Paul's Passing Thoughts

Can Christians Really Be “Self-Righteous”?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on July 6, 2015

self rightousnessThere are many, many Protestant misnomers that are assumed to be truth. In the past I have written about so-called “legalism” and “church discipline.” Neither concepts are found anywhere in the Bible. In this short post, we will mention another one: “self-righteousness,” specifically, the idea that a Christian can be “self-righteous.” If you get my point here, you may reconsider your incredulity regarding the aforementioned misnomers.

Actually, there is a reason that we hear the constant literary and verbal drumbeat regarding the dangers of so-called Christian self-righteousness; the root cause is found in Martin Luther’s alien righteousness soteriology. Many have added the self-righteousness mantra to their vocabulary without thinking the idea through to its logical and historical conclusions.

First of all, the problem is presenting Christian self-righteousness as something to be avoided lest we shipwreck our faith. In other words, answering the biblical call to become who we are will supposedly shipwreck our faith. God made us righteous through the new birth; how would we then make ourselves “self-righteous”? If we have a proper understanding of salvation, why would we attempt to do something that we know is already completed? Because of weak understanding, believers have been led to believe that we are in danger of justifying ourselves. Obviously, this makes good works a spiritual minefield for the Christian. A cursory observation of the institutional church makes this point.

This was Paul’s exact point to the Galatians (3:1-3); why are you trying to complete a work that was finished when you received the Spirit? We are made righteous via the new birth, not the satisfaction of…”the righteous demands of the law.” Understand; when Paul speaks of righteousness by the law in Galatians, he is speaking of manmade traditions that fulfill the law for justification. In other words, the law is the standard for justification—not the receiving of the Spirit.

This is a HUGE problem because if the law is the standard for justification, the believer cannot be free to love, ie., the law cannot be the Christian standard for love AND the standard for justification at the same time. Using the law lawfully for love can show that we are justified/righteous, but the law cannot justify in any way, shape, or form.

Hypothetically, if the law could justify, we would have to keep it perfectly:

Galatians 5:2 – Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.

What’s going on here? The Galatians were buying into the most common false soteriology of the ages; the idea that the law is the standard for righteousness instead of the new birth. This does not set the Christian free to use the law lawfully, or in other words, as a standard for love:

Galatians  4:21 – Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 5:1 – For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 5:6 – For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. 7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?

So, for those who see the law as the standard for justification, and knowing that we cannot keep the law perfectly, some ritual or tradition is put into place, and if that is practiced, the law is fulfilled. For those falling into this error at Galatia, that meant the observance of days and circumcision. Paul, in essence was saying, “No, no, no—if you are going that route you cannot bypass a perfect keeping of the law; circumcision does NOT fulfill the law.”

No, LOVE is what fulfills the law.

The Galatian problem was a carryover from former error before Christ came to die on the cross to end the law, but later in history Christ was integrated in this way:

Christ fulfills the law for us.

If we do certain things, Christ fulfills the “righteous demands of the law” and a fulfillment of the law is imputed to us. But here is the huge problem with that: law is still the standard for justification, NOT faith working through love. Hence, love is circumvented resulting in dead orthodoxy at best and sinful calamity at worst.

This was the crux of Martin Luther’s alien righteousness. ALL righteousness is outside of the believer, and this is testified to by the fact that Christians cannot obey the law perfectly. If we play by the rules, Christ’s perfect law-keeping will be imputed to us and we can remain saved. Again, the problem is law as justification’s standard.

This keeps the “Christian” under law and COVERED by under grace. In this ancient construct, you have under law and under grace going on at the same time. The “Christian” remains under law, but is “covered” by the righteousness of Christ via under grace.

In contrast, the old us that was under law died with Christ, and we were resurrected with Christ and set free to love according to the law without any fear of condemnation via being under the law. Christ came to end the law of condemnation for those who love him. He loved us first by ending the law on the cross and thereby setting us free to love Him and others according to the law.

The law is NOT the standard for justification—the new birth is, and thus freeing us to love God and others without fear of condemnation.

BUT, this whole idea that Christians can be “self-righteous” confounds under law and under grace. Any righteousness that we have must be, supposedly, our own righteousness that didn’t come from the new birth. This is the true implication of the saying. ALL righteousness remains outside of the believer because he/she cannot keep the law perfectly.

Therefore, the “Christian” is not free to love without fear of condemnation. And again, the church looks like that is indeed the case.


Throw the Baby out with the Bathwater

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on June 29, 2015

Rom 5.19One accusation we all want to avoid is partaking in “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” So, when I set out on my journey of discovery, I assumed there was much to salvage from what I had invested in. The goal was to discover the following: after I had wholeheartedly invested 25 years of my life to being a good Baptist Protestant, why would an esteemed group of men set out to utterly destroy my life because I wanted answers about the confusion they had brought into my life? I just wanted to know why all of the rules were suddenly changed. I wanted to know why they were saying things that made no sense to me. No, I didn’t get any answers to straightforward questions. Instead, I chose to believe they were not really saying what they said; what they were teaching was a “radical departure” from the norm, and I had a long way to go before I would even begin to understand it. Therefore, I needed to shut up and obey, or I would be dealt with. Yes, the long lost and true Reformation gospel had been rediscovered, and they were among those blazing the new trail resurgence.

Basically, I assumed they were full of it, and were propagating some sort of false gospel with a new twist. I also assumed that my “friends” in Reformed circles would not stand by and let them destroy my life. When I was shown to be woefully wrong on the latter along with everything else, I had to know why. And, by golly, I would find the answers, expose them, and many Protestants would arise and vindicate me for the sake of God and love for the truth.

Wow, was I ever clueless. What did I think was going on all of my Protestant life which was like living in Peyton Place? Eventually, I discovered the answer to that whispering question in the back of my mind that started soon after I became a Protestant: “There is something not right here; is it me, something with the church, or a little of both?” And though I professed many tenets of the Protestant faith, something never felt right about it. The eventual answer was always too simplistic to be accepted: a false gospel.

Nevertheless, for most of my journey, I functioned on the idea that those rascally New Calvinists are misrepresenting “true” Calvinism and the hallowed traditions of the Reformation. A great example is this resolution I submitted to the SBC convention in 2011. For the most part, it strikes the core problem, but becomes blurred when I cite the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message Statement.

Sanctification is the experience, beginning in regeneration, by which the believer is set apart to God’s purposes…

Sanctification is not a mere experience. It is not something that is merely “done to us rather than something we do.” You can go back to the oldest Baptist confessions and find this same nuanced language that really boils down to the idea that the Christian life is a mere EXPERIENCE and NOT something we DO. And as I point out in this post, your sanctification doctrine determines your justification doctrine.

In my naivety, I further cited the 2000 confession:

Justification is God’s gracious and full acquittal upon principles of His righteousness of all sinners who repent and believe in Christ.

I have never been comfortable with the idea that justification is a mere forensic declaration by God. But you know, good Protestants confess such things anyway because it’s tradition—that’s what Protestants do. However, the truth follows: justification is a state of being, not a mere declaration. We are not merely declared righteous, we are righteous. Christ not only died for our justification, the Spirit raised Christ from the dead so that we could also be raised from the dead to a truly justified state of being…APART from the law (Romans 4:23-25).

Christ didn’t come to keep the law perfectly so that His righteousness could be imputed to us, our sins were imputed to Him so that we could be resurrected with Him and MADE the righteousness of God the Father. If Adam’s sin MADE us truly sinful by ONE act, then Christ MADE us truly just by ONE act of obedience. You can’t have it both ways.

Nice guys don’t always love the truth as they should because they are too nice to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But it’s a bad Protestant baby.