January 23, 2021

Hunger and Thirst After (Christ’s) Righteousness

lhspiritdisc_lrg.jpgAnd that’s about it, friends. Be glad in God! I don’t mind repeating what I have written in earlier letters, and I hope you don’t mind hearing it again. Better safe than sorry — so here goes. Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances — knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it — even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book. The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash — along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant — dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ — God’s righteousness.

-The Message, Philippians 3:1-9

Christ’s righteousness.

That’s an important phrase in Christianity. Christ’s righteousness is the gift of righteousness that makes everything in salvation possible. Receiving the righteousness of Christ is the heart of the Gospel.

Our righteousness.

That’s another important part of the Christian message. God requires righteousness, and he commands it many different ways. He describes his people as righteous and he describes many characters in the Bible as righteous.

We know that our righteousness is not perfect. In fact, in comparison to God’s righteous nature and requirement, our righteousness is trash.

When Christ’s righteousness is credited to us, we are righteous in the Father’s sight. Everything about us may be less than perfectly righteous, but Christ’s righteousness is always acceptable and sufficient.

The gift of Christ’s righteousness, credited to me in the Gospel, is the lifeblood of the Christian life. I depend on it every moment of my existence. When I am at my best and when I have failed at my worst. From first breath to last gasp.

If the righteousness of Christ is so important, why are Christians always finding ways to create their own righteousness?


Yes, I said that Christians are constantly finding ways to create their own righteousness rather than accepting the righteousness of Christ.

Think about it.

The righteousness of knowledge. Bible knowledge included.

The righteousness of better theology, right theology, awesome theology, kick ___ theology and truly reformed theology.

The righteousness of emerging, cool, culturally hip theology.

The righteousness of my theology.

The righteousness of no theology — I’m just into Jesus.

The righteousness of fundamentalism and being way beyond fundamentalism.

The righteousness of morality, doing the right thing, being prudent, walking between the lines and never having a wrong thought.

The righteousness of feeling superior because of your humility.

The righteousness of political action.

The righteousness of spiritual experience. The righteousness of hands in the air, heads bowed, swaying, twirling, dancing, not twirling, not swirling, not dancing, never thinking of raising my hands.

The righteousness of a bigger gathering, a better preacher, a growing church.

The righteousness of a better denomination, more right answers, more new churches, more creative ideas.

The righteousness of anger at sin, and the righteousness of saying you love sinners.

The righteousness of conservatism and liberalism.

The righteousness of worshiping intensity, praying a longtime, getting loud in the Spirit.

The righteousness of liturgy, prayer books, choirs and stained glass.

The righteousness of doing more than anyone else for the Kingdom.

The righteousness of big stadium events and small house churches.

The righteousness of dreams and visions.

The righteousness of exegesis and citations of scholars.

The righteousness of abstaining and moderately using.

The righteousness of legalism and not being a legalist.

The righteousness of my music, our music, worship music, anointed music.

The righteousness of silence, of talking, of singing, of preaching.

Where these kinds of righteousness are useful, or important or matter, let me have them.

But when compared to the righteousness of Christ, throw them all in the dumpster.

Give me the righteousness of Christ. Let me hunger and thirst after Christ’s righteousness.

Let me treat others as if they are clothed in Christ. Let me worship as if the righteousness of Christ is offered freely to all who believe, no matter what else they have done or not done.

Let me come to live out of, love out of, depend upon and die securely in the righteousness of Christ alone.


  1. Michael,

    I think you’ve hit upon something that folks just don’t like to admit really happens. I found my “righteousness” within your list. Toss it out, burn it, it’s just no good. Give me Christ’s righteousness!

  2. As did I. Insightful, yet again.

    (BTW, might I have permission to re-post a portion of this with due credit?)

  3. Yes of course.

  4. Larry - KY says

    Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled”. That is to say, “Blessed are those hungering and thirsting after JESUS for HE shall fill them”. Then we read, “This (bread) is my body broken FOR YOU, take and EAT”. This (Wine) is my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins, and they DRANK it”. The Lord’s Supper fulfills that blessing. The bread is eaten for our hungering need of another’s righteousness/Jesus body and the wine is drank for our thirsty need of a righteousness that takes away our sin/Jesus blood. His blood was shed for our sin and His body was broken to give us His righteous deeds and His righteous works for it is the body that works. The dual exchange, I am His sin and He is my righteousness.


    L – KY

  5. Larry - KY says


    It’s helpful to keep in mind some of the examples of the actual calls to repentance when considering what “righteousness” we NEED. For example Peter in Acts 2 calls them to repent and be baptized. He has just told them that they crucified the Lord of glory, albeit in the purpose of God set forth. The audience is primarily Jewish, the Law, the very “moral”. And how did they go about this? The very moral Jews conspired with the very immoral Romans to crucify the Lord of Glory, to wit, they crucified Grace. And why? Because both definitive immorality and definitive morality, especially religious, hates grace, because immorality doesn’t wish to be labeled immoral and morality very MUCH hates to be labeled against the Law of God. For Grace means neither have ANYTHING to boast about. TO THIS Peter says, “repent and be baptized”. Again, we see John the Baptist tell the very very very moral Pharisees, you brood of vipers show forth fruit of repentance. So if we are going to preach repentance, preach it in FULL strength and not half strength. Otherwise one is either an unloving ‘let all immorality be’ (liberal) person or an unloving religious coward (conservative). Either way one is unloving and a coward.

    The parables about pruning are helpful. How are they usually taught? By works, you get pruned to do away with the “flesh” so that works of faith come forth. But what is the usual for “flesh works”, the negatives almost always with a push toward doing “good works” done if faith, but these are usually code for more flesh effort.

    But the pruning is a pruning of things not in faith, that is not in Christ. Few consider that this ‘pruning’ could be religious duties “in the church box” that are really being done by flesh. That is to say ANYTHING one does to give rest or assure for themselves personally of heaven is in FACT outside of Christ, even if that work is evangelism. I hear boos and hisses from the religious, “boooo….hissssss, throw him out”. Yet, anything done to make assurance by way of ANY work no matter how good and indeed especially because of its outward good quality is OUTSIDE of Jesus. That’s manifestly obvious is it not? That is, an “assurance” or “hope” (certain expectation) or “faith” (trust) that arises from “doing” is point blank outside of Christ. For true assurance, hope and faith look only to Jesus ALONE.

    For pruning does hurt and its sore-making killing harsh cutting blunts the branches outward reach in the direction away from the root or main vine. Thus, the branch adheres all the more to the vine. The pain of the outside cut and the forced “no life” given by the same cut drives it to the vine more tightly because its outward reach, like a bridge being built, is leading away from the source of life and actually separating it from the vine/root. If the branch is left to its own wanderings eventually it will kill itself and fall off as it reaches and reaches and reaches further and further away. The cut of the vine dresser forces the branch to cleave all the more to the vine and root itself by necessity of “seeing” the death blow in the cut and that real and true life is back here at home, the vine/root. It thus, finding no life where it formerly reached, flees to the vine.

    This is the crux of pruning and it is not a clearing of definitively bad “works” versus definitively good “works” as pietist vainly think and delude themselves. No, it is a pruning of definitively bad works and definitively good works, that is ANYTHING you find yourself resting, assured or building your faith in. A work that says, “I’m sure I’m of the kingdom because I see a clean and changing life in me, a move toward better and better, I’m busy with lots of church yard piety, I don’t do the worldly things I did before”, that is a branch that is cut off and cast into the fire. Because that reaching branch is outside of Christ and leading one to death. A man turns from free grace no so much due to definitively evil works but by the best definitively good works, especially the church yard monkery we find today. Those are branches attempting to escape being IN Christ. The vine dresser CUTS these off and cast them away as the killing works they are and so the branch, the man/woman, is driven back into CHRIST ALONE for ALL trust, assurance and hope. When ever a work leads one to believe they have life, it is a false and dead work that is outside of Jesus, even if it is said to be done in Jesus name and prescribed in Scripture…this work is dead utterly no matter how definitively good it is otherwise.

    It is like Luther said, “when ever the Scriptures prescribe for you to do a good work, Scripture FORBIDS you to do it by yourself”. How do you do it by yourself? You derive trust, hope and assurance from it. When you see or declare the “way you live” before anybody as a sign of your conversion, you are doing it by yourself even if the name of Jesus is evoked. Beware of where your heart is looking! Puritan Thomas Hooker warned and offered this test: Take your best pious work that you think you do, prayer, evangelism, church attendance, bible study, your deluded clean life…what ever it is and then don’t do it. Simply just stop doing it altogether and stop doing it for a long time to really test the heart. Then, note well, how you react to it, how your heart itches for the doing of it, the alarm that arises within you for not doing it. THEN, you will know what your deceptive heart is REALLY trusting in even though you say with your mouth, “I trust in Jesus alone”. Be very aware of mouth and mind confession, when your heart is fooling you and actually trusting, living and walking in something besides Jesus alone for you. Hooker’s test shows the heart’s REAL trust, assurance and hope in works, especially it gravitation toward the best and highest of works. Hence again what Luther said, “when ever the Scripture prescribes for you a good work, Scripture FORBIDS you to do it by yourself”. One can be doing it by themselves even saying, “I trust in Jesus alone” or “I do it by the grace of God”, test your heart! What we are getting at is what faith looks like and how it walks, lives and functions, not the confession of the mouth and mind.

    Pruning, true pruning, is not a pruning of the definitive evil works, but a pruning of the definitive good works, anything of high place that sets itself up against Christ alone. The pain of Pruning is not punishment so as to motivate to ‘getting busy’ to do definitively good works to please God, rather the pain of true pruning is, “I find NO comfort but shear terror in my soul even and especially in these “good works” I do, it’s the pain of death, the second death”. That’s the hammer of God, the Law, cutting away the dead flesh and making the eyes of the soul flee deeper and cling ever tighter to the Vine by naked faith (trust) alone in Christ (the Vine and Root), and Him crucified and risen FOR ME and NOTHNG ELSE. It is a drive back to “Jesus thou alone are my righteousness as I am your sin.”


  6. Wayne Jacobsen, in a discussion of seeking righteousness in The Naked Church I came across this paragraph:

    “The weight of legalistic righteousness produces anger. Even where it appears successful, it has only driven sin inward. The misery of earning our own righteousness makes us want to force others to do the same. That’s why legalists are almost always angry people. Cross them and you will find out just what lengths they’ll go to in advancing what they believe to be God’s agenda, and how quickly their temper explodes. Many a Christian leader’s spouse or staff knows the truth of this, having witnessed or suffered it in unguarded moments.”

    Lord, protest us from seeking our own, earned righteousness and demanding such on all with whom we come in contace.

    Sparks, NV

  7. Larry - KY says


    That is a great quote/observation. Who among us has NOT seen that or not ourselves FELT our wicked legal hearts doing that when we are, well, doing it ourselves.

    Thanks for that!

    Larry KY

  8. Larry - KY says

    It’s one of the reasons I’ve always said that in order to preach the Law today to lead to the Gospel you have to hit home on the favs of good works. It’s not AT ALL that I’m against these works in and of themselves but hidden trust many persons hearts put in them. You’ve gotta preach the Law to the time frame because, especially post reformation if you just use the same ole lines you’ll get head nods and agreements. E.g. what protestant church is going to deny “justification by faith alone” and “we are not saved by works”. Some grossly stated today nobody would disagree with that. You have to PUSH the Law to the nth and the Gospel to the nth, to the point of absurdity today to “get at the heart’s” real deception.

    E.g. I’d preach the Law today against some church yard good work favs like evangelism and missions, the two biggies in American protestantism. Again not that these are wrong but in fact good, but you can’t SAY that if your going to force the Law on them because saying that creates the daylight that the mouse can run out of the Law cage of for relief. But if you press a man who is secretly, perhaps even unto himself trusting and assuring himself based upon his church works like those two, or others for that matter, don’t let up, you will squeeze that stone heart with the Law’s hammer blows and eventually you will see him rage against you and begin to defend those works, that is reveal his secret self admiration of them. When you preach the Law you need to pick out the BEST of works to preach against not the obvious gross sins or ‘lesser good works’ or just the idea of ‘works’ generally.

    Likewise, today, you have to press the Gospel because we’ve grown use to and cold to the old formulations of “justification by faith alone” and others, like “Christ alone”. Any half way protestant will agree with every one of those. You have to press it in a fresh way and say something like, “even if you don’t get better, for Jesus sake, you will get to go to heaven”. Then you’ll hear the howls of the flesh. You are not trying to promote sin by saying that but set forth the ONLY thing that gives faith unto which true fruit NATURALLY will arise. But when doing it, you can never supply the explanation I’ve just given, you must resist the temptation to do so, for that is that bit of day light the mouse needs to say, “aaahh, see, you gotta do something, some kind of improvement somewhere post conversion.”

    You have to press it hard, Law and Gospel, and then you’ll see the yeast of the Pharisees rising. The fallen heart is wicked above all, who can know it!



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