“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).
Apostle Paul’s earnest heart’s desire and supplication to God for Israel was that they may be saved. He bore witness that they had zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Rom. 10:1-2).
Paul further said concerning Israel that because they were ignorant of God’s righteousness, they were “seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” (Rom. 10:3 NKJV).
Like the zealous and religious but ignorant Israel, many religious folks today are still rejecting God’s righteousness and seeking to establish an intimate and loving relationship with God on the basis of their performance, self-righteousness, or good works.
Apparently, God’s righteousness is distinctly separate from man’s righteousness. God’s righteousness is infinitely superior to any man’s righteousness. Both are completely incompatible. You cannot hold unto both at the same time. It is either you receive the righteousness which is from God through faith in Christ or you pursue your own righteousness which comes from the law.
How is God’s righteousness different from man’s righteousness?
Let us explore what the Scripture says about God’s righteousness and man’s righteousness!
First, the Scripture aptly describes man’s righteousness as a filthy or unclean rag in God’s sight.
As far as God is concerned, the good deeds of the most upright or righteous but unsaved man are worthless and useless; they are nothing but filthy rags.
The Scripture states: “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.” (Isa. 64:6 NKJV).
Man’s righteousness is like a filthy robe or garment. Therefore, anyone who approaches God on the basis of his own righteousness is wearing a dirty, filthy, polluted garment and thus unacceptable to God.
In contrast, God’s righteousness is like a white, clean and bright garment which God gives to those who put their faith in Christ.
The Lord Jesus admonishes the lukewarm church of the Laodiceans, saying, “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” (Rev. 3:18 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).
The Scripture states: “Let us be glad and rejoice and we will give glory to Him. For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has prepared herself. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white. For the fine linen is the righteousness of the saints.” (Rev. 19:7-8 MKJV).
Second, man’s righteousness is imperfect, inadequate and fluctuating because of man’s nature.
The problem is not with the good works or righteous acts we do, but with the sin nature we inherited at the 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: “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!” (Job 14:4 NKJV).
“How then can man be righteous before God? Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?” (Job 25:4 NKJV).
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6 NKJV).
In contrast, God’s righteousness is perfect, constant, enduring, or unchanging because of His nature. It is absolutely impossible for God to change.
God declares: “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.” (Mal. 3:6 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!
The Scripture states: “The LORD is righteous in her midst, He will do no unrighteousness. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He never fails…” (Zeph. 3:5 NKJV).
Third, man’s righteousness comes from the works of the Law.
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 laws 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.
In contrast, God’s righteousness is a gift. It is not something that we do but something that we receive as a gift through faith in Christ. Man’s righteousness is based on his good works or holy acts, but God’s righteousness is based on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The Scripture states: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe…” (Rom. 3:21-22 NKJV).
The grace of God has made available His righteousness to all men as a gift to be received only by faith in Christ’s finished redemptive work on the cross (Eph. 2:8).
God’s righteousness is also called “the righteousness of faith” in the Bible because it is received and bestowed upon us simply by our faith in Christ, not by our works.
Although the zealous and religious Israel sought for God’s righteousness, yet they didn’t attain or receive it because they did not seek it by faith in Jesus Christ and His redemptive work.
This is why the Scripture speaks thus: “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. 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.” (Rom. 9:30-32 NKJV).
Beloved, if you want to receive God’s righteousness, you must first despise and discard your own righteousness which is like a filthy rag before God, and then put your trust completely in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
It is 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 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 do no good or righteous works?
Paul writes to Titus: “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.” (Tit. 3:8 NKJV).
Good works or righteous acts undoubtedly validate our faith in Christ.
The Scripture states: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (Jam. 2:26 NKJV).
However, unlike Israel who pursued good or righteous works with a mindset to earn or obtain God’s 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 by your faith in Jesus Christ and what He did for you on the cross (Eph. 1:6, 1 Cor. 3:21, Eph. 1:3).
Therefore, 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. Help me Holy Spirit never to let go of God’s righteousness for my filthy righteousness, in Jesus’ name. Amen.