“And this is the name by which he will be called:
‘The Lord is our righteousness.'”
We are either trusting in our own righteousness or the Lord’s. If we trust in our righteousness, we become legalistic, arrogant, hard, and disdain those we perceive less righteous than ourselves. The typical Pharisee in Jesus’ day was the embodiment of self-righteousness. These men were socially aloof and detestably smug. In their presence the common man felt uncomfortable and unwelcome. They were without mercy and showed little compassion. They were men of the letter; they were devoid of the Spirit.
There was a time in the Apostle Paul’s life when his confidence was in whom he perceived himself to be and in what he had achieved. He boasted of his religious pedigree and his external righteousness. Saul of Tarsus’ warped belief system drove him to reject Christ and persecute his followers; self-righteousness always does that: “he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now” (Gal. 4:29).
The thing that prompted the Lord Jesus to share the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector was the nauseous self-righteousness of those whose religion had spoiled: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9).
How we relate—or don’t relate—to others is a good indication of the brand of our religion. What do we feel toward, how do we talk about, and how do we talk to sinners? The old adage is still true: “Love the sinner but hate the sin.” Isn’t it true for some of us, that we talk and act like we hate the sinner, treating sinners with contempt?
Pharisees act like they don’t need God’s mercy. Why? It is because self-righteous people trust in their righteousness. The person who claims no merit, identifies with Paul’s desire to be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:9).
Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being
perfected by the flesh?
It is possible to begin the Christian life in the Spirit, trusting in Christ alone as our Savior and our righteousness, but subsequently act in the flesh, thereby trusting in our righteousness. This can be done as an isolated act, or we can develop a pattern of self-righteous conduct.
The Apostle Peter is an example of one who acted in the flesh among Jewish brothers, and was rebuked by the Apostle Paul for his hypocrisy. Following the revelation he received from the Lord, that the Gentile Christians should not be considered “unclean,” but received as equals in the body of Christ, Peter felt clear to eat with these brothers and sisters in Christ. But one day, as he was eating with Gentile converts, a delegation from the “circumcision party” arrived. Peter immediately distanced himself from the Gentile converts, fearing the scrutiny of the legalists. Paul rebuked Peter for his hypocrisy, because he—along with others he influenced—“were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14 NASB).
Furthermore, there were those among the Galatians who evidenced true Christian conversion, but because of false teaching, they added Law-obligations (circumcision) as necessary for one’s acceptance before God. In other words, no one could be justified (declared righteous) before God apart from observing an Old Covenant rite. Paul knew better, because he had been taught better—by revelation from God.
So, the apostle asks these errant, misinformed believers: “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:3). This is always a danger for Christians, especially those new in the faith. Young Christians are filled with zeal; they desire all that God wants for them. Then along comes a persuasive teacher, telling them, “You know if you really want to be right before God, you need to _____” (fill in the blank).
As Paul admonished Peter, such people need to be gently corrected with the truth of the gospel, so that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25).
Taken from . . .
Renewed by the Spirit: 365 Daily Meditations
Ralph I. Tilley
copyright © 2016 Ralph I. Tilley
(May be copied for noncommercial purposes;
not to exceed 500 copies.)