We all want things to prove our competence at certain tasks. Specifically with our faith, we want to be proficient at our faith and properly worship God. Yet, for many people, the pursuit of righteousness in our day to day lives can become a crown we wear for others to see. Our acts God before us, craving for people to see how good we are and all the good things we do. We display our crown, but miss the entire point. Apart from God, our crown is meaningless and our greatest works are insufficient for righteousness.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
– Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV
A balance must be struck between doing good things and showing off those good things. There is a constant temptation to lean so heavily upon what we do that we begin laud our actions. We boast in the things we have done, even if done in the name of God, because we want people to know the depth of how good we are. We show off our crown of self-righteousness as if it is authentic righteousness, but it is a mere imitation made for others to see. In the throne room of God, we are offered the true crown of righteousness as we set the false crown of our own pride and self promotion down.
Grace For The Self-Righteous
For all of our effort, though, we will never have the true crown of righteousness. We are all sinful and all unable to produce a true righteousness on our own. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6, NIV) The crown of self-righteousness is only a fabrication unless it is given by the grace of Jesus Christ. There is no true crown and no true righteousness that can be earned, only one that can be bestowed.
This is where the grace of God comes in. On our own, our own works are not enough to produce any form of righteousness with any significant meaning. Christ lowered himself from the position of the heavenly realms and descended to our worth for our sake. Our unrighteousness is the distance Christ traveled in order to reach us and take the burden of our sin upon himself on the cross. Grace is the distance we are permitted to travel in the love of God. Our self-righteousness and pursuit of perfection falls before he throne of God and we find our meaning and Holiness in God alone.
A Godly Response
Amidst the striving for holiness, we arrive at the conclusion that holiness can only be given by the grace of Jesus Christ. We are made Holy. We do not make ourselves Holy, but are transformed from the inside out by the transformative nature of God. The love of God drives us to stand before Him and lay down our crown of whatever we are able to do, however close to good it may be. In removing the crown of self-righteousness, we make room for the crown of renewal and redemption to be placed on our heads by the High King Himself.
This is why we pursue holiness. Not in a misguided attempt to earn love, but we pursue holiness our of a response of the love that God has given us. The question is not whether or not to sin or even whether a thing is or is not a sin, but the question is will what we do bring glory to God. Our actions are not in an effort to earn the love of God, but BECAUSE we are already loved. The false crown has been removed from our head and laid before God and the true crown of His righteousness is given to us.
Talk It Out
Read Ephesians 2:1-10
- What are some of the ways that Ephesians talks about our struggles and disposition towards sin? How does that reveal our relationship to the crown of sea-righteousness?
- Do you struggle with showing off the crown of self-righteousness? What does it mean to be self-righteous?
- How does standing before God help to lay the crown of self-righteousness down before Him?
- What are some of the areas in your life that you are still working to submit to the standard of righteousness and holiness that God has set before you?
- What role of does repentance play in pursuing righteousness that comes from God? How do we repent and what is God’s role in our repentance?