The word “righteous” is word that isn’t used a great deal in our secular world, but when we do hear it, it’s often used in a negative or derogatory way. Adults use it in conjunction with “self” as a way of describing someone who thinks too highly of themselves and the rightness of their behavior. Young people on the other hand have adopted the 1960’s slang usage meaning something of high quality or praiseworthy, like “that was a righteous concert last night,” or “that pizza was truly righteous.”
For our purposes, the word righteous is critical since it is used to describe a person’s state of being or position before God. Paul’s letter to the church in Rome could be described a treaty dedicated to defining what faith is, or isn’t, and how through faith in what Jesus did on the cross, we can attain the necessary righteousness to come into the presence of God. In a word, righteousness is the universal problem of mankind or more specifically, our lack of it. Paul strings together verses from Psalms and Ecclesiastes in Romans chapter three, verses 10-12 to describe this predicament, “There is no one righteous, not even one.”
When we call someone “self-righteous” there can be any number reasons for it. One possibility is that we are trying to justify our bad behavior and that it is the self-righteous one who is the odd man out. Sometimes it is a reaction to something we don’t understand, such as the reasons behind another’s behavior. This is often the response by some to the clergy, especially those who live a lifestyle that separates them from the rest of society. But what is righteousness, especially the righteousness that God expects and requires of His own?
Most of us have heard the criticism of Christianity and religion in general, that it is nothing but a bunch of people trying to obey a bunch of rules so they can earn their way to heaven or somewhere they would rather be. For many, this is their religion and I would agree that it’s sad to see it played out, since it’s destined to fail for the reason that Paul cited, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Yet there is no question that the law of God is real and we are expected, as adherents to Christianity, Judaism and even Islam, to obey the law, or more specifically the Law of Moses. “So if I understand this right, no one is or can be truly righteous by obeying the law because no one can do it all the time, yet God expects us to be perfectly righteous,” you ask? So what then is the purpose of the law? Paul explains in Romans 3:20, “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by obeying the law, it’s an impossibility. Instead, through the law we become aware of our sin (a paraphrase).” So then, the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ command to love God and one another exists to remind us how inadequate and incapable we are of being truly righteous, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (v.23).
God knew when he created us that sin would be our downfall, but He also loves us completely and provided a solution to our dilemma. “But now a righteousness from God, apart from obeying the law, has been made known to us, and the bible and its Prophets have testified to it. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (vs. 21-22 a paraphrase).” Does this mean that as a Christian, obeying the law is no longer important?
I’m sure you have heard it said that you can’t work your way to heaven, and that is certainly true. But one of the best illustrations of the relationship between works and faith is found in Romans chapter four, verse four, “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.” God demands perfection from us, just as we were at the creation, and because of our sin nature and the fallen world in which we live, such complete blamelessness is always out of our reach. The law was given to enable us to see just how impossible it is to earn a not guilty verdict at the judgment seat of God and this is why God sent his Son to pay the ultimate price, a price we could never pay no matter how hard we work at being right before Him. Righteousness then is a condition or state of being given to us as a gift and not a measurement of our goodness attained by our works. Therefore, we obey the law not to gain God’s favor, but in response God’s grace, His unmerited favor toward us. Obedience is our way of showing appreciation for God’s perfect justice and forbearance. There has only been one man who was completely righteous, completely without blame or blemish and it is He who paid the price for your sin, my sin, and all the sins of the world. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.
When we place our trust in Christ alone for our salvation it is the ultimate act of faith and we are made new in the eyes of God and welcomed into his presence. It is also the point in time when the Holy Spirit indwells us as our “Counselor” to assist us in our life long quest of living to please God. How successful we are in this quest will be directly proportionate to how willing we are to follow the example set by Christ and our willingness to yield to the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. If we choose to do it on our own, frustration and failure will be the result and we will deprive ourselves of enjoying the fullness of God’s grace. What is this fullness? It is joy, peace and satisfaction, which only comes from walking with Him.
Life is a series of choices and the two most important ones we will ever make is to accept Christ as our Lord and Savior; the second is to walk with him daily. If we only choose to take that first choice seriously and not the second we will end up like Adam and Eve, “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid…” Genesis 3:8-10
Tool # 354 If you haven’t made the second decision or choice, do it today. Choose to walk with Him “in the garden in the cool of the day.” Walk together as a couple and there will be no need to hide or be afraid.