God’s Idea of Righteousness
By David Brandt Berg
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There is no goodness except God.1 God is the only one who is good. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”2 Everybody’s bad except those who have the goodness of God, the love of God, and the righteousness of God. God’s Word says that all other righteousness, man’s righteousness, your own righteousness, your own goodness, is like filthy rags. “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.”3 In other words, God says if you don’t have His goodness, which is true goodness, true holiness, real love, real mercy, you have nothing but a filthy rag!
God’s idea of righteousness is the pitiful, hopeless, lost, humble, sinful sinner who knows he needs God. Those He came to save. “He came not to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners.”4 So God’s idea of goodness is godliness—a sinner who knows he needs God and depends on Him for salvation—not the self-righteous who think they can save themselves by their own goodness.
God’s idea of saintliness is not sinless perfection, self-righteousness. It’s a sinner saved by grace, a sinner who has no perfection, no righteousness of his own at all, but is totally dependent on the grace, love, and mercy of God by faith. Believe it or not, those are the only saints—there are no others.
God knows you’re anything but perfect and can’t be perfect and never will be perfect, and usually you’re pretty much of a mess, like the rest of us. So the only question, the only standard, is: Do you depend on the Lord, trust Him and His grace and His love and His mercy and give Him all the glory and the credit? If there’s anything good you ever do, do you give Him the glory? Do you say, “Thank Jesus; don’t thank me. Thank the Lord. It’s all the Lord!”
That’s what the Lord looks to as saintliness, the person who knows he’s a sinner and therefore gives God all the glory if anything good comes of what he’s done. As Paul said, “I know that in me, my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.”5 There’s nothing good about me or my flesh; anything good is only the Lord. That’s sainthood!
David—a sinning saint
The greatest men in the Bible were guys who made terrible mistakes and realized they were sinners, that they needed God. I never got much encouragement from those who were so perfect, like Enoch, who walked so close to God that he got completely out of touch with humanity, so God had to take him out of this world. I take a lot more heart from the pathetic stories of the drunks and the harlots and the publicans and the sinners who came to Jesus for love and mercy.
In fact, one of the worst characters in the Bible is my greatest inspiration. One of the most wicked men in the entire Bible, who was a murderer, an adulterer, and a liar, but whom God turned around and called a man after His own heart, King David.6
The most encouraging thing about David’s example was not his perfectionism but his human failures, sins, and shortcomings, which gave God a chance to get all the glory and show there’s hope for me—and you. I always figured if God could forgive even as bad a guy as David, surely He could forgive me. I think King David has been an encouragement to a lot of people—to know how much mercy God has and how much forgiveness He has, how good He can be if you’ll really repent like David did.
He was one of the biggest sinners in the Bible and did some horrible things. But look what a marvelous change occurred in him when the Lord really humbled him. It came through a humbling of his spiritual pride.
But he had to be completely exposed—his wickedness and his sins and his weaknesses. He was sitting up there on his throne so high and mighty and seemingly so perfect and righteous. The prophet Nathan came along and pointed the finger at him and said, “Thou art the man.”7 “You’re the wicked one, the sinner.” And then the judgments of God began to fall and he lost everything, everything but Bathsheba; she stuck by him. He was absolutely stripped except for a few loyal friends and followers.
A guy couldn’t have gone down in worse defeat than King David did. And the worst of all his sins was that he had become a hypocrite because he covered up all of his other sins and pretended to be so righteous, judging other people’s problems. That’s when the prophet came along and exposed him.
He apparently had a lot of spiritual pride that had to be humbled, because look what a great hero he was to begin with. Even as a little boy he was a great hero. He even fought and killed a lion and a bear to protect his sheep.8 Then all Israel knew what a great hero he was when he killed Goliath, the giant. They were praising his name above King Saul, saying, “Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands.”9 It could be that he was quite proud, which is no doubt why the Lord had to finally really humble him and disgrace him and debase him down to the bottom before he finally became humble and sympathetic to others and wrote those marvelous Psalms.
So David is a dandy bad example, yet a great example of a great man who was apparently lifted up in pride for a while and thereby got into great sin and thereby had to have a great humbling, a great judgment, a great confession, and a terrible stripping of everything.
His was a great sin and it was a great dealing of God with him for his iniquity, but it was also a great repentance, and as a result, a great forgiveness. But it cost him the child of the wife that was dearest to him, Bathsheba. But praise God, as a result of his repentance through having gone through that soul agony of the loss of that first child of Bathsheba, God forgave, and in His mercy gave him another one named Solomon, who became a very great king, the wisest and richest Israel ever knew.
Though they were great sins, he had a great repentance, and therefore God had a great forgiveness for him. And from that squeezing and twisting of David’s life came forth the sweet honey of the Psalms and the fragrance of his praises to the Lord for His mercy. It was all God and all grace, and none of himself or his own righteousness—a lesson that has been an encouragement to other great sinners like me and you ever since.
“I will have mercy and not sacrifice”
“And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto His disciples, ‘Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?’ But when Jesus heard that, He said unto them, ‘They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: For I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’”10
Jesus said to go back and learn what God meant when He said, “I will have mercy and not sacrifice.”11 In other words, “I would rather see you have love and not just a sacrificial, dutiful, law-keeping offering of sacrifices and duties. I’d rather see you give love to others than be self-righteous.”
I think we all need to apply this to ourselves. We all need to learn what that means. We all need to ask Him in all humility to help us have mercy on others, knowing that we ourselves must also be forgiven for many sins. Remembering continually what sinners we are and how many mistakes we’ve made helps greatly to keep us humble and to avoid that spirit of self-righteous pride which causes us to criticize and condemn others.
If you’ll remember that no one is perfect, including you, you’ll help others to do the best they can, as you’d like them to do to you. It helps to always remember we’re all sinners and we all make mistakes and that we must “forgive one another even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us.”12
The only way we can be patient with others is to know what a hopeless case we are ourselves. You’ll be much more merciful to others if you realize how much you also need mercy. When you need a lot of forgiveness and you need a lot of mercy, it sure helps you to extend it to others.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”13 If you can’t forgive, you can’t have real love or real humility; you can’t have mercy, because love is forgiveness and mercy.
“Above all things have fervent love one toward another.”14
Compiled from the writings of David Brandt Berg, originally published March 1986. Adapted and republished August 2015. Read by Jon Marc.
1 Matthew 19:17.
2 Romans 3:23.
3 Isaiah 64:6.
4 Matthew 9:13.
5 Romans 7:18.
6 Acts 13:22.
7 2 Samuel 12.
8 1 Samuel 17:34–37.
9 1 Samuel 18:7–9.
10 Matthew 9:10–13.
11 Hosea 6:6.
12 Ephesians 4:32.
13 Matthew 6:12–15.
14 1 Peter 4:8.
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