Philippians 3: 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the fleshâ€” 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 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.."
I was converted to Christ more than three decades ago. In encountering the reality of the risen Christ, the entire course of my life was forever changed. Today, all these years later, I would have to say that the Lord is even more precious to me now, than the day I first encountered Him. Yet it would be equally as true to say that the more I glimpse the beauty of Christ, the more I am aware of my own dismal failures and short comings. Can you relate to this? The more I gain a sense of God's majesty and holiness, the more I see my own blemishes and the fact, that I am a scoundrel at heart, and am in desperate, radical need of His grace everyday. I see this more clearly than ever, even as I pursue the Lord. I am a wanderer at heart, a stranger to holiness. As the famous hymn says, "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it; Seal it for Thy courts above." (Come Thou Font of Every Blessing)
Do you relate to this?
Paul realized this when he wrote, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh." (Rom 7:18) Though now a converted man, he understood that even though he could measure progress in his Christian life, he would NEVER find the righteousness he needed by looking inward. If that is true for the Apostle Paul, that is certainly true for all of us. We will not find righteousness by looking inside of ourselves. In fact, we'll not find anything good in that old fleshly nature. Settle that once and forever. Nothing good dwells in our flesh.
Now of course, as Christians, now converted, we make progress in holiness. We strive to be more like Christ. If that is not the case then we are not true Christians at all. The Scripture tells us, "without holiness, no one shall see the Lord." (Heb. 12:14) The genuine child of God has the Holy Spirit living inside him (Romans 8:9) and He is at work to make us more like Christ. But never for a moment think that the progress you are making is enough to give you a right standing with God. Only a perfect righteousness is good enough in God's sight and this side of the grave, not even the most devoted Christian has it.
What we need for a right standing with God is something outside of us. Its what Martin Luther called an "alien righteousness." That is not merely the truth at the beginning of our Christian lives, as we understand our sins were transfered to Christ and His righteousness to us. This is true now, in the heat of the battle for sanctification and holiness.
I very much appreciate the insight of Dr. Rod Rosenbladt in assessing the oft repeated (and little understood) words of Luther to Melanchthon in this regard:
My task would be simple if I were merely to answer the question, â€œHow am I to be saved?â€ For, the answer to this question is simple as well. It is â€œBelieve on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved!â€ (see Acts 16:31 [nkj]; cf. 1 Tim. 1:16 [nkj]). Although the doctrine of justification is still under attack in many circles, most evangelicals understand the question of salvation and are able to grasp it in its bare simplicity: Christ died for me. But the more difficult thing with which Christians must come to grips is, â€œWhat does the gospel matter to my Christian life?â€ Or, in other words, â€œWhat do I do now? Do I still believe the gospel, or is the rest left up to me?â€
An Alien Gospel
One of my favorite stories that illustrates this particular matter deals with a time when the German reformer Martin Luther was translating the Bible into German at the Wartburg castle and could only have contact with his colleague Phillip Melanchthon by courier. Melanchthon had a different sort of temperament than Luther. Some would call him timid; others of a less generous bent might call him spineless. At one time, while Luther was off in the Wartburg castle translating, Melanchthon had another one of his attacks of timidity. He wrote to Luther, â€œI woke this morning wondering if I trust Christ enough.â€ Luther received such letters from Melanchthon regularly. He had a tendency, a propensity, to navel-gaze and to wonder about the state of his inner faith, and whether it was enough to save. Finally, in an effort to pull out all the stops and pull Melanchthon out of himself, Luther wrote back and said, â€œMelanchthon! Go sin bravely! Then go to the cross and bravely confess it! The whole gospel is outside of us.â€
This story has been told time and time again by less sympathetic observers than I in an effort to caricature Luther and the Reformation generally as advocates of licentious abandon. These critics assert that if we are not justified by our own moral conformity to the law, but by Christâ€™s, surely there is nothing keeping us from self-indulgence. This, of course, was the criticism of the gospel that Paul anticipated in Romans 6: â€œShall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!â€ Lutherâ€™s pastoral advice was calculated to jar Melanchthon out of morbid introspection. Great sinners know liberation when they have it, but Melanchthon had been a scrupulous, pious Catholic. Lutherâ€™s words did not bring him assurance, but only doubts. For his assurance depended not so much on Godâ€™s promise to the ungodly as ungodly (see Rom. 4:5), but on his own ability to see growth and improvement in his â€œChristian walk.â€ Lutherâ€™s frustrated counsel was not an invitation to serve sin, but an attempt to shock Melanchthon into realizing that his only true righteousness was external to him: â€œThe whole gospel is outside of us.â€
Melancthonâ€™s experience is common among many Christians I know today. Many of them, such as Melancthon did 400 years ago, are looking for assurance of their salvation in all the wrong places. They tend to think that their standing before God-now that they are Christians-is based on their own obedience and their own righteousness. They have forgotten the fundamental fact that the gospel is â€œoutside of us.â€ It was â€œoutside of usâ€ when we turned to Christ for salvation and it is â€œoutside of us,â€ now, as we progress in our sanctification.
Al Mohler expressed this truth very well, "Most Americans believe that their major problem is something that has happened to them, and that their solution is to be found within. In other words, they believe that they have an alien problem that is to be resolved with an inner solution. What they gospel says, however, is that we have an inner problem that demands an alien solutionâ€”a righteousness that is not our own." - 'Preaching with the Culture in View,' in Preaching the Cross (Crossway 2007), p. 81
That's very clarifying. The world says: the problem is outside you, the solution inside you. The gospel says: the problem is inside you, the solution outside you.
Sinner, look away to Christ as your only means of righteousness to save you.
Christian, do the same!