Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Righteousness Not of My Own

Philippians 3:9
A Righteousness Not Of My Own

This verse has become my favorite verse of the book of Philippians, and one of my favorite in the entire New Testament. And though I know that on our last occasion of studying Philippians together, we looked at this passage in its greater context, I want to zero in on it today. And if I am to be accused of preaching on one subject too much, I would not mind it being this one. In fact, I would pray that it was true.

The verse before us today deals with the doctrine of justification. The word “justification” is one of those theological words that you may stumble across every now and then (though I confess I wish it were more often). And many people are prone to just ignore those hard words without stopping to consider what they mean. One my students at the Bible college wrote on my evaluation that “Professor Reaves was careful to make sure we understood the meaning of all those –ation words.” Indeed, because these words, and especially the word justification form the foundation of our faith in Christ. And if I am careful to make sure my students understand it, I want to be all the more careful to make sure you understand it, for I will answer to God for the spiritual condition of everyone in this room right now.

So, let me give you a definition of justification. It involves three realities. When a person is in Christ, his or her sins are removed because of Christ’s death. He or she is pronounced not guilty before God. And then the very righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed or transferred to him or her. So, because of justification, we who otherwise would stand before God covered in sins, stand instead covered by a righteousness that is not our own, but that was earned for us by Jesus Christ.

Justification was the single-most important issue of the Protestant Reformation, and is itself the core of the Christian gospel. Martin Luther said, “Justification is the chief article of Christian doctrine. To him who understands how great its usefulness and majesty are, everything else will seem slight and turn to nothing.” If we do not understand this, then all else we do or discuss is vanity. I teach my five year old son words like imputation and justification, because if he doesn’t learn anything else from me in his life, I want to be sure he knows these things. Nothing else I can teach him is more important than this. Nothing else I would dare preach comes even close. This very doctrine, justification, is our only hope of standing before God and being found acceptable. The avoidance of this subject because it is “hard” or because of the fear that it will be over the head of some who hear it has led to churches that are anemic spiritually, and which consist of as many “good moral lost people,” as actually “blood-bought and born-again followers of Christ.”

God’s Attributes

In order to understand God’s workings and decrees, we must first understand something about His nature. If I asked you to fill in the blank of this sentence what would you say: “God is ____________.” Undoubtedly, in the minds of most, the answer that comes to mind almost instantly is “Love.” Indeed, the Bible says this very thing in 1 John 4:8. However, a “pat answer” such as this is dangerous in two ways. First, because it restricts God’s attributes to only love, and second it risks elevating all that calls itself love to an idolatrous platform. God is love, but love is not God. God is love, but love is not His only attribute.

I believe that the attribute of God which has suffered the most negligence in our day is the holiness of God. He is untainted by sin and He cannot bear it in His presence. Therefore, throughout the Old and New Testaments there is the reverberated call of “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.” When John sees heaven in Revelation, he says in 22:15 that outside are the dogs, and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolators, and everyone who loves and practices lying.

Our temptation will be to say, “But I am not that bad.” Let me remind you of the words of James 2:10 – “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” The Law of God is a unit. Break it at one point and you have broken it all. So James goes on to say in v11, “For He who said, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,’ also said, ‘DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” In other words, there is no saying, “Well, I might have a rotten attitude and a foul mouth, but at least I have never robbed a bank.”

Because of the holiness of God, each and every one of us has disqualified himself or herself from God’s presence because of sin. It is not just the violation of some arbitrary rule that we are dealing with. It is the offense of an absolutely holy God. It has been said that there are no small sins because there is no small God against whom we sin. Sin is a grave matter because of the magnitude of the holiness of God against which our sins are an assault.

You say, “How do you know all of us have?” Let me state clearly that I do not claim to know the specific sins committed by each person, but I do know that we are all born with a sin nature that manifests itself in rebellious attitudes and actions from the first moment wherein we are capable of exercising our will. We are not called sinners because we sin. I am not making a judgmental accusation by saying we are all sinners. The fact is, each and every one of us sin because we are born sinners. If anything, it is an explanation I offer here for those who wonder why it is that they act the way they do, or that others act toward them in the ways that they do. We all sin because we are all sinners. That is an undeniable fact.

Romans 5:12 says that sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men, because all sinned. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. God is holy, and He cannot tolerate sin, so He has a holy standard for us all. And none of us have met it.

How Good is Good Enough?

Andy Stanley has a book out with the title, Since Nobody’s Perfect, How Good is Good Enough? In it he writes about the very popular but dangerously false belief that “good people go to heaven.” He says, “The logic flows something like this: There is a good God who lives in a good place reserved for good people. This God goes by many names. He is behind all major world religions. Therefore, all major, and possibly minor, religions provide a legitimate path to God and, therefore, heaven. The criterion for making it to this good place is to be good. Each religion has its own definition for good. But what they all have in common is that men and women must do certain things, and not do certain things, in order to assure themselves a spot in this good place with a good God.”

Now, here is the major problem with that – this is not what EVERY religion teaches. It is what EVERY religion outside of Christianity teaches. The Christian gospel is altogether different. “Good” is not “good enough”. This obsession with human goodness that occupies the minds of so many in the name of humanistic optimism minimizes the holiness of God and the severity of the sins we commit against Him. Paul says that he was better than any other person he knew, blameless in the sight of all who examined his life. But his goodness wasn’t good enough to impress God. So what does it take? Paul’s ambitions were not to just be a good person or even a better person. He desired to be found in Christ, for only in Christ do we find the righteousness that God is looking for.

The Righteousness God Accepts

In this singular verse, Philippians 3:9, Paul mentions five things about this righteousness.

1. The righteousness God is seeking is not my own. I cannot earn it. I don’t deserve it. I can’t work hard enough to obtain it. There are not enough good things I can do to lay claim to this righteousness. The righteousness of Russ Reaves will never be enough to be acceptable before God.

2. The righteousness God is seeking is not derived from the Law. And that is a good thing. If we could compile a list of all the positive and negative commandments of the Bible, how many do you think there would be? Certainly the Ten Commandments are a summary of a multitude of other requirements and prohibitions. Yet, even at just ten, who among us can say we have satisfied them all? Jesus condensed the list even further to just two: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. But we can’t even keep just two of these commandments perfectly. But Paul says that the righteousness that God is looking for is not a completed checklist of law-keeping. In fact he says in Romans 3:20 that by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in God’s sight. That was not the purpose of the Law. The Law was given to show us our sins, and our need of salvation. The Law never intended to save us. It is like a mirror. A mirror will show you that your hair is messed up, but the mirror will not fix your hair. So it is with the Law. It can’t make you righteous, but it can show you that you are unrighteous and in need of salvation.

3. The righteousness God is seeking is from God. God offers to give it to us. We cannot manufacture, attain, earn, or develop this righteousness. But we can receive it from Him. What if I said to Solomon (my 5 year old), we cannot go to the museum until you mow the yard. You would say, “That is an unfair demand – he is only 5. How can he mow the yard?” But, what if I mowed the yard, and said, “Solomon, will you accept the work that I did in the yard as if it were your very own?” He would say, “Sure, let’s go!” I have imputed my mowing the yard to him. I have counted it as if he mowed the yard himself.

God has demanded that we meet a certain standard: Absolutely and completely sinless, perfect, holy and righteous. We are prone to say, “God that is not fair. We can’t do it.” Even if we could decide today to live that way for the rest of our lives (which we can’t, but if we could), how could we make up for sins in our past? But what if God, in His grace and mercy, said, “Listen, the righteousness that I must have, I will accomplish for you and impute it to you – I will give it to you freely as if it were your own.” When did God accomplish this for us? In the life of Jesus Christ. We have so emphasized His death and resurrection, that we often slight our Lord by overlooking the sinless life that He lived. Without that sinless life, His sacrificial death would not be possible. He was qualified to die in our place because He had no sins of his own to die for. But His sinless life satisfied the righteous and holy demands of God, and that accomplishment can be imputed to us. God offers this gift to us out of His mercy and grace. He offers to wrap us in the righteousness of Christ. And that is the meaning of the next point.

4. The righteousness that God is seeking is found in Christ. In the verses preceding verse 9, Paul says that everything that he once would have boasted of, he now considers to be rubbish in comparison to being found in Christ. He says it might have been a credit to him at one time, but it is a loss now. Anything he may be tempted to put confidence in apart from Christ is a hindrance to him. And the same is true of us. I didn’t grow up in church. Some of you did. Praise God for that. I have often envied folks who said the only drug problem they every had was getting drug to church every time the doors were open. But, listen to me here very carefully, if your trust, and your hope, and your confidence is in your church-going heritage, then you are not saved. The only way to be saved is to be “in Christ.” Being “in church” is not going to do it. There must come a point when we personally accept Jesus Christ’s death as the payment for our sins, and surrender ourselves to His Lordship.

Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” 88 times in his epistles, and “in Him,” in many more instances. So what does Paul mean when he says this? We may never in our time on earth exhaust the fullness of this wonderful reality, but it means at least this: That those who are “in Christ” are covered in the righteousness of Christ, and when they stand before the Lord, be it in prayer, in worship, or in judgment, God will deal with each one just as He deals with His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. C. S. Lewis refers to this as “dressing up as Christ.” In Colossians 3:3, Paul refers to our lives being hidden with Christ in God.

Now finally, …

5. The righteousness God is seeking is received by faith. It is not earned, attained, or manufactured. God gives it. And anyone who would wish to receive it must do so by faith. Paul says that this righteousness is through faith in Christ, and it is on the basis of faith. Now you need to understand that faith is not a substitute for righteousness, and faith is not the righteousness. But faith receives the righteousness from God. God is offering it to all who will receive it. We claim it as our own as we accept it by faith.

Faith in Christ is not faith in faith. Everybody talks about faith today. People put a lot of trust in their faith. But if their faith is not anchored in Christ, it might as well be nonexistent. He must be the object of faith.

Faith is more than just intellectual agreement with all the claims of the Christian gospel. Faith is more than just historical acknowledgement whereby we say, “We believe in Jesus,” and by that, mean nothing more than saying, “I believe in George Washington.” Certainly it must include these, but it must go farther. It is a personal response to God whereby an individual says, “I believe that Jesus Christ died in my place, for my sins, and that He rose from the dead, and that He will give me His righteousness.” And that individual bases his or her only hope, only trust before God, in that very fact. And in light of that fact, the individual makes a choice to live the rest of his or her life for Jesus Christ, out of love and devotion to Him for this great gift of God’s grace. And there is a confidence in knowing that when this life is over, I will be greeted at the portals of heaven, not by generations of loved ones, not by angels or saints, but by the open arms of God Himself who will welcome me to my eternal home as if I were His only begotten son – because I am in Christ, and have been engulfed in His righteousness.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Now I want to close with some specific points of application:

1) Most importantly right now, if you have never received the righteousness that God offers to us in Christ, the only righteousness He accepts, you can have it today. Let me counsel with you about how you can receive Christ and in Him to receive all the blessings that He has promised to give you …

2) Secondly, to those who are doubting. You might say, “Pastor, you are not supposed to make people doubt their salvation.” Well, I honestly think that deception is worse than doubt. And there are some who never doubted once, but who are deceived by false assurances, and thinking they are saved, they are really lost. And there are others who, through the journey of doubt, arrive at a destination of unshakable confidence. So I would say that every now and then, it might be beneficial for us to examine ourselves, as the Apostle Paul admonishes in 2 Corinthians 13:5, to see if we really are in Christ. If you are not certain today, let’s talk about it, and nail it down today.

3) Third, I want to say to who know that they have received this righteousness by faith in Christ, we must live it out. We make God look like a liar when we claim to have laid hold of His very righteousness but then we live with reckless abandon and unconcern for His holiness. So, may others see the righteousness that we claim to have, as we live our lives before their eyes.

4) Finally, this gift of God’s grace is so magnificent. Anyone who has truly received it will acknowledge that it surpasses everything in this world. So, why do we keep it to ourselves? I want to challenge you, if you have received the grace of God in Jesus Christ, share it with others.


Anonymous said...

What scripture in the bible indicates that peter was crucified upside down? (except for John 21:18-19)

Russ Reaves said...

Dear Anonymous,

There is no Scripture that says this. It comes to us through a nearly unanimous early church tradition. As such, most Christians would say we believe it, but we would not be dogmatic about it, since it does not come from Scripture. Scripture alone is authoritative.