God’s righteousness and our righteousness are polar opposites. Apart from Christ our right standing with God is impossible. It was Isaiah who said that our righteous acts are like filthy rags ( Isaiah 64:6 ). He was talking about self righteousness (the things we do to try to make us right with God). Self righteousness looks great on the outside and people notice it. Like the Israelites our churches are filled with people who look holy but solely trust in themselves to be good enough for God. They are seeking him based upon their righteousness and what they can accomplish for God. However God does not grade on a curve, our righteousness in no way compares to his.
Paul said in today’s passage that the Israelites didn’t know God’s righteousness and so they tried to establish their own. What is God’s righteousness? His righteousness is the uprightness that He ascribes to. It is who HE is – in thought, word and deed. As you can see, this is a polar opposite of who we are as humans. God is so holy, completely just and true, in every sense of the word. It is impossible for us to approach God on the basis of what we’ve done, even though all of it seems good in the natural realm. In our own self sufficiency and sinful state we would not even be able to stand in His presence because of the effects of sin.
Paul said in Romans 5, “before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law” ( Romans 5:13 ). So sin existed, but God was not crediting it to the accounts of mankind before the law was given. So they mistook his forbearance with sin to be his acceptance of it. Sin became more and more prevalent in the world, so in contrast, a life lived holy looked pretty good in comparison to the corruption that existed. Therefore the law was given to the Jews and it outlined hundreds of rules and guidelines on how to live. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness to them. Compared to the nations around them, they assumed they were good enough but in comparison to God’s righteousness, the law showed them it was impossible to fulfill on their own. The law came with both blessings and curses ( Deuteronomy 28 ), and they were subjected to those by how they lived. The law was never intended to be a plan of salvation. The law was intended to show us our inability to earn our way to heaven and to reveal our need for a savior.
This is a major truth in the Bible; we cannot earn our way into heaven by our good deeds. If we are relying on what we do for God and our own self righteousness, then Paul says that we remain under the curse of the law. “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith” ( Galatians 3:10-11 ). God knew it was impossible for us to fulfill the law so he provided another way to be justified before him through Jesus. This comes about by faith and those who are righteous before God live by faith. He went on to answer the question on everyone’s mind, “What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come” ( Galatians 3:19 ). Romans says it this way, “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. ( Romans 3:20 ). And again Paul said in Galatians, “the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith ( Galatians 3:24 ). In other words the law shows us our need for a Savior so that we will fall upon the grace and mercy of God and trust in his plan for salvation instead of our own. The law was intended to get us ready for Christ and was never proposed to be the way to God.
The amazing thing about falling upon the mercy of God and accepting this grace message is that by doing so, we know and submit to God’s righteousness. Romans says, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” ( Romans 3:21, Romans 3:22 ). Which means that we obtain God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus and since we are righteous by God’s standards, we can stand before him, completely justified, where before it would have been impossible to be in His presence. Romans goes on to say, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” ( Romans 3:28 ). This is good news for us today. We do not have to rely on what we do to please God, he is pleased with us on the basis of faith in Jesus. There is nothing else we can do to add to it, he looks at us and sees us completely whole, righteous and justified before him as if we had never sinned. What an incredible blessing it is to submit to the righteousness of God.