Not too long ago someone asked me to help explain the meaning of “righteousness.” So here goes. Is righteousness achievable? I remember the quote from Jesus “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Now I knew that was impossible because I know I am not God and never will be. I also knew Jesus would never ask me to do the impossible. Jesus had to mean be the best/perfect person I can be according to my Creator’s design. That is hard enough and only the grace of God can move that forward.
Another thought I had was, darn why did I have to be born a Catholic? Many Protestant denominations have the belief “Once saved Always Saved!” That’s pretty cool, accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior and that’s it because Jesus saved me once and for all.
Now that didn’t sound right to me. I never heard Jesus say anything like that. All the way back in the book of Genesis, Adam and Eve were friends with God, had a good relationship, and walked together in the cool of the evening. Adam and Eve, our first parents were saved, for a time
But along comes the devil and all hell breaks out! “Now the snake was the most cunning* of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?”The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’”But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! Genesis 3 1-4
In our very first homeland, Eden, the Father of Lies told our ancestors a bold face lie. Adam and Eve died spiritually, expulsion from God’s presence, and ultimately died physically. So has anything changed since that time. Well, yes, Jesus was born, died, rose, and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. Did Jesus make a difference? Yes of course, He is our Redeemer. Without Jesus, there would be no chance of being saved and sharing all eternity with the Most Holy Trinity.
But did Jesus give us a free pass no matter what we did. I think not…Jesus’ words not mine, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small,and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it,”Matthew 7:13-14
WHAT IS RIGHTEOUSNESS
Righteousness is the state of moral perfection required by God to enter heaven. It is contrasted with wickedness, the conduct of the one who, out of gross self-centeredness, neither reveres God nor respects man. The Bible describes the righteous person as just or right, holding to God and trusting in Him.
When we say that God is just, we are saying that He always does what is right. The word just and the word righteous are identical in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Sometimes the translators render the original word ‘just’ and other times ‘righteous.’ But whichever word they use, it means essentially the same thing. It has to do with God’s actions. They are always right and fair
God’s righteousness was to be seen in His every dealing with the nation Israel: Then Samuel said to the people, “It is the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron and who brought your fathers up from the land of Egypt. 7 So now, take your stand, that I may plead with you before the LORD concerning all the righteous acts of the LORD which He did for you and your fathers” (2 Samuel 12:6-7).
God is not interested in a legalistic keeping of the Law, as though one might make himself righteous by so doing. God is interested in men seeking to know the heart of God and pleasing Him by doing that in which He delights and that which He does.
God always acts righteously; His every action is consistent with His character. God is always consistently “Godly.” God is not measured by the standard of righteousness; God sets the standard of righteousness.
The Bible clearly states that human beings cannot achieve righteousness through their own efforts: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20).
The law, or the Ten Commandments, shows us how far we fall short of God’s standards. The only solution to that dilemma is God’s plan of salvation. The Law and the Prophets bear witness to righteousness but one cannot achieve righteousness through the Law. The Law rather points out how short we fall from righteousness and in need of a Redeemer, Jesus Christ. For, all have sinned. We are justified by God’s grace “as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. Romans 3:21-26
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST
People receive righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Christ, the sinless Son of God, took humanity’s sin upon himself and became the willing, perfect sacrifice, suffering the punishment mankind deserved. God the Father accepted Jesus’ sacrifice, through which human beings can become justified.
The Old Testament tells us that because of the sin of Adam, we, his descendants, have inherited his sinful nature. God set up a system in Old Testament times where people sacrificed animals to atone for their sins. The shedding of blood was required. When Jesus entered the world, things changed. His crucifixion and resurrection satisfied God’s justice. Christ’s shed blood covers our sins.
The Old and New Testament leave no doubt in our minds whether the Lord Jesus was righteous. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah as the “Righteous One” who would “justify the many” (Isaiah 53:11). Jeremiah spoke of Him as the “righteous Branch” (Jeremiah 23:5). When Jesus was baptized, it was to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Both Pilate’s wife (Matthew 27:19) and the soldier at the foot of the cross (Luke 23:47) acknowledged His righteousness at the very moment when men were condemning Him.
If righteousness and justice are the heart of the Old Testament Law, they are also at the heart of the dispute between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees. At the very outset of His earthly ministry, Jesus set out to contrast His interpretation of the Old Testament teaching on righteousness with that of the scribes and Pharisees. In reality, Jesus did not offer a “new” interpretation of righteousness or of the Law; rather He sought to reestablish the proper understanding of righteousness as taught in the Law and the Prophets.
Thus, Jesus repeatedly used the formula, “You have heard it said. . .” (“This is what the scribes and Pharisees teach.…”), “But I say to you.…” “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
It was clear that if the scribes and Pharisees could not produce enough righteousness on their own, no one could. The standard of righteousness the Law held forth was even higher than that of the scribes and Pharisees. No one was righteous enough to get into heaven. What a shock to the self-righteous who thought they had box office seats in the kingdom.
If sin is the manifestation of our unrighteousness and we can be saved only through a righteousness not our own—the righteousness of Christ—then the ultimate sin is self-righteousness. Jesus did not reject sinners who came to Him for mercy and salvation; He rejected those who were too righteous (in their own eyes) to need grace. Jesus came to save sinners and not to save those righteous in their own eyes. No one is too lost to save; there are only those too good to save. In the Gospels, those who thought themselves most righteous were the ones condemned by our Lord as wicked and unrighteous.
We have no ability to achieve righteousness in and of ourselves. But Christians possess the righteousness of Christ, because “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). On the cross, Jesus exchanged our sin for His perfect righteousness so that we can one day stand before God and He will see not our sin, but the holy righteousness of the Lord Jesus.
THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
1992 Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy. Its purpose is the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life:
1997 Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of his Body. As an “adopted son” he can henceforth call God “Father,” in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and who forms the Church.
1999 The grace of Christ is the gratuitous gift that God makes to us of his own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our soul to heal it of sin and to sanctify it.
2008 The merit of man before God in the Christian life arises from the fact that God has freely chosen to associate man with the work of his grace….
2009 ….The merits of our good works are gifts of the divine goodness. “Grace has gone before us; now we are given what is due. . . . Our merits are God’s gifts.” We can have merit in God’s sight only because of God’s free plan to associate man with the work of his grace. Merit is to be ascribed in the first place to the grace of God, and secondly to man’s collaboration. Man’s merit is due to God.
Only God is righteous. Only the righteous enter heaven. Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, on Calvary took on our sins in exchange for justifying us that we may be welcomed into heaven one day. Nothing impure or imperfect enters heaven. Praise Jesus Christ for exchanging his righteousness for our sins and iniquity!
Heavenly Father, after earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland…In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.
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