How Can I Be Righteous Before the Lord?
Proverbs 21:3 “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.”
1 Corinthians 6:9 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?”
The case that I would like to propose to you today is that for anyone to achieve absolute “righteousness” and “justice” before the Lord is impossible according to man’s own ability and in accordance to the biblical sense of the word. I do not say this of my own accord but this is what the Bible teaches. Psalm 14:3 says “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” So what does the Bible tell us of how we can attain this?
Notice here that both the words righteousness and justice are very similar in its meaning and you can’t have one without the other.
The scripture in Proverbs 21:3 demands righteousness and justice. To me what this says is, “to do righteousness and justice”, means that it is conclusive – in other words to be completely and perfectly righteous and just. The words here does not ask you to “try” be righteous and just, but it is emphatic on the word “to do”, in other words “DO!”. There is no room for anything else.
So if it is impossible to achieve righteousness and justice and in accordance to Psalm 14 there is none that does good then what hope is there for man?
The reality is that every other religion other than the Christian faith, is trying to achieve this state of absolute goodness by doing good works in order to be made acceptable to” God”! Today we are going to look at what the Bible teaches us about how it is possible to achieve this standard for God and that nothing else will do other than achieving the complete standard through which we will be justified and not just a partial standard. In other words, being good and doing more good than bad, or even trying to be the best we can is not good enough according to a Holy God’s standard of righteousness.
In order to do this, let’s begin by looking at the biblical definition of the word “righteousness”.
There are two different words for righteousness used in the Bible, the Hebrew text in the Old Testament, which is a “Righteousness of God” and the word attributed in the Greek text in the New Testament which is to “Observe Righteousness”
Old Testament Hebrew
Psalms 7:11a “God is a righteous judge,”
Hebrew word: “Tsaddiy” which means just, lawful and correct
New Testament Greek
Greek word: “Dikaios” meaning observing divine laws or being upright, faultless, innocent or guiltless
Notice above that all of the words listed above are all “God’s” qualities and not mans!
Righteousness and Justice of God
Lets begin by looking at the righteous and just attributes of God. Essentially “Righteousness” is the state of moral reflection required by God in order to enter heaven. A state in which you are justified and made right before God. A genuine righteousness is based purely and solely on the word of God.
The Bible tells us that God is righteous and that the word of God reveals his intrinsic character. Ezra 9:15a says “O LORD God of Israel, You are righteous,” (NKJV). There is nothing in scripture that is declared more strongly than the righteousness of God. It solely belongs to the Lord. That is why Daniel acknowledges this in Daniel 9:7a “O LORD righteousness belongs to you,” (NKJV). All of righteousness belongs to God alone.
The righteousness talked of in the Bible tells us about the character and nature of God. Gods character and nature always leads him to do what is right. Righteousness is holiness in action. We can also refer to God’s righteousness as God’s justice. Moses declares in Deuteronomy 32:4 saying “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.”
God always deals righteously with humanity, and righteousness involves judgment – it is the justice of God. God reveals his righteousness by loving the things that are good and by hating the things that are evil. Consequently his righteousness results in judgment. The good news of Jesus Christ also reveals the righteousness of God. Romans 1:16-17 says “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” In summary God’s righteousness or justice, is an attribute that leads him to do only those things that are right. Because God is righteous, he must judge evil. Gods justice allows him to reward those who have been faithful to him. He will rule in absolute righteousness.
So today I would like to look at the following points that will enable us to better understand, how we can be righteous and just before God Almighty.
- Firstly, the condition of being Righteous and Just – Why is this a requirement for God?
- Righteousness by ‘Works’ of through ‘Faith’? – What is the method by which we can attain Righteousness
- Method of Salvation in the Old and New Testaments – How were people saved in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, was it by works or was it through faith?
- Is Faith Righteousness? – The role of faith in righteousness
Condition of Being Perfect and Holy
As we read in Proverbs 21:3, it is righteousness and justice that is acceptable to God. For anyone to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven there is a condition of being “perfect” and “holy”. The God of the Bible is a perfectly Holy and Righteous God. God does not tolerate sin. But for a human being to have these attributes of being Righteous is absolutely impossible due to the fall of mankind. In the Old Testament the laws were given to the nation of Israel to show the righteous requirement of God. But what we see is that it was impossible for anyone to attain this “righteousness” through the law.
Deuteronomy 27:26 says “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” and again in James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” It is the same in the Old and New Testaments, no one is able to keep all of the law.
In fact Jesus teaches us the very same thing. Matthew 5:48 says “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – is this possible? If not what hope is there for mankind? If yes, then how? This is the very reason that Jesus says in Matthew 19:25 “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” This gives us great hope. Amen!
1 Peter 1:15-16 says “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,” and again in Matthew 5:20 Jesus says “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What Jesus is commanding here is quite heavy. Remember that the Pharisees were strict students of the scripture, studied the scriptures diligently and lived by a stricter standard than Christians do today. They fasted weekly, tithed to the tiniest amounts and worked hard to keep to the letter of the law – but at the same time they did not keep to the spirit of the Law. It was all a show on the outside but their hearts were far from being righteous.
Being holy and righteous means not conforming to evil desire. God’s holiness expresses His divine perfection. True holiness was not what the scribes and Pharisees thought it was. So to be holy it means to be opposite of being “common” or “profane”. God is holy in that He is utterly different and distinct from His creation. God’s requirement for us is also that we must be distinct, separate from worldly attitudes and actions which characterize those who do them as unbelievers and against God. 1 Peter 2:9 says “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into the marvelous light. ”
This is vastly different from any other world view out there. The Christian God requires you to be completely perfect and in order to do this you cannot rely on your good works, or in that manner any works for it ultimately does not match up the righteous standard of Christ.
So the question remains, how can we ever be perfect, holy and be exceedingly righteous before God? Is righteousness earned or is righteousness given?
Righteousness by Works or through Faith?
If righteousness and justice is what the Lord requires, then what is the detail of it? How do we know what the righteous requirement of God is. The righteous requirements of God is found in the Law. Let’s begin by looking at why God gave the law to the children of Israel. It was to produce a nation of righteous and holy people in order to show the righteous requirement of God – which was to keep the law perfectly and to show that the Law itself was good and perfect but as an example that this was impossible for man to keep.
The Law was never given as a means to attain righteousness, but the Jews used the Law as a way to attain righteousness. The result of this was that the Jews worked hard at keeping the Law in order to attain their own righteousness, but failed miserably to do so whereas the Gentiles who did not seek righteousness or keep the Law attained it. How is this possible?
God had promised to lead the nation of Israel to the promised land, however there was a problem with this. How can a righteous and holy God dwell in the midst of a sinful and rebellious people? In fact God tells them in Exodus 33:3 “but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” So the provision for God to dwell among the people were made in several ways, in order that it would not result in their death due to His holiness and their sin.
Firstly God provided the Law through Moses and it prescribed the conduct necessary for Israel to live in God’s presence without offending His righteousness. If they lived in accordance to the Law they would not offend Him and would live whereas if they failed to keep His Law, they would die. Leviticus 18:5 says “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.” Because this was not possible completely, God provided the people with a sacrificial system. Where there was sin there was death.
The sacrificial system was instituted so that the sins of the people could be atoned for temporarily. There always had to be a sacrifice made for the atonement of sins. As it says in Hebrews 9:22 “and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Notice that this was not something new that was introduced. It always existed except now it was being written down and taught to the nation of Israel. For example right from the beginning, Cain and Abel brought offerings to God Almighty. Even though at this point in time the law of God had not been given yet they would have known the commandments and precepts of the Lord. Because the Bible tells us the Cain’s offering was rejected while Abel’s was accepted. Even though the commandments were not written down, Abel’s offering was in accordance with the Offering written down in Leviticus 3. The commandment was to offer the animal and its fat. Noah is another example, where he took onto the ark clean and unclean animals. The classification of clean and unclean animals is given in the written Law of Moses. And again you see this in Abraham, where God promised him a son and what it says in Genesis 26:5 is that Abraham knew all of God’s commandments, saying “because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”
So if law keeping was not God’s means of attaining righteousness, why was it necessary for these detailed provisions to be made? If keeping the Law was a means for making mankind righteous, then why was it necessary for Christ to come to the earth and die in the sinner’s place? Reading in the Old Testament there is every indication that law-keeping was not going to justify anyone and law keeping was never a second way of receiving salvation. This was only what self-righteous people did in defiance of God and rejecting His provision of righteousness through faith.
The law also was given due to the unrighteousness of the fallen world and the world was steeped in sin. In-fact Galatians 3:19 says “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.”
So sin was abundant in the world and God displayed through his law given through Moses the righteous requirement in order to contain lawlessness until the promised offspring, Jesus Christ who was to come and fulfil the righteous requirement of the law. This is only possible through God, as it is His very character. But Jesus came as man, emptying Himself of all of His godly attributes, being born of a women and was tempted as we are in every way and ultimately fulfilling the law making it possible for man to be made righteous before God the Father through believing in Christ and faith in the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. In this way the righteousness of God is imputed upon us.
This is the only was through which we can be righteous, it is through the righteousness of Christ.
Even though the law was given and reflected a somewhat simplicity on the outside it was impossible to keep on the inside. The heart itself required renewing and changing to keep to the law. Even though the law was given, sin continued on. In fact the Apostle Paul goes on to say that law was the strength of sin. 1 Corinthians 15:56 says “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” and in Romans 7:8 “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.”, and a few verses later in Romans 7:10-12 saying “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
Now rather than the nation of Israel, who seem to have had an advantage over the Gentile nations because of the Law, now they are found out to have no advantage at all. This righteousness became a righteousness of works – to do something to gain rightness with God and it was impossible. They were constantly in failure to meet the agreement of the covenant (based on law) and so that is why God speaks of a new covenant. This failure was not with God or His Law but the failure was within us.
According to the Bible, we can see that there are 2 types of righteousness for man. If we read in Romans 10:5-7 “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
The Apostle Paul here is talking about two kinds of righteousness. One is a righteousness based on law as revealed in Deuteronomy 6:25 “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’” The second a righteousness based on faith.
Notice here that this righteousness of law and faith existed both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Even now after the coming of Christ, men and women in the world today and in Christianity are still trying to earn or fulfill righteousness by works. Yet it was always the case in the Old and the New Testaments that this is only possible through faith and the righteousness of God being credited to us.
The righteousness that is based on faith has been fulfilled through our Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in John 1:17 “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
So here we see that the Law of Moses showed the righteous requirements of God while the Law of Christ demands grace (that is grace from God) through faith (given to us from God). This showed the failure of man to attain righteousness on his own merit through works and that righteousness could only be attained by faith in the righteousness of God Almighty. The perfect example of this is found in Abraham. Faith is not something that is earned or worked for, but is given by grace. It is a gift of God. That is why it says in Romans 4:2-4 “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.”
This raises the question, so does that mean that the Law is no longer required or is it made void? Paul answers this is Romans 3:31 “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
What Paul is establishing here is that, it is through “faith” that the Law is established. We uphold what the law intended to do through faith because we were powerless to achieve it because of the weakness of our flesh. So the outcome is the same. The real outcome or intention is to achieve righteousness. The method through which we achieve it is different. The Law shows the requirements to achieve righteousness, but because of the weakness of our flesh it is impossible for any man to achieve it – Jesus Christ made this possible for us through faith in Him, by fulfilling the law on our behalf.
The outcome is the same, the method is different. It is the outcome of righteousness that we are concerned with and not the method. Paul gives us a practical understanding of this when he compares a lawful Jew and the Gentile. Romans 2:25-27 says “For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.”
In other words if a Gentile keeps the righteous requirement of the Law without the Law, since the Law is only given to the Jews then his uncircumcision is declared as circumcision. In a similar fashion we don’t have the Law but we keep the righteous requirement of the Law by faith in Jesus Christ accepting His gift of grace, through faith and accept the imputation of His righteousness on us – and this is the righteousness of God to all. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
So we are no longer debtors to God and we don’t need to work for our righteousness because Chris has made full payment upon the cross. Colossians 2:14 say “by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” We are now the righteousness of God in Christ and never apart from Him. We are those who do not work but have faith in the one who justifies the ungodly and our faith is accounted as righteousness. Romans 4:5 says “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,”
So we see here that Proverbs 2:13 and 1 Corinthians 6:9 is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.
Salvation in the Old Testament and New Testament
So this then leads us to question salvation. It is important to clarify that salvation has always been through faith, whether in the Old Testament or in the New Testament. There is a common misconception that in the Old Testament, salvation for the children of Israel was attained by keeping the Law. The Bible tells us in Galatians 3:11 “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” At this point you might think to yourself or say that, this is Paul talking in the New Testament and it does not relate to the Old. But when you look further into scripture what you identify is that Paul is quoting from the Old Testament scriptures, in fact he quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 saying “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by faith.” Salvation by faith apart from the law was an Old Testament principle. So then what was the purpose of the law. What role does law play for salvation? Galatians 3:24 says “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” Paul is teaching here that the purpose of the Law was to serve as a tutor to bring us to Christ in order to be justified by faith.
The Law cannot save anyone in the Old Testament or in the New Testament, unless you can keep all of it. Romans 3:20 says “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Then the question arises, so then how were people saved in the Old Testament through faith, when Jesus Christ had not died on the cross yet for the cleansing and forgiveness of sins? The scriptures reveal this to us when we continue to read in Romans 4, we are taught that salvation in both testaments is by grace alone, faith alone and Christ alone.
Romans 4 points us to Abraham and David who was saved by faith. Romans 4:3 says “For what does the scriptures say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” This passage is quoted from the Old Testament in Genesis 15:6. It is also important to note at this point that there is no way that Abraham could have been saved by keeping the written Law because the Law came 400 years later. Then Paul goes onto show us the example of David, who was also saved by faith. David is used as an example by citing Psalms 32:1-2 in Romans 4:6-8 saying “Just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” What Paul is trying to establish here is the fact of salvation by faith alone. He does this by using the two Old Testament characters and saying that this is the only method by which the righteousness of God can be credited to us and there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn it. So in Romans 4:23-24 it says “But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, from the dead”. Righteousness is credited or given to those who have faith in God, not only to Abraham or to David, but we all share in the same way of salvation.
The New Testament scriptures make it plain that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament types, symbols and prophecies. Some examples of this can be seen in the following scriptures:
In Luke 24:44 Jesus is saying “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Romans 3:21-22 says “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” And many other references from the book of Hebrews etc.
In fact in the book of Hebrews 11:4 it says that right back to Abel the son of Adam was justified by faith. So it was not any works done by Abel, but the fact that Abel trusted in the coming Redeemer whose blood was pre-figured by that of the sacrifice he offered – the sacrifice prescribed by God. It was to come through the promised seed as prophesied right after the fall in Genesis 3:15 “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Scriptures make it plain that the Old Testament saints offered their sacrifices for sin in anticipation of the prophesied Holy One who would come and make full and final atonement. Let us look at some scriptures below to back up this claim:
John 8:56 “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”
Hebrews 11:13: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.”
Hebrews 11:39-40 “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
So what we learn from this is that the New Testament believers look back with thanksgiving to Christ’s atonement for our sins on the cross as we read in Hebrews 13:20-21, just as the Old Testament saints looked forward in hopeful anticipation of His propitiation for their sins as read in Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 53 and we all together look forward to the day when Christ shall come again.
Job one of the oldest of the Old Testament saints, declaring in Job 19:25-27 saying “For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
Is Faith Righteousness?
Finally, now that we have come to understand that it is only through faith that the righteousness of God is imputed on us, thus justifying us. It is also important to clarify the role of faith.
In Romans 4:22 it says “That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”” Does this mean that “faith” itself is the kind of righteousness we perform and God counts that as good enough of our righteousness, or faith being our part of righteousness for justification.
Firstly it is important to understand that faith is not something we obtain or acquire from our own intellect or actions but that it is purely a work of the Holy Spirit. Faith itself is a gift from God. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says that “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” It is only the person with the Holy Spirit that accepts the things of God.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” This shows that faith is given to us as a gift from God and nothing we can do ourselves. And finally in Philippians 1:29 “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,”. So this shows that faith is something that is given by Christ. These facts should completely humble us, because we are so unworthy yet the grace of God has been lavished upon us.
Romans 3:28 says “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” When we read this passage a question can arise in our minds, is “faith” then a work by which we must be saved? Hopefully now that you have read/heard the above passages, that it is now clear that it is solely the work of the Holy Spirit and not our work. Faith is not the reason we are saved but the mechanism through which we receive Christ’s righteousness. It is not faith itself that justifies us but only an instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness.
Not only are we saved through faith but faith keeps us in communion with God by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we have faith we can be confident that we are righteous and that our sins are no longer held against us.
Faith is what unites us to Christ. When God sees faith in Christ, he sees union with Christ, he sees the righteousness of Christ as our righteousness. Because faith connects us with Christ who is our righteousness, and so faith is counted as righteousness.
In conclusion, I hope you have understood that you can only truly be righteous and just by God’s divine work in your life by grace through faith. It is only God that has absolute righteousness and justice and no man can ever attain this in his own strength or goodness because according to the Bible, all have fallen short of the glory of God and every man has turned to his own way. In this way we can finally attain Proverbs 21:3 and 1 Corinthians 6:9, not through works of our own, but through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sometimes people can misuse the grace of God as a cover up for evil and continue in their sinful nature. This is not true faith nor true salvation. As it says in 2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” and also in 1 Peter 2:16 “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
This very faith that we have is a gift from God that connects us to God and is the instrument through which the righteousness of God is imputed to us. This is the only way man can have peace with God, it is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice upon the cross as payment for our sins. No other worldview offers this answer to the problem of sin in their lives. In all other worldviews and religions, all you can do is try your best and hope for the best.
But through the Lord Jesus Christ, it is possible for man to be seen as righteous before God because the very righteousness of God has been imputed on us through faith. This is the good news of the gospel. This is why this is great news and every reason for us to rejoice and shout and sing to the Lord for He has made a way to save mankind from the clutches of sin, saved from being a slave to sin and now have become children of God, a slave to righteousness.
If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ, now is your time to put faith in Him. Call out to Him, confess your sins and believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice upon the cross for the cleansing of your sins. That from now on you want Jesus to be your savior, dwelling in your heart that He may transform you and have His righteousness imputed upon you. God Bless.