Sunday, August 14, 2011

Who is Righteous and who is not?

That's the million dollar question, isn't it? After all, God demands absolute moral perfection from you. Jesus said, "Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). So unless you are absolutely perfect in thought, word, and deed every second of every day for your entire life, you are in BIG trouble!

Yet, the Bible speaks of righteous people all the time. Let's look at some examples... 

In the Old Testament there are plenty of references to righteous people. Genesis 6:9 says that, "...Noah was a righteous man." Psalm 5:12 says "For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O Lord..."  The book of Proverbs is filled with verses like this, "Blessings are on the head of the righteous...."(Proverbs 10:6.)

In the New Testament are many more references to righteous people. James 5:16 states, "...The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much".  In 1 John 3:7, the Apostle wrote, "Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He (Jesus) is righteous." Jesus Himself affirms in Matthew 5:45 that there are both righteous and unrighteous people. "...For He (God) causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

In the first chapter of the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul quotes an Old Testament passage, " it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith"". (Romans 1:17). Then in chapter three Paul seems to contradict that verse by quoting another Old Testament passage, " it is written, "There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not  one"" (Romans 3:10-11, emphasis added).  The Old Testament prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 64:6, "For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment." In Job 15:14 it says, "What is man, that he could be pure. And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous?". It says in Genesis 6:5 says this about all men, " And the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually". And yet the Bible says says just four verses later in Genesis 6:9, "...Noah was a righteous man."  Are these bonafide contradictions? The answer is "no" as you will see...

  1. The Bible teaches that all people are not righteous.
  2. The Bible teaches that some people are righteous
Obviously both propositions can't be true at the same time and in the same sense. That would be nonsense!

That depends on what the Bible means by "righteous" in each proposition.  Let's start by stating the biblical facts.
  • The Bible teaches that God is righteous. He is holy, He is morally flawless. He only does what is right. He cannot do anything bad because of His Holy nature. He is not Holy because He does only good things, He does only good things because He is Holy. 
  • The Bible teaches that the totality of mankind is not righteous. We are sinners. We are morally corrupt, wicked creatures in rebellion against our perfect Creator;  every single one of us is born with a seething hatred for the Christian God (Yes, even that nice, little old lady down the street!) We cannot do any good thing because we have a sin nature. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.  
  • The Bible teaches that some people are righteous.
We resolve this apparent contradiction by understanding that the sense in which all people are "not righteous", or "unrighteous" is not the same sense in which some people are "righteous" as taught in the Bible. So the word "righteous" has a different meaning in the first proposition than it does in the second proposition. 

  • All of humanity is not righteous in the sense that we have all broken God's laws. "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). Who can say they are morally perfect?  
  • Lawlessness is not just performing sinful acts, it as also not doing what we ought to do as taught in the Bible. "Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). 
  • Sin is also more than doing what we are not supposed to do, or not doing what we are supposed to do. Sin is a moral pollution that flows out of our corrupt nature. This internal corruption defiles every aspect of our lives; out thoughts, intellect, emotions, conscience, motives, inclinations, words, and deeds. Like I said before. We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners". Just think about that for a moment...
  • ... Jesus teaches this internal corruption in Matthew 15:19-20, emphasis added, "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication's, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man". 
  • Before we become Christians, all we are capable of doing is sinning. We cannot "not" sin! I'll explain. The Apostle Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 10:31, "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God". Paul also teaches in Romans 14:23,  "...whatever is not from faith is sin".....
  • .....The totality of what Paul is teaching in these two passages is this. If your motivation for doing good deeds is not for the glory and the exhalation of the Christian God  (Specifically, the God of the Bible) through faith in Jesus Christ alone, then you are not doing anything "good". Every attempt you make to do good and please the god of your making, (which is idolatry), the Christian God sees as nothing but stinky, rotten garbage, a filthy menstrual cloth. Remember what God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, "For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment."  (Isaiah 64:6)
  • We have a corrupt sin nature, called "Original Sin" because Adam as our representative, broke God's law and we inherited a sin nature. "Therefore, just as through one man (Adam) sin entered into the world, and death through sin (spiritual death), and so death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)
So I think you have a good idea of what the Bible means when it says all people are not righteous. Now to unpack the second proposition...

  • God is righteous and just, which means He must do what is right. He demands absolute moral perfection from his creatures made in His image without the tiniest exception. Judicially, God cannot neglect our sins. He always acts according to His Holy and just nature. He must punish all sin, otherwise He would not be just.
It is obvious that we do not have the righteousness that God demands, which  begs the question, "How then is it that some are righteous?" 
  • The sense in which some people are righteous is by receiving an alien righteousness, and that alien righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us, wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (Emphasis added). 
  • The Apostle Peter affirms that that those who are deemed righteous have received by faith, the righteousness of Christ. "Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:1 emphasis added). 
  • God. speaking through the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, declared the coming of Christ and that it is in His righteousness that sinners are pardoned and declared "Righteous". "For the time is coming," says the Lord, "when I will place a righteous Branch  (Jesus) on King David's throne. He will be a King who rules with wisdom. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. And this is his name: 'The Lord Is Our Righteousness.' " (Jeremiah 23:5-6).

You have to understand that God revealed His salvation plan of a coming a Savior progressively. This is called "Progressive Revelation". The Old Testament saints were justified by faith in what God had already revealed through prophets. They were trusting in what God was going to do in the future to wash away their sins by means of a Savior. 

God's promise of a coming Savior goes all the way back to the third chapter in Genesis right after the fall of man through Adam's disobedience, God spoke to the serpent (Satan) and said, "The LORD God said to the serpent, “....and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed;  He (Jesus Christ) shall  ]bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. Then again in verse 18, "I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command". There are countless other prophesies about the Savior to come who was fulfilled fulfilled in Christ. 

The people in the Old Testament and all those alive before Christ's coming were justified by faith alone, just as the people in the New Testament period up to the present are justified by faith alone. The difference being, that people in the Old Testament period were saved by faith in God's promise of a coming Savior, while we in the Church age can look back in retrospect at the Savior that God had promised as revealed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. 

It is my understanding that in Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, did not have a corresponding word for "righteous", or "righteousness". The Greek word that comes closest is "just" or "Justified". So when the Bible speaks of the a person being righteous, it really means a person being "just" or the "justified".     

What exactly is justification? Easton's Bible Dictionary has a thorough explanation of justification....

"a forensic term, opposed to condemnation. As regards its nature, it is the judicial act of God, by which he pardons all the sins of those who believe in Christ, and accounts, accepts, and treats them as righteous in the eye of the law, i.e., as conformed to all its demands. In addition to the pardon (q.v.) of sin, justification declares that all the claims of the law are satisfied in respect of the justified. It is the act of a judge and not of a sovereign. The law is not relaxed or set aside, but is declared to be fulfilled in the strictest sense; and so the person justified is declared to be entitled to all the advantages and rewards arising from perfect obedience to the law ( Romans 5:1-10 ).
It proceeds on the imputing or crediting to the believer by God himself of the perfect righteousness, active and passive, of his Representative and Surety, Jesus Christ ( Romans 10:3-9 ). Justification is not the forgiveness of a man without righteousness, but a declaration that he possesses a righteousness which perfectly and for ever satisfies the law, namely, Christ's righteousness ( 2 Corinthians 5:21 ; Romans 4:6-8 ). 

The sole condition on which this righteousness is imputed or credited to the believer is faith in or on the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith is called a "condition," not because it possesses any merit, but only because it is the instrument, the only instrument by which the soul appropriates or apprehends Christ and his righteousness ( Romans 1:17 ; Romans 3:25 Romans 3:26 ; Romans 4:20 Romans 4:22 ; Philippians 3:8-11 ; Galatians 2:16 ).
The act of faith which thus secures our justification secures also at the same time our sanctification; and thus the doctrine of justification by faith does not lead to licentiousness ( Romans 6:2-7 ). Good works, while not the ground, are the certain consequence of justification". 

Justification is accomplished through "imputation". The best verse in all of Scripture on imputation is 2 Corinthians 5:21, "He (God the Father) made Him who knew no sin (Jesus Christ), to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Christ). 

Keep 2 Corinthians 5:21 in mind as I flesh this out. Jesus Christ's mission was twofold. One part of Jesus' mission was to take the punishment that we deserve for our sin. On the cross, all of the sins of every person ever to have faith in the Christian God, including those in the Old Testament, were  credited or "imputed" to Jesus Christ. Then God the Father treated Jesus as if He committed every one of those sins. And yet he was perfect and blameless. This satisfied God's legal requirement of sin's penalty keeping His righteousness and justice intact.   

Jesus Christ also came in the flesh for another reason; a reason that is often overlooked by Christians. Jesus came to "do" what the first Adam failed to do. Christ came as the second Adam. Jesus kept all the demands of God's laws which Adam failed to do; this is the righteousness that God demands of us so we can boldly stand before Him blameless. The righteousness that Jesus accrued during His life and ministry is credited or "imputed" to those who confess Christ as Lord and Savior; when we receive Christ by faith, we are receiving Christ's righteousness as a gift.

....This Latin phrase coined by Protestant Reformer Martin Luther means "Simultaneously righteous and sinner". All those who put their faith in what Christ has done on our behalf 2000 years ago receive His righteousness as a gift through imputation. So even though Christians are still sinners and we still sin countless times every single day, God looks at us as perfect as God Himself because we are cloaked in the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Why? Because when we receive salvation through Christ by faith alone, by trusting in His finished work, we are adopted into God's family. God remembers our sins no more. All sins, past, present, and future are never held against us. It's like they never happened. Therefore, God is never mad at us when we sin. He doesn't get impatient with us because we are stuck in the same sinful pattern day after day after day. He does not look at our performance and judge us by how well we have done on any particular day. He does not complain when we don't measure up to His standard of perfect righteousness. His attitude toward you is always that of pure love and generosity.  

You see, Christians don't have to "do" anything to gain God's approval because we can rest in what Christ has already "done". We never have to worry about losing our salvation by "not being good enough" because Christ was good enough on our behalf. There is nothing we can "do" to to lose our  righteous standing before God, because Christ paid the penalty; it is done, it is finished!

There is no more hostility between God and redeemed sinner, there is no condemnation , no hard feelings, no grudges, even when we don't do our best and our deeds are sinful. And as Christians, our good deeds are no longer filthy rags to the Lord because we have the right motive to do them, which is to glorify the Christian God and reflect His image by faith in His Son.

I have listened to sermons by Eric Dykstra, and he has it all wrong. His theology is legalistic, among other things. Let me ask you some hard questions. If you  attend The Crossing,...
  • Do you base your standing before God on how well you serve Him at The Crossing? 
  • Do you think that God is upset with you when you don't offer Him your very, very best; when you don't serve at the highest level you think you are capable of? 
  • Do you feel guilt and shame because you have not performed to the impossible standard that Dykstra demands? 
  • Do you think that God  blesses you more if you do more, and blesses you less if you do less?
  • Do you think God is happy with you based on your subjective feelings rather than on the objective Truth of Christ dying on the cross for sinners 2000 years and receiving His righteousness as a gift by faith?  
  • Do you buy into the lie that you must give 10% of your income to The Crossing instead of giving only what is practical to you?
  • Do you feel guilty if you don't give as much as The Crossing demands?  
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then maybe you have adopted a legalistic mindset and are enslaved to an abusive church; a church whose  pathetic leader cares more about his stupid vision than shepherding Christ's redeemed people, ministering to those who are hurting, teaching the Bible, and proclaiming the Gospel. Christ doesn't want you to work, work, work, do, do, do, to gain His approval; you don't have to. He has already done what is needed so that by faith in Christ you are righteous in God's eyes.

If you are truly a Christian, then you will perform good deeds out of adoration,  love, gratitude, and loyalty to your Lord and Savior who purchased your salvation. Your good works don't save you but are the "fruit" of genuine saving faith. Jesus wants you to rest and rejoice in what He has accomplishes for you!

Start preaching the Gospel to yourself. You can wake up every single day and say something like, "I am forgiven, not on account of my good deeds, service, and faithfulness, but because Christ paid the penalty I deserve. He has given me His righteousness as a gift through faith. His finished work 2000 years ago gives me liberty to glorify God in whatever situation I am in. My ministry does not mean that it must take place in the context of church. I can fulfill God's calling and  live a life that is pleasing to Him, even in the most boring, mundane circumstances. I dare not trust my subjective feelings, but rely on the objective Truth of what the Scriptures teach regarding my righteous standing before God. I need not be burdened with misplaced shame and guilt because I don't think I have done enough to please God. I can boldly declare that God will never look upon me disapprovingly, even when I keep committing the same stupid sins over and over again. In His sight I am perfect".    

Even as Christians we are all miserable, wretched, vile, wicked, scummy, rebellious, traitorous, Hell deserving sinners. You really are much worse than you think! But Christ is the friend of sinners who know that those awful things are true of themselves. Those who know that they are morally bankrupt  and  have nothing to offer God. They must rely on Christ's finished work on the cross to pay their sin debt and receive the gift of Christ's righteousness to be approved of God. Christ doesn't want you to be weighed down with unbiblical rules, codes, and church ordinances that bring unjustified guilt and shame upon you if not obeyed. He wants you to rest in Him and what He has done for you.

Who is righteous and who is not? Christ is righteous and you are not. But by faith in Christ you can receive His gift of righteousness and no longer fear condemnation. Praise the Lord!   

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