I recently wrote a post at gush on the topic of "Works-Righteousness" and reckoned it reasonable to post here:
I was thinking about the term "Works-Righteousness" today and decided it is just another of those Christian Buzzwords that are thrown about without any care for their actual meaning. In this case, it's just a pejorative that's used to label a collection of beliefs without having a real meaning. It's like "Nazi" or "Fascist" for evangelicals.
So, I was wondering what you people think it means and if anyone can come up with a good actual definition.
Here are some thoughts I had [in an effort to show why I've decided it is just a junk-word Christians use to attack things.]
First, obviously the word indicates a philosophy/theology that links "works" to "righteousness"
The first and most important observation is that the term really cannot have anything to do with the Final Judgment if it has any meaning. People are described righteous or unrighteous throughout the Bible without any reference to the Final Judgment. So, whatever "righteous" means, it has to have a meaning/use that is not directly linked to the Judgment.
So, however one defines "works-righteousness," it cannot be defined by using the Final Judgment as a guide.
The second issue is that the word righteous refers to a state not a prize. In fact, we should probably stop using the word "righteous" altogether because 500 years of reformed writings have corrupted what the word means. The word really just means "to be as one ought to be." In today's language "acceptable" would probably be a better term.
The problem is that most of the time when people describe things having to do with works-righteousness, they do not treat "righteousness" as a state but rather as prize to be won, or as a label denoting someone is worthwhile rather than the worthwhileness itself.
The third issue, of course, is what is works, really. Do works refer to "good deeds" as in "doing the will of the father"? [a' la Matthew 7:21 and Matthew 12:50] I think that is mental definition people would often give...but often people who are attacking works-righteousness address people who are promoting "standard morality" things like not drinking, not dancing, not smoking, etc....items which are very much on the periphery of "doing the will of the father"
And, last but not least, what is the relationship that is assumed when someone decries a philosophy as "works-righteousness"?
Is it that works develop righteousness? Like pumping iron develops muscle or practicing develops mastery of the piano.
Is it that works secures righteousness, like having a majority of votes secures a person's election to government?
Is it that works demonstrates righteousness, like how the ability to scratch all other naturally occurring minerals demonstrates that something is a diamond.
Is it that works are demonstrated by the righteous in the same way that sentimental gifts are given by those who love others without really demonstrating or proving that love.
Or is that works and righteousness are tantamount to one another, like "having tons of money in the bank" and "being wealthy."
I don't really think people mean any of these because I believe most people use the term "works-righteousness" in a way that does not respect the fact that righteousness is a property someone has (or develops), not a evaluation or credential someone attains.
So... anyone care give a good definition for what "works-righteousness" means without appealing to the Final Judgment or treating "righteousness" as a credential?