THE MYSTERY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
The words “Righteous” and “Righteousness” are frequently heard in sermons, Bible classes, and seen in religious writings. Very often the hearers and readers immediately formulate their cognitive understanding of those words based on what they’ve been taught or opinions they have formed upon hearing it preached or discussed in sermons or Bible studies. Too often, however, such concepts are far from what the Bible really teaches about being righteous; living righteously, and having the virtue of righteousness.
Simply put, being “Righteous” means: Being in harmony and obedient to God’s rules for living so that all legal and moral obligations are met. In other words, being virtuous by doing what is morally right, at the right time, all the time. When we fail to do this, we become unrighteous and incur guilt and moral failure thereby being declared sinners because we missed the mark set out for us by God’s Word. In Jewish writings we find where it says: “Because righteousness is not an inherent human characteristic, but rather a learned trait resulting from sustained performance of obligations, man can never attain the peak of righteous perfection: ‘For there isn’t a righteous person on earth who does [only] good and never sins.’1.”2
In these explanations, we can see two aspects of how righteousness is applied to our lives. It can be illustrated this way. Let’s look at the word “bear” used two ways. First: we can use it to mean “bear up under.” This signifies tenacity, stamina, perseverance, and faithfulness. Secondly, we can use it to imply “bear down on.” This denotes pressure, force, demand and strong influence. The same goes for righteousness when we apply the same principle to understand it.
In the Bible, we find where righteousness was sought after by complying with the Law. This is where the believer had to “bear down on” themselves not to do wrong and comply with the Law’s demands. But Christ came so that through grace we would receive power to “bear up under” the pressure to do wrong and remain faithful to the Master’s calling. How did this all come about? What transpired that made it possible to go from bearing down to bearing up in order to be righteous in God’s eyes?
First, it may shock you that Abraham was neither an Israelite nor a Jew. He was called out of Chaldean culture before Jacob wrestled with the angel and had his name changed to Israel and before Judah was declared the favored tribe to host the Temple and Ark of the Covenant and became known as Jews. Therefore, God considered Abraham’s offspring as children in need of instruction and that’s why He rescued them from Egyptian bondage to receive the Law through Moses. This was to give them guidance in achieving righteousness with God by following the Law.
Unfortunately, they failed again and again. As a matter of fact, they found it impossible to be perfect in their obedience to the Law and thus were constantly in need of offering sacrifices for their many sins. Frequently, God had to discipline them in order to bring them back to a righteous path so they could live righteously. But they were unsuccessful in living up to God’s expectations by relying wholly on their own strength and good works.
So when the right time came, God sent His Son into the world to provide a new path to righteousness that did not require such continuous sacrifices and excessive good deeds in order to qualify in His eyes as being righteous. His Son Jesus offered one sacrifice and met all the requirements of the Law. Then God through His Son graciously offered that righteousness to all who believed in His Son’s work on the cross, in order for them to be declared as righteous believers.
Regrettably, there are some Christians today who still insist on pleasing God through their own efforts in order to earn His favor and be declared as righteous. Just like those of old, they never achieve perfection and are often found to be unrighteous and declared sinners. Yet they implore God to accept their own efforts to redeem themselves by being better and trying their utmost not to make the same mistake again. This is using the “bear down on” method of righteousness, putting pressure on oneself, making demands and trying to keep their sinful nature from taking control of their lives, thinking that God will be impressed with their efforts.
In the meantime, there are those who depend solely on the work of Christ on the cross to meet God’s demands in being declared as righteous. In that case, they “bear up under” the pressure of greed and pride and lust with the strength that is in them through Christ Jesus. It is not they who overcome, it is Christ who overcomes such temptations through them. Are they still prone to weakening and falling prey to sin? Yes, of course, we all are. But the apostle John said that if we will confess our sins God will be faithful and fair in forgiving us of our sins and wipe away all our unrighteousness from the record. Not because of anything we have done, but because of the work of our Sinless and Perfect sacrifice on the cross, Jesus the Lamb of God.
So the next time you find yourself being convicted by the Holy Spirit through your conscience of falling short of the glory of God, instead of falling on your knees and crying out to God for forgiveness based on a promised to do better by reading your Bible more often, going to church more frequently, or by training yourself to be more virtuous, ask Him to forgive you for Jesus sake and the price Jesus paid for your righteousness. Then go and sin no more. In other words, when tempted by the same things again use the power that is resident within you to “bear up under” and withstand the pressure to give in. Then ascribe to Jesus all the praise and honor and glory when victory is achieved. – Dr. Robert R Seyda
1Ecclesiastes 7:20 – Complete Jewish Bible
2Louis Jacobs: Jewish Virtual Library – “Righteousness”