Vol.XII No.II Pg.3
April 1975

Relative Righteousness

Dan S. Shipley

When asked by a stranger whether he considered his wife attractive, a certain rancher replied, Compared to what? Many are inclined to measure their standing with God in much the same fashion. By some standard most justify themselves as being good enough to get by spiritually. Honest and discerning men will recognize this popular practice to be wrong for several reasons.

In the first place, what pleases self does not necessarily please God. It would appear unnecessary to point this out were it not for the widespread notion ion that personal preference ought to be respected on a par with divine revelation. Pauls preaching gave emphasis to how men ought to walk and to please God (1 Thss. 4:1). This principle is controverted by the subjective philosophy of moderns who put the emphasis on what pleases the individual. The fundamental question to be resolved is not whether my religion satisfies me, but whether it pleases God. With Paul, our aim must be to be well pleasing unto Him (2 Cor. 5:9).

Secondly, pleasing God involves more than just being better than someone else. Paul wrote of certain ones who commended themselves as they measured and compared themselves by themselves. He concludes them to be without understanding (2 Cor. 10:12). As the self-righteous Pharisee of Lk. 18, most can find a despised publican with which to compare and exonerate himself. What is the consolation in a relative righteousness that sees self as being better than another sinner if I am less than God wants me to be? Some seem to take delight in finding fault with Christians — as though the Christians sins could somehow excuse his own. Someone (Abraham Lincoln, I think) has said in this connection, Short men do not grow taller by cutting off the legs of tall men. Is anyone complimented in being as good as the hypocrite in the church? It is a poor system of justification that can only find credit for self by discrediting others.

A similar, but more subtle method of self-justification is the appeal to a high moral standard. It goes further than just being better than some; it prides itself in having higher moral standards than most and may even include being a loyal worker in some church group. Surely, some would think, this is good enough to take me to heaven! But its only the same misconception in different wrappings. Self is still Judge and men still the standard. We must look higher.

True righteousness means being right with God and is possible only on His terms. Through faith man subjects himself to Gods will (Matt. 7:21) as set forth in the gospel. Therein is Gods plan for making man righteous (Rom. 1:17). As man expresses his faith in repentance and baptism (Mk. 16:17; Acts 2:38), he is pardoned by Gods grace and thus becomes a servant of righteousness (Rom. 6:17,18). Remaining righteous means doing righteousness (1 Jn. 3:7) to the best of our abilities and seeking Gods forgiveness wherein we fall short. Entrusting my soul to what I think may be right is wrong. Doing what God says can never be wrong.