Wednesday, March 9, 2011

How Much Righteousness?

Recently on the Christian radio station has an advertising promo to try to illustrate the perfection of holiness that is needed to come before God and dwell with him eternally.

The skit goes roughly like this:
Guy 1: "ok so when I go in there for judgment I need how many points to get into heaven?"
Guy 2: "1,000"

Guy 1: "Should be no problem. I was a good husband, how many points do you think I'll get for that?"
Guy 2: "Oh two."

Guy 1: "Two? Well how much for being a doctor? Now I saved lives."
Guy 2: "Mmmm. Three points.

Guy 1: "That's it? What about that time I ran into that burning house to save a kitten?"
Guy 2: "That was good."

Guy 1: "And?"
Guy 2: "Two points."

Guy 1: "But I could have died!"
Guy 2: "Two points."

Guy 1: "I banked a lot on that stupid cat."
Guy 2: "Sorry"

Guy 1: "So to get into heaven I need..."
Guy 2: "One thousand points."

Guy 1: "And I have?!...."
Guy 2: "Seven..... It's time for you to go in now."

Guy 1: "No wait a minute. I'm a pretty good fellow, if all I get is seven points--how does anyone get into heaven?"
Guy 2: "They don't take the test."

Guy 1: "What?! Now why not?"
Guy 2: "Because they know they don't meet God's standards."

Guy 1: "Then how do they get into heaven."
Guy 2: "They've asked Jesus to take the test for them. They get in on his score not theirs."

Voiceover: "Are you putting your faith in what you can do and accomplish or are you putting your faith in God?"


The good: It makes it clear that we must put our faith and trust in God to get into heaven. It makes it clear that what we need is not just the forgiveness of sins but the positive righteousness of Christ on our behalf. The: "he takes the test for us." In his humanity, Christ obeyed the Lord on our behalf. He is raised up in resurrection in full righteousness. Theologians then talk about that righteousness imputed to the believer. We receive his "test score" if you will.

The bad: The problem I have with this skit is that it takes too high a view of man. Seven points is giving me far more credit of righteousness than I deserve. Now it is clear that I don't have enough righteousness--and that is good. Certainly this is a short and cutesy skit. But if I think that I have even seven points of righteousness--even if I think that is not enough--I am still thinking too much of what I have before God.

Consider Scripture:
Isaiah 64:4 From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. 5 You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
The words for polluted garment describe more literally "menstrual rags." That means that the best "righteousness" that we have to offer our Lord is not a mere seven points that just keeps coming up short but at least can tick a point or two. No, the best that we have to offer is the equivalent of blood soiled rags from a women's period. No one would consider a used tampon as any sort of gift or credit--in the same way we have zero righteousness to offer God. The best we have is not just not good enough it is horrible messy and despicable.

Paul says something similar.
Phil. 3:7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
In the verses prior to this Paul talks about all the things that he had as a Jew in good standing. These were the things that counted. These were his "seven points." But now that he looks at Christ and sees the surpassing value of Christ, he sees the true "value" of what he had: it is rubbish. The word describes disgusting trash heap, it is describes a pile of dung and feces. This is the best that he had to offer God: a pile of poop.

The Biblical portrait is that to not say 'well man, I feel short because I only made 7 out of 1,000.' I understand the point being made with this: we all fall short. That is true. But saying we have seven points gives far too much credit to man. When we understand that they we understand the depths of our sin.

We shouldn't exalt Christ because we have seven points but he takes the test. We should exult Christ because our best "points" are filthy, wretched and disgusting and he clothes us in his righteousness. Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.

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