6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
It is common for those who have a passion for good works to degenerate into self-righteousness. The Pharisees, the Galatians, the Judaizers, and, at moments, even Peter and Barnabas fell into this trap. After all, nothing makes more sense to our carnal reason than to say that if we have achieved righteousness, then we must have earned it solely by our own merit and hard work.
It is to combat this notion that Paul exhorts us to walk in Christ, to conduct our lives, according to the same principle that united us with Christ in the first place. And what was that principle? Faith. Faith united us with Christ, was the appointed means by which God credited to our account the righteousness of Christ, was the gift that enabled us to emerge from darkness into the light of life.
So let us be absolutely clear what this means. Faith brings nothing of its own to the transaction; we did not receive Christ because we were wiser than our neighbor; we did not receive Christ because we were more intelligent than our neighbor; we did not receive Christ because of anything in us. For by nature we are all children of wrath, deserving of destruction, committed to waste and profligacy. What then does faith do? Looking to self and despairing of any self-deliverance, faith looks to Christ and rests upon Him for deliverance – save me O Lord, for I am helpless and needy; have mercy on me, for I am a sinner worthy of death.
And so Paul urges us to pursue our growth in holiness with this same mentality. Look not to your own worth, not to your own deserving, not to your own wisdom, but instead to the grace of God, the mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who frees us from our self-absorption and enables us to pursue righteousness to the glory of God. God will not honor those who strive to achieve righteousness in their own strength. He looks to the one who is humble and who relies on His grace in Christ.
And so, reminded that God’s grace is the source of our strength and righteousness; that that which distinguishes us from our neighbor is not our commitment, not our determination, not anything of ours, but rather the completely free grace of God, let us confess that we often fall into the sin of self-righteousness.