In the third chapter of Romans, Paul basically says God is righteous and we're not. Sounds pretty simple, right? But how often do we try to rely on our own righteousness?
The law that was given to the Jews made them very aware when they were missing the mark, and because God has also written his law on our hearts, we too are aware of how incapable we are of righteousness. We all mess up. We can't boast about the things we do and say, because all too often our words and actions reveal just how unrighteous we really are on our own; as Isaiah says, "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags."
It is through faith alone that we enter a relationship with God, and it is through that relationship that God illuminates his law in our hearts. This, in turn, affects our words and actions.
We can't do anything to make ourselves righteous. We can't follow God's law perfectly (whether Torah or what he's written on our hearts). We can't clean ourselves up enough on the outside to transform ourselves on the inside.
But we try. Oh, we try. Sometimes we strive and perform only to fail and berate ourselves for it; at other times we strive and perform and end up looking pretty good on the outside, but on the inside we know something is still not right. Either way, our focus is on our own performance, our own righteousness, and not God. In a culture that is highly individualistic and performance-driven, it is not surprising that so many people struggle with this. It's ingrained in us to focus on ourselves and our own performance rather than on God and his transforming love and grace.
I want to wrap this up with some of the lyrics to a really amazing song by Aaron Keyes. This song brings me to tears whenever I hear it. What a beautiful message.
Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul,
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God.
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.
These guilty hands are raised,
Filthy rags are all I bring,
And I have come to hide beneath your wings.
These holy hands are raised,
Washed in the fountain of your grace,
And now I wear your righteousness.