“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” (Romans 10:3 NKJV).
There are two kinds of righteousness available to man in this world – God’s righteousness and Self-righteousness (Man’s righteousness).
Apostle Paul clearly points this out in Romans 10:
1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.
2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. (NKJV).
Though very religious and zealous for God, yet the children of Israel would not receive or submit to God’s righteousness because of their ignorance.
Similarly, there are many religious and zealous people in the world today who because they are ignorant of God’s righteousness are seeking and striving relentlessly to establish their own righteousness.
How is God’s righteousness different from Man’s righteousness?
The Scripture clearly points out the differences between God’s righteousness and Man’s righteousness!
First, God’s righteousness is not based on works, but Man’s righteousness is based on works:
God’s righteousness is apart from the law. It cannot be attained by the works of the law, but simply by faith in Christ and His finished work. No man can be justified or made righteous by striving to keep the law in God’s sight. God’s righteousness is purely a gift of grace!
Paul testifies to this truth in Romans 3:
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference;
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (NKJV).
Though very religious and zealous for God, yet Israel could not attain to God’s righteousness because they would not recognize it is a gift of God and receive it by faith in Christ and His finished work.
Paul points this out in Romans 9:
30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith;
31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.
32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. (NKJV).
Although the grace of God has made God’s righteousness available to all mankind, however, it is only imputed and bestowed upon those who put their faith in Christ and His finished work, and not in themselves or their works. This is why God’s righteousness is also called “the righteousness of faith”
Paul aptly explains this truth in Romans 4:
1 What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. (NKJV).
While God’s righteousness is purely based on the finished work of Jesus Christ, Man’s righteousness is purely based on his good works or holy acts.
Our righteousness refers to all the acts of holiness we do in attempt to fulfil the commands of the Old Testament Law. This kind of righteousness is based on our performance or works of the law. It is therefore unreliable and inconsistent. Why?
Simply because due to our inherited fallen and corrupt human nature we cannot completely and continually keep God’s law without stumbling in one point (Rom. 3:21, Gal. 2:16, Philip. 3:9). Therefore, it is foolishness for anyone to rely on his righteousness as a basis of receiving God’s blessings.
Second, God’s righteousness is perfect, constant and everlasting, but Man’s righteousness is imperfect, fluctuating and temporal:
God’s righteousness is perfect, constant, enduring, unchanging, or everlasting because of His nature. It is absolutely impossible for God to change (Mal. 3:6)!
The Psalmist attests to this truth in Psalms 36:
5 Your mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the great mountains; Your judgments are a great deep; O LORD, You preserve man and beast. (NKJV).
142 Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Your law is truth. (NKJV).
God is ever holy, loving, good, perfect, truthful and faithful. The Scripture bears witness that with God “there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (Jam. 1:17 RSV).
There is no unrighteousness in God; He will never do unrighteousness!
Prophet Zephaniah assures God’s people in Zephaniah 3:
5 The LORD is righteous in her midst, He will do no unrighteousness. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He never fails, But the unjust knows no shame. (NKJV).
Therefore, having received God’s righteousness by faith in Christ and His finished work, you are always righteous, holy, blameless, and above reproach in God’s sight. You can never lose your God-imputed righteousness or right standing before God!
Paul attests to this truth in Colossians 1:
21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled
22 in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight– (NKJV).
On the contrary, Man’s righteousness is fluctuating, vacillating, unstable, or temporal because it is based on man’s imperfect nature and works.
The problem is not with the good works or righteous acts we do, but with the sin nature we inherited at natural birth.
We all were born as sinners with impure, imperfect, sinful and depraved nature (Rom. 5:19). Therefore, there is nothing that can come out of us that can be absolutely pure, perfect and pleasant in God’s sight.
The Scripture queries in Job 14:
4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one! (NKJV).
4 How then can man be righteous before God? Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman? (NKJV).
Third, God’s righteousness is like a white, clean and bright garment, but Man’s righteousness is like a filthy and stinking rag in God’s sight:
At the point of New Birth, you were completely covered with God’s everlasting righteousness as a white, clean and bright robe.
Isaiah saw this ahead and prophesied about it in Isaiah 61:
10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (NKJV).
The book of Revelation reveals that the triumphant Church would be arrayed in fine, clean and white linen which is the righteousness of the saints (received by faith in Christ Jesus).
John writes about this in Revelation 19:
7 “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”
8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
9 Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.” (NKJV).
On the contrary, Man’s righteousness is like a filthy and stinky rag in God’s sight. Therefore, anyone who approaches God on the basis of his own righteousness, which is according to the works of the law, is wearing a dirty, filthy and stinky rag and will not be able to stand in God’s holy presence without shame.
Prophet Isaiah attests to this in Isaiah 64:
6 But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. (NKJV).
Friend, if you want to receive God’s righteousness, you must first despise and discard your own righteousness which is like a filthy and stinky rag before God, and then put your trust completely in Christ and His finished work. Why?
Because it is absolutely impossible to trust in your own righteousness and in God’s righteousness at the same time!
If you are still seeking to earn God’s love, acceptance, favour, or blessing by your performance, good works or holy actions, you are despising and rejecting God’s righteousness which is a gift.
You cannot add or mix God’s righteousness with your own righteousness. It has to be one or the other. It is either you come before God purely on the basis of Christ’s perfect and finished work of redemption or on your own imperfect and inadequate works or righteous deeds.
Does this mean the born-again believers should not be devoted to good or righteous works?
The Scripture amply encourages believers to give themselves to good or righteous works.
10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (NKJV).
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,
12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,
13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
15 Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you. (NKJV).
8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men. (NKJV).
Good works or righteous acts undoubtedly validate our faith in Christ (Jam. 2:26). However, unlike Israel who pursued good or righteous works with a mindset to merit or earn God’s love, acceptance, favour, blessing or salvation through them, the believers’ good works must only serve as an expression of our love, worship and gratitude to God, and not as a means of earning, obtaining, attracting, or winning God’s approval, love, favour or blessings.
As a believer, you don’t need to do any good work in order to earn or win God’s acceptance, love, favour or blessing; they are already yours in Christ (Eph. 1:6, 1 Cor. 3:21, Eph. 1:3).
Beloved, stop boasting in your own imperfect and unstable righteousness, or striving to establish your own righteousness, rather, like Paul, make it your pursuit to “be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” (Philip. 3:9 NKJV).
Prayer: My Dear Heavenly Father, I receive today by faith and with joy and gratitude the gift of righteousness You offered me in and through Christ Jesus. Dear Holy Spirit, teach and help me daily to remain and rejoice in God’s righteousness, in Jesus’ name. Amen.