[Babylon 5]

Nathan Mates' Christian Pages

Having Righteousness

By Nathan Mates

Righteousness is a condition which has been distorted by association with self righteousness, and both are thrown out after self righteousness is correctly discredited by many. As a result, most people wouldn't know what righteousness was if they received it in a parcel from FedEx. This is a shame, as we are told by Paul to have it as part of the Spiritual Armor from God: "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place," [Ephesians 6:13-14; this list of armor continues through verse 18]

So then, if we are to have righteousness close to our heart, what is it? For a worldly definition, the Merriam-Webster website (http://www.m-w.com) lists 'righteous' as follows: "1 acting in accord with divine or moral law : free from guilt or sin 2 a : morally right or justifiable b : arising from an outraged sense of justice or morality 3 slang : GENUINE, GOOD synonym see MORAL" Hmmm. Not exactly a bad condition to be in. Contrast that with what they say about self-righteous: "convinced of one's own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others : narrow-mindedly moralistic" The difference between the two comes down to pride in ourselves; something we shouldn't be experiencing much of anyhow.

Look then at the Bible's definition of righteousness. It's pretty close to what's given above, as Moses said "And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness." [Deuteronomy 6:25] But, righteousness is not inherent in these Israelites without God: "After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, "The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness." No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." [Deuteronomy 9:4-5]

Like Holiness and Wisdom, righteousness is a characteristic of God: "O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure." [Psalm 7:9] and "The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster upon us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him." [Daniel 9:14]

The word 'righteous' in all its forms (righteousness, etc) occurs over 125 times in the NIV translation of the Psalms, if you want to really look at what the Bible has to say on this subject, as well as Proverbs 10-16. In most of those references, righteousness is an essential part of God's character, and the righteous are those that follow God's laws. Humans are sinners, true, but the righteous confess their sins, and learn from that. However, "Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the LORD." [Isaiah 26:10] Thus, righteousness is in part a learned trait that we pick up after learning of the grace that God extends to us in forgiving our sins. And after that, "The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever." [Isaiah 32:17]

No one can get to heaven by righteous acts alone. God's law is not something that can be broken in small ways, and he'll still let us into heaven. On the contrary, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." [James 2:10] Thus, any one sin can and will separate a human from God. Righteous works won't get us any credit back in God's books:" All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." [Isaiah 64:6] and "If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, he will die for it." [Ezekiel 33:18]

Thus, our own works of righteousness in following God's law won't get you into heaven at all. What's to be done then? Faith in Jesus Christ as your savior will: "know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." [Galations 2:16]

So, then, if righteousness won't get us into Heaven, what's the point of trying to have it in our own lives? Just as Jesus's taking of our sins allows us to be counted as able and worthy to come into Heaven [2 Corinthians 5:21], so will God will give us righteousness because of our belief in Jesus: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed." [1 Peter 2:24] and "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"" [Galations 2:21] That price has already been paid centuries ago, and there's nothing you can do about it, except to live in thanks and humility towards God and follow his laws to the best of your ability.

If God is righteous, how can we be righteous in our own imperfect ways? We must be quick to not try and be righteous on our own, as that leads to self righteousness. We can do our imperfect best to be righteous by keeping God's laws (see Deuteronomy 6:25 quote above), so make sure you know what the Bible says on such things. Start with the 10 Commandments [Exodus 20], the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 6-8], and read God's word (all of it) for the full scoop on what God has to say on all sorts of subjects. For the impatient, or those needing help with a particular subject, your life isn't to be treated as a final exam-- it's perfectly legal to ask others for help on a subject.

Despite what I've said about righteousness, note the "imperfect best" qualifier above. It's not our deeds that make us righteous, though: "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." [Romans 3:20-22] The entire book Romans is a good read for more information on Biblical righteousness and faith; you should know where to find it in the New Testament.

Faith in God has helped several Biblical figures gain righteousness, such as this: "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness." [Genesis 15:6] Faith in God's plans are a good way to get started in righteousness-- even though you may not see how God can work in a difficult situation, if you act in accordance with his laws and trust that God'll do the right thing by faith, you'll be in a far better situation than those who didn't do the right thing.

With righteousness, we need to try and avoid the trap the Pharisees fell into in trying to become too proud in our own righteousness. And yet God had warned the Pharisees centuries before Jesus as to this: "Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord's anger." [Zephaniah 2:3] So, along with following God's laws we need to seek a measure of humility that we know we have all broken the law at some time or another, and it's only by God's grace that we can continue.

Finally, if we are going to boast, do not boast about our own righteousness, but boast about something worthwhile, God: "This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD." [Jeremiah 9:23-24]

See more Christian writings by Nathan Mates at http://www.matesfamily.org/xtian/index.html