Our Righteousness or God’s?

We all struggle with sin. As Christians we know better. We know there are a thousand and one things we shouldn’t do every day that we do anyway. Not necessarily because we want to or because we’re ignoring God’s message, but usually it’s just because our frustration level can only rise so high before we blow. It’s what Paul was talking about when he said in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” We WANT to speak only things that encourage and build up (Ephesians 4:29), but before we know it, we are criticizing or raising our voices. We WANT to serve our family and and friends and put their needs above our own (Philippians 2:3-4), but we find ourselves instead having a pity party about how hard our own lives are. Heck, we even WANT to spend time with God communing with Him in prayer (Philippians 4:6), but we often go days without any time with Him to speak of because we’re caught up with the things of this world. What we want to do we do not do, but what we hate we do.

And didn’t you think that when you became a Christian, sin would be a lot easier to master?

Yeah, me too.

It’s verses like Galatians 5:16 that trip us up. “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” At first blush, one could easily misunderstand that this verse means that when we invite the Holy Spirit to live within us, we will somehow magically gain enough self control that we never give in to frustration or impatience again. If only it was that easy, huh? That is, of course, not what it means. If it was that easy, we’d all receive justification and have no need for sanctification, right? And we aren’t the only ones who have had those misguided thoughts about these verses. Remember Martin Luther? As long ago as the 1500s he wrote a commentary on Galatians and he had this to say about these verses:

The lust of the flesh is not altogether extinct in us. It rises up again and again and wrestles with the Spirit. No flesh, not even that of the true believer, is so completely under the influence of the Spirit that it will not bite or devour, or at least neglect, the commandment of love. At the slightest provocation it flares up, demands to be revenged, and hates a neighbor like an enemy, or at least does not love him as much as he ought to be loved.

Therefore the Apostle establishes this rule of love for the believers. Serve one another in love. Bear the infirmities of your brother. Forgive one another. Without such bearing and forbearing, giving and forgiving, there can be no unity because to give and to take offense are unavoidably human.

Whenever you are angry with your brother for any cause, repress your violent emotions through the Spirit. Bear with his weakness and love him. He does not cease to be your neighbor or brother because he offended you. On the contrary, he now more than ever before requires your loving attention.

He goes on to discuss exactly how to define “lust of the flesh” or “desires of the sinful nature.” While some philosophers and lay people alike would define it as only a carnal lust, Luther says it encompasses carnal lust, yes, but also includes a whole host of other offenses.

I do not deny that the lust of the flesh includes carnal lust. But it takes in more. It takes in all the corrupt desires with which the believers are more or less infected, as pride, hatred, covetousness, impatience. Later on Paul enumerates among the works of the flesh even idolatry and heresy. The apostle’s meaning is clear. “I want you to love one another. But you do not do it. In fact you cannot do it, because of your flesh. Hence we cannot be justified by deeds of love. Do not for a moment think that I am reversing myself on my stand concerning faith. Faith and hope must continue. By faith we are justified, by hope we endure to the end. In addition we serve each other in love because true faith is not idle. Our love, however, is faulty. In bidding you to walk in the Spirit I indicate to you that our love is not sufficient to justify us. Neither do I demand that you should get rid of the flesh, but that you should control and subdue it.”

It is such a commonly held belief, even among Christians, that in order for us to be justified, we must somehow do enough good works to outweigh our evil hearts. We must be good people. We must attend church enough. We must serve enough poor or widowed or orphaned. We must keep God’s laws well enough. The problem is that that faulty way of thinking is straight from the pit of Hell. It is lie from Satan that we must earn our salvation through being good enough. God’s scripture makes it undeniably clear that we will never be good enough. We will never do enough good works. God is a holy God, completely sinless and faultless. If we sin even once, we are cast away from His presence because He cannot even look upon sin. That’s why He sent His sinless Son to become the sacrifice for us. Jesus literally became sin for us, taking on the sins of the world, and bore them to the cross as payment for our debt. We are justified unto salvation by Jesus’ sacrifice and that alone. It is not because of our good works that we are saved, but by our faith that His sacrifice was enough to satisfy the wrath of a holy God. It is HIS righteousness that makes us worthy of salvation, and NOT our own.

So then, if we are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus – and that alone – what are we to do with this issue of sin? Does it really matter whether we sin or not if Christ forgives all? Of course, you already know the answer to that because Paul talks about it in Romans 6:1-2.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

Though we are saved by faith, we are to avoid sin because it is the work of the flesh, not the work of the Spirit. When we give in to the desires of our flesh and walk away from life in the Spirit, we weave a tangled web that has consequences so far-reaching that we can’t always measure them. Our sin entangles us as well as those around us. It leads others away from the path of life that the Spirit leads us on. While we may be reconciled to God, others may be lead away because of our sin. That’s a burden too heavy to bear, isn’t it?

So the apostle Paul is clear on this issue – it’s the righteousness of Jesus imputed to us that saves us, not our own good works. But those works are definitely important as an indication of our faith and our love for the holy God who created us for good works. They are a form of our worship and devotion to Him who calls us His own.

Rest in that today, friends!

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