Righteousness...it's a big word. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines righteousness as "acting in accord with divine or moral law," or "free from guilt or sin." I would agree with these definitions, but there's more involved with our righteousness than what's listed.
We are born into this world as beautiful, precious and innocent little babies; however, in our seemingly undefiled newborn state, we will find an enormous sin nature that cannot wait to mature and pursue unGodliness. It's just a fact of life. Every man, woman, and child of the human race pursues sin. No one likes to admit it, but we do. If we were to take an honest look at our life, we would see a multitude of sinful thoughts, desires and intentions all vaguely shrouded behind brief moments of public goodness. We're sinful. We just are. Know it to be the truth.
The fragile state of man's ego demands that we do some good...especially if that good can be witnessed and applauded by a group of our peers. When we do good, we feel good, and that goodness brings with it a facade of righteousness that we drape about us like a blanket. We're covered in the momentary goodness of a "righteous act." We may feel like we've scored a few extra points from Almighty God for this selfless display of kindness? Surely God was watching? We've helped someone, and we've scored big points in heaven, right? Win, win...maybe we will get a crown?
There's nothing wrong with doing good things...nothing at all! The world needs more 'good,' even if that 'good' is done for the wrong reasons. However, we need to realize that doing good things does not make us a better person, a person who is more deserving of God's blessings than someone who is devout in not doing good. At our core, we are not virtuous, admirable, nor are we Christlike; we are simply sinful. Christians may have their sin nature under better control than those without the Lordship of Christ, but the sin nature is still there, looming behind every thought, every motivation, every intention...and so, we required a Savior.
Our greatest acts of selflessness and intentional good can never redeem the sinful person that we really are. We can say and do all of the right things for the duration of our lives, and exhausted from the performance of many good works, we will still fall miserably short of the goal of righteousness. Our virtuous actions and our selfless deeds cannot purchase righteousness in the eyes of Almighty God.
"You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? 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 64:5-6 (NIV)
Our works and our righteous acts are as filthy rags before a sovereign God who looks directly at the truth and intentions of our heart.
"For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” –1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV)
We cannot hide our sin from God. We cannot bribe Him with good works, nor can we impress Him with sacrifice. Thankfully, we have Jesus.
Christ did not die on Calvary to give us the ability to achieve righteousness. We will never possess the ability to achieve righteousness through our own devices...never. Instead, Christ died on Calvary to become our Righteousness. As His body was beaten and scourged, as the weight of the cross was placed on His shoulders, as the nails were driven, and as the crown of thorns was placed upon His head, Christ was examining my sin. He was looking into the hearts of mankind, into my heart, and what He saw was sin and guilt. As Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He knew what must be done, and as His scarred and ravaged body was raised to become a public spectacle on the cross of my sin, Christ became my Righteousness. It is only in the completed work of Christ that I stand blameless before Almighty God. It's only in that work that we all stand blameless, covered in the redeeming blood of an innocent Lamb who will one day return as a conquering King.
It is folly to trust in our own works and virtues, as though they might possibly purchase for us a righteous standing before God. It is the Lamb of God who has become our righteousness, and it is the Lamb of God who has claimed us from our sin. Moreover, He became that sin on our behalf, and resurrected, He became our Savior and Redeemer. Now, sitting at the right hand of God, He intercedes on our behalf. Soon, He will rise from that place, and being found the only One worthy, He will take the scroll. Then, He will become our King...
Our righteousness before Almighty God is through Jesus Christ. It is not authored in our goodness, nor is it made more valid by our works. It cannot be purchased or persuaded by the hand of man, and for the child of God, our righteousness cannot be blemished or taken away. It is ours through the finished work of Christ. We stand redeemed, without sin or stain, before Almighty God. Our pardon has been realized, and we are redeemed through the perfect righteousness of the Lamb. To Christ, and for His work on my behalf, may I be forever grateful.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!