- The language of righteousness has been so thoroughly abandoned in parts of the Western Church that its omission is hardly noticed.
- This is more than a change to contemporary language, e.g. righteousness = justice; being made right etc.. The fact that there are over five hundred references to righteous/righteousness in the Bible means that this is a truth central to the entire message of scripture.
- The abandonment of the discourse of “righteousness” represents a major alteration of Christian worldview. Over recent decades people in the Western church have shifted their focus from wickedness to suffering. The language of sickness and addictions (“mistakes”) has replaced the language of sin, and the message of healing dominates that of forgiveness. The message is “recovery” rather than salvation from God’s wrath. The contemporary church has become “therapeutic” in its approach: the individual self has become central, personal “felt needs” are primary, self-esteem is substituted for the image of God, evil becomes an emotional state and “help” replaces truth. Victimhood has displaced rebellion as a primary way of interpreting human ills.
- The result has been the entrenching of a culture that tolerates sin inside the Church that is in stark contrast to the expectations of biblical religion.
- Since God’s righteousness is at the very centre of the rule of his kingdom the discipleship crisis in the Church can never be resolved without a restoration of the place of righteousness in God’s dealings with the world. Christian discipleship is not a voluntary lifestyle but an obedient response to the just rule of Christ as King.
- We must recover the prophetic tension generated by the opposition between human wickedness and divine righteousness. Unless this godly tension is restored the commission to disciple the nations will never be fulfilled (Matt 28:18-20).
- Put another way, a restoration of discipleship in the Church can only come with a restoration of the truth of the gospel.
- As in all our studies, the key to understanding and practicing righteousness in our lives as disciples of Jesus, is to receive by revelation how the Father established his life as righteous. Cf. “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:8-10 ESV)
The Loss of Righteousness
- Created in the image and likeness of God, Adam and Eve reflected his “righteousness and holiness” (Gen 1:26-28; Eph 4:24). The just nature of God’s rule was communicated to the first couple through the goodness of his commands, including the prohibition of eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). As long as humans obeyed these commands they ruled the world in a way that reflected wholeness and life-giving character of their Creator. Everything remained “very good” (Gen 1:31).
- Even where people have not received a specific command like the one given in Eden, they are held accountable for their response to the ordering of God revealed in creation (Rom 5:12-14). We are all subject to the testimony of God’s goodness in making the world a fit and beautiful place for human habitation; “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:20 ESV); ““In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”” (Acts 14:16-17 ESV cf. Ps 19) This involves a real revelation of God’s righteousness as the Ruler of the world.
- From Eden on however humanity however has rejected God’s upright rule, choosing self-rule in its place. This involves what scripture calls a hardening of the heart against revealed truth. “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” (Ephesians 4:17-18 ESV). Spiritual ignorance is a consequence of rejecting God’s righteousness.
- The refusal to submit to the fairness of God’s ways is active and universal; “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Rom 1:18). The real human problem is not ignorance, confusion or victimhood but an unrighteous reckoning that God is unjust! Every complaint about our parents, our looks, our financial state….the way others treat us, the weather etc. is a judgement that God is not just (Cf. Ezek 18:25, 29; 33:17, 20).
A Personal Memory
In the last decade of his life my father suffered from heart disease; I remember him being “brought back from the dead” on a pavement outside the emergency department of a hospital, and being there with my mother at home when he took a sudden turn and died before our eyes. At the funeral when we were coming out of the chapel my mother loudly exclaimed; “It’s not fair.” Ultimately these sorts of statements, and all the angers and resentments of human life, are an accusation directed at the Creator and a charge that we are more righteous than he is. Even time I perceive/believe that the sovereign Lord is not fair and just to ME I am hardening my heart against him.
- In the ancient world it was recognised that the very worst thing that could happen to a nation was to be without a righteous ruler, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6). To be without a just monarch was rightly understood to be a recipe for social chaos. This is God’s verdict on our rebellion against the rule of his kingdom.
- God’s response to the rejection of his justice is to hand people over to their own sense of right/wrong; this action is known in scripture as “the wrath of God”. The multiple sins and disorders of the world spring from a desire to rule our own lives, reckoning as we do that we are more righteous than our Creator;
- “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” (Romans 1:28-31 ESV) “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Eph 5:19)
- Human beings are so blind to their own wickedness that they cannot tolerate the thought of their own evil nature in relation to divine justice. Self-righteousness is an all pervasive human characteristic; even those who loathe themselves to the point of mutilation and suicide, consider their judgements on life are right. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.” (Prov 21:2)
- The very worst form of self-rule, or self-righteousness, is religious. This is why Jesus’ greatest opponents were the Pharisees, to whom he said, ““You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.””(Luke 16:15 ESV). “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)
- The truth is that apart from Jesus human beings hate the fact that God is always right and we are always in the wrong.
Below is the testimony of Martin Luther of the days before the Lord revealed to him the true meaning of the righteousness of God in the gospel.
I had conceived a burning desire to understand what Paul meant in his Letter to the Romans, but thus far there had stood in my way, not the cold blood around my heart, but that one word which is in chapter one: “The righteousness of God is revealed in it.” I hated that word, “righteousness of God,” which, by the use and custom of all my teachers, I had been taught to understand philosophically as referring to formal or active righteousness, as they call it, i.e., that righteousness by which God is just and by which he punishes sinners and the unjust.
But I, blameless monk that I was, felt that before God I was a sinner with an extremely troubled conscience. I couldn’t be sure that God was appeased by my satisfaction. I did not love, no, rather I hated the just God who punishes sinners. In silence, if I did not blaspheme, then certainly I grumbled vehemently and got angry at God. I said, “Isn’t it enough that we miserable sinners, lost for all eternity because of original sin, are oppressed by every kind of calamity through the Ten Commandments? Why does God heap sorrow upon sorrow through the Gospel and through the Gospel threaten us with his righteousness and his wrath?”
This reminds me of a time in my own life when I was struggling with God and his “perfection”; the sense of the Lord’s moral infallibility seemed to place a great demand on my life which I felt he couldn’t possible understand. I could sense a resentment deep in my heart. Then one morning as I was praying about this it was as if I could “see” an idol projected from inside of me before my eyes (cf. Ezek 14:3), I knew that it really represented the inflexible demands that I felt my earthly father had placed on my life; I immediately repented of confusing the hardness I experienced from my earthly father with the truth of my heavenly Father. A short time later when I was out walking I had the most marvellous sense of the goodness of God filling everything. Although I have been through many trials and spiritual ups and downs since then, I often have a tremendous inner sense of the faultlessness of God in his dealings with me.
Righteousness and Faith
- Since rejection of the righteousness of God comes from an unbelieving and hardened heart that places people under divine wrath (Romans 2:5; Heb 3:13), the way of salvation has always been one of faith issuing from a heart that is soft towards God.
- Throughout scripture the way in which God establishes a sense of his rightness in our hearts is to lead us to trust him in situations where his promises seem to be failing, and he provides no reason for the delay.
- The great example in the Old Testament linking faith and righteousness is Abraham; years after God had promised him an inheritance (Gen 12:1-3), the LORD spoke to him again. “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:1-6; cf. Rom 4:16-25; Heb 11:8ff).
- Faith in a time of hostile circumstances is the precondition for sharing in the righteousness of God. (Cf. Moses’ period in the wilderness of Midian; David’s flight from Saul etc.) The classic Old Testament prophecy linking faith and righteousness came at a time of overwhelming national disaster, “ For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV cf. Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38)
- From Eden on human beings have believed in the satanic deception that God is a liar (Gen 3:1-6). To trust in God’s promises in spite of all counter evidence is to affirm against all our fallen nature that, ““God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?”” (Numbers 23:19 ESV cf. Rom 3:4)
- To believe in God in such an unconditional way is not something that can be realised by an attempt to change our own hearts, it is a promised gift of grace, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV). Such a heart inwardly believes in the goodness and rightness of all God’s commands.
- This is the necessary background for understanding Jesus’ words; “ Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV).
- The obedience that God seeks however is not slavish and based on fear (cf. Matt 25:24-25; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:3), but from the heart, e.g. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom 6:17). This is what Paul calls “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26).
- Such faith is an unreserved trust in the promises of God, and is dependent upon a conviction that his (covenantal) promises to bless are unconditionally good and his judgments totally deserved. This sort of true faith is not circumstance dependent.
- The Bible teaches “The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.” (Ps 145:17). The consistent testimony of scripture is that in whatever he does he is a just i.e. righteous Judge (Gen 18:25; Ps 72:1- 2; Jer 11:10) who applies his laws impartially and in this way reveals his righteousness in condemning the guilty and vindicating the righteous (1 Ki 8:31-33); ““The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.” (Deut 32:4). If we however look at the history of the misuses of power and the abuses and injustices of the people of God there is little evidence for true faith in God’s justice.
- Throughout the Old Testament the LORD makes it clear that he will withhold judgement if the righteous dwell among the wicked (Gen 18:22-33; Jer 5:1; Ezek 22:30). No such righteous person is found, until the coming of Jesus.
Jesus the Righteousness of God
- The preachers in Acts unhesitatingly use the title “Righteous One” for Jesus (3:14; 7:52; 22:14 cf. 1 John 2:1), so identifying him with the God of the old covenant (Prov 21:12; Isa 24:6). This is a claim that the revelation of the righteous rule of God in Christ is complete and exhaustive.
- Righteousness frames Jesus’ entire identity. His whole life of loving and obeying the Father with all his heart soul, mind and strength and his neighbour as himself is an “act of righteousness” (Rom 5:18).
- The public revelation of the righteousness of God in Christ begins at his baptism. “John would have prevented him (from receiving baptism), saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.”” (Matt 3:14-15).
- What it means to “fulfil all righteousness” becomes clear in the context of the baptism. “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”” (Luke 3:21-22 ESV). The Father’s pleasing words echo the prophecy of the Servant of the LORD, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations…. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law. “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Isa 42:1, 4, 6 – 7).
- The other dimension of the pleasure of the Father comes from his knowledge that Jesus will issue in the righteous rule of God, not only through positive acts of giving, but by becoming the sin-bearer who will take into himself the destructive power of evil (John 1:29).
- From this point on, Jesus’ life ministry is a manifestation of the restoring justice of God. When Peter preaches “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38 ESV) he interprets the power of the Spirit that fell on Jesus at his baptism with the ability to put things right in the order God originally intended them to be.
- This was precisely how Christ himself interpreted his mission; ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”” (Luke 4:18- 19 cf. Luke 1:46-55). Whenever Jesus healed the sick, forgave sin, and cast out demons and brought good news to the poor (Luke 7:22 cf. Isaiah 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1), the righteousness of God’s kingdom was enacted in the power of his Spirit (Matt 12:28; Rom 14:17).
- The crowds that followed Jesus were not simply looking for relief from their sufferings, but because they saw in the signs that Jesus performed a foretaste of the unbounded graciousness of the eternal kingdom of God (Matt 4:25; 5:1; 8:1 etc.). They were sharing in the truth taught in the Sermon on the Mount; “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt 5:6)
- Those who were most ardently seeking the kingdom of God were those who knew that they possessed no righteousness of their own; Jesus made this pint clearly in his conflict with the Pharisees; “ Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”” (Matthew 21:31-32 ESV)
- At the centre of this teaching of Jesus is the command and promise; “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 ESV). The full truth of this call to righteous living could only be reached in the climax of the power of God’s rule in Christ’s own death-and-resurrection as the final revelation of the justice of God.
- The great messianic hope of the Old Testament was for the coming of a king who would rule in righteousness and distribute justice to the poor and needy of the land. (Ps 72:1-2; Isa 11:1-4; 32:1; Jer 23:5 cf. Zech 9:9). A more distinctive prophetic expectation concerned a deliverer who would suffer so as to impart righteousness to others; “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isa 53:11). To combine both these strands was the distinctive mission of Jesus.
- That the death of Christ is a display of divine righteousness having the power to create faith in the saving justice of God is manifest at the time of the crucifixion itself in the responses of two ungodly men. First of all we witness one of criminals crucified with Jesus, a man literally called, “a worker of evil” (Luke 23:32), petitioning Jesus as the King, ““Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”” (Luke 23:42). What force has turned the once hardened heart of a wicked rebel against God’s ways to desire with his whole being to be a part of the kingdom of God, even more than to see his own mortal life saved (cf. Matt 6:33; Luke 14:6)? Such a power is the energy that makes genuine disciples. Secondly, when Jesus releases his spirit to his Father in death (Luke 23:46) the centurion in charge of the execution of his execution has such a powerful revelation that he exclaims, ““Truly this was the Son of God!”” (Matt 27:54)/“”Surely this was a righteous man.”” (Luke 23:47). The explanation for such a transformation can only be found in what they witnesses of Jesus in his final hours.
- “Righteousness and justice” are the “foundation of God’s throne” (Pss 89:14; 97:2), and he shows his faithfulness by demonstrating both the unconditional goodness of his promises to bless humanity and to justly judge the wicked in the cross (1 John 1:9). The full substance of this revelation is found in the manifestation of the innocent and Righteous One dying in the place of the wicked (Isa 53:11; Luke 23:47) and interceding for their forgiveness.
- When Jesus cries out from the cross, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34); this is not a personal plea of one who doubts the justice of the LORD; as the one who “became sin” (2 Cor 5:21) Christ takes into himself the full force of humanity’s “suppression of the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18). Everything that denied God’s justice has been carried away in the cross.
- When Jesus prays for those who were mocking and executing him, ““Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”” (Luke 23:34) he trusts that the Father will indeed hear this prayer and pardon (cf.1 John 1:9). This is a manifestation of a perfect human faith and obedience that is one with God’s own righteousness; e.g. “”For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17 ESV). So deep is the intercession of the cross and so powerfully does it move the heart of the Father for lost humanity, that it moves the Spirit to soften the heart of the wicked and leads them to repentance (cf. Rom 2:4-5). This happened, i.e. to the thief on the cross, even before Jesus died.
- To unbelieving eyes the death of Jesus is simply folly or tragedy (Luke 23:48; 1 Cor 1:18); but the resurrection is God’s declaration to Jesus of his perfect righteousness (Rom 4:25; 8:10; 1 Tim 3:16). It is the final manifestation that God keeps his promises of rewarding the obedient and punishing the wicked.
- Jesus is now in heaven reigning in the righteousness of his Father; “But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”” (Heb 1:8-9 ESV) It is in this authority and satisfaction that Jesus sends for his Word and Spirit to create a new community of justice by the power of the gospel (Matt 28:18; Rom 1:16-17).
- The proclamation of the gospel of Christ’s saving death and resurrection is a manifestation of a re-identification of God. He is seen no longer as an angry or wrathful God, but as the “Righteous Father” (John 17:25 Cf. 1 Pet 1:17) who has gone to all possible lengths to be reconciled to man (Rom 5:10).
- This great ask of re-establishing the kingdom of God upon the earth is not simply a matter of words “but of power” (1 Cor 14:20). Full of zeal to establish God’s righteous rule Jesus now sends the Spirit to empower his disciples to destroy all wickedness wherever it may be found, in us or in the communities and nations in which he calls us. “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:25 ESV cf. Eph 1:22; Heb 10:13)
The Disciple and Righteousness
- In the plan of God, a wonderful exchange has transpired, our wickedness has been exchanged for Christ’s righteousness; “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21 ESV).
- This is the message of the gospel; “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom 1:16-17 cf. 3:21-26).
- The apostles preached such a message of righteousness;“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”(Acts 17:30-31). The death of Jesus at the hands of sinful men, with his resurrection on the third day, is the manifestation that God has always been able to bring the best out of the worst for the sake of humanity (Luke 24:7). Within the New Testament framework of the gospel proclamation of the kingdom of God this constitutes a revelation of the End time (eschatological) righteousness of God (Matt 24:14; Acts 1:3; 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 31). The good news of Jesus’ death-and-resurrection is God’s ultimate manifestation that he is Righteous!
- This is framework through which Paul understood his own conversion experience; “‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth” (Acts 22:14). At one stroke Paul was given to see that God’s will was to reconcile humanity to himself through the suffering of Jesus the Messiah, this was God’s righteousness. From then on he understood his commission as an apostle in a way that is equivalent to Jesus’ sending forth of his disciples in the Great Commission.
- “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,” (Rom 1:1-6 ESV cf. 16:26). The gospel is about Jesus, not us; God has demonstrated his right dealings with humanity by raising Christ from the dead by the power of his Spirit. It is through this gospel message that “the obedience of faith” i.e. faith that God is righteous towards lost humanity, will grow amongst “all the nations”. This is equivalent to the discipling of the nations of the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20).
- It is the revelation of the righteousness of God in the gospel of Christ that softens our hearts and creates faith, “But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:6-17 ESV).
- Such faith expresses itself in willing obedience to the divine commands as just and good; this is the essence of discipleship. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his classic, The Cost of Discipleship, “Only he who believes obeys, and only he who obeys believes.”
- Informed faith understands that the gift of righteousness (Rom 5:17) is not simply we receive only a the beginning of our Christian lives, it is part of what it means to be “in Christ”; “And because of him (God) you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:30-31 ESV)
- That God has established Jesus as our righteousness means that we do not have to strive to “do the right thing” to be accepted by the Father. At the centre of mature Christianity is freedom from the fear of being unjustly judged by God. Conscious disobedience is a sign that we do not believe that God’s will is always the best for us. Such rebellion always reveals a failure to understand that the way of the cross is the way of glory, “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”” (Mark 8:34-38 ESV). The crucifixion-and glorification of Jesus is the revelation of the justice of God for humanity and sets the exclusive pattern for the life of discipleship. In the light of the outcome of the life of Jesus, we are persuaded that no matter how difficult our situation, God is a just God working for our highest good (Rom 8:28).
- Through the revelation of such great things a committed disciple of Christ will be inspired and motivated just as Jesus was, to see the just reign of God break into every realm of social and community life: marriage, family, government, business, law, education, media, health etc.
A Personal Testimony
I was talking with someone recently about their tendency to try and smooth things over in people’s lives. This was not the pattern of Christ’s life, who continually opposed evil wherever it was found. It came to me that the overwhelming sense of God’s goodness I sometimes feel is connected with the uncompromising attitude of Christ, loving righteousness and hating wickedness. To the degree that we share his attitude and action we will experience the all surpassing goodness of God.
- Many contemporary Christians have rejected the righteousness of God and replaced his commands for justice with values that allow them to continue in an undemanding and comfortable lifestyle. This is a rejection of Jesus’ command which summarises the essence of what it means to be a disciple; “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 ESV)
- Since discipleship is a response to God’s way of justice, the spiritual immaturity of the Church and its ineffectiveness in impacting wider culture will continue until there is a new revelation of the righteousness of God in the gospel of Christ. Such a revelation alone has the power to genuinely heal human beings by restoring them in the image of God; “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” (Mal 4:2).
- Wherever the gospel is rediscovered hearts it softens our hearts and stimulates our faith to follow Jesus in establishing the just rule of his Father upon the earth. Whatever the seeming delays in the promises of God we are to maintain our faith and keep seeking Christ’s kingdom, at any cost.
- The coming of the kingdom of God in power (what some call “revival”) will involve works of righteousness of all kinds and in all situations of life (Matt 5:16). Only in this way can others be brought to see that God is indeed the just Judge of all, and totally worthy of all our trust.