Righteousness: Right living, living “right-wise.” These are just a couple of ways we define righteousness within the church. In all honesty, the concept of righteousness creates within me a juxtaposition. Perfect righteousness in something I can never obtain, yet complete righteousness is something I must strive for. The juxtaposition lies in this simple truth: I cannot be made righteous by my own effort.
I cannot be made righteous by my own effort.
Knowing this, we still compare ourselves to others and think about how good (righteous) we are. Even when we know we are not righteous on our own.
Travel back in time with me to the Roman empire, to a small territory within that empire in the region that the Romans would eventually call Syria-Palestine. This is the area known during much of the 1st Century as Judea. Imagine yourself as an average member of Judean society. Religiously, you adhere to the Law of Moses and you look up to those that call themselves religious “separatists.” They are the extremely righteous. They can quote the Law of Moses and tell you how you are to best keep it. They believe so much in giving to the Temple that they tithe of the spices in their cupboards. Their extreme giving leads them to a life void of the trappings of wealth, and they are proud of it. One of these Pharisees described his own righteousness to God in prayer, “I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, . . . I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (Luk 18:11-12).
You would look up to this man as “having it all together” religiously. He would be, in your estimation, the epitome of righteousness.
Now imagine you are hearing Jesus as He delivers the Sermon on the Mount. He is explaining righteousness that goes deeper than actins and points to the motives behind that action. Then He boldly states, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:50).
My righteousness must be more extreme than the righteousness of the most right people I know? Jesus’ answer is, “Yes.” As a common Jew you are wondering, how anyone can be more righteous that the Pharisees. They had righteous figured out and down to a science. They would tell yo so. Your mind is spinning.
What you and I need to remember now is neither you nor I can be made righteous my our own effort. Say it with me,
“I cannot be made righteous by my own effort.”
Righteousness comes only from God when we are in Christ.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Co 5:21)
Thank you, Father for the grace of righteousness bestowed upon those who trust in you and your Son.