By: Scott Horrell
Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
When I was a kid, Alfred E. Neuman would grace the cover of “Mad” magazine with his freckled face and split tooth grin along with the caption “What, me worry?” He had an expression on his face that said “I am the furthest thing from worried a guy could be” or “do I look worried to you?” We as the church sometimes have the same kind of thought or expression when we start talking about being righteous. We say to ourselves, “What, me righteous? I could never be righteous. Only Jesus is righteous. Why, I’m just an unworthy little worm.” True, we are unworthy. That’s what makes God’s grace so amazing that He would assign righteousness or “right standing” with Himself through faith in the redemptive work of His worthy son Jesus to us. We may have been unworthy before we were saved but now Christ in us is worthy. Galatians 2:20 says “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Religion and this world system have done a pretty good job of stifling this perception through the years with phrases like, “you self-righteous little so and so” or “excuse me, Miss Holier Than Thou” or borrowing from scripture that says “there is none righteous, no not one” (Rom. 3:10), forgetting that that verse means we do not have a righteousness of our own, in an attempt to bring us under condemnation. A lot of those charges are well deserved by the church when we do indeed try to have a righteousness based on self-effort and lack of true humility. Humility is not putting yourself down or being self-deprecating. It is acknowledging the truth that God has spoken through His word and accepting it as that and nothing else no matter what politically-correct people try to pressure you with. True Bible humility is when we read something from scripture and take it into our hearts by faith, which means we at some point have to act on what we have read even if it may seem foolish, presumptuous, or arrogantly bold by unbelievers.
I heard the testimony of a man who was in law enforcement who pulled a driver over and upon approaching the car was shot several times ultimately losing one eye and almost his life. After years of struggle with his new circumstances of scars and fear that kept him from going back to the job he used to love, he finally gave his heart to Jesus and experienced His saving grace of forgiveness and peace. He knew that to continue in that peace he would have to obey the command in scripture to forgive, even the man who shot him. He visited this man in prison and told him how Jesus changed his life and that he forgave the man for shooting him. In time, after ministering to this man the love of God, his shooter received salvation himself. They are now good friends and each new visit to this man in prison starts with a hug. I have to admit that when I saw these two men embrace in the love of God I was tempted to think, “Are you kidding me? Just like that, this guy is his BFF (best friend forever)?” I had to catch myself and stop the old ingrained thought pattern of how foolish that thought was. Most people would say that maybe in this instance it was okay to not forgive quite so much. But the bible does not have varying degrees of forgiveness outlined anywhere that I have found. And I am very thankful that I haven’t found those instances because then I would have doubts about God’s forgiveness of my sins and how much it actually covers. Praise God, He covers it all! So this man exercised true humility by being obedient to the Word no matter what he may have felt or what friends or family may have thought about it and was rewarded with the peace that passes all understanding and a new brother in Christ. (Phil. 4:7)
The old thought patterns are what trip us up the most to keep us from seeing ourselves as God sees us once we receive Jesus as our Lord and savior. We get saved and have a wonderful experience of love and peace and freedom in the Lord, but we are spiritual babies. Just as babies aren’t born with the knowledge of different things and have to learn day by day, so we spiritually also have to come to more knowledge of our new life in Christ day by day. The disadvantage we have as coming to the Lord when we are older is that we may have had years of “mind input” (worldly knowledge) that has to be reprogrammed with the new knowledge of the Word of God. We are no longer a blank sheet of paper as a natural baby. There are hurts, fears, anxieties, experiences, and habits that are entrenched in our makeup and even if we are not consciously holding on to them, they do not want to go quietly.
Proverbs 1:7 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Later in Proverbs 8:13 God says through Solomon that the fear of the Lord is the hatred of evil. I started to wonder what true evil really was from a biblical perspective. We only seem to think of evil as a heinous horror movie character, Hitler type individual or act. When I think of evil in those terms I know I hate evil and then some! But the evil God sees is much more subtle and sometimes difficult to discern let alone root out of our lives. When God had Moses send the spies into Canaan it was said that all but two of them came back with an evil report. What? They only said “we are not able to go up against the people (of Canaan); for they are stronger than we.” No cussin’ or spittin’ or anything I can see there. No obvious “dissing” of God. Just an honest assessment of their abilities right? But what did God tell them earlier in Numbers 13:1-2? He said to Moses, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I give to the people of Israel; from each tribe of their fathers shall you send a man, every one a leader among them.” So as far as God is concerned, it is a done deal. He said He gives it to Israel! He just wanted them to check out what they were getting and prepare for the battle they would have to undertake to get possession of the land and trust Him to give them victory just as He had delivered them out of Pharaohs’ hand. But ten faithless men come back and say essentially, ‘No, we can’t have it. We don’t know what God was thinking because these guys are giants! We are not going to do this. We’re not big enough for this!’ By contradicting God’s Word they stepped into “evil” status in their speech and attitude. They were honestly assessing their abilities, but not God’s… through them. So we can say that when we combine that episode with what God says about the Fear of the Lord, that evil is anything that is contrary to God’s Word. When you are going against God’s Word you are walking away from His knowledge, wisdom, power and life. So that tells me that adhering to God’s Word is very critical to our overall walk of humility with God which is the obedience He desires over sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22).
So, are you righteous? “Well, I don’t know. I don’t feel righteous. I don’t always act righteous,” you may say. Let’s see what God has to say about it if we truly desire to walk humbly before him and be obedient to His Word. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” John 14:6. Also, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life…” John 3:36. Now in Galatians 3:6-9, the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul says, “Thus Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith.” Okay, now go to 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Based on these scriptures let’s start putting some things together. Do you believe Jesus is God’s only Son sent to redeem the world from sin? If you answer yes then go to the next step. Does it make sense that if by believing God, Abraham had righteousness credited to him or God called him righteous because he simply believed and acted on what he told him? If it does make sense to you then you can know that because you believe God’s written word that when He says “by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God-not because of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9) righteousness has been credited to you by your believing and receiving what you just read. God said that men of faith would be the sons of Abraham or would be like him as God saw him, not looking on the outward appearance but at his heart of faith. You see, God is looking for faith on the earth (2 Chron. 16:9), it is what pleases him (Heb 11:6) and moves Him to work in our lives. We see this in our natural lives in parent /child relationships. If your child listens to you and believes what you tell them and are obedient correspondingly, then you want to bless that child. No, you would really like to spoil that child! But when there is mistrust, doubt or outright rebellion in that child toward the parent, after a while that parent can’t wait to be free of that child and leave them to their own devices even though they love them.
You may say, “I have never done anything righteous. I’m a slug. I’ve done nothing but hurt people, including myself.” Well let’s ask this question, did Jesus ever sin? No. So how was He made to be sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God? (2 Cor. 5:21) Honestly I cannot articulate the details of that transaction in natural terms. It is by God’s grace that we are saved and made righteous by faith in the same way that He put all the sin of the world on Jesus, the one man who did not deserve it, and put us in righteous status, the ones who definitely did not deserve that either (see Romans ch.5). Why would God do that?! The only answer I have is Love. (John 3:16)
“If I am righteous then why do I still have troubles?”
Deuteronomy 30:19-20 says “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” Being righteous by faith and redeemed from the curse of the law according to Gal. 3:13-14 does not mean that you are automatically free from trouble. Jesus said that in the world we would have trouble but that we were to be of good cheer because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). Now the primary trouble I believe he was alluding to was the suffering and trouble that comes from being a follower of Christ and the persecution that goes with being conformed to His image through obedience to the Word (“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” John 15:18-21). We still have to be of good cheer by faith. When you encounter troubles or tribulation, does cheerfulness or joy seem to automatically ooze from every pore of your being to repel all the negative and fearful thoughts you encounter in those situations? Not usually. The response of cheerfulness and joy is an act of your will by faith in what Jesus said. Nowhere in scripture does Jesus say to “feel” anything. When God told Abraham to move to another land Abraham did not wait until he “felt” like moving. God said, Abraham heard… and did. That is faith in a nutshell, and righteousness is assigned to the one who responds as such. If any of those three parts of the equation are missing; God speaking, man hearing, man having corresponding action; then faith and righteousness is dead. When you heard the Good News of what Jesus Christ had done for you on the Cross as an atoning sacrifice for your sins, then you responded in faith by believing what you just heard by making a confession (with your mouth) of the acceptance of that work on the Cross (action) and now you have been deemed righteous by faith in the work of Jesus and not on your own efforts. (See Romans 10:5-17) Some disciples asked Jesus in John 6:28 “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus said in verse 29 “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” He was righteous and perfectly sinless before the Cross and then all the sin and unrighteousness of the world was placed on Him so that we might receive the tradeoff of His righteousness. Seems like a bad deal for Jesus, huh? No worries though as we look to ‘Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Hebrews 12:2) So if you did nothing to deserve or earn this righteousness then you can be confident that you can do nothing to lose this positional standing with the Father. You are going to miss it once in a while. A Greek translation of sin could be said to “miss the mark”. This would be the mark of God’s standard which is righteousness and along with it holiness. You may ignore or lightly esteem this righteousness standing but the fact that this is the way God now sees you and desires to interact with you does not change. It is kind of like Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan. King David had a covenant with Jonathan and after Jonathan and his father, King Saul, were killed his family fled and five year old Mephibosheth fell and was injured thus being a cripple for the rest of his life. Years later, David was inquiring if there was anyone left of Jonathan’s house that he might show kindness to for Jonathan’s sake and someone said yes, his son Mephibosheth was still alive and just barely getting by. So David sent for him and brought him to stay with him and eat at his table. Now Mephibosheth came in fear like a dog with his face to the ground submitting to what he thought would be a life of servitude to David. But David had something better in mind. He wanted to show kindness in remembrance of Jonathan and take Mephibosheth in as if he were his own son. You see, Mephibosheth had it made his whole life and didn’t know it. His father had a covenant with the King which assigned to him favor as being the heir. Someone just had to go out and get him and tell him the good news so that he could live in his right standing with the King. Does this sound familiar?!
So why should we care about being righteous? I mean, can’t God just save us and stamp our ticket to Heaven, stuff it away somewhere we can find it for when this life is through, and get on with living here and now? Paul says something sobering in First Corinthians 6:9-12. He says by inspiration from God, “Do you know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Let’s say you come to a faith in Christ Jesus and you are “saved” and according to scripture you now belong to God and have eternal life. If you were once one of these kinds of people, which we all were at some point, then after you “have your ticket stamped,” so to speak, how will anyone know or even care if you still act like you once were? This doesn’t mean that you may not struggle with your old self and habits. Sometimes God supernaturally removes that stronghold you had in your life immediately and sometimes it is a process of putting it away for good. Remember 2 Corinthians 5-17 that says that if anyone is in Christ then he/she is a new creation, the old has passed and the new has come? Well, now Gods righteousness through His Spirit has access to your inner life to bring about the change in the outward person. (see Eph. 3:15-21) Change is the key word there.
Repentance is about change, going 180 degrees in a different direction. That’s why I see Romans 12:1-2 (at top of first page) as a repentance scripture.
Who would want anything to do with serving God if they just stayed in the same miserable state they were in before like being a drunkard for example? A person seeks God for deliverance from alcohol because deep down they know there is something better. Oddly enough that is why they are a drunkard, because they know that when they drink they feel better and the pain is gone for a time. It takes more and more to dull the pain but they are not thinking far enough ahead to count the costs of the bad results that come later or they don’t care because it feels better right now and that’s all that counts. They are trying to fill a void that only God can fill. They may not know what it looks like, really feels like, or how it comes about but they know something is not “right”. And of course God does not list these types of people and activities just to put up a roadblock to admittance into His Heaven, does He? We can’t have this riff raff in Heaven with us now can we! No, that’s not the issue. The first issue is that He has said that He is God and we are to have no other gods before Him. (See 10 commandments) All the things listed there in the Ten Commandments are attempts to usurp God’s authority and displace Him from His position and put our trust in other things to “meet the need.” He intends to be our provider, and all those things listed as unrighteous challenge God’s provision for our life. Perhaps you don’t think God is going to meet your needs according to His riches in glory, so you steal to meet the need. Perhaps you don’t think he will bring Mr. or Ms. Right to your front door, so you covet or get into sexual immorality, and on and on. It is that He knows that these are the things that keep us from His best. They are things that ultimately destroy us and separate us from Him. He loves us and desires that no one should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 9) or change according to 2 Cor. 5:17.
While the Bible to some is a collection of dos and don’ts, there is a reason for those commands and exhortations. It is so you can “live a life worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10) and “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). From the time we are born we live our lives for ourselves. We are inwardly focused on those things which benefit us alone. Among a child’s first words is “mine.” But God did not create us so that we could just go off on our own to do our own thing and experience life without Him. We forget that He is the Creator. He made us, not the other way around. And not just so he could have a play thing to take down from the shelf once in a while when He was in the mood. At the beginning, God hung out with Adam. He enjoyed His creation and gave Adam a free will to reciprocate which the angels did not have. We were created in His image because he wanted to commune on His own level and not that of simply a master and his pet. Remember Jesus saying that “it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matt 10:25). Adam was righteous, or right with God, in the beginning because when God said something Adam believed and acted accordingly, and the fellowship was unbroken and filled with good things. It was as natural to him as breathing. Adam had no lack, no problems, no sickness, no lower back pain, no disease, no relational troubles, no worry or anxiety about the future as far as we know. It was a prosperous life, and he had it made. Then came the disobedience. Someone else came in with a word that contradicted what God said. Just a slight twist in it. It seemed plausible, this “other word.” Now Adam believed something else that was told him and he acted on it and connected himself from then on to unrighteousness and its fruit. (See Gen. ch. 3) There was one thing God told him that he did not believe, and we know Adam did not believe God, but instead believed this other voice, because of his actions. You see, if you want to know what a person really believes watch their actions, and don’t merely listen to what they say. That is where the rubber meets the road. When we hear from God and don’t do what He has told us, we can know that righteousness has been ignored and disregarded, and we step into a place where God is not obligated to help us. You say the word obligated does not apply to God? It is His idea not mine. Though He is the sovereign God, he has bound Himself by His Word (Isa. 55:10-11). If His Word says, for example from Proverbs 11:8 that ‘the righteous is delivered from trouble,’ then that tells me that as we live in righteousness and are positionally righteous through faith in His son Jesus Christ that we can have confidence in His Word to be performed in our lives because He is not a man that He would lie. (Num. 23:19, Heb. 6:18) So God being righteous demands that we interact with Him in the same way. It makes perfect sense even in the natural. Try typing a command into a computer that has not been programmed for that command, and you will go nowhere. When you go out of the compatible boundaries of that operating system then nothing gets done and guess what, you get very frustrated because “this blankety blank computer won’t do what I want it to!” God is programmed for righteousness so to speak. It is His makeup, His MO, His way of doing things. We are not “commanding” God when we speak His word in faith. We are just bringing to bear what He has already said and believing that He will be good to perform His word. (See Nehemiah 9:7, 8) We will not have a relationship if we do not operate in the same righteousness. Thank God we did not have to do this on our own, because it could never be achieved by sinful man. It took a Savior. Someone who was qualified to offer a payment to a just God who would have to be satisfied in one way. One who was sinless, with sinless blood that was holy and acceptable to God to pay the final price for all men to be free from the wages of sin and death. “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 for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God , they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.” Rom. 3:21-26
Now as you become more “righteous conscious,” what does your everyday life look like? Well, we as always should return to scripture to see what God has to say on the subject. As you read the Bible, pay attention to any reference to “the righteous,” “the just,” “the upright,” and any other description that indicates a believer who has been made “right” with God through faith. When you see the word righteous in scripture, stop and meditate on that for a moment, and if you have been saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus then you can know without a shadow of a doubt that it is now referring to you. Remember, this is not a righteousness of your own. It is the positional standing you now have with the Father. It is sonship. (Rom. 8:14-17) If you were raised in a home where you were loved and cared for by good parents, then you confidently referred to yourself as a son or daughter of those parents. If you messed up occasionally and had a heart to receive correction then you knew that your parents did not cease to call or consider you as their son or daughter. Your status or position did not change. This does not mean that healing in the relationship does not have to occur. On the contrary. This confidence in position starts and promotes the restoration of the relationship. Let’s look at Hebrews 10:35-39 “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. ‘For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.” Let’s also consider Romans 5:17 which says, “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
As you read these scripture references consider one more if you have any doubt whether or not this “reckoning” of righteousness applies to you. “But the words, ‘it was reckoned to him,’ were not for his (Abrahams) sake alone, but for ours also (emphasis mine). It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” Rom. 4:23-25.
So, as a believer in Christ Jesus are you righteous? You better know it!