If anyone had a legitimate reason to boast in their own righteousness, Paul says, it was him. And I think he was right. I don’t think he was blinded by pride, but provided a realistic assessment of pedigree.
When he talks of his heritage, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; and of his formal education and religious attainment, a ranking Pharisee; and of his integrity and authenticity, sincerely persecuting the church for what he believed was its heresy — when Paul contends he was blameless and righteous under the law, I think he contends correctly. Though his righteousness may been misdirected, it wasn’t hypocritical. His righteousness, according to the prevailing standard of righteousness, was the real meal deal. But as Paul came to realize, his was an inferior brand of righteousness.
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.
(Philippians 3:8-9 ESV)
A righteousness of my own. That’s what Paul says he had. That’s how the ESV translates it. But Peterson in The Message, with his flare for embedding commentary within translation, calls out Paul’s works based righteousness for what it was, an inferior brand of righteousness.
While this Hebrew of the Hebrews might have ranked at the top of the food chain when it came to integrity, honesty, and authenticity concerning spirituality, his eyes were set on the wrong food chain. A fallen food chain. A food chain compromised by the fact that all within the food chain were born in iniquity, by default walking in darkness because of a wicked and deceitful heart. So that, even the best of the best of this food chain, were but the best among the worst of all sinners.
. . . all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. (Isaiah 64:6 ESV)
But, says Paul, through God’s divine, merciful, and gracious intervention, Paul was able to exchange his own righteousness, an inferior brand of righteousness, for a righteousness which comes through faith and depends on faith — the righteousness from God.
He would toss everything worth boasting of in life, he would gladly discard any claim or ego concerning his own good works, and count them as garbage in order to “boast” of a righteousness apart from himself. A righteousness credited to his account based on the merit of Another. A righteousness ready to “move in” and take over because sin had been dealt with, the old man could now be crucified, and he had been Spirit enabled to walk in true righteousness — the righteousness from God.
How the old nature still wants to find some righteousness for which to take credit. To chalk up some meritorious work in some imaginary win column in which it can boast. But any such “righteousness” won’t survive the test of eternity and pales in comparison to the righteousness that comes through faith and is by faith. No other righteousness but Jesus’ righteousness is real righteousness.
I need to be reminded of that from time to time. To not be duped into settling for an inferior brand of righteousness.
By His grace alone. For His glory alone.