Not Our Lack of Self-Righteousness, by Tianqi Wu

A line from a Taiwanese pop TV show several years ago, “if apology works, then what’s the point of police?” If your apology can move God to forgive you, then what’s the point of Christ’s death?

The prevailing idea is salvation is by “do what you can” – the requirement varies based on their assessment of human ability, the more optimistic ones require a close to perfect reform, and the more pessimistic ones require “faith alone” – we can’t do the law, but at least we can “believe”, and God being gracious will accept that…one such person says, “God looks for reasons (in us) to save us”.

But righteousness is never about what the unrighteous can do, just as life is never about what the dead can do.
God demands men to be righteous. Born in Adam, we are already unrighteous. Since we desire to have our unrighteousness covered, in our evil imagination (unless and until we are effectually called by God’s gospel) always buy into the lie that yes, we can cover our unrighteousness. Given that we are ALREADY guilty, this reaction of “yes, we can” is FURTHER defiance of God’s law, and COMPOUNDS our guilt.

It is not anything in us or proceeding from us that placed us under God’s wrath. We are ALREADY condemned by imputed guilt, before we are FURTHER condemned by our works of flesh, among which is our self-righteousness, i.e. our imagination that yes, we can cover our unrighteousness.

Our fundamental problem is not our self-righteousness, but our unrighteousness. We are not saved by our not being self-righteous. We are saved by Christ’s death for God’s elect, and one result of Christ’s death is that God causes those for whom Christ died to repent from their self-righteousness and believe in Christ’s righteousness(and not our repentance or belief)as the whole reason of our salvation.

It is self-righteousness to condition our justification on our not being self-righteous. It is unrepentant unbelief to condition the application of Christ’s death on our repentance and belief. The elect repent and believe as a result of Christ’s death for them.

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23 Comments on “Not Our Lack of Self-Righteousness, by Tianqi Wu”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    The idea of the “governmental theory of the atonement” is that there is no real specific law, that there is always something more real than law, behind law.

    1. This causes people to think of all sin as sin against grace

    2. I I am not denying that the sins of Christians are against grace nor do i have any problem saying that chastisement is Fatherly grace, but I question a Deuteronomic connection between our sins and our chastisements. When a Christian sins against grace, that Christian is still sinning against law.

    Romans 7:4–“You have DIED TO THE LAW through the body of Christ, so that you belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we bear fruit for God.”

    Saying that our “activity” is not law-obedience is NOT the gospel. First, there is no short cut around God’s law. God is both just and justifier of the ungody, so God’s law has been satisfied for the elect alone by Christ’s obedience to death. Second, faith has as its object not just any “Jesus” or any “grace”, but the Jesus who satisfied the law for all who will be justified (and not for the non-elect).
    There is no escape from legalism in a “difference” between a demand for faith and a demand for law-obedience. Does faith include works or not? If faith works and faith is an instrument, why can’t works of faith be an instrument?

    In our day many folks think they have escaped legalism by denying any antithesis between law and gospel. Law and gospel are not the same thing, they never claim to have the same function. Law says what God demands. Gospel says how Christ satisfied that demand for the elect.. Only one sin puts you under law’s curse. No matter how many acts of obedience to the law, the law never promises everlasting life.

    The “end of the law” is Christ dying the death for the elect that the law demanded, so that there is no remainder left for the Spirit enabled Christian to do. The gospel says DONE. The gospel does not say “to be done by the life of Christ in the elect”.

    Romans 11:5–”So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But

  2. markmcculley Says:

    Tianqi Wu–I’m still a sinner. I’ve not stopped sinning. I still love sins. I’m still addicted to sins. I consciously or unconsciously presume on grace. I habitually disobey.

    I’ve not done what I should have done. I’ve done what I should not have done. I’ve loved what I should not have loved. I’ve had pleasure in what I should not have had pleasure.

    I “repented” of some sins many times, knowing I probably will have to “repent” sometime again later…this is also enough reason to doubt my “motives”…

    There are probably also sins that I have not even come to light to see its sin, but ignorantly sinned in that way the whole time. I certainly cannot repent of those sins by “implicit confession / repentance” (e.g. I confess / repent of whatever I did wrong without knowing it…)

    I cannot say, “God changed me and I’m now a different person”, other than that I’ve now come to the truth that God’s law will not go unsatisfied, and we sinners will never satisfy God’s law by faith or obedience, and Christ has already satisfied God’s law by his death for the sinners God eternally loved, and as many as God calls to this good news are justified by this work of Christ.

    Christ and him crucified, the propitiation for our sins – this ONE work counts so that NONE of our works count.

    God imputes righteousness apart from works
    = God justifies the ungodly
    = God does not impute sin to the elect.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Tianq Wu—The free gift of righteousness is a legal transaction outside the sinner’s will, happened between Christ and God, willed by God from eternity.
    By its NATURE it’s not “refusable”, the legal transaction was independent of the sinner’s will and already completed in Christ’s death and resurrection, so all of its consequences now follow with the force of “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. ”
    Thus in time God imputes this righteousness to his elect and by the power of the gospel truth and Holy Spirit calls them to witness their justification through faith in this gospel of their salvation.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    Tianq Wu—Where sin abounded, grace abounded the more.” “Lordship salvation” may allow you to praise God in this way at first, but then they start to demand seeing your improvement. They explain explain that the “sanctified” sinner sins much less, and is more sensitive to even one remaining sin, so they can praise God that God makes them sin less AND God’s forgiveness makes up the difference.

    Thus their assurance depends on two things:
    1, Victory over sins
    2, Sorrow over sins

    “God I thank you I’m not like that sinner, I AM overcoming my sins AND EVEN WHEN I fall into sin, I (unlike others) AM truly sorry about my sins, and you forgive my sins…”

    They think “death to sin” in Romans 6 is about a new nature that progressively overcomes sins, so they think the answer to “shall we sin so that grace may abound” is God makes us sin less and less now.

    Romans 6 is saying we can’t even sin to get more grace, because you either have grace or not, and if you have grace, then you’ve died to sin, meaning ALL of your sins were removed in Christ’s death.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    Tianqi Wu —for the Arminian, Christ’s death ALONE did NOT save anybody. On their view, the sinner’s faith accomplished something just as crucial, since it is sinner’s faith that decides whether someone benefits from the effect of Christ’s death.
    If the Arminian false Christ counts as savior for his death, then the Arminian sinner also counts as a savior for his faith. There is no exclusivity.
    Some Arminians come out and say Christ was not a savior but a Law giver – that he gave a new law by which we may establish our righteousness, namely believing. Neonomians say God had to give a new law, because the old one was not very fair to sinners

    this new law, they say, is do-able

  6. markmcculley Says:

    Tianqi Wu—- In the scripture, “faith” can refer to the object of faith. This is why I do not feel obliged to read “Christ’s faith” everywhere salvation is said to be “through faith” (justification, preservation, etc). Here’s an example. Luke 7:47 For this reason I say to you, Her many sins are remitted, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, he loves little.
    48 And He said to her, Your sins are forgiven. 49 And those reclining with Him began to say within themselves, Who is this who even forgives sins?
    50 But He said to the woman, YOUR FAITH has saved you. Go in peace.
    The text explicitly says “your faith” . The Arminian view would be that the sinner’s faith is the condition of salvation, which here is about the forgiveness of sins. But the context shows us that “your faith” has Christ as the object of her faith.
    The passage above is one of the several accounts of Christ forgiving sins on earth before He died on the cross because of the sins of his people .Romans 4: 23 Now IT (the object of faith, not only Christ but His righteousness) was credited to him was not written for Abraham alone, 24 but also for us. IT (the object of faith, His righteousness) will be credited to us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered up because of] our trespasses and raised because of our justification. 5:1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 We have also obtained access through Him through faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Tianqi Wu–The Arminian says, Jesus did it all, but I must ACCEPT, it’s not a work, it’s not righteousness…his work is everything, I bring nothing…
    This “humility / non-boasting” is plainly pride – the Arminian is saying his “not a work / not righteousness” “ACCEPT” is MORE IMPORTANT than “Jesus did it all”, that his “nothing” decides Jesus’ “everything”!
    And many “experimental Calvinists” say,, I still sin all the time, but my heart and my behavior has changed, and I no longer want to sin, so that causes me to decide that I believe and accept….

  8. markmcculley Says:

    nietzsche–ressentiment—-at least I was lost enough

    at least I was dead enough

    at least I was poor enough

    at least I knew I was lost

    But to ask the reverse question—-have you ever NOT been a Christian? Or were you a “covenant child”?

    Were you aa failure before you were a Christian, or was he a “covenant child”?

    Have you ever failed after becoming a Christian?

    Are you currently failing at anything?

  9. The biggest problem is not that we try to build our own righteousness. The biggest problem is that we are born guilty and cannot obey God’s law.

    Law is law, therefore do not confuse law with the gospel—-law is law, which is why you need the gospel—law is law and applies to you, if you are Christian or not, if you are politician or not, if you are representing a “third party” or not…

    David Bishop You are either sanctified or you are not. This doesn’t mean we aren’t to obey God. Christ’s law. We are.. I don’t hate God’s law. Far from it. In fact, if God’s law makes you angry, then you have not been converted. We don’t get upset at God’s law. Rather, we get upset with attempts to use God’s law as a means to establish a sinner’s righteousness. We get upset with the idea that the wicked self-righteous people who attempt such wickedness are, in fact, Christians. But we don’t get upset at God’s law. We delight in God’s law. We see God’s justice in His law, and we see this justice driving us to the Christ who satisfied that law for all His elect.

  10. Romans 5:19-20–“For as by one man’s disobedience the elect were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the elect will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the sin, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…”

    When we see a “don’t touch the paint” sign, then it occurs to us for the first time that maybe we will touch the paint. But I don’t think this explains the increase of sin.

    The greater sin is legalism, the sin of thinking we got God obligated to do something for us because we DID refrain from touching the paint.
    In other words, before conversion, we have built-in a motive that says we do stuff to get stuff from God (ie, if that’s not a reason, why bother?).

  11. The law does not only “kill” by making us thinking of things to do that we would not have thought of before. The main way that the law kills is that it is used by idolaters (all of us by nature) to try to justify ourselves before God. We think–I did it, or I did enough of it. The law kills, leads to death, and if no gospel, only that. But the elect while still under the law are taught by the gospel to SEE that they are dead.

    Romans 7 verse 9: “I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” We were dead by nature, and already sinners. This “I died” is something besides the death we were born with under the law.

  12. Genesis 3:19 . For you are dust, and you will return to dust.”

    1 Thessalonians 4:11 to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands

    In dualism, the spiritual life is pitted against our embodiment –whether “high church” or “low church,” liturgical or not. The constant allure of escapism is always at hand to turn religious practices into a fearful longing to abandon the task of living patiently, generously, lovingly in a world marked by pain and sorrow. We must go through our bodies, not away from them, as living sacrifices.

    Hebrews 13: 15 Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name. 16 Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.

    I Peter 2:5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

    The neurotic burden which is the knowledge of the inutility and unimpressiveness of our efforts can lead us toward either triviality or despair. We can sacrifice the unimportant, and in this way not really care about what we are doing, Should we give up watching Chinese movies or sports on TV?

    We ask how much is enough, or even compare our own actions and non-actions against what those around us do or do not do. ,

    We can spend way too much thinking about ourselves and what we are doing. But then I also need to pay more attention to my habits, to what I am always doing and not doing. In the age to come, I will be a lot less selfish. Will being less selfish makes us happier in the age to come? Or does being unselfish mean that the age to come is not about our happiness?

    In this present age, there’s so many regrets, so little closure, so much unfinished business. But the older we get, it also seems like the bigger problem is that we have finished too soon. Sex is not so good when you finish too soon. Life is not so good when you finish too soon. if my life is finished, why am I still living? if am not dead yet, and life is not finished yet, Why can’t I have some unfinished things to do. Christ’s finished death is all my righteousness, so what does that leave me to do.

    we must give up. We must give up not this or that habit or food or particular sin, but the entire project of self-justification, of making God’s love and our future conditional on our own doing and not doing. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Give up!

    All power, all money, all self-control, all striving, all efforts at centering and fixing myself cannot stop our our return to dust , but in the meanwhile if we don’t do one thing, we do another thing to take the place of the thing we didn’t do.

  13. markmcculley Says:

    Tianqi Wu .” The standard of fellowship is not “how well” one now imperfectly keeps the law (imperfect keeping is NOT keeping), but whether one abides in the truth of the gospel. Here’s the difference . The law, properly understood, condemns those who had disobeyed God in any point, while the gospel declares the justification of sinners through redemption in Christ for the elect.

    Judging on the basis of the gospel is not about judging a person’s salvation based on “how well” he believes – which would be judging by a law, and making oneself a judge of men’s hearts.Judging on the basis of the gospel is about agreeing with God’s judgment that only those in Christ have been justified, freed from the curse of law. On this basis, Paul said to Galatians, if you end up trusting in circumcision for righteousness, then Christ is of no profit to you – no matter how much “Christian” works you seem to have “

  14. markmcculley Says:

    Arminians think that God is looking for something in us to work with

    if you are too selfish, God’s saving work will be undone….
    God cannot work with us if we don’t let go…


    “Once upon a time there was a woman, and she was wicked as wicked could be, and she died. And not one good deed was left behind her. The devils took her and threw her into the lake of fire. And her guardian angel stood thinking: what good deed of hers can I remember to tell God? Then he remembered and said to God: once she pulled up an onion and gave it to a beggar woman. And God answered: take now that same onion, hold it out to her in the lake, let her take hold of it and pull, and if you pull her out of the lake, she can go to paradise. The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her: here, woman, he said, take hold of it and I’ll pull. And he began pulling carefully, and had almost pulled her all of the way out, when other sinners in the lake saw her being pulled out and all began holding on to her so as to be pulled out with her. But the woman was wicked as wicked could be, and she began to kick them with her feet: ‘It’s me who’s getting pulled out, not you; it’s my onion, not yours.’ No sooner did she say it than the onion broke. And the woman fell back into the lake and is burning there to this day. And the angel wept and went away.”

    (From The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky)

    Let’s think about this onion in Dostoevsky’s parable.

    Is this “salvation by works”? Oh, please. (Don’t put undo pressure on a parable.) I think we can all agree that being pulled out of hell by an onion is grace! The lesson is this: In saving you, God is looking for something he can work with — and God can work with something as insignificant as an onion. The point of the onion in the parable is that it was the one tiny modicum of unselfishness in the wicked woman’s self-centered life. It was the point from which God could work toward her salvation. What God cannot work with is selfishness. S

    The object of salvation is you. God wants to save you from falling into a black hole of self-destruction brought on by a self-centered life. Jesus calls you to let go of yourself and be drawn into the his saving orbit. Jesus is at work to save you from yourself. But the moment you start thinking selfishly about your salvation, the onion breaks and the saving work is undone.

    The bad can be saved as long as they are humble.
    The proud cannot be saved, no matter how good they are.

    Jesus does not divide the world into good and bad — Jesus divides the world into proud and humble.

    We should think like this: “If I am to be saved, then surely lots of others will be saved too.”
    When we start thinking, “No doubt I am among the few to be saved”…the onion breaks!

    I worry about those who are certain of who is going to be in hell.
    It invariably turns out to be those they dislike — the despised “them.”

    Salvation is not the final triumph of hatred and prejudice.
    At last me and my kind are vindicated and those awful others get what they deserve. That’s when the onion breaks and you find yourself back in the self-induced hell of loving no one but yourself.

    Listen to what the wise Elder Zosima says to the young Alyosha Karamazov about hell…

    “What is hell? I maintain it is the suffering of no longer being able to love.” -Elder Zosima, The Brothers Karamazov
    Hell as the suffering of being incapable of love?

    Jean-Paul Satre said, “Hell is other people.”

    No. Hell is being unable to love other people.

    If I have an arrogant assurance of my own salvation while savoring a secret delight in others going to hell…the onion is about to break.

  15. markmcculley Says:

    It is God’s nature to make something out of nothing; hence one who is not yet nothing, out of him God cannot make anything. Man, however, makes something else out of that which exists; but this has no value whatever. Therefore God accepts only the forsaken, cures only the sick, gives sight only to the blind, restores life only to the dead, sanctifies only the sinners, gives wisdom only to the unwise. In short, He has mercy only on those who are wretched, and gives grace only to those who are not in grace. Therefore no proud saint, no wise or righteous person, can become God’s material, and God’s purpose cannot be fulfilled in him. He remains in his own work and makes a fictitious, pretended, false painted saint of himself, that is, a hypocrite.

    Luther on Psalm 38:21

  16. markmcculley Says:

    Sam Powell–God is completely just in his actions. Again, the limits come from those who refuse him

    mark–I would say that this guy is moving the atonement from Christ’s death to the Spirit’s regenerating work in our hearts.

    But this itself says nothing about sovereign regeneration

    Some people have a deep and abiding hatred for God. They want nothing to do with the saving grace of Christ.

    But some of us no longer have a deep and abiding hatred for God. We want the saving grace of God and ask for it, so we get it.

    At this point, he doesn’t locate the difference in regeneration.

    He certainly doesn’t say that the Spirit’s work of regeneration was purchased by Christ’s death.

    Amyraldians at least say that the Spirit’s regenerating work was gained by Christ’s death, even while they teach that Christ’s death made propitiation for all sinners.

    Powell–Limited Atonement – Not to mean God is limited – God’s hands are not tied. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not barely enough to squeak the elect into heaven. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. There is never a question of His death and resurrection being incomplete or an atonement that could only handle a percentage of sinners. Jesus’ sacrifice was complete – more than enough for all. Just as when he broke the bread and pieces of fish – He started with a small portion and ended with food left over. His grace has no limits and spills out to even the unbelievers and those who persecute the church.

    Powell–The atonement, however, is limited to those who call on his name. The limits stem from the sinfulness of people. There will always be wicked people – sons of belial – who have a deep and abiding hatred for God. They hate God and want nothing to do with the saving grace of Christ. They work overtime in their evil ways and justify their actions by saying there is no God. They attack the gospel with vicious and mocking criticism and glory in their own intellect. God is completely and perfectly just and fair to limit the atonement to those who call upon His name. He requires only that we call on him and even gives us what we need in order to do this.

    Powell–Those who have made themselves into god, angrily and jealously look on Christians as fools, who in weakness, have chosen to believe on the one true God. The wicked believe we live in a dream world – that we believe a fairy tale. But it’s the very weakness, the crying out, the begging for forgiveness, that brings us to our knees, that ultimately gives us strength in Christ. God is completely just in his actions. Again, the limits come from those who refuse him.

  17. markmcculley Says:

    The hypocrite, while she may be caught up in whatever sin she is caught up in, is able to recognize virtue and desires to be perceived as virtuous even while lacking virtue. Hypocrites try to cover their sins because they recognize them as sins.

    For many, avoiding hypocrisy is a means of making atonement for sin. “Well, I may be selfish , but at least I’m honest about it.” It’s as if “admitting it” makes sin no longer a sin.

  18. markmcculley Says:

    if you look at the following sermon, it’s really about the sinner, not about Christ—When preachers attempt to exhort their hearers to holier living, when they ask them whether they are hearing, but not doing, when they question whether their hearers are too worldly, or not zealous enough in their service to God, it leads to certain reactions.
    The reaction of the child of God, is to confess ‘Well, I’m guilty on every count’. He may feel searched out, exposed, laid bare, but he can only confess his guilt. The message does nothing to lift him up, nothing to lead him to Christ, nothing to improve his walk…. nothing… to achieve what is actually exhorted. It simply produces guilt, and perhaps, at best, confession. Except, of course, in the purely religious. They go away with renewed zeal and vigour to improve their conduct, improve their zeal in the things of God. But… again… they are not led any closer to Christ.
    The child of God, like ‘Happy Jack’ can but own the following: ‘I’m a poor sinner, and nothing at all, but Jesus Christ is my all in all’.
    For, you see, when the true believer in Christ is asked to consider his conduct and walk, he has to confess that there is NOTHING good in any thing HE does. All his contribution is sinful, all that he does is self-righteous, all but puffs up his pride if he ever thinks there is any good in it. He knows he is wicked through and through, he knows he has never done any good thing, and he knows that ALL his hope, all his confession is in Christ, and Christ alone. Christ is all to him. Christ is his righteousness. Christ is his holiness. Christ is his only plea… and ALL his plea. Then truly, when asked about his service, his holiness, his zeal, he can but point to Christ, and say, ‘I, in myself, have nothing to offer, but Christ is my all, and IN HIM, I am perfect, complete, wanting in nothing’. And when brought to that point he rises up from the former despair, rises up with eagle’s wings, ceases to faint and be weary, but rises up in faith and hope and praises God for His great mercy and grace in Jesus Christ, that Christ loved him, gave Himself for him, and made him to sit with Him in heavenly places.
    Yes, when preachers exhort to holy living, they never produce it. The pharisee may respond with a ‘fair show’ of righteousness, but it is all death in reality. The child of God, however, is cast down and sees nothing but sin and depravity within himself and all he does. But when preachers point to the finished work of Christ, the love, the faith, the accomplishments of Christ, the blood and suffering of Christ, the death and the resurrection of Christ, the sovereignty and reign of Christ… THEN, and only then, does the heart of the believer rise up and rejoice. THEN he knows, that in HIM, in Christ, is all His hope.
    Yes, Happy Jack, you’re right… ‘I’m a poor sinner, and nothing at all, but Jesus Christ is my all in all’. a Post by Ian Potts

  19. markmcculley Says:

    We got a lot of folks who want to be “confessionally correct” Calvinists who don’t want to talk abut the good news of God’s election to lasting life.

    They say things like—“Jesus will save all those who find the payment for their sins in His death.”

    Let me ask what happens to the payment Jesus made for the sinners who don’t find payment?

    Did Christ attempt to pay but failedl?

    Did Christ really pay, so that God is no just to give to all for whom Christ the remission of sins and the all things, including the gift of believing the gospel?

    What will happen to a Reformed church when the Arminians born in its covenant are told that their salvation (or not) depends on God, and not on what they found? What would happen if these evangelicals were told that the found an idol?

  20. markmcculley Says:

    The Romans 6 answer is that grace is either grace or not. There is not more or less grace, but either grace or no grace. More sin does not get the elect more grace, because all those God justly justifies have all the grace any other elect person has. If you have grace, then you are justified from sin, and if you don’t have grace, you are a sinner “free from righteousness” (6:20).

    While unbelievers trust in God to help them to sin less, those who have been delivered to the gospel know that there are only two kind of sinners, —guilty sinners and justified sinners .

    The theodicy of Romans 3 announces that God is true even if every man is a liar. We justify God because God has revealed Himself. And God has revealed that God is more than sovereign. God’s words reveal God to be Righteous and Just. And God’s word is justified in history by what God did when Christ gave Himself up to death on the cross because of the imputed guilt of the elect.

    We were wrong: God was right and God is still right. God prevails, but it is not only a matter of “might makes right” or “sovereignty always wins”. One. We have no right to make a negative judgment on God. Two, it is God who will be making a negative judgment on many sinners. Three. we are called to make a positive rational judgment about God’s justice.

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