS people will discover.


Christ Our Righteousness

    A Bible passage that has become increasingly precious to me is 1 Corinthians 1:30-31.  “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:  That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”  What I especially treasure is its teaching that Jesus has become our righteousness.

     Righteousness is an important biblical word, but one that a lot of people aren’t that familiar with because it is not used that often outside of religious discussions.  I confirmed that by googling it.  Almost all the references that came up placed it in a religious context.  My dictionary defines it as acting according to what is right, being upright.

     That is why I so treasure the above quoted passage.  As the years go by, I am increasingly aware of my failure to always act uprightly, to act righteously.  The battle between flesh and Spirit that Paul describes in Galatians is something I feel regularly.  (“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” 5:17). No matter how hard I try to lead a Christ-centered life, I find myself putting self in the center.  No matter how hard I try to always be patient and joyful, I find myself still being impatient and moody.  On and on it goes.

     What a relief – what a joy it is, then, to be told that Jesus has become our righteousness.  Not only did Jesus die in my place, he also lived in my place – as my Substitute.  All his perfect and righteous thoughts, words, and actions are credited to my account.  Not only did he undo what I did, he also did what I didn’t do.  As God now looks at my account, He doesn’t see any debts since they were erased by Jesus’ blood.  Instead all he sees is righteousness – the righteousness of Jesus that has been credited to me.

     No wonder the Bible says, “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”  To Jesus, my Savior, my Righteousness, – be all glory!



     Although not used much in normal conversation, righteous and righteousness are important biblical words.  An important point – but one is difficult to see from English translations – is that these two words are very closely related to “just” and “justify”.  In Greek all four words come from the same word root (dikaio).  “Justify” literally means to “declare righteous”.  It is a term taken from the courtroom where it was used to describe a judge’s verdict of declaring someone righteous or not guilty.  From the perspective of the Greek of the New Testament there is no difference between the two questions:  “How can I be righteous”” or “How can I be justified?”

     Therefore a most important passage in this regard is Romans 3:20:  “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified (declared righteous) in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”  A most important question is what does the word “law” refer to in this passage?  It is obvious how the LDS Church interprets it.  A footnote in the LDS edition of the Bible references this to the Law of Moses. 

     But that doesn’t fit the context.  From 1:18 through 3:20 Paul argues extensively that all people, both Jew and Gentile, are under God’s wrath because of sin.  Starting with 3:9 he begins his summation:  “for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin.”  The “no flesh” of 3:20 does not just refer to Jews who had the Law of Moses.  It refers to all people and, by extension, all law.  No matter what law a person holds to and tries to follow – it will not be a way for that person to be declared righteous (justified).

     “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe:  for there is no difference:  For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” 

     How to be righteous before God?  Not by deeds but by belief.  The contrast Paul sets up here is not between righteousness through deeds alone and faith and deeds.  No, the contrast Paul makes is between righteousness either through deeds or faith.   “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (v. 28)  Interestingly, the LDS Bible’s footnotes the word “without” with GR which indicates an alternate translation of the Greek.  The alternate translation:  “apart from, without intervention”.  ‘Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from, without the intervention of the deeds of the law.”  In the very next verse Paul again mentions both Jews and Gentiles.  From the context it is obvious that his point is that people are justified through faith apart from any deeds of any law.




     When you ask people what Jesus did for them, many will respond by saying he died to pay for their sins.  That’s true but is that the whole story?

     It’s not.  Jesus not only died for us; he also lived for us!  Throughout his life he kept the commandments perfectly.  “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”  (Hebrews 4:15)   But that’s just the beginning.  God credits all that commandment- keeping, all that perfect living, all that righteousness, to believers.  “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:  That according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”  (1 Corinthians 1:30-31)  Jesus has become my righteousness.  I have been saved by works – Jesus’ works which he worked for me.

    This is what Isaiah was talking about when he said:  “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful to my God; for he hath clothed me with garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” (61:10). Note that Isaiah said the Lord clothed him – the Lord covered him with the robe of righteousness.  Isaiah’s robe of righteousness was given him by the Lord.

     That’s the same thing Jesus was talking about in the parable of marriage of the king’s son in Matthew 21.  There the man without the wedding garment was cast into outer darkness.  What is so instructive about that parable is that the custom at royal weddings was that the king would supply a wedding garment for the guests.  It would be his gift to them.  We don’t know, but the man who was cast out might have been well-dressed.  But he wasn’t dressed in the wedding garment that the king had supplied.  By not wearing that garment, he dishonored and angered the king.  He was thrown out into outer darkness.  The thought that these wedding garments were gifts of the king also fits into the context of the parable because the king’s servants went out into the highways and byways to get guests – guests who would not have had the time or probably even the means to get a wedding garment of their own. 

     Jesus perfectly wove my robe of righteousness for me with his perfect life.  Every good work he did was another thread of that robe.  God has now given it to me as a gift to me.  With Isaiah and Paul I give all glory to the Lord. 

December 2022

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