Much is stated in the Bible about righteousness. Briefly, righteousness can be defined as “being and doing right,” or “the state or condition that conforms to an authoritative standard.” This definition, however, omits one absolute consideration. Who determines what is “being and doing right?” Or sets the authoritative standard?
Today we live in a world that no longer regards absolute truth. Truth to most people is subjective-that is, what is acceptable to them but not necessarily to others. The Bible revelation is regarded as merely the opinion of ancient authors who lived in unenlightened times. Today many believe truth is plastic and changing, that it is the present scientific opinion, or the view of the democratic majority. As such, there is no place for the idea that an absolute law defines right or wrong, or that anyone can even determine what it is. In brief, “being and doing right” is a matter of individual choice.
Contrary to this modern viewpoint, the Bible states: “He [God] is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are [justice]: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deut. 32:4).
Of God’s Law, we read:
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. (Ps. 19:7-11)
Man is not a law to himself. “There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy . . . . ” (Jas. 4:12). Moral chaos reigns today because men, as a whole, refuse to accept this reality. We are much like Israel before the days of King Saul. “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). God is the Lawgiver, and there is no unrighteousness in Him (Ps. 92:15). “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished” (Isa. 51:6). God, the Creator of the Universe, has revealed an inexorable law that is perfect and altogether righteous.
Righteousness Is Based on
the Righteousness of God
The Bible describes the conditions of this present world. It is full of evil. Many well-meaning Christians believe that a great revival is at hand and that many thousands will turn to Christ, but this event is unlikely.
The Apostle Paul tells us:
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
Paul does not describe a righteous world. He describes a world that walks contrary to the righteousness of God. God is righteous. “The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works” (Ps. 145:17). “Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high, who hast done great things: O God, who is like unto thee!” (Ps. 71:19)
God’s righteousness is reflected in His Law and Commandments. Moses told ancient Israel:
Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? (Deut. 4:5-8)
In brief, the righteousness of a nation reflects the righteousness of each individual within that nation, which in turn reflects obedience to the Law of God!
Righteousness – a Goal Worth Seeking
In the gospels, Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. It began with the beatitudes. The fourth one of these states: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). It is God’s desire that man be righteous. Why? “For the righteous LORD loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright” (Ps. 11:7). Yet, always being righteous is difficult to achieve. This is why the book of Job asks: “What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?” (Job 15:14). The fact is: Man is his own worst enemy. The Apostle Paul describes the reason why.
He wrote to the Romans:
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom. 7:14-24)
Paul answers the last question: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25). Yes, he said: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In order to live a godly life, Paul knew that man needs God’s help. One can sin after conversion. The Apostle John explained. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). For that reason God made a provision: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God looks on the heart, and if one sins we must remember that by Jesus Christ we can be delivered from this body of death. There is a difference, however, between one who occasionally sins through human weakness, and one who habitually practices sin.
Christ, as our High Priest in heaven, is there to help us.
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16)
We all make mistakes in life, but living a godly life has great benefits. This is why the Psalmist wrote: “O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments” (Ps. 119:5-6). Yes indeed. In the keeping of them there is great reward.
Righteousness Is the Keepingof God’s Commandments
“My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness” (Ps. 119:172). Yet, the natural-the unconverted man-does not find the Law of God appealing. “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:5-8).
During the Old Testament period, Israel was given physical laws. As the people did not have access to the Holy Spirit, they were not required to keep the spiritual intent of the law- that is, in the heart and mind. God said: “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (Deut. 5:29). Obedience was required according to the “letter of the law” only. During the time of Christ, the religious leaders attempted to achieve righteousness by the letter of the law. Jesus told His disciples: “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). Letter of the law obedience was insufficient to bring about a change of heart and mind.
The New Testament dispensation brought a whole new approach. The Bible foretold this way. “The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it [glorious]” (Isa. 42:21). Paul described how the righteousness of God is achieved: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit . . . . That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1, 4). By means of the Holy Spirit Christians are able to live a godly life. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2). If one sins, he can receive forgiveness (1 John 2:1). “But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:35). What, then, must man do? The Apostle Peter states: ” . . . Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit]” (Acts 2:38). For an explanation of the Holy Spirit, please refer to our website article entitled: “What is the Holy Spirit?” It is located by clicking the General Articles box at the top of the home page.
The current notion is that in order to be righteous, one simply has to profess Christ. We are assured that by this means God’s righteousness is imputed to the believer. The idea is that Christ lived a righteous life in our stead so there is no real necessity to obey God’s commandments. While they may be conducive to moral conduct, they are not really required. Not so, according to the Scriptures! In fact, this notion is contradictory to many texts that say otherwise.
Living Godly Required for Salvation
Jesus said: ” . . . Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). This means the Old Testament Scriptures are just as authoritative as the New. What do we read in the Psalms? “Blessed are they that keep judgment, and he that doeth righteousness at all times” (Ps. 106:3). Remember, righteousness is defined as keeping the commandments (Ps 119:172). Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament (1 Cor. 10:1-4). The Old Testament admonitions to keep the commandments are what He taught Israel. These commandments are repeated in the New. Consider Jesus’ words: “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me . . . . ” (John 14:21). “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14). Jesus Christ Himself said: ” . . . If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). What this means that if one desires to be righteous, he must keep the Commandments of God.
Yet, the Bible states that righteousness was imputed to Abraham because he believed God (Gal. 3:6). Was this all he did? Not according to the Apostle James.
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. (Jas. 2:21-24)
Isaac was the son of Abraham. God told him: “And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Genesis26:4-5).
Commandment keeping is important:
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law . . . . Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone . . . . But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (Jas. 2:10-11, 17, 20).
Commandment keeping is required for salvation? King David asked this question: ” LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart” (Ps. 15:1-2). The “tabernacle” and “holy hill” are references to the Kingdom of God. Notice that working righteousness is required to enter, just as we read in Revelation 22:14. “The wicked is driven away in his wickedness: but the righteous hath hope in his death” (Prov. 14:32).
Man Cannot Be Righteous on His Own
As noted earlier, the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to be righteous by their own efforts. They believed that circumcision and obedience to the Old Testament laws would make them righteous. They were unable to accept change.
Yet, Isaiah wrote:
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isa. 64:6). The prophet tells us that by rejoicing in righteousness and continuing in it, salvation awaits, but man’s own self-righteousness can stand in the way. The truth is: Man cannot achieve the kind of righteousness required for salvation without God’s help. When Israel was given the promised land, God told them:
Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the LORD thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the LORD hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD doth drive them out from before thee. Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. (Deut. 9:4-5)
Today many believe they are righteous. They have a form of godliness, but deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5). “They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16). Isaiah made this same accusation against his nation. “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the LORD, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness” (Isa. 48:1). How much different are we today? The problem is that many Christians have been told they need not keep God’s commandments and that they only have to “believe.” Yet, this notion is clearly dispelled in the Bible. Like the Jews in Paul’s day, they have been misled. “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3).
What is the righteousness of God? It is God’s righteousness living in the heart and mind of the true believer by means of the Holy Spirit. This spirit is given to those who have repented and been baptized. “For he hath made him [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Upon baptism the “old man” is put to death. “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life . . . . Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin” (Rom. 6:4, 6). Perhaps Paul best expressed it in the Galatians 2:20. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” In Philippians 3:9 Paul added that it was his desire to ” . . . be found in him [Christ], not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”
Commandment keeping in itself will not bring righteousness. Why? Because without Christ living in each Christian, it is not possible to keep the commandments according to the spiritual intent of the law. Both faith in Christ’s sacrifice, and receipt of the Holy Spirit gives one the necessary help to live a godly life. Remember, James said: “Faith without works is dead.”
Righteousness to Abound on the Earth
The day is coming when men will no longer profess righteousness; they will be righteous. So say the prophecies. Isaiah wrote: “With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isa. 26:9). That time is coming when Christ returns. “And in mercy shall the throne be established: and he shall sit upon it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging, and seeking judgment, and hasting righteousness” (Isa. 16:5). Men will no longer be confused. They will be taught the Law of God.
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14)
But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Mic. 4:1-2)
But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (Isa. 11:4-9)
Let us learn to be righteous now and look forward to the day when the whole world will also be righteous.