Many times I have found myself wondering what it means to be truly righteous in the sight of God. I think it is something every Christian, out of desire to please Him, wonders about at some time. I used to tend toward the notion that with righteousness came a certain feeling of belonging and acceptance, which in turn made me think there was something I had to do to obtain this feeling of belonging and acceptance from God. In other words, if I wanted to worship Him, I had to feel worthy to do so, and if I wanted to pray, I had to feel worthy to do so, and if I wanted to ask Him for something, now that is a whole other story. For what could truly make me worthy of receiving from Him? For me, it went without saying that acceptance and belonging went hand in hand with effort and performance. In order to belong in church, I needed to perform according to church standards, and be busy with what the other churchgoers were busy with, do things the way their actions dictated things should be done. Belonging came from doing alike, acceptance from looking alike. This is a severe misconception we get indoctrinated with by people who fail to recognise that we are already made righteous in God. But I am getting ahead of myself…
Matthew 5:20 For I say to you that unless your righteousness shall exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven.
I have heard this Scripture quoted many times in the context of working to be righteous. Many times people quote Matthew 5:20 in support of the theory that there are various levels of righteousness. Some believe the word “exceed” implies that one person’s righteousness can be greater than that of another. Unfortunately they fail to recognise the distinction between the crowd Jesus was referring to and the Pharisees; that the crowd didn’t know the Law of Moses or observe it, whereas the Pharisees did. The distinction comes because the righteousness He was referring to was obtained by observing, fully, the law. This was a way of life set apart for the religious leaders, and therefore was a way of life not applicable to the general population. Jesus in fact came with another option entirely; believe on Him and be righteous without the law. This implies that there is righteousness to be had by observing the law and fulfilling certain requirements, and yet Jesus admonishes them to have righteousness that exceeds that which the law abiding church goers display. Exceeding the works of righteousness is done by believing, we exceed performance by believing. If you read further in Matthew 5 Jesus says it’s no use to worship or sacrifice while having anger in your heart, righteous living sees reconciliation between brothers as the atonement for sin, and sorting out our conflicts as an act of worship. This ideology ultimately renders observing the law useless, because He confirms that no works can validate your righteousness while hate and envy and strife still reside in your heart. God ultimately wants to get to the heart of every person, and in so doing His first address is how you see and treat your neighbour. This is significant because in order to love our brother we need to identify with him, on a spiritual and emotional level. We need to look at others through the eyes of God, and see what He sees.
James 3:17-18 But the wisdom that is from above is first truly pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James 1:20 For the wrath of man does not work out the righteousness of God.
Titus 3:3-5 For we ourselves also were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, slaving for various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
The bible states that the righteousness of God comes by faith, faith in who HE is, what He says, and the effect that should have on our souls. If He says you are loved and you believe, you are righteous, if He says you are sanctified and you believe this, you are righteous, if He says your brother whom you despise is lovely and worth loving and you believe this, you are righteous. It’s in disagreeing with Him, by not being in unity with His heart for you and others that we fail to walk uprightly, it’s not so much about works as it is about believing in Him and believing that His intentions toward us are good. The fruits of righteousness are sown by those who make peace, for the wrath of man does not work righteousness…the work the Holy Spirit does in us, when He speaks and reveals mysteries to us, it is to renew and regenerate, He according to His tender mercy saves us for renewal and regeneration, which implies that we were in a former state of hating and envy and dire need of saving, it then stands to reason that these attitudes are baser and lesser, and renders the person in need of a Saviour and different mode of operating in, say a more kind and loving way. This does not mean that righteousness comes by works, but in fact by the knowing we have been renewed in the Spirit of our minds, we have been made righteous by being one with Him, and this righteousness ultimately allows us the freedom to love others and lay down our judgements and hate, our prejudices and preconceptions, because He in us sees the good in others, love them accordingly, and treats them as worthy. The fruit of righteousness is seen when we sow peace, when we don’t fight to have our say and make our opinions heard at the cost of someone else’s feelings, when we don’t give a “word of knowledge” that is based on opinion and assumption, but on what God says about the person, peace is sown when we live according to the righteousness God has made us in Christ. The only work righteousness requires is an internal one, for you to simply be in Him, to be found in Him, to be righteous in Him. God gave you the capacity to do what Christ did and be who He was, so BE holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Righteousness is what God wants for us, not from us. He did the ultimate work, accomplishing what we couldn’t so we can be righteousness. In His sight, you are truly righteous because you believe, your mind renewed to His thoughts, and your heart in agreement with His truth.
Philippians 3:9 and be found in Him; not having my own righteousness, which is of the Law, but through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God by faith,
Ephesians 4:24 And you should put on the new man, who according to God was created in righteousness and true holiness.
2Corinthians 5:21 For He has made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes.
2Corinthians 3:9 For if the ministry of condemnation is glorious, much more does the ministry of righteousness exceed in glory.