The Hebrew writer spoke of the “new and living way that He [Jesus] has consecrated” for us (Hb 10:20). This is the “way of righteousness” into which one is born as a new creature in Christ (2 Pt 2:21). It is a new and living way because of the blessing of the righteousness of God, as well as our walk in His righteousness.
In Ephesians 6:14 Paul exhorted Christians to “put on the breastplate of righteousness.” This exhortation is in the context of his statement to “take up the whole armor of God so that you may be able to withstand in the evil day …” (Ep 6:13). In the context of the verb tense, “having done,” Paul’s exhortation is that we stand on what has already been done for us. The Ephesians had girded themselves with the truth, for they obeyed the truth of the gospel. They had shod their feet with the gospel of peace. And in this context, they had put on the breastplate of righteousness. Because these things had already been done in their lives at the time they came into Christ, they were to stand on this firm foundation.
According to Greek dictionaries, the word “righteousness” means integrity, virtue, purity of life, uprightness; correct thinking, feeling and behavior. All these attributes refer to something for which those who possess them are responsible to maintain, and in which to spiritually grow. Paul reflected on righteousness as our defense when he made the statement, “But in all things approving ourselves as servants of God … in the armor of righteousness …” (2 Co 6:4,7). In the context of this statement, it seems that Paul set forth his behavior as proof of his servanthood before God. His defense was his obedience.
The word “righteousness” refers to doing that which is right in the sight of God. It is this righteousness that new creatures do. But the righteousness of God is something that God does for us when we are born again as new creatures in Christ. This is the “imputted” righteousness whereupon God makes us new creatures through the cleansing blood of Jesus. It is imperative that we make a distinction between the righteousness we do, and the righteousness that God gives as a blessing in reference to our obedience of the gospel. The context in which the word “righteousness” is used will define which righteousness under discussion.
The unbeliever must seek the righteousness of God that comes through obedience of the gospel. The believer must take ownership of the righteousness by which he is approved to be a servant of God. If one is an unbeliever, he must seek the righteousness of God. If he is a believer, he must live righteously before God.
A. Seek the righteousness of God:
Romans 10 is Paul’s conclusion to his argument about the futility of unbelieving Israel to obtain the righteousness of God. “For they [Israel] being ignorant of God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rm 10:3). Israel sought the righteousness of God through their own means of law-keeping. And in doing so, they established their own righteousness, that is, their own system of law by which they sought to be justified before God. But they were mistaken in their efforts.
“For Christ is the end of law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rm 10:4). Paul added, “For with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation” (Rm 10:10). The righteousness of God is not acquired through meritorious works of law, but through faith. Since it is “the righteousness that is of faith,” then it is not attained by meritorious obedience (Rm 9:30). Paul reminded his readers, “But Israel, who followed after the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law” (Rm 9:31). Israel did not attain unto the righteousness of God, “because they did not seek it by faith, but as if it were by works” (Rm 9:32).
The righteousness of God is in being right before God. But since all have sinned and fallen short of perfect law-keeping, then no one can attain unto the righteousness of God through meritorious works of law. In reference to law-keeping, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rm 3:10). It is for this reason that we seek the righteousness of God through our trust (faith) in God to provide His grace through our Lord Jesus Christ. His righteousness is not demanded through our keeping of law, but graciously given as a result of our obedient response to the sacrificial offering of His Son.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God that is by the faith of Jesus Christ to all those who believe …” (Rm 3:21,22).
Therefore, all new creatures who have been baptized into Christ are “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rm 3:24). All those who would seek the righteousness of God in Christ, must do that which brings one into Christ (See Gl 3:26-29).
We thus seek to be “found in Him,” Paul wrote, “not having my own righteousness that is from law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness that is from God by faith” (Ph 3:9). We thus seek His righteousness, but we seek it on His terms (Mt 6:33). In our obedience to His terms we fulfill the meaning of Jesus’ statement in the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled” (Mt 5:6).
B. Workers of righteousness:
We seek the righteousness of God in order to become new creatures by His grace. But once we come into Christ, we are responsible to be workers of righteousness, or doing that which is right before God. This is the devoted life about which Peter commended Cornelius: “But in every nation he who fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (At 10:35). The Hebrew writer spoke of those heroes of faith, “who through faith conquered kingdoms, worked righteousness …” (Hb 11:33). So Paul exhorted Timothy, “But you, O man of God, … follow after righteousness …” (1 Tm 6:11). “Pursue righteousness …” (2 Tm 2:22).
When one works righteousness, he is identified as one who has been born of God. “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness has been born from Him” (1 Jn 2:29). There is, therefore, no “faith only” business among the new creatures in Christ (See Js 2:14-26). The “practice of righteousness” is not meritorious, but living in obedience to the One who made them righteous through the blood of Jesus. For this reason, John cautioned, “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 Jn 3:7).
Doing that which is right in the sight of God is the signal of discipleship according to John’s definition. “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not from God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 Jn 3:10). Practicing righteousness is a life-style. It is walking in the light as Jesus is in the light (1 Jn 1:7).
In our behavior of doing that which is right, Jesus cautioned His disciples about their behavior. The religious leaders during His ministry wrongly sought to be righteous according to law. But Jesus said that the righteousness of His disciples must go beyond law-keeping. Since they were to be motivated by love (Jn 13:34,35), then their righteousness must not be limited to law. Jesus expressed this truth in the following statement:
For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 5:20).
Unless our love takes us beyond the limits of law, we are not practicing the righteousness of the God of love. God did not “so love the world” through law (See Jn 3;16). His love for us was through grace, not law. In the same manner, if we would practice the righteousness that goes beyond law, then our righteousness will exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
[Lecture continued tomorrow.]