I grew up with 3 brothers, the youngest was 10 years behind me. So my real life experience was with two older brothers. One of them was one of the most gifted guitarist in the land and was known by everyone in high school. The other was part of a high school gang that was known for drinking and fighting. For quite a few years I lived off the reputation of my brothers. All my friends would come asking me questions about music equipment and I would give them advice, even though I didn't know what I was talking about. They just assumed because my brother knew everything and played so well that I also would know. Because of my other brother, a lot of the older boys that normally would've smacked me because of my smart mouth did not, partly because they did not know if I was as tough as my brother…I was not, or they did not want my brother’s wrath down on them.
I was living off of something that was not mine. When it comes to this kind of nonsense, at best, it will turn out to be embarrassing when people find out that “you're not all that”. However, in other matters, like the one we will now discuss, the end will be disaster. Paul is going to discuss righteousness, let's learn from him:
9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,
First, it's important to note that Paul makes it clear that he knows he belongs to God. Being “found in Him” is the issue of abiding with God, not entering into a relationship with Him. So everything that Paul is saying here applies to believers.
This opens the door for us to remember that there is a difference with how God sees us positionally versus practically. Everyone that is in a relationship with God through the blood of Jesus Christ, is seen by God completely righteous. This is who they are positionally because Christ has made them righteous and blameless. However, not all children “abide”. This is where we discover what it means to live with practical righteousness.
We must be careful here, because like works and salvation, it's a very fine line we are walking. Whenever a child of God lives righteously, outwardly that life will look much the same as every other believer. The danger is in the understanding that believer has as to the “source” of that righteousness. Most times believers that start to think that their righteousness comes from within themselves is because they lack a clear understanding of what the Scripture states about righteousness that is generated in the flesh from works of the law; especially those who lived very sinful lives before their salvation experience.
Consider what Scripture states about the deeds that we do that ARE righteous. Remember our comparison is with perfection, so in our fallen state…we don't stand a chance.
Isaiah 64:6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Next, look at what the Scripture states of how God paid to secure our righteousness and how we are to receive that righteousness.
2 Corinthians 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Romans 4:1–7 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, And whose sins have been covered.
Lastly, consider what the Scripture states about what those, even with zeal in their heart, attain when it's their righteousness they are counting on.
Romans 10:1–4 Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
In every case, anyone who tries to live a life that will be justified before God on that last day derived from their own righteousness will be greatly disappointed.
For the unbeliever, no matter how religious or devout they may have been, their own righteousness will leave them separated from their Creator forever.
For the child of God that was saved by grace through faith, but then endeavored to sanctify themselves through their own righteous deeds will find that in this life they became a Pharisee and much of their life is barren of God's fruit.
So how do we know if our practical righteousness is the kind that Paul is describing here? Shouldn't we feel good if we see that we're living righteously? The answer is of course; the question is what do we feel good about. Do I feel good because I see the evidence of the Holy Spirit producing righteous works in my life? Do I feel good because I know by yielding and believing that God will do a good work in me, and now I'm experiencing the evidence of that? Or, do I feel good because I think I have “arrived” spiritually? Do I feel good because I'm so much more righteous than most Christians I know?
The issue is never about feeling good; God wants us to feel good. But we should feel good about the partnership we have with our Father, not that we are so righteous that God needs us for His work. "Feeling good" that leads to thanksgiving and worship of our Lord is great. "Feeling good" that leads to pride and spiritual arrogance is a path toward destruction. The source of our righteousness is not ourselves, it is God.