FOUR ASPECTS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Ours is a new day, a step forward in the Kingdom of God. A nation, the Body of Christ, is being born at once. Because the Body of Christ must be righteous as the Head is righteous, the Spirit of God is making clear to us why and how we must move from imputed righteousness to actual righteousness of behavior.
Table of Contents
Paradise and the Body of Christ
The Necessity for Righteous Behavior
The Faith Required for Righteous Behavior
What Righteous Behavior Is
Steps in Attaining Righteous Behavior
FOUR ASPECTS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Ours is a new day, a giant step forward in the Kingdom of God. It is not a new day in terms of a new revelation not found in the Scriptures. We do not have to cut and paste remote passages in order to support some weird doctrine. All we hope to describe in this brief essay is found clearly in the Scriptures. But there is a new emphasis today on the things of the end time.
We know from the Book of Matthew that in the last days the Lord will remove the things that offend, and also the people who offend, from His Kingdom. We have not been sure when and how the purging of the Kingdom will take place but we know it indeed shall take place, and must take place if the Lamb is to have a Bride without spot, wrinkle, or any other blemish.
Well, the day is here, apparently, and the Scriptures are opening to us.
The travail. The Scriptures speak of a travail that is to take place, a travail in which the Ruler of the nations is to be born.
Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. (Micah 5:3)
Who has ever heard of such a thing? Who has ever seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children. (Isaiah 66:8)
My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, (Galatians 4:19)
A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. (Revelation 12:1,2)
We think the Spirit of God is telling us that today as never before the ministries and gifts of the Body of Christ are to enter a travail to bring forth Christ, the Ruler of the nations, in the Church, which is His Body, His Fullness.
Paradise and the Body of Christ. In traditional thinking, the goal of the Christian salvation is to go to Heaven when we die. This is what it means to be "saved."
All of us hope to go to Heaven when we die. We believe that if we put our trust in the Lord Jesus and hold our confidence to the end we will go to Paradise when we pass from this earth. The Lord Jesus said to the thief on the cross, "This day you will be with Me in Paradise."
So far so good.
But then we have the Apostle Paul speaking of having not attained Christ as yet, although the third chapter of Philippians was written after Paul was saved, filled with the Spirit, had wrought miracles, had established churches, and had written many of his famous Epistles.
Now, of what was Paul speaking when he said he had not attained perfection, had not attained to the mark that had been set before him?
To claim that Paul was trying to be qualified to go to Heaven is ridiculous.
Therefore there has to be a definite something to be attained to in Christ that is not the same as going to Heaven.
This author is of the opinion that the definite something is membership in the Body of Christ, at least in the part of the Body that will return with the Lord Jesus and work with Him in establishing the Kingdom of God on the earth.
For those who wish to move forward today in the Lord Jesus Christ, make doubly sure you do not confuse what you are seeking with being worthy to enter Heaven. We shall assume you are going to Heaven when you die. We are referring to something else, a fullness of Christ that has not been understood, apparently, since the days of the Apostles of the Lamb.
You are going to Heaven. That is established. But this is not the challenge of the hour. The challenge of the hour is to be competent to return with the Lord and to govern the nations with a rod of iron.
The Lord told us that many who are last shall be first. Maybe He meant that many of those who are to rule in the Kingdom will come forth in the last days.
What is the nature of this "new thing"? Toward what are we to be pressing with all the diligence of which we are capable?
The goal is maturity as measured by the stature of the fullness of Christ. The goal is to win Christ, to know Christ, to live by the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.
Of particular concern is actual righteousness of behavior. The believers of today are not perfect, just forgiven, as they like to proclaim. Now we must press forward from imputed righteousness to actual righteousness of behavior.
In other words, it is time to become true Christians.
The Necessity for Righteous Behavior
"I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles," (Isaiah 42:6)
God has called each member of the Body of Christ, of the Servant of the Lord, in righteousness. Not just in imputed righteousness but also in righteous behavior, as is clear from the text of the New Testament.
In our day the witness of Christ has been destroyed in many nations, including the United States of America, by the unrighteous behavior of the believers.
We now are entering an age of moral horrors, due primarily to the fact that the churches are not giving off the light of righteous behavior. God is insisting that this behavior change, that His saints begin to live righteously. The righteous behavior of the Christian people will provide a light, a sanctuary, during the spiritual darkness that is settling in.
There is much evangelism, but then the work of God is ruined because the Christians are not living righteously.
There is not only the destruction of the witness today, we have to consider also the return of the Lord with His saints to establish justice on the earth. It is not possible for there to be one unrighteous member of the Body of Christ in that hour. If there were, the installing of the Kingdom would come to a halt. God will not work where there is unrighteousness.
Each member of the Body of Christ has been called in righteousness.
Think for a moment.
Truthfulness is one aspect of righteous behavior. How do people of the world react when they discover a Christian is a liar? Do they have any confidence in his God? Since the Christian is the witness of God, is he saying God is a liar? The unsaved know better than this!
This is why the Americans are turning to the Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim religions. They are disgusted with the behavior of the Christians and their churches.
The Muslims regard Americans and their Christian religion as the work of Satan. This is the result of the overemphasis on grace and imputed righteousness.
The stress on imputed righteousness to the exclusion of actual righteousness must change, or our nation will be destroyed and another nation that will observe the laws of righteousness will take its place of leadership and power.
If you are a liar you are bearing a false witness of God. The people of the nations understand that someone who claims to belong to God is not going to lie. Yet lying is common among Christians.
What would you think of someone who claimed to be an evangelist but who told lies? Would you trust him or her? Would you trust the Apostle Paul if he were a proven liar? Would you believe Jesus came from God if He were a known liar?
Will people believe your "witness for Christ" if they know you are a liar?
"Oh, but I will tell them that I am not worthy but Christ is worthy."
Sorry, it doesn't work that way. You can't tell people to do as you say but not as you do. They won't follow you and they won't follow Christ.
The world cares nothing for our imputed righteousness. They are waiting to see the light of good works and they are not seeing it in the Christians of America.
Then we think about the coming of the Lord. Picture Jesus coming on His white war stallion followed by the saints in white linen. Do you know what that white linen is? According to Revelation the white linen of those who follow Jesus in the Day of the Lord is "the righteous deeds of the saints."
Suppose one of those riders has a spotted robe. Do you think he will be permitted to ride with the army?
Do you truly believe Christ will bring liars with Him to set up the Kingdom of God on the earth?
We see, then, that righteous behavior is an absolute necessity if we expect to be raised from the dead, and then ascend to meet the Lord, at His appearing. The righteousness of the Kingdom of God is first, imputed; but then if it does not proceed to actual righteousness the believer remains clothed with a dirty robe. He or she will not rise to meet the Lord at His return.
The Faith Required for Righteous Behavior
When we think about our own unrighteous character, and then read that we are to come to maturity as measured by the full stature of Christ, we have to make a decision. We can say, as so many are stating today, that it is not possible for us to get rid of our sin. As long as we are in the world we have to sin. But when we get to Heaven, or when the Lord returns, we will be free from sin.
Not only is this unscriptural, according to the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans, but it is not reasonable.
First of all, sin began in Heaven around the Throne of God. Sin is a spiritual phenomenon. Sin did not originate in the Garden of Eden, in the adamic nature of man, but in Heaven. Sin came down from Heaven and entered the garden. How then can we claim that going to Heaven will deliver us from sin?
As to the idea that when Jesus returns we will be delivered from sin, this is partially true, but only for those who have followed the Lord diligently. The Day of the Lord will be a time of revelation and judgment for all people, including the believers.
Deliverance from sin is a reward for obeying the Lord. In the Day of Judgment, each of us will be rewarded according to the choices we have made. If we have done all in our power to follow the Lord, overcoming sin as He has enabled, we will be delivered from the last vestiges of sin. But if we have been wasteful, negligent, careless, we will be rewarded accordingly.
The Day of the Lord will not deliver us from what we are but will reveal what we are. If we are a faithful, diligent disciple, then this will be revealed and we will be rewarded accordingly. If we have been lukewarm, then we will be vomited from the Lord's mouth. We will not be clothed in the white garments of righteous conduct.
So we must face our own behavior today. Either we have faith that the Lord Jesus can deliver us totally and fill us with His own righteous personality, or else we do not have faith that the Lord Jesus can deliver us totally and fill us with His own righteous personality.
Either we believe He can make us a new creation or we do not believe He can make us a new creation. If we remain undecided we have decided He cannot change us. There is no middle ground.
Either we have faith for moral transformation or we do not have faith for moral transformation. In the Day of the Lord we shall be rewarded for the choice we have made and our consequent behavior.
What Righteous Behavior Is
The elements of righteous behavior are, we believe, generally agreed on throughout the world, from the natives in the bush to the largest cities. Perhaps the only people who are confused in the area of righteous behavior are the Christians.
Let us list a few of the several elements of righteous behavior. Many of these come from the same root. Perhaps there are important ones we have missed that you may wish to add.
Remember, the list is not infinite but finite. It is not only possible but required of every member of the Body of Christ who is chosen to work with the Lord in the establishing of His Kingdom on the earth that he or she be righteous in character and behavior.
A forgiving nature.
A wholesome fear of God.
Obedience to God.
Purity of speech.
Justice and fairness of behavior.
Being slow to anger.
Being a peacemaker.
Do not stagger at the list. These can be dealt with one at a time very successfully.
You do not have to set about to transform yourself. The Spirit of God will show you (probably already has pointed out to you) the areas He is ready to work on now. Your part is to recognize that until these are removed your present witness is harmed and your readiness to rise to meet the Lord at His appearing is endangered.
If you do not take these elements of needed change seriously you will continue to trust in imputed righteousness. But the Kingdom of God will pass you by. You cannot go against the Word of God and prosper. The believer who continues to sin will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Steps in Attaining Righteous Behavior
There is a negative and a positive dimension of righteous behavior. The negative dimension is deliverance from that which is unrighteous. The positive dimension is the forming of Christ's righteous Nature in us. It is not enough to be delivered from sin, we also must be filled with Christ's righteous personality. Jesus Christ is ready and willing to perform both of these works of righteousness for each believer who will look to Him in faith.
Righteous behavior is absolutely necessary if we are to be a true Christian.
Our change from unrighteous behavior depends on our having faith that such transformation is not only necessary but possible through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Righteousness is righteousness. The world knows what righteousness is even if the Christians do not.
Now we come to the issue: what does the New Testament say about the way in which we should regard the establishing of righteousness in our personality?
His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, (II Peter 1:3-10)
First of all, we note (above) that "His Divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness."
Everything we need for godliness!
Through our knowledge of Him, who called us by His own glory and goodness, we have everything we need for life and godliness.
There is no need for us to wonder or to hesitate in indecision. Through Jesus Christ we have everything we need for eternal life and godly character and behavior. It is up to us to lay hold on that which already has been given to us.
Are not God's own glory and goodness adequate to transform our moral character? From these God has given us great and precious promises. Through His promises we are able both to participate in the Divine Nature and also escape the corruption in the world that proceeds from evil desires.
We understand, therefore, that the Scripture gives us a basis for faithfaith that God indeed will bring each member of the Body of Christ to maturity in righteousness.
How are we to respond?
We are to add to our faith goodness. We are to add goodness. How do we do this? By laying hold on the very great and precious promises found in the New Testament, promises that have to do with the Holy Spirit crucifying the old nature and bringing forth the new creation of righteous behavior.
We are to add knowledge to our goodness, the knowledge of the Lord we gain by taking up our cross and following Him each day. The Scriptures guide and comfort us in our distress, but the knowledge of the holy comes from experience. Day to day pours forth speech. Night to night reveals knowledge. It is in the nighttime of trials that we gain the knowledge of the Lord.
We are to add self-control, which is part of the fruit of the Spirit, to our knowledge.
We are to add perseverance to our self-control.
We are to add godliness to our perseverance.
We are to add brotherly kindness, also a fruit of the Spirit, to our godliness.
We are to add love, a fruit of the Spirit, to our brotherly kindness.
We add these to our faith by seeking the Lord every day. Thus we become a new creation of righteous behavior.
Now, notice the importance of these attributes of character: "If we possess these qualities in increasing measure they keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in the knowledge of Christ." It follows that if we do not possess them we remain ineffective and unproductive in the knowledge of Christ. If we are ineffective and unproductive in the knowledge of Christ we will not participate in the first resurrection, the resurrection of the royal priesthood.
When we do not add these qualities we are nearsighted. We are blind. We have forgotten we have been cleansed from our past sins.
If we add these things to our faith we will never fall away from the Lord.
It is up to us to make our calling and election sure, and we do this by seeing to it that we grow in righteous behavior.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)
Let us throw off the sin that so easily entangles us and prevents us from running the race of righteousness freely and swiftly. We throw it off. There has been much teaching that Christians are simply unable to deal with sin in this manner. But the Scripture informs us otherwise.
Most of the sins we commit are habits, such as swearing, lying, stealing, reading pornography. We can stop these if we choose, calling on the Lord to assist us.
Sometimes a sin hangs on in spite of our determination to cease practicing it. In this case we are bound. We are being forced to behave in a manner of which we do not approve. This means we have lost control of ourselves.
What we must do in this case is to go to the elders of the church and ask for deliverance. No doubt a spirit is involved. This can be cast from us so we can gain the victory in prayer.
If we are to maintain victory over a behavior, once having gained it, we must continue to practice the principles of discipleship found in the New Testament. If we do not, the bondage may return and leave us worse off than before.
The Lord Jesus warned us about this, about leaving our house swept and put in order.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:4)
We see from the above that a struggle against sin is part of the normal Christian discipleship. We have to pray and then use our own will in refusing to practice ungodliness. Some believers are brought further than this and are tortured or martyred because of their refusal to sin, resisting to the point of shedding their blood.
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)
It is up to us to crucify our sinful nature. We do this, as we have said, by prayer, by making a sincere effort to cease sinning, by presenting our body a living sacrifice to God, and by continuing in all the principles of godly living set forth in the New Testament.
Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of GodI say this to your shame. (I Corinthians 15:34)
Because of the sinning of the Christian believers numerous people of the world are ignorant of God. There is no witness of God apart from the good works of the believers.
No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (I Corinthians 9:27)
We must keep a firm control over the appetites and lusts of our physical body. If we do not, our body will lead us into sin and we will disqualify ourselves from having any reward in the Kingdom of God. No matter how great may be the results of our ministry, we will be cast from the Presence of Christ if we give way to our flesh.
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (I Corinthians 10:13)
All people, including Christians, are tested in this world. God is faithful and makes a way of escape for the Christian so he or she can go through the test without sinning against God.
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. (I Peter 4:1,2)
God assists our pursuit of godliness by sending suffering on us. As we note from the verse above, if we allow our suffering to drive us to prayer the result will be we turn away from sin and live according to the will of God.
Because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." (Hebrews 12:6)
When suffering comes upon you, go to the Lord. Do not blame Satan or people. Go to the Lord. If you are a believer it is highly possible you are experiencing God's discipline. Be very thankful because the end will be peace and holiness. Peace and holiness are highly desirable attributes of behavior and are found in every true member of the Body of Christ.
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (I Peter 2:12)
The unbelievers may be ready to blame us for all their troubles, but if we continue in godly, righteous behavior they will be forced to acknowledge their error and will give glory to God in the day when He visits them.
In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
The contribution of the evangelist is necessary as the Lord adds to the Church daily such as should be saved. But the witness to the world consists of the godly character and behavior of the believers.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. (Isaiah 61:11)
Righteousness and praise can spring up in the sight of the nations of the earth only as the members of the Body of Christ are righteous in behavior.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22,23)
Righteous character and behavior require that the evil is removed and the good is added. As we follow the Spirit of God, cooperating with Him in every detail, He casts out the evil and fills us with the good. Love is infinitely more than the absence of hate.
Love, joy, and peace are not the fruit of the Christian but of the Spirit. Such qualities cannot possibly come from Adam though he try with all his might. They can come only as a human being meditates in the Scriptures to discover how he should be behaving, and then goes to the Lord for help. The Lord gives His Spirit to those who obey Him, and it is the Spirit who creates the image of Christ in us.
The necessity for righteous behavior.
The faith required for righteous behavior.
What righteous behavior is.
Steps toward attaining righteous behavior.
If we hope to be raised from the dead and caught up to meet the Lord in the air we must be righteous in character and behavior. No believer who has not added the qualities of personality described in Second Peter has any hope of ascending to meet the Lord in His Day. Such moral transformation (another way of saying the formation of Christ in us) is absolutely necessary if we are to participate in the establishing of the Kingdom of God on the earth.
We must have faith that Jesus is able to transform us. The Christian churches often have maintained it is impossible to rise above sin while we are in the present world. The Scriptures do not agree with this point of view.
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. (Romans 6:12)
The New Testament informs us we can gain victory over sin through Jesus Christ. This will not take place in our personality until we are willing to mix faith with the Word of God.
Righteous behavior comprises those kinds of actions that generally are considered by Christians and non-Christians alike as being righteous and godly. They correspond to the voice of conscience. The only people on earth, apparently, who are confused concerning the nature of righteous behavior are the Christians.
If you want to know what righteous behavior is, ask an unsaved person.
We have listed several verses of Scripture that exhort us to stop sinning and do the will of God, to exercise a strong hand over our flesh. The Spirit of the Lord will enable us to do this and will add the Virtue of Jesus Christ to us.
The choice is ours. We can choose to be the slave of righteousness and thus be qualified to be a member of the Body of Christ, the Servant of the Lord.
Dont you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obeywhether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. (Romans 6:16,17)
It is a case of obeying the form of teaching to which we were committed.
We can choose to obey the teaching and live, or we can choose to be a slave to sin and thus kill our own spiritual life, our hope of attaining the first resurrection from the dead.
The wages (for all people, including Christians) of sin is spiritual death. The gift of the opportunity to attain to eternal life has been given us from the Lord. Will we receive it and act on it?