As a species, humans are incurably religious. Ancient archaeological digs the world over reveal clear signs of religious worship.
The need to “satisfy the gods” is a universal human impulse, which accounts for the hundreds (and counting) of religions over the millennia. Something deep within us whispers that we are not right with our “higher powers” and to remedy the situation, we formulate various codes of “righteousness” to appease their capricious natures.
For most of my life, I had a nagging sense of being a disappointment to God. No matter how many times I went to church, confessed my sins and did “penance,” I couldn’t shake the impression that my efforts were never enough. I couldn’t even figure out how much “enough” was in the first place.
I was like someone playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey for my soul — getting blindfolded, spun around and cruelly expected to grope my way to the target. It made God seem like a sadistic vivisectionist experimenting on me, His hapless lab rat.
God’s Better Idea
It wasn’t until I learned from the scriptures that getting right with God had nothing to do with my personal behavior at all. It is a matter of being in right relationship with God — a positional state of being. Right-standing not right-behaving.
Author and theologian A.W. Tozer wrote in The Pursuit of God, “As the sailor locates his position on the sea by ‘shooting’ the sun, so we may get our moral bearings by looking at God. We must begin with God. We are right when and only when we stand in a right position relative to God, and we are wrong so far and so long as we stand in any other position.”
God knew better than to expect much from a person like me, with my fatally flawed human nature. So instead, He “fashioned” a perfect right-standing for me in His Son Jesus and made it available to me through faith “as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”1
Every born-again believer is justified (another way of saying, “declared righteous”) the moment they are saved and are as accepted by God as Jesus himself.
Sound too good to be true? Here is why …
When I place my personal belief in the person and work of Jesus Christ, my standing before God changes forever. This righteous standing is not marked by daily ups and downs because it is based on Jesus Christ’s righteousness, not mine.
The Apostle Paul put it this way:
“… I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, 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 is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”2
So, why not just live a “good life” and take your chances?
Trouble is, our human-generated righteous acts are like “filthy rags”3 to God. Such efforts are too stained with self-interest to count for anything. Then there is the inconvenient fact that the biblical standard of righteousness is simply too high.
Jesus said, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”4
And, just to eliminate any remaining human wiggle-room, He threw in this admonition, “Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”5
Excuse me. Perfect? Me? Aw, c’mon! So how can anyone reach across the yawning chasm separating sinful man from a holy God? Good news — Jesus did it for us:
“He made Him (Jesus Christ) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”6
Now that’s more like it. Jesus “did the doing” so we can rest in his work, not our own.
How About You?
Are you willing to “own” your guilt, ’fess up and turn toward Christ in faith? Or, are you still trying to establish a righteousness of your own? Paul warned that this constitutes an insult to God, “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”7
Do you think God would waste the life of His one and only son if there was another way to get us to heaven?
— D.C. Collier is a Bible teacher, discipleship mentor and writer focused on Christian apologetics. A mechanical engineer and Internet entrepreneur, he is the author of My Origin, My Destiny, a book focused on Christianity’s basic “value proposition.” Click here for more information. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.
1. Romans 3:23-25 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
2. Philippians 3:7-9 New International Version (NIV)
3. Isaiah 64:6 NIV
4. Matthew 5:20 NASB
5. Matthew 5:48 NASB
6. 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 NASB
7. Galatians 2:20-21 NASB