My righteous mess vs God’s righteousness

Here I offer part two of our study on righteousness.  Last time we established several principles from Scripture.
1. God expects and even enables us to be righteous.
2. Righteousness means doing right with the right attitude for the right reason.
3. Righteousness is insufficient to accomplish eternal life in us. If we are to have eternal life it is not because we have been righteous enough.
4.  Righteous living us a blessing to ourselves and others; it protects us from further condemnation.

In this peice I want us to consider the following questions.
Whose righteousness is it, our righteousness or God’s righteousness? 
How do we distinguish between our righteousness and God’s righteousness? 

One attempted explanation is to say that our righteousness is any goodness we do and God’s righteousness is what God does for us in Christ.  This explanation seems to protect us against self-righteousness or works-salvation.  On the surface, this view sounds evagelically accurate. However, doesn’t such a view negate the necessity for me to practice righteousness and only
obliges God to be righteous?  Let’s look at how the Scriptures describe Man’s righteousness and contrast that with what we know about God’s righteousness.

Proverbs 14:12 helps us. “There is a way that seems right to a man but the end of it is death.”  One of the first observations we see about our righteousness is that it is based on what we think to be right. Left to ourselves we would never arrive at the same conclusions about life and right behavior as God reveals to us in Scripture.  Our human reason leads us to choices which bring self destruction.  This is the reason we must have God’s righteousness, because ours leads us into a righteous mess, not righteousness.  Perhaps this is why another proverb advises us to “Lean not on your own understanding.”  Proverbs 3:5

In contrast with our righteousness, God’s righteousness as revealed in Scripture is based upon the nature of God Himself. It is honest, true, pure, kind, forgiving, merciful,etc. God’s righteousness leads us to exhibit God’s nature. However it is not God performing the righteousness. It is rather up to us to perform the righteousness but it is God’s righteousness we perform, not our own. 

Think about the laws that are imposed upon you every day as you drive your car. Are they your laws?  Did you write the law that your must stop if the light is red?  No.  But you still are expected to fulfill the law. The law comes from a higher source  you are expected to abide by it. 

But isn’t God’s righteousness too high for man to achieve?  Certainly it is impossible to achieve perfect righteousness as God is perfect. But the level of righteousness God expects of us must be within human reach since God calls us to walk it out. We do need His grace operating in us to rise to the level of God’s righteousness and He is more than willing to provide that grace to those who humble themselves  before Him.

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What Good Does Doing Good Do?

Righteousness is a frequent and noble theme throughout the Bible. We are told to Sow righteousness (Hosea 10:12) Seek Gods Righteousness (Matthew 6:33), Exceed in Righteousness (Matthew 5:20), Yield to Righteousness (Romans 6:13), Put on Righteousness (Ephesians 4:24).  Many of the Proverbs contrasts the favor of righteousness with the consequences of wickedness. The Apostle John even tags  righteousness as a proof of relationship with Christ. (1 John 3:7). 

But so often the development of a doctrine becomes entangled with nuances and dangerous misinterpretations arise threatening the truth of the doctrine. The doctrine of righteousness is no exception. Today a conversation on the subject of righteousness is likely to include cautious qualifications that we cannot really be righteous.    Rather, righteousness is thought of as merely  imputed or accounted to us. This statement though true is incomplete.  While it is true that we are not saved by our righteousness (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:11; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5) it does not necessarily follow that we have no capacity for real righteousness. What it does mean is that the key of righteousness doesn’t fit the lock of salvation. So what lock does righteousness fit?

Using the profile of righteousness in Proverbs we may define Righteousness as honesty;  as civility; as wholesomeness; as respect for God and others; it acts with humility, gratefulness, friendliness, peacefulness, forgivness, faithfulness. It models reverence, devotion, industry, joyfulness. It avoids immorality, slothfness, vindictivness and criticism. 

Although righteousness had been held up as right action with the right attitude gradually religious leaders became obsessed only with the action. When Jesus came on the scene he re established righteousness to include not just behavior but attitude and in so doing He raised the bar!  so righteousness is not just an action but also a thought, a motive, a spirit.

Righteousness is what God expects of us.  The bar is high but not impossibly high. And with His grace we can surely be righteous.
But as critical as righteousness is, it cannot achieve forgiveness redemption salvation or eternal life. Righteousness is the effect of eternal life, not the cause of it. 

The sum of our thoughts thus far are as follows:
1. Righteousness is God’s expectation and work in us.
2. Righteousness is real not just credited.
3. Righteousness includes right action with the right attitude.
4. Righteousness is the effect not the cause of eternal life.

So we return to the question posed by our title: What Good does Doing Good Do?  While doing good or being righteous cannot merit eternal life it is important to note that righteousness does accomplish many good outcomes.
1. Righteousness forms Christ in me. The spirit of Christ is the spirit of righteousness.  If I am rightly related to Him he will shape me similar to Himself.
2. Righteousness blesses the individuals of the society. Honesty and a thousand of its siblings enrich mankind’s existence.  Certainly more needs to be done to improve man’s quality of existence.
3. Righteousness is a witness to the world of the true character of Christ and His kingdom. It glorifies Christ.
4. Righteousness is an antidote against further judgment. While today’s righteousness is powerless to absolve yesterday’s guilt, it does help us avoid heaping on additional guilt.

There is much more to be said about this grand theme of righteousness but we will reserve further meditations on this theme for future posts.

Thanks for reading. I welcome your comments.