No One Righteous

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:22-24

Self-righteousness in any part of our life is a lack of perspective. It’s a lack of vision for what is reality. It’s the inability to see from God’s perspective. Regardless of where we think we are in regard to personal sin, all of us are stained by corporate sin. Each of us are participants in sin we can’t even see. We are daily in need of God’s grace and mercy. We’ve all fallen short.

Think of it this way. We all throw away trash every day and yet the plastics in that trash are hurting our planet. We don’t see the piles of trash that gather on the earth. We don’t see the mountains of trash floating in the sea. We don’t think of it as sin because we try to recycle. But we can’t get away from it.

Or the clothes that we wear. Many items of clothes that we own came out of sweatshops in other countries where human rights were ignored and working conditions are terrible. Our purchase of that item helped to perpetuate that situation. We don’t think of it as corporate sin. We aren’t meaning to hurt anyone. But there is a system in place that we can’t avoid.

I ran into this reality when I helped to start a nonprofit that fights human trafficking. We started with the mindset that “those guys” were the bad guys. Then, the more you learn, you realize that it is a tangled web that many of us are involved in. If you’ve ever looked at pornography on the internet, you’ve put money in the pockets of human traffickers. And many trafficking victims come out of the foster care system. Suddenly the problem goes beyond a few bad guys out there and to the reality of a broken system that has stained nearly all of our hands.

Jesus told a parable about the wheat and the weeds growing up together (Matthew 13:24-30). This is the truth of corporate sin in our world. The bad grows up along with the good. Nuclear science has brought us cancer treatments and X-rays that have helped hundreds of thousands of people. It has also brought us the atomic bomb and nuclear power plant leaks. Running a car on a battery hopes to reduce fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions. However, mining for the lithium and other minerals it takes to build such a battery rapes the land. And charging the battery often means connecting it to a electrical grid supplied by a coal burning power plant. The wheat and weeds grow up together.

So when it comes to corporate sin, we do the best we can to make change in the world. But self-righteousness has to go. For instance, we can’t get self-righteous about not using a straw in our coffee. Although it may help the environment, the bean that made the coffee often comes from a farm that uses harsh chemicals and has poor working conditions. We can fight abortion, as we should. But we can’t get self-righteous about it because our kids may have gotten protected with a vaccine that used aborted fetal cells for its production. All of our hands are stained with corporate sin. This is what Paul was saying to the Romans when he wrote this:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
     there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”

Romans 3:10-12

This is why any form of self-righeousness is foolishness. We are all contaminated by sin even before we mention any personal sin. So far I’ve only address corporate sin. Imagine what God sees. He sees a world stained by sin in every direction. What is he looking for? He’s looking for people who have humbled themselves. He’s looking for lifestyles of repentance. He’s looking for people who have come to an awareness that they are involved in sin that they don’t even know about. God is looking past our actions and looking at our heart. This is the point that Jesus was trying to drive home in the Sermon on the Mount.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 

Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 38-39

So while we do attempt to live righteously, we do pursue holiness, we do so not from a place of self-righteousness but from a place of complete dependence on the grace and mercy of God. We do so completely aware that we have stained hands and contaminated lives that daily engage in systems of this world that are broken.

Self-righteousness can be found both on the Right and the Left of the political spectrum. Both political parties are rife with it. Humility must be the hallmark of the people of God even while the world around us rages on with arrogance, self-importance, and self-righteous indignation. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. And the systems of the world that we participate in are unapologetically and unavoidably involved in corporate sin. We are all stained by sin, yet, as followers of Jesus, we are also saved by grace. With this reality in mind, let’s keep a humble heart and a continual posture of repentance.

Unfair

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

Matthew 20:8-15

In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Jesus is trying to teach us about what the Kingdom of God is like. He’s trying to show us a different understanding of justice, grace and mercy. If Jesus were to stand up and tell this story today, He would surely offend our American sense of justice and righteous indignation.

This is the scandal of grace. The principles of God’s grace and generosity do not operate on principles of justice. Jesus was trying to reorient the people’s definition of “fairness” toward a gospel of grace rather than a gospel of justice.

God desires to be generous with His grace. Those who get saved at the final moments of their life will inherit eternal life just as those who have been faithful followers of Jesus their whole life. We see this with the criminal on the cross who was hanging next to Jesus (Luke 23:42-43). We see this with the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). God loves to be generous with His grace.

Jesus makes it clear that God is not being “unfair”(verse 13). Everyone got what they agreed to. If we read “injustice” into this parable then we have a different definition of justice than God, and it is we who need to adjust, not Him. The real problem that this parable exposes is not God’s sense of grace or justice, but our sense of righteous indignation.

When you read this parable, who did you identify with? Were you celebrating God’s grace and mercy with the workers who got hired in the last hour of the day and got a full day’s wage? Or were you identifying with the workers who had worked all day and got the same thing as the guy who only worked an hour?

This parable exposes our heart. Who do we think we are? Are we the one who “earned more” and should have gotten more? Or are we the one who has graciously been saved by unmerited mercy and the extreme generosity of God?

Let me give you a hint. We ALL are the workers who only worked an hour. This parable was designed to expose the unhealthy sense of entitlement that rises up in us all. We like to call it “justice” but this parable exposes it for what it is–self-righteousness.

Let this parable sit with you. Let it bother you. And then let it return you to gratitude for the extreme grace the Father has show us through His Son Jesus.