Personal righteousness, that’s how. Who says so? Not Paul, that’s for sure; he thinks you get right with God by accepting the salvation made possible by Jesus death (Romans 1.16-17). Jesus on the other hand thinks it’s by being righteous. More than this, he says God will treat you in exactly the same way you treat others. He makes this point repeatedly; what the believer will receive from God will be in direct proportion to what the believer does.
So, according to Jesus, if you want God’s forgiveness, you must first forgive those who have wronged you:
For if you forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6.14)
He applies this principle to other areas too. You want to experience God’s riches and blessings? Then first be generous yourself:
Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back. (Luke 6.38)
You want to avoid God’s judgement? Then don’t judge others:
Judge not that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. (Matthew 7.1-2)
You want God to show you mercy? Then you must first show mercy yourself:
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5.7)
You want God to show you compassion? Then be compassionate yourself:
The King will say to those at his right hand… I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord when did we see the hungry and feed thee or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee?… And the King will answer them, Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’. (Matthew 25.34-46)
Do Christians believe that the degree to which they demonstrate mercy and forgiveness to others is the degree to which God will demonstrate it towards them, both in this life and the next?
It’s not that Christians don’t help the needy. Clearly many do, as do some atheists, Jews, Muslims and all manner of others. No, the point is that Christians have lost sight of the fact that for Jesus such behaviour directly equates with righteousness, which in turn determines one’s ultimate fate. There really is no getting away from the correlation that Jesus is at pains to underscore, particularly in Matthew and Luke’s gospels. The only recourse seems to be to disregard it, which most Christians are content to do. They are much happier with the self-centred faith that Paul offers in Romans 5.17, ‘the free gift of righteousness’. This makes far fewer demands, carrying only the minimal expectation that one’s treatment of others has any bearing on one’s own well-being.
Except this isn’t how it works, not according to Jesus; God’s forgiveness, blessing, compassion and removal of judgement are entirely conditional. To Jesus, a ‘measure for measure’ arrangement is how one attains righteousness, which is not God-given, but is worked at in the practicalities of daily life, in relation to others.
I dared to suggest this recently on a Christian blog and was berated for making a ‘Satanic’ suggestion. Not me, but the one Christians say is the Son of God, God himself even. Evidently this doesn’t extend to knowing what he actually says, taking notice of it and doing something about it.