What is Self-Righteousness?

Are you righteous? Righteousness is one of the most important principles Jesus taught but He said it needed to surpass that of the Pharisees, how do you measure up?

Kingdom Principle: Righteousness; Part IV
Locate in Scripture: Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24

To understand righteousness and why it is one of the most important principles Jesus taught we must understand the truth about our lack. In other words, we must understand the difference between our righteousness apart from God and our righteousness with God as the source. Comprehension of these things will bring about a perspective change in how we relate to God and operate in His kingdom.

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

In the parable of the Wedding Banquet, Jesus makes the contrast between His righteousness and self-righteousness abundantly clear (Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24). Here is a synopsis of the parable; the King has prepared a wedding feast for his son and his servants are sent to gather those who had been invited. However the invitation is rejected so the King sends more servants and again they are ignored, mistreated and even killed. Then, the king sends his servants out into the streets to invite everyone they find, both good and bad. And as they enter his banquet they are given wedding clothes to wear to this amazing feast. When the king comes in, he finds one without the clothing he was given and immediately throws him out.

It appears that in ancient time, for royal weddings, some kings gave wedding clothes to their guests. In this parable, wedding clothes were given to all who were invited. Since they came from the streets they could not be expected to wear the elaborate clothing necessary to attend a royal wedding, so they were given the necessary attire. It is interesting that someone entered without putting on the clothes they’d been given. Since the servants went out to the streets and invited everyone they found, including the poor, the disabled, the blind and the lame (Luke 14:21), it does not appear that this man showed up uninvited, he was even addressed as ‘friend’.

Instead of putting on and accepting the wedding clothes, this man choose to appear in his own everyday street clothes, which in the end was more offensive to the king than those who refused to come to the celebration because this rejection was done in the presence of the king himself.

The wedding clothes in this parable represent the righteousness that God gives to us as a gift in Christ Jesus (Matthew 5:20; Romans 3:21-22). To stand in the King’s presence we must be clothed in the proper attire, which is the imputed righteousness that comes through faith (Romans 5:1; II Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:9).

In refusing this imputation, choosing rather to appear on your own merit is gravely offensive.  This is what the prophet Isaiah said about self-righteousness, or the things you do to be acceptable before God, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6). So choosing to appear in our own righteousness is like coming to the wedding banquet in old, filthy, dirty clothing that should be burned instead of being worn. It is not acceptable, in fact it is quite offensive for such an occasion.

In contrast this is what he said about the clothing that God provides for us, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).  In other words, God’s righteousness, given to us in Christ Jesus, is beautiful and magnificent. It is the proper attire us for such an occasion of entering into the banquet and in the very presence of the King himself. It makes us worthy and acceptable because we are entering on Jesus’ merit and not our own.

Self-Righteousness is a Rejection of Jesus

There are two kinds of righteousness; God’s righteousness which is His essence of being right, doing the right thing and thinking the right way. And self-righteousness, which is trying to be like God without God. Trying to be right, to do the right things and think the right way without the only one who is right as the source. Unless you know and trust the source you can never be good enough on your own.

James says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). You can be better than everyone else, but God does not grade on a curve, one sin ruins the record.

This is the problem with self-righteousness, it is trusting in a ruined and corrupted record. Paul said it like this, “Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:3). It is rejecting a perfect score for an imperfect one. If you base your merit of acceptability before God on the things you do, then that is a blatant rejection of Jesus who freely offers His righteousness as a gift. It is a serious offense!

The point is this, it can only be one way or the other, Paul went on to say, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). Not only is this the starting point, but this is how the entire journey works, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him” (Colossians 2:6). We receive Christ by faith alone, so faith alone is the only acceptable way to continue in Him throughout our entire lives.

Paul lived this way, which is why he wrote, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, 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 and is by faith” (Philippians 3:8-9). Paul saw the contrast between the two and counted his merit as garbage so that he could wear the righteousness given to him as a gift in Christ Jesus, and God’s righteousness is beautiful!

He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (Psalm 37:6).

Join me for Part V; 'What is God’s Righteousness?'

Juli Camarin

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