Righeousness is a really easy concept to understand, but it is really hard to adequately apply it to the framework of our lives. There is a seeming contradiction between the need for righteousness and the sufficiency of grace. If grace is sufficient to cover all my mistakes and to get me into heaven, why is the existence of righteousness so emphasized? Why does it matter if I do things the "right" way?
The answer for this that God has shown me comes from what my mother has learned and therefore taught me. She takes a good 45 minutes to an hour every morning to read her Bible and ponder the depths of knowledge that each word in Scripture brings. She likes to share these with me, which means I often get stuck listening to what she has to say for 25-30 minutes longer than I really want to. While it is a tad frustrating because I kind of do want to start my day eventually, the wisdom and knowledge that I have gleaned from those times has really exposed a lot of the mysteries I have pondered. Many of these things I will likely share with you here. It would be a shame for all her learning to end with me.
The question that my mom asked me was simple: "What was Jesus' purpose here on earth?" Logically, I gave her some of the most basic and well-known answers: die for our sins, rise to give us life, lead a godly example, fulfill prophecy, heal the sick, call others to follow Him, etc. All of these answers were correct, of course, but it wasn't the answer she was looking for. She was looking for something that was the underlying reason He did all of these things. The answer? To do the will of the Father. If you think about it, Jesus purpose was only to do whatever the Father willed. He spoke in multiple instances about how He didn't do anything by His own initiative, but because it was what the Father wanted Him to do (Matt. 11:27), and when He was in agony in the garden while He prayed before being arrested, the thing that drove Him to continue was the fact that the Father's will was what came first and foremost (Matt. 26:42; Luke 22:42). (I know it may be a bit confusing, considering that Jesus was God and the Son and the Father were and always will be, in fact, completely the same thing. But, a discussion on the Trinity is not pertinent right now. Just look at it this way: Jesus' will was to do the Father's will, which makes their wills the same, in essence.)
A few weeks later, the thought came to mind about what my real purpose is here on earth. I have been able to see God begin to use me in some radical ways lately. Many of these things are defining who I am. But when I asked myself the question, "What is my purpose here?", before I could respond I was bombarded with the prompting to use the same response: To do the will of the Father. This means that I am here to do whatever God wants me to do, to be used as a tool for whatever purpose He has. This means I don't have to know everything or where every path is leading, all I know is that every day I need to seek to do the will of the Father. This will result ultimately in God being glorified, and blessings to fall upon anyone who God wants to bless because of it (see also Matt. 7:21, 12:50; John 8:28, 14:13).
So then the next logical question is obvious: What is the will of the Father? This is a topic worthy of a blog post of its own, specifically about looking for the Lord's leading, the importance of prayer and Bible reading, and the spiritual gift of discernment that all believers should crave. But the simple answer is to follow the pattern of Jesus by having an attitude of openness to the Father's leading on a minute-by-minute basis. When we seek God's leading, we find out what He wants us to do and what steps He wants us to take toward whatever goals He has laid out in the grand plan He has written for this world.
What does all this have to do with righteousness, you ask? This is the answer to the question I posed earlier: Why should we do things the "right" way? Because it is the will of the Father that we follow Him and act as He would act. We can't honestly think that we will be able to do amazing works for God's kingdom if our minute-by-minute actions are not in line with God's standard. We were created completely righteous, but then after that we sinned. Then the law was given so that we could see what God's standard of righteousness was, but it was a standard we never could attain to because of our sin. So Jesus came to set us free from that bondage and offer us grace so that we can seek righteousness without the penalty and bondage of sin holding us down. Grace is not a license to sin, but a permit for the pursuit of righteousness (Rom. 6).
I know this is something that sounds so great. But I also know that often we think that there is no way on earth we could ever attain to the righteousness that God desires of us. When we have fallen in a hole of our own sin, it looks like we will never amount to anything righteous. And even when we are at a very good and strong place in our walk with God, it looks like "our best" will never be anywhere close to what God would deem acceptable.
Trust me, I have been there too many times, and I know every Christian has been there as well. But the great news is that our righteousness is not dependent on us! Jesus has made it so that our righteousness is solely dependent on His faithfulness. In Phillippians 3:8-9, Paul declares that he has put off all worldly garbage so that he "may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith." As we seek God, we grow in faith, and faith produces righteousness in us. Therefore, the righteousness we desire is made possible through simply seeking God, and as that faith produces a salvation that is dependent not on us but on Christ and His work, our righteousness is possible solely because of what God has already done and what He is going to do.
To prove to us how confident we should be in the righteousness He has provided, He has surrounded us with that righteousness in such a way that we will never be outside of its hold on us. This concept of the certainty of the promise of righteousness to those who believe is something I call the "threefold righteousness." Simply put, the righteousness of God is established in our past, present, and future.
- The first righteousness is the righeousness that is imputed on us immediately as we accept Christ into our lives. When we invite Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, we accept His sacrifice on the cross as covering our sins. He then takes His righteousness and imputes (attributes or ascribes) it on us. When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives at conversion, He changes the "lens" that the Father sees us through; instead of seeing us based on our own righteousness or lack thereof, He sees us based on His own righteousness. God has literally changed the way He sees us. He no longer looks at us and sees our sin; He looks at us and sees His own righteousness. And that can never change. (See also Rom. 3:22,26, 4:5-6,24; Gal. 2:21)
- The second righteousness is the righteousness that we accrue as we follow Jesus. Obviously, we will never be perfect as long as we are on this earth, because of the sin that still resides in our flesh. But because of the mercy and grace that Jesus brought through His blood, we can pursue righteousness here on earth. We pursue righteousness by seeking to know God more, primarily through His Word and through prayer. It's like getting to know a good friend: the more you know who that friend is, the more you become like that friend (assuming you actually want to be like them). This is why the most important thing you can do every day is to read your Bible and pray; through these you learn who God is and you can conform your life to Him. And while we know we will never reach perfection here on earth, we can aim for that perfection and strive for that standard. Because while we will never reach it, due to his mercy and grace, we can never fail. (See also Rom. 6:13,16,19; Eph. 4:24; Php. 1:11; 1 Tim. 6:11; Heb. 5:13)
- The third righteousness is the righteouseness that we are promised in heaven. When we die (or are raptured) and make it through the pearly gates, we will be perfect! This is something that is so hard to fathom sometimes, but it is the reason for everything God has done for us: to live with Him for all of eternity in holiness and righteousness, having experienced His love and grace. It returns us to the state in which we were created, except that we know what it means to be completely loved by God. Somehow, our bodies will be transformed into pure, sinless bodies, and our minds will be washed clean. Galatians 5:5 says, "For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope." (See also 2 Tim. 4:8; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev 19:8.) No matter what happens here on earth or how far along the line of perfection we make it, we are promised pure and perfect righteousness for all of eternity in heaven. Nothing motivates me more to press on and finish the race than knowing that, no matter what happens, I will soon be completely, 100% righteous. (Hallelujah! All praise and glory be to the one and only Savior and Redeemer. Amen.)
So no matter what happens, we are surrounded completely by righteousness. This is by God's design, so that no sin can ever separate us from God's love and salvation, and so that we are always encouraged when we are down about our earthly state. We will make mistakes here, but we have been covered in righteousness, we are constantly growing in righteousness, and we are promised perfection in eternity. It sure makes our failures seem small and weak compared to the might and power of an amazing, holy, faithful God!