For The Kingdom: Joy-Filled Living In Difficult Days | Day 51

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order 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 comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:1-11

Imagine spending your entire life trying to build the perfect resume for the perfect position, only to find out that the only standard that mattered was whether you personally knew the owner’s son. Your perfect GPA, your prestigious education, the thousands of hours logged performing service hours in the community, your dedication to your church and even the elite job you were already meant nothing.  Paul (or more correctly, Saul) spent his whole life pursuing righteousness (becoming right with God) through the law; that’s why he was a Pharisee. He was one of the elite 6,000 Pharisees, who believed they could attain salvation by perfect adherence to the law of God.  That day on the Damascus Road, Jesus of Nazareth broke through the incredible blindness of Saul of Tarsus.  Christ took this world class Pharisee and shattered his confidence in all his religious accomplishments.

Many people have an internal voice telling them getting to heaven or pleasing God is about striving to do more good than bad in this lifetime.  Picturing a scale, many believe that if their good deeds outweigh their bad, God will choose to accept them.  When Paul talks about obtaining righteousness by the law, he like many then (and now) believed that he would be made right with God through his strict obedience to God’s religious commands and rituals.  He believed the better he was at keeping the rules, the more righteous he became in God’s sight.  The problem is that this was never true because it was never possible.

“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
“There is none that is righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10)

All… None… these are broad strokes covering the entirety of humanity throughout all history. Even Abraham, the great father of Israel, was not counted righteous because of his religious works but for his relational faith in God. Paul explains,  “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” Rather Abraham’s “faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.” “But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Romans 4:2, 9 & 23-25

What is righteousness? It’s right standing with God. It means God accepts you. How are you going to be accepted by God? By your own effort? No. You’re going to be accepted by God when you take by faith the righteousness He gives you because Christ paid the penalty for your sin.

Attempting to attain righteousness through obedience to the law is an exercise in religious futility.

Look again at this passage… Paul didn’t say…“I had something good, but this is better.” He said, “This is all a loss.” One might ask the ancient Apostle, “What do you mean by that? Is it bad to be circumcised on the eighth day? Bad to be a Jew? Bad to be of the tribe of Benjamin? Bad to be a Hebrew of the Hebrews? Bad to be religious? Bad to be zealous?” These are fair questions… since when is “doing good” such a bad thing? When you count on your good deeds to save you…then it’s bad. Why? It is so self-deceiving. The hardest person to reach in the world for Christ is the person who is religious. And the more religious and sincere they are, the harder they are to reach. Why? Their confidence for salvation is in themselves. Works based religion deceives the mind and destroys the soul. There are no “self-made Saints” in God’s Kingdom, and any person who fancies himself as such carries the most repugnant of smells before a holy God.

The law was never intended to produce righteousness, but to expose our sinfulness.  “if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” “now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” Romans 7:7,6

This is what makes righteousness by faith so much gloriously greater than the righteousness of the law.  Religion of the law says, “I can” when you really can’t.  Righteousness of faith says, “I can’t, but Christ can.” 

Born in 1725, John Newton grew up in a religiously divided household.  John’s Mother was a Christian believer, his father a cruel and unbelieving sailor.  While John heard about the Gospel from his Mother in his formative childhood, he quickly fell into the footsteps of his Father after she passed away when he was only 7 years old.  For the majority of his adulthood, he lived a wicked life of alcoholism, gambling and actively working with the slave trade between Africa and England.  He was so hated by his peers that he was left in Africa as a slave on one occasion and on another occasion after being thrown off of a slave trade ship, the other men on the ship reluctantly saved him by throwing a harpoon into his leg and pulling him into the ship!  On another voyage, he found himself in the middle of a violent storm and in utter desperation, he called out to God to save him.  After saving the ship, he embraced the saving grace of Christ, he later renounced his involvement in the slave trade and pursued a calling into the ministry.  Over time his ministry expanded and in his later years he became a spiritual mentor to William Wilberforce, who would spend the next 46 years in Parliament fighting as an abolitionist against the slave trade. 

This wretch of a man became the author of the most beloved hymn the world has ever known… Amazing Grace! At the end of his life, John Newton once said,

“Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”

John Newton

Whether you have lived your life trying to attain religious perfection like Paul, or if you have lived your life in wicked rebellion like John Newton, when you put your faith in Christ you are declaring two equally important truths:

1.  I am a wicked sinner completely incapable of saving myself.
2.  Christ is a righteous Savior solely capable of saving me.

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