Human Righteousness and its Limitations
Text: Matthew 5 : 1 - 12
What did Jesus mean when He extolled the virtue of righteousness? Let us ponder over this text taken from the Book of Psalms.
“O my soul, you have said to the Lord,
‘You are my Lord,
My goodness is nothing apart from you.’ ”
The psalmist David wrote much on the theme of “righteousness”. However, he was also most conscious of the fact that human righteousness has very severe limitations. A person may speak of “goodness”. However, that is a very relative term. Human righteousness is “nothing apart from the Lord”.
With this thought the prophet fully agrees. He adds this thought concerning human righteousness.
“But we are all like an unclean thing,
And all our righteousness are like filthy rags…”
The prophet was right when he confesses that human righteousness would not pass the scrutiny of God! Self-righteousness is immediately and obviously precluded! No one can merit entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven based on human righteousness alone!
WHAT KIND OF RIGHTEOUSNESS SHOULD WE HUNGER AND THIRST FOR?
Again, we are indebted to the Psalms. Let us consider the following text.
“Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
Or who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol,
Nor sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive blessing from the Lord,
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
1. The Righteousness that God gives
There is a special kind of righteousness that God gives. We may call it “imputed righteousness”. The believer must seek this imputed righteousness from God.
a) He must first confess that his own righteousness is as a filthy rag.
b) He cries out to God for cleansing and forgiveness.
c) He humbly and gratefully receives the righteousness that God grants him.
2. The Imputed Righteousness that comes with God’s salvation
a) Imputed righteousness is the main concern of the one who seeks God.
b) Only after he has obtained the righteousness that comes from salvation may he talk about “personal righteousness”.
If a person has truly found the righteousness that comes from salvation, he would naturally hunger and thirst after righteousness. In this case, we may use the word “integrity” to describe “personal righteousness”.
There is no “clash” or contradiction at all. Personal righteousness is not without value. It is discounted only when we imagine that we could earn salvation based on our merits!
However, after salvation has been obtained, and God’s righteousness is imputed to us, there must be the desire to cultivate a life marked by righteousness. Let us consider the following text.
“Vindicate me, O Lord,
For I have walked in my integrity.
I have also trusted in the Lord;
I shall not slip.
I have not sat with idolatrous mortals,
Nor will I go in with hypocrites.
I have hated the assembly of evildoers,
And will not sit with the wicked.
I will wash my hands in innocence;
So I will go about Your altar, O Lord.
But as for me, I will walk in my integrity;
Redeem me and be merciful to me.”
Psalm 26:1, 4-6, 11
The psalmist David was right to emphasise personal integrity after salvation has been first obtained from the Lord. The true believer must walk in his integrity.
1. He rejects idolatry. He owns only one God.
2. He rejects hypocrisy.
3. He rejects the company of the wicked.
4. He stands washed and cleansed in “innocence” before God.
Jesus called His followers to first seek imputed righteousness that comes from the salvation that He gives. Subsequently, all who declare themselves as His disciples must continue to live righteously. If they did this, they would be blessed indeed.