Righteousness. What a vast subject looms before us as we consider this attribute which is described as the foundation of God’s throne! The concept of righteousness originated from God and religion. Hence, to accurately define what righteousness is, it is unwise to consider any other source than the Word of God. In the Bible, righteousness refers to the attribute of doing what is right, both in the sight of God and man. Since ‘good’ is not always equal to ‘right’, doing something that is good may not necessarily be equal to being righteous. Considering that God sees both the inward and outward parts of a man, being righteous has to be beyond doing good works that other men can see. It would have to depend strongly on what God expects.
In the Old Testament, God gave the law to the children of Israel to guide them and distinguish them from other nations as His own people. The law made several demands of the people, some of which they could not keep because of their weak human nature. Some were able to keep much of the law, but the law itself condemned such attempts if one failed in one little area. Whoever was guilty of any part of the law was guilty of all. Although the law required them to be righteous, they could not become righteous by attempting to obey those laws, because the law was the very light exposing their weaknesses. It seemed they were forever doomed to fall short of God’s expectation.
But there was another story. Long before God gave the law to the children of Israel, he had already credited their ancestor Abraham with the much-coveted gift of righteousness. God confirmed Abraham a righteous man on an entirely different basis – faith. Although He gave the law to the people to guide them, he had made it clear that no one would be righteous except by faith in God. The just shall live by faith. But most of the people did not know this. They attempted to please God and become righteous by doing what the law demanded, thereby condemning themselves. The truth about righteousness continued to remain concealed.
In the New Testament, Jesus died on the cross for the sins of all mankind and paid the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. The Law was fulfilled – the last Lamb had been crucified. Anyone who believed in the sacrifice of Jesus for his own sins would be forgiven and justified before God, being imparted with the gift of righteousness through the abundance of the grace of God. Such a man would be righteous before God and be empowered to do the good works that are consistent with being a righteous man. This is because that man, the one who believes in the work of Jesus, would possess the very nature of God – the righteous nature of God. He would then be expected to do the good works he was created to do. The truth had finally been unveiled.
Righteousness can only be obtained by believing that Jesus Christ has paid for one’s sins by his death and given us new life by his resurrection. Nothing else will make a man righteous before God. And good works reveal that righteous nature which the one who has faith in Jesus possesses. Nothing else will reveal that a man is righteous before men. Faith is the means to obtain righteousness; works are the means to manifest righteousness. How will you obtain righteousness before God if you do not have faith? And what is the point of possessing righteousness before God if you will not manifest it before men? Let us all follow the example of Father Abraham, who was justified by his faith in God’s promise to him, and whose faith was made perfect by his works, when he offered up Isaac upon the altar. The free gift of righteousness from God waits to be received and manifested.
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