NORTH MINNEAPOLIS PRAYER BLOG 11/9/17: RIGHTEOUSNESS (Part 1)

 

Issue: GOD’S WILL-RIGHTEOUSNESS 

Today, we continue to pray God’s will for North Minneapolis. This will be the first of a two part series. We have been working through the Lord’s Prayer and meditating on what those statements Jesus taught us to pray mean. God has desires for His creation. Those desires will come to be because He is sovereign and is working to bring them about by means of the gospel proclamation to people He transforms and is transforming. He is making men and women into His image, the image perfectly reflected in His Son, Jesus Christ. We are being formed into His likeness, the likeness seen and heard in His Son. We image Him by creation, but we are made into His likeness. That marred image is reformed through a process of sanctification and the likeness is simultaneously renewed. Let’s look at holiness, because God’s name is holy and this is where our study tonight begins.

WHAT IS HOLINESS?

“As an attribute of God, His exaltedness above creation and His absolute moral purity. Portrayed as “sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1), the holy God is completely separated from His creation. Being incomparably exalted, He is worthy of worship. He is proclaimed to be “holy, holy, holy” (Isa. 6:3), utterly pure and uncorrupted by sin, though He engages with a sinful world (Hab. 1) and acts to render sinners holy (Isa. 6:4-6). The holy God consecrates objects, days, and people for His purposes, and He calls His children to progress in holiness (1 Pet. 1:13-16).[1] Let me restate this in a simple way: Holiness is who God is. He is completely distinct and different from all else. He is over and above it. God is perfectly pure (completely good and acceptable and perfect). Only God is worthy of worship.

WHAT IS RIGHTEOUSNESS?

“As an attribute of God, as His uprightness of person, ways, standards, and judgments. God Himself is perfectly righteous, as are His ways in creation, providence, salvation, and consummation (Deut. 32:4). As righteous Himself, God establishes moral standards that reflect His nature, and He requires conformity to those standards. His judgments of His creatures are righteous: He always and justly rewards obedience to His standards, and He always and justly punishes disobedience to them. Because God is righteous, His people should be fair and impartial in their judgments, and they should champion what is right and abhor what is wrong.”[2] Let me restate this in a simple way: Righteous(ness) is who God is. He is the source of morality and proper morality is a reflection of God. Everything God does in relation to all that exists aligns with His judgment. But let’s add some more clarity to what that last statement means. Here are two additional quotes to consider:

The concept (righteousness) includes faithfulness, justice, uprightness, correctness, loyalty, blamelessness, purity, salvation, and innocence. Because the theme is related to justification, it has important implications for the doctrine of salvation.[3]

Related to humans, righteousness is often found as the opposite of wickedness. Righteousness often occurs in evaluative contexts, where it relates to proper conduct with respect to God, the order of the world as He created it, the covenant, or law (e.g., Deut. 6:25). God reigns in righteousness and justice (e.g., Ps. 97:2), and humans should align their conduct with this righteous reign.[4]

Summary: All of God’s actions with creation reveal His righteousness. He is faithful to His creation. He is just to His creation. He is upright, correct, loyal, blameless, pure, and innocent to His creation. He is also the savior to His creation. Righteousness is the opposite of wickedness. There is a proper way to live and interact with all that is, and especially so with God. God acts appropriately to all that is and all that is should act appropriately towards all that is, including and especially toward God. This will never include wickedness.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HOLINESS AND RIGHTEOUSNESS

There is a link between holiness and righteousness. I’ll do my best to explain it. Hopefully it will help us grow in love for God. Holiness and righteousness are both attributes of God. They are words used to describe the person, character, and ways of God. When you observe God and His ways, you see His holiness and righteousness. But there are questions to consider: Where are they the same and where are they different? Are they the same or different? Does one proceed forth from the other or are they two different traits like physical strength and wisdom?

Holiness is in regard to God in a general sense. God is holy in being. He is completely set apart and above all else. Righteousness has an aspect that deals with relationship to others. It’s a specific manner or relation to others. God is completely in line with the perfect morality that proceeds forth (comes as a reflection) from Him. He is faithful, just, upright, correct, loyal, blameless, pure, a savior, and innocent in relation to all He is in a relationship or covenant. Holiness comes out in actions as does righteousness, but righteousness is displayed in a special covenantal relationship with His people. As much as the two attributes are the same, one is completely separate (holiness) and the other is near (righteousness).[5]

I believe it is arguable that our experience with God’s righteousness is how we begin to rightly view God’s holiness. That all happens in light of how unrighteous we are in relationship to Him. At the same time, we learn God’s righteousness when we first see Him as holy. We first see Him as holy when we are confronted with our wickedness in light of sin. When our eyes are opened to see God as who He is, then we experience fear and realize our wickedness. There is a felt revelation of our brokenness. We are broken because of sin, but we are also broken because we suddenly become aware of the reality and presence of our sin. But in His reaction to us, we experience additional aspects of His righteousness and our lives are forever altered. We experience His mercy, loyalty, faithfulness, and steadfast love. Holiness and righteousness mutually inform each other in our experience with growing in a knowledge and relationship with God through Jesus.

GOD DESIRES HIS PEOPLE “BE” RIGHTEOUS

God created man to reflect (or “be like”) Him in His image and actions.[6] This includes reigning over all of the earth and its creatures.[7] Righteousness and unrighteousness is displayed in the pages of Genesis. God calls Noah righteous for example. John wrote that Cain was unrighteous in 1 John as well. There are distinctions God wants us to note in relation to the person and the actions that flow forth from them. But there are two relationships that need to be distinguished before we go forward. The first is that there is an expectation of man to be righteous toward God. The second is that man be righteous toward man. This is an important distinction, but they are really joined together in the heart. Only a relationship that rightly views God and acts accordingly will respect and love men who are made in His image. But we have a problem.

Sin is against God and is the revelation of unrighteousness. Its presence exists in the inner man, in His heart and thoughts, before it comes out in actions towards others. Sin is a transgression. It is line crossing in a sense. We have boundaries. We can love and enjoy without borders, but must not overstep the boundary of love into hate, impurity, injustice, faithlessness, and so on. That all starts at a tree. The separation between God and man, by essence of the holiness of God, could not be bridged, yet mankind in Adam and Eve thought they could grasp it and remove the chasm from image bearer to equal with God. That existed in the heart before it was revealed by God’s good law: Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.[8] Satan has surely been a murderer and liar from the beginning.

But the desire for distinction and separation continues today. We “play” God in our own lives and seek to Lord over all that exists, including man. We do not reflect God, we reflect the absence of holiness and righteousness. We bear the image of our father Satan. We lash out in hate. We lie, cheat, steal, and kill. Before you reach for the fruit on the tree of knowledge in hopes you can distinguish yourself from all us other sinners consider what Jesus, who is God in the flesh, said: Lust in one’s heart is adultery and anger in one’s own heart is murder. All who do not tithe are stealing from God. All who tithe, but do not care for their family disobey God’s law. It goes on and on and on. Then there are verses that make it so clear: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.[9] We can go all day long looking for other people to measure our righteousness, but the law shuts our mouths and Christ’s perfectly righteous life condemns us. Other people aren’t the standard. God is. And God sent Jesus to testify to this and show us the standard. So if we must be righteous, but prove to not be, is there hope?

CHRIST IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS

Christ is the standard of righteousness. He came to fulfill the law and did so perfectly.[10] In doing so, we are now able to enter the covenant of grace with His righteousness given to us and our debt paid by His death on the cross with our sin. He is the end of the law for us.[11] God justifies us by faith in Christ’s finished work.[12] That means God declares us righteous in the form of justness. He judges us as just. God even says, “And this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”[13] We get the grace, in this case righteousness we don’t deserve and couldn’t earn, and God gets the glory!



[1] Gregg R. Allison, “Holiness” in The Baker Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms, pages 100-101.

[2] Gregg R. Allison, “Righteousness” in The Baker Compact Dictionary of Theological Terms, pages 184-185.

[3] Tremper Longman III, “Righteousness” in The Baker Compact Bible Dictionary, pages 289-290

[4] Tremper Longman III, “Righteousness” in The Baker Compact Bible Dictionary, pages 289-290

[5] Quick Note: Holiness is near in the person of Jesus Christ as well as in His people through faith by the presence of the Spirit. Yet there still exists a separation between the person God and those that contain His Spirit. I struggle to explain the difference in much the same way I struggle to explain that God is one and at the same time three persons. My hope is not to complicate or oversimplify the matter, but to show the relationship of righteousness in a distinct manner to inform the study of the word and thus the study of the special revelation of God who calls us to live righteously while resting in the righteousness of Christ in salvation.

[6] GENESIS 1:26a: “Let us make God in our image, to be like us.”

[7] GENESIS 1:26b: “They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

[8] I referenced, but did not direct quote GENESIS 2:17.

[9] ROMANS 3:23

[10] MATTHEW 5:17-18

[11] ROMANS 10:4

[12] ACTS 13:39

[13] ROMANS 3:22a