RIGHTEOUSNESS (EXCERPT OF KINGDOM CONCEPTS)
From: Kingdom Concepts, Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Next to the Lord Jesus Christ and our relationship to Him, righteousness may be the most important topic of the Scriptures. Without righteousness there is no Kingdom of God. The Lord will not work apart from upright, godly behavior. He has called His elect in righteousness and to righteousness. He has assigned righteousness to His elect with the intention of making them actually righteous in personality and behavior.
Righteousness dwells in decision-making. The righteous person is the one who makes decisions that are according to God’s will. The unrighteous person is the one who makes decisions that are not according to God’s will. God requires that each person in the Kingdom of God behave righteously. This means he acts justly, he loves mercy, and he walks humbly with God. Here is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule with justice. (Isaiah 32:1)
Next to the Lord Jesus Christ and our relationship to Him, righteousness may be the most important topic of the Scriptures. Without righteousness there is no Kingdom of God. The Lord will not work apart from righteous behavior. He has called His elect in righteousness and to righteousness.
A major goal of the program of salvation is the creation of righteousness in God’s people: first, in an imputed (assigned) right standing before God; then, in actual character and behavior.
God’s goal has not been attained in an individual until that person will make righteous decisions in every circumstance.
What is righteousness—this trait that fills the whole Scripture; this virtue that Christ loves so much?
Righteousness dwells in decision-making. The righteous person is the one who makes decisions that are according to God’s will. The unrighteous person is the one who makes decisions that are not according to God’s will.
The Kingdom of God is “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
Perhaps the best definition of righteousness to be found in Scripture is Micah 6:8:
He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
Righteousness is righteous decision-making. God requires that each person in the Kingdom of God behave righteously. This means that he acts justly, he loves mercy, and he walks humbly with God. This is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
First of all, the believer in Christ must act justly. Cheating, lying, stealing have no place whatever in the Kingdom of God. The Christian who cheats, who lies, who steals may be naming the name of Christ; but as long as he is practicing these acts of injustice he is living outside the Kingdom of God.
The people of the Lord are to deal equitably in all business, whether they are working with fellow Christians or with the unsaved. Saints tell the truth. The followers of Christ are to be scrupulously honest in all their business. Honest dealing is an aspect of righteousness and is more important to the Lord Jesus than religious and church activities.
Dishonest scales are an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight. (Proverbs 11:1)
A Christian who cheats, who lies, who steals, who deliberately leans toward that which is devious, slippery, hard to pinpoint, cunning, treacherous, not dependable, misleading, is not living in the Kingdom of God. Also, he is not bearing a true witness of Christ no matter what he states with his mouth concerning salvation in Christ.
Can we cheat someone and then lead them to Christ? What is the world’s opinion of the assembly of believers who cheat, who lie, who steal, who cannot be trusted? If such an assembly is not willing to repent it would be far better for it to disband for it is an abomination to God and to man.
The love of mercy is another important part of the image of God, in whose image we are being created. God loves mercy. He Himself does not sin but He is merciful toward those who do.
We Christians do sin—many times. Yet, we often are unmerciful toward our fellow believers as well as toward the unbelievers. We are harsh, vengeful, angry, holding people to strict account for every infraction we notice.
When someone has caused us pain, and we cannot find it in our heart to forgive him or her, especially when they are asking for forgiveness, we are behaving unmercifully and unrighteously.
The righteous person forgives, covering human frailties and faults with the cloak of mercy. He is slow to anger, quick to forgive, always attempting to put matters in the best light for everyone’s sake. Such is the way of righteousness.
Many so-called believers are hard of heart, being filled with avarice, meanness, bitterness, and hatred. Why is this? It is because they have been taught that the Lord Jesus is their ticket out of Hell and admission to Heaven no matter how they behave. The current Christian teaching presents a lawless grace that often does not result in new creations of righteous behavior.
Walking humbly with God is the true meaning of the expression, “The just shall live by faith.”
“Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him; but the just [righteous] shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4)
The righteous shall live by his faith.
Each person on the earth continually is making a choice as to how he or she will maintain physical survival and security, will attain pleasure and joy, and will accomplish fruitfulness and enduring, worthwhile achievement. These are the three areas of motive and behavior found in the healthy human personality.
There are two different ways in which we can attempt to attain security, joy, and achievement. We can attain and maintain them through our own pride and abilities, especially with the accumulation of money, or we can walk humbly with God, trusting Him for our security, joy, and achievement.
To choose to ignore God and to conduct our own life apart from God is unrighteousness. To choose to submit to God’s will in all three areas of our personality and life is righteousness in the sight of God.
What is righteous behavior in the believer, from the Lord’s viewpoint?
- To think, speak, and act in an honest, upright, straightforward, truthful attitude before God and man.
- To treat other people in a kindly, forgiving manner.
- To choose to look to God and submit to His will in obtaining material security, in seeking joy and happiness, and in attempting to enlarge our realm of influence and accomplish something enduring and worthwhile in life.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
The purpose of God under both the old covenant and the new covenant is to create people who make their decisions according to God’s will. He is bringing forth such people for the world to behold by creating Christ in every aspect of their personality. This is what salvation is!
Death rather than life comes by the Law of Moses because of our sinful nature. The Law is the Divine agent to bring us to Christ.
When Christ becomes central in all that we are, all that we think, all that we say, all that we do, we behave righteously in our personality, our thinking, our speaking, our actions.
The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Righteousness brings God’s peace to us. The wicked never possess peace. Peace brings joy to us, peace being an important element of joy. But first of all must come righteousness; for everything in the Kingdom of God depends on our behaving righteously in the sight of God.
Under the new covenant, the Christian covenant, there are two kinds of righteousness. It is important that we understand the difference between the two when we are studying the Scriptures.
The first kind of righteousness is that which God ascribes freely to the human being who places his faith in Christ but who as yet is making many decisions in his behavior that are contrary to God’s will.
The freely ascribed righteousness given to the repenting sinner through his faith in Christ is an assigned righteousness based on the atonement made by the shedding of the blood of Christ. Assigned, imputed righteousness is explained by the Apostle Paul in Chapters Three through Five of the Book of Romans.
The second kind of righteousness is found in the human being who, through the grace given to him in Christ, is actually behaving according to God’s will. Righteous behavior is discussed throughout the Scriptures and summed up in Micah 6:8. The necessity and the power for righteous living are explained by the Apostle Paul in Chapters Six through Eight of the Book of Romans.
The first kind of righteousness, assigned righteousness, is the righteousness of Christ Himself placed to the account of the sinner who comes to Christ for forgiveness and transformation.
The second kind of righteousness, actual righteous behavior, is produced by the wisdom and power that come from Christ through the Holy Spirit so that we grow every day in the ability to distinguish between good and evil and in the willingness to choose the good and reject the evil. This is what is meant by the expression growing in Christ (Hebrews 5:14).
Let us speak of the first type of righteousness as assigned righteousness and the second type of righteousness as righteous behavior.
When the Lord assigns righteousness to an individual it is for the purpose of bringing him or her into righteous behavior. If righteous behavior, the fruit for which God is looking, does not begin to grow, then the believer has received the grace of God in vain (II Corinthians 6:1; Philippians 2:15,16; I Thessalonians 3:5; James 1:26, Jude 1:5).
The purpose of God is to create righteous behavior in His people. The purpose of God has not been achieved when only assigned righteousness is possessed by one of His elect.
Assigned righteousness is the gift of God’s grace that brings us into favor with God when as yet our behavior is unrighteous. But assigned righteousness does not fulfill the purpose of God in our personality and conduct.
We think with joy of the thief on the cross who was brought to Paradise with Jesus because of his recognition and confession of Jesus’ Divine royalty. Such assigned righteousness is wonderful for the thief and we rejoice with him. But God’s desire to conform people to the image of Christ was not accomplished in that transaction.
The bells of Heaven ring and there is joy in the presence of the holy angels of God when a prodigal returns home, when a son is restored to his Father. The heavenly rejoicing takes place because of the great love of God for the souls of men. A sinner has come home. But the purpose of God has not been fulfilled when the sinner repents, although repentance is the first step toward accomplishing the Divine purpose.
At this point in our discussion the believer who trusts in Christ for his or her salvation may be stumbling. But let us go on to explain. A little reflection on what we know to be true about God and Heaven, and a thoughtful re-reading of the New Testament, soon will reveal that assigned righteousness is given to us so we may enter the Divine program of redemption that ultimately brings about the purpose of God in the individual: that is, thinking, speech, and behavior that are pleasing to God.
The familiar Lord’s prayer itself teaches us that the coming of the Kingdom of God into the earth is the doing of God’s will in the earth (Matthew 6:10). This is not referring to assigned righteousness but to righteous behavior. The Kingdom of God brings about righteous behavior.
Will the new world consist of believers who have been forgiven but who still are full of sin and rebellion against God? Or will the new world consist of believers who, being filled with God in Christ, reveal in themselves righteousness of personality and deed?
By righteousness of personality and deed we mean they act justly, show kindness and mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Will the holy city, the new Jerusalem, be filled with “saints” who have received assigned righteousness but who cheat, lie, and steal; who are unmerciful and unforgiving in their attitude toward one another; and who find security, joy and achievement apart from the Lord Jesus Christ?
Do we truly believe that the inhabitants of Heaven and of the new Jerusalem possess assigned righteousness but do not behave righteously?—that unrighteous people will be praising God forever because, while it is true that they have not been transformed morally, God by grace dwells with them in their unrighteousness?
There already has been one rebellion in Heaven against the rule of God. Would we bring about another rebellion? Will the Christian people behave in Heaven and in the new Jerusalem as they do on the earth?
The principal difference between Heaven and Hell is found in the personalities and behavior of the inhabitants of each area.
The nations of the earth will be deceived into unrighteous behavior at the end of the thousand-year Kingdom Age. God will not save them “by grace.” They will be destroyed by fire because of their deeds (Revelation 20:8,9).
No person will be admitted into the new Jerusalem (the holy city) on the basis of assigned righteousness but on the basis of righteous behavior. This is not to say that we earn admittance to the new Jerusalem. Assigned righteousness is the authority that admits us to the path that leads finally to the new Jerusalem. If we choose to follow the path of life we will dwell in the new Jerusalem. But if we, after having accepted the atonement made by Christ, choose to follow the path of sin and rebellion, we will never enter the new Jerusalem.
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)
But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end [result is], everlasting life.
For the wages of sin [done by a Christian] is death, but the gift of God [for acting righteously] is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22,23)
“He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.
“But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone [burning sulfur], which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:7,8)
The wall of the new Jerusalem will keep out all unrighteous behavior. That is why the wall is there. No person will be permitted to remain in the Kingdom of God who continues to behave unrighteously.
envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:21)
The above passage is addressed to the “churches of Galatia.”
We see, therefore, that the Kingdom of God does not consist of assigned righteousness only but also of righteous behavior. Righteous behavior is expected of us while as yet we are on the earth, according to Paul.
The doctrine of assigned righteousness, the foundation of being saved by faith in Christ, is based by Paul on Genesis 15:6. Abram and Sarai had no children. One night God pointed Abram toward the stars of heaven and promised him that his Seed would be as great as the stars in number. Abram believed God. God counted Abram’s faith as righteousness.
And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)
Paul bases his argument for assigned righteousness on this incident. The Law of Moses was not given until several hundred years later. Therefore, Paul reasons, Abraham received righteousness, not by the works of the Law of Moses but by faith in what God had promised to him concerning the great number of descendants that were to be his.
To conclude from this episode that we are brought into the Kingdom of God on a statement of belief concerning Christ and that it no longer is expected of us that we will begin to make substantial progress in righteous behavior is to depart from the life of Abraham, and also to contradict the major portion of Paul’s teachings concerning the Kingdom of God.
First of all, Abraham was a man who conducted himself in a righteous manner, as was true also of all the Apostles of the Lamb. God said to Abraham, “I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be perfect” (Genesis 17:1). God did not say to him, Now that you have been given righteousness, Abraham, it no longer is important how you behave.
When reflecting on Abraham’s righteousness, God did not speak of his belief but of his deeds:
“because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” (Genesis 26:5)
Although Abraham did not always fulfill the laws of righteousness (Genesis 20:2), yet his obedience to God in the matter of Isaac stands as one of the highest mountain peaks of righteous behavior in the history of mankind, James himself bearing witness:
Was not Abraham our father justified [regarded as righteous] by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? (James 2:21)
“Justified by works”!
When Paul compared grace and works as the basis for obtaining righteousness (justification; acceptability to God), he was not contrasting assigned righteousness and righteous behavior. Paul was not teaching that God desires to regard us as righteous and cares little for the manner in which we behave ourselves.
It is not possible to prefer assigned righteousness over righteous behavior because it is by righteous behavior that we bring the Kingdom of God into the earth. The Kingdom of God is righteous behavior, not assigned righteousness.
Paul’s argument was with Jewish teachers. Paul was informing them that the righteousness of the Law of Moses cannot be mixed in any manner with the atonement made by Christ on the cross. We cannot earn righteousness by keeping the Law. Christ has kept the Law perfectly and has given His own righteousness to us.
But the same Christ who gives His righteousness to us is now working in us to bring forth works of righteousness. If He is in us we are showing forth works of righteousness. If we are not being transformed in our behavior, if we are not pursuing righteousness, then Christ is not being formed in us.
If Christ is not being formed in us we are not overcoming the world. If we are not overcoming the world we are not heirs of the promises that the Scripture gives to those who overcome the world. Let us not be deceived: God shall not be mocked. Whatever a person sows he shall reap.
It is not possible to earn right standing with God by the Law of Moses, now that God has reconciled us to Himself through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
This does not mean, however, that the Christian is a person who is viewed by God as being righteous while he continues to cheat, to lie, to steal, to treat his fellow Christians with bitterness and hatred, who rushes about in his self-love without regard to the will of Christ for his life.
Should we conclude from God’s workings with Abraham that God intends to bless people because of their belief in Jesus while they continue to sin and rebel against God? Was Abraham a thief, a fornicator, a drunkard, a murderer, a treacherous, rebellious, self-willed worker of iniquity?
What can we say of Paul? Did Paul by his behavior and teachings suggest to us that the Christian is permitted to live in adultery, uncleanness of the flesh, stealing, lying, covetousness, violence, carousing? Is this what Paul taught concerning the Kingdom of God?
Yet, Paul is the apostle whose writings are the basis for the perverted doctrine that the emphasis of the Kingdom of God is on “grace,” meaning that it is not essential how we behave ourselves provided we make a correct theological statement concerning Christ (Romans 3:8; II Peter 3:16).
Those who hold such a viewpoint are making the Word of God have no effect by their tradition. Truly, the Day of Christ will prove to be the day of surprise for those who fancy that Christ is approving their lukewarm, indifferent, fleshly, self-centered, self-willed, worldly “Christianity.”
The next consideration, with respect to God’s assignment of righteousness to Abraham, has to do with God’s purpose. We have stated that God’s eternal purpose is to create people in the image of Christ, filling them with Christ so they are righteous in thought and deed.
When God pointed Abraham toward the stars and said, “So shall your seed be,” God was pointing toward Christ—for Christ is the Seed of Abraham. God always will regard the individual as being righteous who believes and obeys God as God is bringing Christ into prominence, into His central position in the heavens and on the earth.
The end result of bringing Christ into the center of everything is the total destruction of the works of the devil, and righteous personality and behavior on the part of all of God’s creatures. Such righteousness of personality and conduct is the product of the Divine program of redemption that works solely through the authority and power that God has given to Christ.
Paul warns us that we are not to attempt to obtain or increase our righteousness by adding the works of the Law of Moses, such as circumcision, to our faith in Christ.
“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Galatians 2:21)
Does that mean, therefore, that we can continue to behave in the sins of the flesh because we are “saved by grace”?
Not at all, for being “saved by grace” means that we are dead to our old sinful and rebellious behavior and Christ is living His Life in us.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
If we are in Christ we are walking in “newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
If we are walking in newness of life, if Christ is dwelling in us and growing in us, then four things are true:
- We now are without blame in the sight of God.
- We shall be judged to be not guilty in the coming Day of Judgment.
- We are growing in our love of righteousness and in our ability to behave righteously.
- In the Day of Christ we shall be given increased power to behave righteously, in fact, to rule with the crown and sceptre that enforce righteousness upon mankind (Hebrews 1:8; Revelation 2:26,27).
After rehearsing his background as a Pharisee, Paul exclaimed:
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ
and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; (Philippians 3:8,9)
Then Paul explains what it means to live in the righteousness that is by the faith of Christ:
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, (Philippians 3:10)
To stand in the grace of God, receiving the righteousness that comes by faith in Christ, means to come to the full personal knowledge of Christ; to experience in ourselves the incorruptible power of His resurrection from the dead; to be pressed into full conformity to the mold of His death on the cross. Our old life is dying and Christ is living in us.
This is the true Christian life, the true grace of God wherein the elect stand. We stand by faith in the marvelous grace of being held blameless in the sight of the Lord God of Heaven. Both assigned righteousness and an ever-increasing righteous behavior are our eternal possession because Christ is dwelling in us and growing in us.