Now let us look at some of the aprons of fig leaves with which the natural man is trying to make himself acceptable to God and fit for Heaven.
Salvation through Character. “Character – home-brew” is the sign over the door of the self-righteous man’s life. He has to admit weakness and failure but he does not call sin “sin” nor does he grant that he has any great need. There is nothing in him so wrong that he cannot remedy it himself if given time, a proper environment and enlarged opportunities. The self-righteous man thinks that he starts with something already very good, something even with the very essence of the divine in it. His business is to make this good thing gradually better.
In this process of self-cultivation the self-righteous man measures himself with himself and he is very pleased; he measures himself also with other men and, like the self-righteous Pharisee of Luke 18:9-14, he is more than pleased. He congratulates himself on himself and even commends his virtues to God. But there is one measurement that he has forgotten to take. He has never placed his self-righteous life alongside the spotless, stainless, sinless, life of the Son of Man to see how infinitely far short he falls of a righteousness which God accepts. He ignores the fact that the absolute righteousness of God demands nothing less than absolute righteousness in all who are acceptable to Him, which is a demand no human being in himself ever can meet.
Some day when this man stands before the Lord Jesus Christ, once a proffered but a rejected Saviour, now his Judge, he will expect Him to approve this man-made production of righteousness, to pronounce it as good as anything the Lord could have done, and to let him pass into Heaven to abide forever in the presence of an absolutely righteous God.
I was talking once with a friend concerning his need of a Saviour. He was a man of splendid ideals, high standards and excellent principles. He was cultured, kind, moral, and from a human standpoint, lived what the world would commend as a highly respectable life. When I pressed the necessity of accepting Jesus Christ as his Saviour, he said, “Why do I need any one to die for me? I do not want any one’s blood shed for me!” The root of that reply was self-righteousness. That young man was trusting to be saved through character. God looks down upon all such “which trusted in themselves that they were righteous” and says,
Romans 3:10, 12, “There is none righteous, no, not one. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable: they is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
And of the righteousness which has been so carefully cultivated He gives His estimate through the mouth of His prophet,
Isaiah 64:6, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
To reply upon self-righteousness as the ground of salvation is utterly futile. God declares plainly that His wrath against it will be revealed.
Romans 10:3, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”
Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”
How very different is the self-righteous, self-made man from the one who has had a glimpse of the Holy One and His righteousness!
Isaiah 6:5, “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
Job 42:5, 6, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners: of whom I am chief.”
The last quotation is from the lips of a man who, if any one, could have rested upon his own righteousness as a sufficient ground of acceptance with God. With perfect sincerity he said of himself that “touching the righteousness which is of the law he was blameless.” Yet after seeing the Lord of glory he was convinced of the foolishness and futility of such confidence in the flesh. From that time he had but one consuming desire, “that he might win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:6, 9). The only righteousness that makes any man acceptable with God is the righteousness of God by faith in Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:22, 23, “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
No one whose eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts, and who has contrasted his own sinfulness with His holiness will have a shred of hope of acceptance with God through his own character. The man who relies upon any righteousness in himself as his ground of salvation and who refuses Christ’s imputed righteousness as God’s free gift only proves the Word of God that the god of this world has blinded hi mind so that the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine into his heart.