Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Righteousness of God

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.”  Mat. 5.6

I have taught on that passage many times, but today I asked myself “What is righteousness?”  Oh, I can define it:  It is being right in God’s sight.  Or if you want a dictionary definition: δικαιος  upright, just, righteous” (Bauer).   John gives as good a definition as anyone,  “He who does what is right is righteous” (1 John 3.7).  I guess what I am unsure about is how we get right in God’s sight.  John said we become righteous by doing what is right.  But as Bildad asked “How can a man be righteous before God? (Job 25.4)”

If simply doing the right things makes a person righteous the Pharisees would not have been condemned by Jesus,  “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 5.20).  But just doing more than the Pharisees isn’t the answer either is it?  We still come back to “ one living is righteous before you” (Ps. 143.2) and “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one...’” (Rom. 3.10).  When our righteous is compared to God’s and we fail, even if our righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees.

The problem is not acts of righteousness, it is whose righteousness we have.  Our own righteousness is nothing when compared to God’s righteousness.  What we need is God’s righteousness and that is what Jesus brought to us:  “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.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”(Rom. 3.21-24).  When we obey the gospel we become the embodiment of God’s righteousness “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor.5.21).  That is a statement that we should meditate on.  Jesus became the embodiment of sin so that we could become the embodiment of righteousness, God’s righteousness.

When we believe and obey the gospel call we are made righteous by receiving God’s righteousness, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written:  ‘The righteous will live by faith’ “ (Rom. 1.17).   God demands righteousness and He gives righteousness.  If we are made righteous through faith do we have to do anything?  Let’s answer that question this way: Who in the bible was declared righteous without obedience?  Let’s look at two examples.

Abraham: Rom. 4.1-3  “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?  If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about - but not before God.  What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’”  But was no more expected of him?  What about Heb. 11.8-19  “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went....”  

Our problem is that we are treating belief and obedience as if they are two unconnected things.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, states it this way “only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.” “For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.”  Yes, Abraham believed, but Abraham also went.  Only he who believes is obedient and only he who is obedient believes.

Perhaps we can look at it this way:  Abraham believed and received God’s righteousness.  Righteousness is doing what is right, so “when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went....”  This isn’t so much question about works as it is about obedience.  The next example might make things more clear.

Jesus Mat. 3.13-17  “Then Jesus came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized by John.  But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’  Then John consented.  As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.  At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”

Jesus was righteous, and Jesus obeyed.  That obedience completed his righteousness.  “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him...” (Heb. 5.8-9).

Now we have come back to where we started “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled”  (Mat. 5.6).  I want righteousness, how must I be living?  In Mat. 25.31-46  Jesus  taught that “When the Son of Man comes in his glory...” the righteous will be commended “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mat. 25.35-36).  Righteousness is not a state we occupy, it is a life we live.

We do not earn righteousness.  We become God’s righteousness when we obey the gospel.  This is why self righteousness is such a destructive thing; when we create our own righteousness we leave no room for God in our lives.  The acts of righteousness are not a way to become righteous, because we are God’s righteousness.  Acts of righteousness are the natural result of what we are.  Our Father is righteous, so His children are righteous.  By our actions we show who our father is.

This last reference doesn’t refer to righteousness, but I think it describes beautifully what God expects of Christians.   “With what shall I come before the LORD  and bow down before the exalted God?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of oil?  Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my  soul?  He has shown you O man, what is good.  And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6.6-8).

I welcome your comments.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Raj,
    I was searching for Demas and came across your blog. Very insightful blog post. I will came back to read more.
    God bless :-)