Written by George Zhou
I am righteous in Christ.
This is a truth I do not hesitate to affirm. I stand in a lineage of Christians who believed the same, even to the point of death. But did I really know what that statement meant experientially? Did I interpret my life according to this affirmation? In recent weeks, the Lord has challenged me with these questions and graciously provided the correct answer from His Word. Let me explain:
I’ve always had great difficulty grasping God’s grace. I knew that God made me righteous through his unearned love, but I always felt in my heart that, in some way, His love for me was contingent upon my performance. It seemed like regardless of how much I thanked God for His grace, or praised Him for securing my salvation, my Christian experience was that of living to earn God’s acceptance.
I had this standard of what a Christian should be in my head and I pursued it. On the weeks where I was obedient and faithful, I would be happy. On the weeks where I wasn’t, I was guilt-ridden, miserable, and disappointed. I was self-righteous and also self-condemning. There was little experience of the kind of “rest from works” (Hebrews 4:10) the Bible talks of when God has made peace with a sinner.
The Chapter That Changed Me
However, in the past couple weeks, God met me in an astonishing way in Philippians Chapter three. At the start of the chapter, Paul describes the characteristics of a Christian and contrasts them with the characteristics of a false teacher. He says:
“Watch out for the dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh,” (3:2-3).
Paul says a Christian is one who “puts no confidence in the flesh.” What does it mean to “put no confidence in the flesh”? He gives us that answer in the next sentence (3:4) when he states that it means trusting in our ancestry, accomplishments, or attitudes for our acceptance before God. He used to trust in these things, but not anymore.
Instead, Paul goes on to explain that he threw all that self-righteousness away so that he could gain Christ (ie. know him, follow him, and be united to him). He desired a righteousness that only comes from faith in Christ, not from his own doings. Through his own testimony, he teaches us that a Christian is one who is circumcised in the heart, serves God in the Spirit, boasts only in Christ for his righteousness, and puts no confidence in works.
Transformed by the Renewing of My Mind
No verse ever hit me so hard on a fundamental level. It forced me to ask myself where I received my joy, hope and peace. Was it from my performance? Or was it from the snug assurance of my legal adoption as God’s child? When I am miserable from a bad week of shortcomings, do I find my hope in “trying harder” or resting in Christ’s victoriously completed work? If I were honest with my heart, at that point, my comfort was in my ability to meet a fictitious standard that I set for myself (that inevitably was much lower than God’s—self-righteous people do that). Though I affirmed justification by faith alone, my spiritual experience was very legalistic. However, God illuminated the beauty of what grace and peace before Him really meant in light of the gospel. Through this bright understanding, how I live my life has also changed.
My Way Ahead
As I read on in Philippians Chapter three, I was doubly astounded by Paul’s response to receiving righteousness that was not by works, but by faith. Paul’s response was to “strain toward what is ahead, [pressing] on toward the goal,” (3:13-14). His attitude was not spiritual lethargy, but unrelenting pursuit of more Christ! I found in these verses a perfectly balanced religion: rock-solid confidence in the Saviour and a joyful responsibility to personal holiness. I stand on Christ in all my victories and all my failures. I have no confidence in works. Instead, I strain toward practical righteousness with ecstatic joy. I believe that is how God wants us to live. At last, I know what it is like to have rest of the soul.
George is a husband, father, church member, and engineer living in the GTA. He and his lovely wife blog about their adventures in faith, love, and parenthood over at georgeuniceadventures.com.