The Righteous Man
It’s kind of tangential to our reading today, but I wanted to take a minute to talk about being righteous (see 3:12 in our reading). There’s a lot in the passage other than this, so if you have any questions, make sure to ask. Michael Kruger wrote a post last spring that I think is very important, titled “Is Anyone More Holy Than Anyone Else? The Missing Category of the ‘Righteous Man’". To summarize, it talks about our tendency as Christians to have a difficult time taking a middle position on things that the Bible does. We either seek total self-righteousness for salvation, or totally eschew seeking righteousness because of grace. Here are some excerpts:
"“No one is more holy than anyone else.” That was the statement I heard in a recent sermon. At first, I thought I must have misheard it. But, I had not. The point being made to the congregation was clear: abandon your ‘self-righteousness’ and recognize that you are no holier than the person in the pew next to you.
Now, statements like that sound compelling at first. Humble, even. After all, we are trained to go after those Pharisees among us (usually defined as anyone who appears to be holier than we are!). Moreover, we have the reformed doctrine of total depravity entrenched in our minds, reminding us that our hearts are wicked beyond what we can imagine. And, above all this, surely Christ is most glorified when we acknowledge that no one is more holy than anyone else. Right?
Well, not really. Although the Bible certainly condemns self-righteousness, and while we are certainly much more sinful than we ever could realize, there is something missing here. What is missing—ironically in many reformed circles—is the clear biblical category of the “righteous man.”...
...So, what exactly is a “righteous” person? Surely we cannot suggest that all these passages are simply referring to the imputed righteousness of Christ (as important as that is). No, it appears the Bible uses this category of the “righteous man” for believers who display a marked consistency and faithfulness in walking with God. Of course, this doesn’t mean these people are perfect, sinless, or able to merit their own salvation. It simply means that the Spirit is at work in such a way that they bear steady fruit in their lives.
If so, then it is simply untrue to say “no one is more holy than anyone else.” Not everyone is equally sanctified. Some are farther along than others by God’s wonderful grace. Now, I am sure the pastor that I heard would agree with that. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I am sure he was only trying to say that when it comes to our justification no one is able to stand on their own righteousness: all are desperately in need of grace. No doubt, in his zeal to make this very good biblical point, he stepped too far and declared that “no one is more holy than anyone else.”...
...[Reason #2 for this probelm:] Seeing Pharisaism as the only serious sin. In recent years, there seems to have been a renewed focus in reformed circles on the problem of legalism. And the motivations for this are often good: legalism is a real threat to the integrity of the gospel message. However, the problem is that if Pharisaism is the only enemy we see, then we can become imbalanced in our message and ministry. If our number one goal is to defeat legalism, then our number one point is always to remind people of how sinful they really are. If someone seems to be living a holy life they tend to be looked at suspiciously—after all, we know that no one can really be holy so therefore this person must be putting up a front; they are not being “real” about their sin. Put simply, in order to weed out Pharisaism our sinfulness is over-emphasized and our progress in holiness is under-emphasized."  (click the footnote to read the whole post - it's not too long)
I think this is an EXTREMELY important discussion. He mentions "reformed" circles a lot, but it's definitely not limited to them. It seems that in our zeal for the Gospel/grace we have neglected to truly seek God and understand that we can both find Him and truly glorify Him. Our sin is there, but it no longer owns us. We CAN be righteous (not for salvation, but in life) if we care to seek and desire to be so.
And I think that's the root of the problem - we don't desire it and we cover up that lack of desire with theologizing. Grace is vital, but we cannot use it as an excuse for laziness.