November 17, 2019 Righteousness is a Necessity

Righteousness is a Necessity

Scripture reading: Ezekiel 14:12-16.

This is a rather amazing passage of Scripture. It is surprising in two ways. First, the Lord Himself thinks quite highly of three Old Testament saints: Noah, Job, and Daniel. If you are one of those three men, you would have to be feeling pretty good about Judgment Day, yet to come. After all, the Lord Himself used you as an example of righteousness!  Second, the judgment that is coming upon God’s own people cannot be diverted. God’s people had rebelled too long and too often and a very severe judgment is coming: sword (the Babylonian army), famine, disease, and even the rising up of animals to devour survivors would take the lives of two-thirds of the populace! Ezekiel prophesied that these things would take place in the earlier chapters of the book and they did take place.

In verse 14 the Lord says that these three men would deliver their own lives from the judgment that is coming “by their righteousness.” Note that it is their own personal righteousness The NIV and NET have “save their own lives.” This salvation or deliverance is from the Lord’s punishment on earth. It does not refer to salvation in eternity.

We can see from this one passage that righteousness is important. In fact, the idea of righteousness is one of the most important themes in the Bible. The word “righteousness”1 appears over 700 times in the Bible. If we include synonyms then it appears over 1200 times!

We have an aversion to the word. Do you know why? It is because we know that we lack righteousness. I lack righteousness. You are deficient in righteousness. We are short of it and we know it. So, when we even hear the word, we have a tendency to avoid it. We don’t want to hear it. We don’t want to listen to teaching on it. We would rather ignore it altogether. But that is certainly the wrong path. If the idea of righteousness is important, and it is, then we must know it. We must know righteousness and we must possess it!

What is righteousness? Righteousness is both living righteously, that is, according to the commandments of God, and being in a right relationship with God.2 These two things are inseparable. 

In order to understand righteousness we must distinguish between the righteousness that we need to face God on the final Judgment Day and the righteousness that we need for our daily living.

Consider what is said about Job.

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.3

This is some description of Job! He was blameless. He was upright – that is just a synonym for righteous. He feared God. Every man and woman of God in the Bible, even Jesus in his humanity, feared God. And, Job turned away from evil. This is not just the opinion of some unknown biblical author (we don’t know who wrote the book of Job), but just a few verses later we see that this is the thought of God Himself!

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”4

Even though Job possessed personal righteousness, it would not be enough to stand before God on the final Day of Judgment. This is because even the most righteous people, with respect to their own righteousness, will sin. There has never been anyone who has been completely sinless except for the Lord Jesus Christ. Every sin must be punished. Thus, every person needs a Redeemer, even Job. And this is what we see. Job says this:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, 
and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 5

Job needed a Redeemer! His Redeemer is our Redeemer, the Savior Jesus Christ.

We can ask the question, “Are you a good person?” With respect to facing God on that final day, you are not a good person.  No one is good enough, not even Job. 

If you are depending on your own good deeds, your own righteousness, to face God on that great day then you have no hope. I propose to you, if you have not yet done so, to forsake both your sin and any reliance on your own goodness. I advise you, by the Spirit of God, give your life over to the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in his sacrifice for sin and his righteousness, not your own.

This, then, is the first kind of righteousness that we must have to gain heaven and avoid hell. We need the righteousness of Christ, not our own. When we trust in Christ, God actually gives us the righteousness of Christ! This is known as imputed righteousness.

The righteousness that Noah, Daniel, and Job had, and which would have preserved them in Ezekiel’s day, the righteousness that the Israelites needed to deliver them from the hand of God, was a personal righteousness.

We need an imputed righteousness to stand before God on the Day of Judgment. We need a personal righteousness to receive the Lord’s blessings and favor in this life.

Before we consider the importance of personal righteousness, we should also know that the two are related in this way: When a person receives an imputed righteousness there will always be a measure of personal righteousness that accompanies it. Another way of saying this is when a person is born again they will have a strong desire to live for Christ and obey Him. They will act on this desire. It will not be something that is only in their minds.

The reason I must emphasize this is because of a problem in the church today. The problem is that of false conversions. I believe that there are more false conversions today than in previous generations and this is because of false teachings about the gospel itself. The gospel is more than mental assent to some facts. Yet, this is the kind of gospel message that has been promoted for decades now. The gospel involves a surrender of one’s whole life over to the Lord Jesus. It is a supernatural occurrence as the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin and a desire to live for God. It is more than “a decision.” 

You will meet people that said some kind of a prayer when they were young and are now living in sin. They think that they are right with God, but they are not. The apostle John makes this clear.

 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 8 Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 6

When the apostle writes that a person who has been born of God “cannot keep on sinning,” he does not mean absolutely. We will still sin. That is why he also writes that we must confess our sins in chapter one. He means that the person who has been born of God will forsake all known sin. When a sin is brought to their attention they leave it behind. They have a strong desire to obey all that God has commanded and they repent of sins that overcome them.

Hence, when a person receives an imputed righteousness there will always be a measure of personal righteousness that accompanies it. I use the word “measure” because when we first become a Christian, even though we desire to obey the Lord, we may not know all of the Lord’s will. It takes time. The process by which we learn the Lord’s will and then conform our lives to it is called sanctification. Just remember that there is no such thing as a person who has been born of God and has little or no personal righteousness.

Sanctification, the possession of personal righteousness, is necessary in this life if one wishes to have the blessing of God.

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For 
        “Whoever desires to love life 
and see good days, 
        let him keep his tongue from evil 
and his lips from speaking deceit; 
    11     let him turn away from evil and do good; 
let him seek peace and pursue it. 
    12     For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, 
and his ears are open to their prayer. 
        But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 7

See that the apostle Peter is teaching us of the blessings we receive from the Lord in the here and now when we have a personal righteousness. If we bless others, especially those who don’t deserve our blessing, then we will be blessed by God.

“Loving life” and “seeing good days” are experiences that we have now. Thus, this passage testifies that good things come to those live rightly, those who do not speak evil things and who don’t lie (vs. 10). Those who seek peace and do good (vs. 11) are righteous.

When we live according to the will of the Lord then God hears our prayers (vs. 12).

The Old Testament is replete with passages that testify of the Lord’s blessings upon those who obey Him.

Blessings are on the head of the righteous, 
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.8
A faithful man will abound with blessings, 
but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished. 9

Perhaps the most famous passage on this topic is in the Torah:

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. 3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. 5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. 6 Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. 10

This is a promise to the nation of Israel and some will try to say that it does not apply to God’s people today, but we just saw that this principle does still apply from Peter’s revelation.11 It is an eternal principle. God blesses obedience and chastises disobedience. God’s timing is not our timing, though. When we look at the history of Israel we see that many years sometimes passed before the removal of the Lord’s blessing even though his people went astray. Likewise, there may be a delay in receiving blessings when we make positive changes in our lives, that is, when we begin obeying the Lord after becoming aware of sin in our lives. There may be a delay from our perspective, but the blessings are coming! Be patient. When they come, they will be worth the wait!

A personal righteousness is necessary if one wishes to avoid the hand of God against them. Oh! How people do not like to hear about God being against them! They don’t like to hear it, but nothing could be clearer from the Scriptures than God moves against his own people when they disobey! It is in the Bible literally hundreds of times. I am not talking about sinning now and then. God is not coming against you for that. Everyone stumbles.12 This is why the Lord has given us the privilege of confession (I John 1:9). We simply confess our sin, turn away from it, and the Lord graciously forgives us and his favor towards us is constant. The Lord’s hand comes against us when we live in a pattern of disobedience. That is, when we either fail to see that we are straying from the path or we know that we are but we take no actions to return to the path of righteousness.

Is this not what the Lord says to Ezekiel?

“Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, 13

The “land” is the people! The land is us! Just like the principle of blessing is perpetual, so is the principle of chastisement.

 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 14

Corruption is coming when sow to the flesh.

 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.15

The wrath of God comes in this life if we do not put to death what is earthly in us.

Never consider the patience of God as a blind eye to sin. Remember the people of Noah’s day. Noah preached to them for 100 years as he built the ark. They interpreted God’s delay wrongly, even though his delay was an expression of his patience (I Peter 3:20). Then the flood waters came and claimed the lives of all except Noah and his family. Yes, those were not God’s people. But, God’s people do the same thing! The Lord sent prophets to warn his people for over 300 years. Finally, because they persisted in their disobedience, he sent his last two prophets, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to warn them yet again. God’s patience came to an end and judgment befell them as Jerusalem was destroyed.

If you are the Lord’s and you hold on to your sin, then the Lord’s hand of discipline is coming! You must know that the Lord calls you to a personal righteousness. 

So, a personal righteousness is a necessity to avoid the hand of the Lord against us presently, and it is necessary to receive his blessings.

Finally, a personal righteousness is a necessity if we wish to enter the kingdom that is coming in the next age. Only overcomers will enter the kingdom and not all Christians will be overcomers. Sanctification takes our cooperation with the working of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is not instant. It is not instantaneous in this life and neither is it instantaneous upon death. In other words, the spiritual and moral state we are in when we die is the state we will be in as we enter the next phase of our living. Do you see how crucial it is that we take our sanctification to heart?

 If we are not sanctified while we live here then we will have to be sanctified during the kingdom age. That will be a long time! 

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.16

Holiness is a synonym for righteousness. Holiness is the result of sanctification. Unless we possess a personal holiness, we will not see the Lord. I believe this refers to seeing the Lord in our glorified bodies as a part of his kingdom, because everyone will see the Lord, even the wicked (for judgment).

What then are we to do?

* If we have never received the righteousness of Christ and have relied on our own goodness to make us right with God, God calls you to repent and trust in Christ. Begin to live for Him, for that is the fruit of repentance. Cast away your own conception of goodness and come to Him as one who is needy. If you do this he will receive you, forgive you your sins, and apply the righteousness of Christ to you.
* If you belong to him already, and know that the Lord has gained something in you and you are living by his word, then be patient and wait for the Lord’s blessings. They are coming!
* If you belong to him already, and you know that you lack a personal righteousness, today is the day to make a change. Be an overcomer! Take your calling to heart and do not misinterpret the Lord’s patience.

Today is the day of salvation for saint and sinner alike!

 

1 Tzedek in Hebrew and dikaios in Greek.
2 The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary.
3 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Job 1:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
4 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Job 1:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
5 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Job 19:25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
6 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Jn 3:5–9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
7 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Pe 3:9–12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
8 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 10:6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
9 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 28:20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
10 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Dt 28:1–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
11 See also Hebrews 6:7. We are “the land.”
12 Eccl. 7:20; I Kings 8:46.
13 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eze 14:13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
14 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ga 6:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
15 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Col 3:5–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
16 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 12:14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.