Implications of Trusting in Something
Everyone trusts in something or someone. Either we trust in our own accomplishments, or we trust in the accomplishments of another. A Christian is characteristically someone who trusts in Jesus Christ, and in all that He is in Himself and for us. Man, as descended from Adam, inevitably trusts in his own righteousness (works) until Christ redeems him and enables him to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." While Reformed Christians have always rejoiced in the imputed righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (and rightly so!) the correlation between the imputed righteousness of Christ by faith and the imparted rightouesness of Christ through faith has not always been as fully appreciated. Just as unrighteousness is the inevitable fruit of the one who trusts in his own righteousness, so righteousness is the inevitable fruit of the one who trusts in Jesus Christ for His righteousness. Ezekiel sheds some light on the inevitable unrighteous acts of the man or woman who trusts in their own righteousness, and--by implication--the righteous acts of those who trust in the righteousness of another. In Ezekiel 33 the prophet declares:
“Therefore you, O son of man, say to the children of your people: ‘The righteousness of the righteous man shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression; as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall because of it in the day that he turns from his wickedness; nor shall the righteous be able to live because of his righteousness in the day that he sins.’ When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die. Again, when I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live. “Yet the children of your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ But it is their way which is not fair! When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die because of it. But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he shall live because of it. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, I will judge every one of you according to his own ways” (Ezekiel 33:12-20).
Here the prophet employs the language of "righteous" and "wicked" in the same way as Jesus does in Luke 5:31-32, when he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Jesus did not, and will not, help those who think that they are, in and of themselves, righteous. When Ezekiel writes about the "righteous" man who "trusts in his righteousness," he is speaking about self-righteous covenant members. This language obviously applies to all outside of the visible church as well. The natural man trusts in his own works because God entered into a Covenant of Works with Adam prior to the fall. We are all descended from the first federal representative. Before the fall man was to work for his confirmation in holiness. After the fall, it is an offense to God for man to attempt to work for his salvation. Nevertheless, every man who is not in Christ invariably trusts in his own works for his standing before God.
I remember seeing this fleshed out during the long summers I spent witnessing in South Jersey many years ago. Almost everyone I talked to--in a highly Roman Catholic populated area of the country--answered the question, "Why do you think you will go to heaven," with the response, "Because I'm a pretty good person." I would then follow up with the question, "How many works are enough good works?" Believe it or not, some would actually say, "I don't know; I guess 51%!" It was proof of everything that the Bible has to say about the natural man. Interestingly, when we actually walked through the actions that characterized the lives of these individuals, it was evident that 51% was a very generous--and unattainable--figure.
Jesus came to call "sinners" to repentance. He came to "seek and save" the "lost." He did not come to save those who would continue to hold onto their own righteousness. Ezekiel drew out the relationship between the self-righteous individual and their unrighteous actions when he wrote, "When the righteous...trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity." When a man or woman trusts in his or her own works, they will necessarily "commit iniquity." There is no power for the sinner to overcome sinful actions in and of themselves. In fact, the apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear that the natural man is a "slave to sin." Try as he may, he cannot and will not stop practicing unrighteousness. By way of contrast, when a man or woman knows that they are unrighteous, and they trust in the righteousness of Christ imputed by faith alone, they will also find that their lives are transformed. They are no longer slaves of sin. They are new creatures and slaves of God and Christ.
We all trust in something. Either you are trusting in your own works or you are trusting in Jesus Christ. If your life is characterized by unrighteousness (no matter how religious you may appear externally, or think you are in your own mind) you must turn to the Physician of soul-sick sinners. There is an undeniable relationship between what you trust in, and what your life is characterized by. If you are in Christ, you must continue to trust in Him. As John tells believers in his first epistle, "If anyone sins we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous One." He is our righteousness. May we rest in Him and in His righteousness alone for our salvation and transformation.