For most of my 40 years as a believer, I have looked at the word righteousness as a distant and unachievable notion reserved for “God’s Elite.” Me, righteous? C’mon now.
But the deeper my faith has grown and the closer I have drawn into Christ’s inner sanctuary, it has taken on an entirely new meaning in my life through God’s Word and Light. What follows below is a snapshot of that picture.
Living a righteous life means taking responsibility for controlling our own behavior. If we say or even think we are better than people we consider to be “sinners,” we are guilty of the sin of self-righteousness. It is not our right to look down on, criticize, judge, condemn, or try to control other people. Judgment is to be left to God.
The Bible’s standard of human righteousness is God’s own perfection in every attribute, every attitude, every behavior, and every word.
We need to establish what it means to be unrighteous in order to grasp what it means to be righteous. Unrighteousness is sin that has not been forgiven—the polar opposite of 1 John 1:9.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
So, then, righteousness is forgiven sin:
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Here’s the good news in all of that…
The state of righteousness for believers is immutable – it can’t be taken away from us no matter what.
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
We need to believe that true righteousness is possible, but understand that it never comes from our own power. True righteousness can only come through the cleansing of sin by Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Christ enables us to be dead to sin, and through righteousness we have the Spirit of eternal life in us.
But it is not automatic! Check out the if in the following:
“And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Romans 8:10
Our old identity was defined by our sin nature. Our new identity is defined by the righteousness we are given in exchange for our faith in Jesus. That’s the “easy” part. The challenge is to live out this new identity. And that’s one tough job because we often tote our old identity around in rusty buckets long after we come into the faith. That creates a problem when our old identity sloshes around and spills out of the bucket as we climb the rough and rocky terrains of life.
If we allow this to happen, it affects our relationship with God because it means we will not fully accept his forgiveness and embrace the mantle of righteousness inscribed with our name in heaven. Our relationships with others will also be negatively impacted because we are hindering the work of the Holy Spirit by holding onto that old identity.
Go ahead…grab onto God’s righteousness. It’s waiting for you right now.
Mark Affleck is a CEO, Strategist, Pastor, and Author. He is the former Executive Director of The Global PEACE Plan at Saddleback Church. From his Love God Fear Nothing ministry platform at www.markaffleck.com, Mark helps Christians overcome fear, love God, and commit to life-long spiritual growth. He also transforms churches and Christian organizations through his YellowChair Strategy methodology.