We can get pretty proud of our own righteousness. We look around and see people who are acting more sinfully than we are and we puff up a bit. “After all I don’t smoke/swear/get drunk/sleep around/act with physical violence/watch pornography. I am a much better parent/employee/student/Christian/person than they are.” Oh, we would never say this out loud – that wouldn’t seem humble – but we think it way too often.
The next assumption we make is that if we are more righteous than others, then we get rewarded. “What did I do to deserve this?!” people cry out. “Wow, you must have been good to get that reward” is the same thought with a different direction But this idea that good behavior brings rewards and bad behavior punishment isn’t Christianity but karma. If it were true, we would have no explanation for Job, Jesus, or Paul’s lives.
When people come to me and ask what sin they have committed that God seems to be working against them, I assure them that God doesn’t act this way. God doesn’t punish or reward us based on our righteousness. In fact, Jesus tell us plainly that this righteousness of which we’re so proud is no more than a soiled undergarment in relation to God’s expectation of us (“Be perfect, then, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”)
Paul and Silas would have been freed from their prison regardless because that is what God planned to happen. It wasn’t their obedience or their righteousness that freed them but God’s will. So why should we obey? What’s the benefit of a righteous life? For Paul and Silas, because they were faithful and worshiped God all night in jail, their jailer and his whole household were saved. Our righteousness doesn’t give us good outcomes – God does what God does – but it will win others to Christ.
So before we get too proud of our own righteousness, let’s remember that it too is a tool for mission, not a badge of honor.