Posted by: splat | October 14, 2011

What is righteousness?

Towards a definition

First of all, what is righteousness? I have a simple definition that seems to work. I figure it means to “do the right thing” in our modern English vernacular. The strong’s number G1342 defines it as “equitable”. Equitable basically means fair. A fair God will do the right thing so this is in the ball park of our original definition.

Consider the following scripture:

Romans 3:10 NASB as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;

However Jesus also said:

(Matthew 7:11 NASB) “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

(Luke 11:13 NASB) “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

Therefore righteousness is not simply doing a good act but “doing the right thing” from God’s perspective. Note that this is not necessarily doing the right thing from man’s perspective. As an example of this consider how Jesus would heal on the Sabbath. This was certainly a crime from the pharisees point of view.

Its also noteworthy to see that righteousness is not necessarily tied up with the law. For instance Jesus was baptised by John “to fulfil all righteousness”. There was nothing in the mosaic or levitical law about being water baptised.

I would prefer to think about righteousness, rather than being obedient to the law, as being in God’s perfect will.

Imputed Righteousness

I actually started thinking about this when I was having a discussion about imputed righteousness.  This person claimed that imputed righteousness was a “twist” and as a license to sin. This is what started me on this journey. I decided to check it out for myself. I decided to investigate what scripture said. However, I was also interested in any other web page information I could amass about the orthodox position on the subject. This was not so that I would find ways to make scripture conform to the orthodox position but rather to understand how the currently held view, on the subject, became accepted. I had never thought to question this doctrine previously and as I looked into it myself I made a discovery that surprised me.

If righteousness when is it imputed. Often the scripture that is quoted is from the following:

Romans 4:7-9 KJV Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. (8) Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. (9) Cometh this blessedness then upon the circumcision only, or upon the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness.

This verse seems to be the basis for the orthodox position on imputed righteousness. The claim being made is that God sees us as righteous in Jesus Christ but the question remains as to when this righteousness is imputed.

Imputed righteousness is also very closely aligned with justification by faith. Rather than just saying “He was justified by faith” you could say “His actions were justified, or deemed to be the right thing to do, given that he acted in faith”.

I hope to expand on this particular part of the topic in a later post, God willing.

Unrighteousness

Now we will look at some of the things that are considered to be unrighteousness. Examine the following scripture from Romans.

Romans 1:28-32 NASB And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, (29) being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, (30) slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, (31) without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; (32) and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Notice the attributes here considered as unrighteousness. Notice that none of these attributes of evil, slander, gossip, and so forth, were against the Mosaic or Levitical laws. Nevertheless, they do indicate a wrong heart condition. Interesting also to note that Rahab, the harlot, who hid the spies and sent them out another way, acted in deceit. One of the very attributes of a wrong heart motivation. She lied to protect the spies and yet is was considered as a corresponding action to her faith in James.

James 2:25 NASB In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?

Rahab was justified by faith because she acted in faith, after hearing the testimony of the God of Israel, and how He led the people out of Egypt and ruined the Egyptian military forces. Her actions, although technically wrong, were considered to be the “right thing to do”, because she believed God’s testimony and because this was the basis of her actions.

Therefore true righteousness is very closely tied up with the motivation of the heart, rather than obeying the letter of any law.

Galatians 2:17-19 KJV But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid. (18) For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. (19) For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.

This hear shows the intention of the heart, to the obedience of faith, but making mistakes along the way.

I don’t like to turn this into a doctrine of “the ends justifies the means”.  I believe  Paul was concerned about this very misinterpretation because he wrote the following:

(Romans 3:8 NASB) And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.

Its not a case of the ends justifying the means but rather that God is able to take the right heart motive and turn it around for good.

(Romans 8:28 NASB) And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Here is another example of justification by faith using Mary and Martha as an example.

Luke 10:38-42 NASB Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. (39) She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. (40) But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” (41) But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; (42) but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Notice that Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, is not working. Hardly considered a righteous act by her sister Martha, who was busy working. However, this is a good example of justification by faith. She was considered to be doing the right thing, by Jesus, apart from works.

(NASB)Matthew 1:19
And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.

In this instance righteousness is mentioned without reference to the mosaic or levetical law. Joseph wasn’t trying to obey a law but rather out of a desire to cause Mary excessive grief.

In a further post I plan to examine this topic further.  I plan on investigating when and how imputation of righteousness and sin is made to the spiritual ledger with implications to the life of the believer and possibly the unbeliever.   However, hopefully this sets the stage for some productive exploration of this topic in a separate post.

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