Righteousness and Humility

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Psalm 7:17 - I will give thanks to the Lord according to His righteousness and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.

Righteousness. It is our calling and God’s standard. Christ said if our righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, we have no place in the kingdom of God (Matthew 5). Then He goes on to define that righteousness: no unrighteous anger, no lust, no resisting evil but turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, hiding our acts of piety – giving, prayer, fasting – so that none see, giving our treasure to God, not judging, treating everyone how we want to be treated, and more. A daunting list, with the added caveat that not the smallest letter of the law will be overlooked. And just to make it perfectly clear He adds, “Be holy as He is holy.  Be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect.”

These words, spoken to some of the most ‘holy’ religious people who ever lived, were a scathing rebuke to them. Jesus was telling them - as Paul said so poignantly - that their righteousness was like “used menstrual rags." (That is the literal meaning of filthy rags.)

It is also a warning to us. As we progress in our faith, as God changes and transforms our hearts and minds to conform into His image, we can begin to become proud of our own righteousness.

I don’t remember the exact circumstance, but I do remember once thinking about how I handled a situation. I thought, “God has really given me humility.” Then, of course I began to laugh at myself, because in saying that, I showed how not humble I really was!!!

I believe it was C.S. Lewis that said being humble is not thinking less of oneself but thinking of oneself less. But pride is the sneakiest, and deadliest, of all sins. It is in many ways the father of all sin. By its very nature it is hidden to us. We are largely blind to it in ourselves, though we see it easily in many around us, and they often see it in us.

As Christians we can look at how Jesus has changed us, and we can become like the Pharisees. Like the indignant ex-smoker scowling at the man smoking near him, we can become arrogant in how holy/knowledgeable/faithful/giving/gracious/kind we have become and look down on others we deem to not have arrived there.  But the reality is, we have nothing to be proud of. Thankful for, yes. Proud, no. Because, in reality, we only have one thing that we can truly offer God that is all our own. Our sin.  Yes, our sin.

It is the one thing we are fully responsible for and the one thing we fully own. Anything else--anything true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable in our character--is a good and perfect gift of grace from our Heavenly Father. Like the child who borrows money from their father to buy him a birthday present; all the good things we have to ’offer’ to God came from Him. They are not from we, but they are the gift of God, that none should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9).

As we recognize that, we can truly and freely sing the words of the great hymn Rock of Ages: Nothing in my hand I bring – simply to the cross I cling.

Questions for Thought:

  1. How has God changed your heart from the inside out?

  2. Is there any possibility of you becoming proud or judgmental in that area?

  3. What could keep you from pride?