My One Defense Is Not My Righteousness

When Matt Maher described his reason for writing the song “Lord, how I need you,” he talked of being inspired by the writings of C S Lewis.  Lewis wrote of a type of love for God that is completely born out of our very great need for God.  We see ourselves in our hopeless and helpless state and cry out for mercy and grace as we rely on God’s saving love to redeem us and reconcile us to himself through the cross.  Yes, we need God. We need the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are like me, then you love the sentiment in this song from Matt Maher even as it echoes that classic old hymn which compels us to “need Thee every hour.”

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
Where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

I have often sung these words in church and come to one line that I simply have not been able to sing as written.  The sentiment is there, but the words betray the sentiment. The song is saying that we do not have anything in us to save ourselves or to live in holiness.  The only hope we have is that we have a God who we need.  Agreed.  Even so, I have often found myself refusing to sing the line that would be totally out of place if we did not thoughtfully apply it to the intended context of the song.  “My one defense, MY righteousness.” If you think through the context of the song carefully, you do see that it is intended that it is Christ who is our one defense and it is Christ who is our righteousness.  In fact, in the final chorus, Matt Maher has even inserted the words, “You are” my one defense, my righteousness.  So, why do I struggle singing that one line at every other time? Right now, you are probably thinking that I am being very picky. But here is a test.  Just sing through the words of the song and ask yourself as you sing the words “my righteousness” if you are just a little bit tempted to think there is some good in yourself. This is why every time I have sung this song, I change the “my righteousness” to “Your righteousness.”

Righteousness is not an insignificant word.  The true definition of righteousness is something that can only be found in the very character of God.  His words are always true and right.  God has no capacity for lies and no ability for error (Psalm 19:8). When God judges, he does so only with a perfect standard and his justice is the very outpouring of his holy perfection in righteousness (Gen 18:25). God will never act outside of his righteousness and every action of his sovereign will is in righteousness (Deut 32:4).  God is right, only does right, and cannot do wrong.  This is the opposite of who I am and who you are.

Because of God’s grace, he has given all those who trust in Christ a righteousness that is not of their own.  Because of the great exchange in the cross we stand in the righteousness of the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Because of God’s saving grace, we are concerned to live in a righteousness that can only come from him. In faithful obedience to Christ, he works his righteousness out in our life and grows us more into his image day by day. Without Christ we are defenseless without any righteousness of our own. 

My one defense, YOUR righteousness, O Lord how I need you!