The Search for Righteousness
The Bible talks a lot about righteousness. Although I'm familiar with the word, I was never able to really understand it on a deeper spiritual level - the concept just eluded me.
Like a lot of people, I've had this warped belief for a long time that I have to earn God's love.
I've always thought I needed to be a good, strong Christian before God could possibly use me. I've held off testifying publicly about my faith in fear that I don't know the Bible well enough to support my beliefs. I haven't attempted to bring someone to Christ boldly and purposefully because, well, what if they ask a question I don't have the answer to?
And then there is the age-old reward-based scenario: God couldn't possibly hear my prayer right now - look at this sin I can't seem to overcome or how I messed up today. Or, if I pray hard enough and add in a little fasting, God must answer my prayer - He has to... I've been good....
As if the only time God truly blesses us is when we're good - "obey every single Bible rule ever written"-kind of good. We understand the concept of grace, yet sometimes, we believe grace extends only so far, before we have to fill in the rest with our own human effort.
As a law student, I'm learning that there can be a difference between what is legal and what is moral - sometimes the two overlap, other times, they go their separate ways. Same with righteousness and law (as in the rules found in the Bible). And sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish between the two.
What is righteousness? What makes a person righteous? Is it obeying the law? Good deeds? A little of both?
The common understanding is that righteousness is earned, but the book of Galatians, which is pretty much entirely dedicated to this topic, says otherwise. According to Apostle Paul, the law is like a retired teacher, but faith is the key to righteousness. It's the answer to the age-old debate of what rules from the Bible we should obey - Old Testament or New Testament? Moses or Jesus?
"Therefore, the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor." -Galatians 3:24-35
For a long time, people needed guidance - laws and structures to guide their way. And that's what the Old Testament is full of - the tale of Israel and the multitude of ways God taught them His ways.
But, then Jesus came... With the sacrifice of His life, a new covenant was born and righteousness changed.
Suddenly, salvation expanded to all of mankind, and all that was required was to accept Jesus as your Savior. No animal sacrifices or temple rituals, just loving the Lord and serving Him with a pure and obedient heart.
"For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law." -Galatians 3:21
But, not everyone got that memo. Even in the time of Jesus, people couldn't let go of how things always were. Every opportunity they could get, the Pharisees kept trying to find fault with how Jesus disobeyed the law of the land: don't heal people on the Sabbath, don't mingle with prostitutes, allow stoning of sinners...
"What shall we say then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the words of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone." -Romans 9:30-32
How many times have you seen a believer caught up in the rules? Don't do this, but do that. Lists of rules and beliefs that swallow up their faith in a never-ending debate about what religious sect is right.
Now, don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with rules and the Bible offers a lot of guidance on how a Christian should live - both in the New and Old Testaments - because God hasn't changed.
[pullquote width="300" float="right"]For with the heart one believes unto righteousness.[/pullquote]
But, none of those rules will get you anywhere without faith that Jesus Christ is your Savior. You could be Mother Teresa - saving orphans, giving all your time and money to the poor, and every other possible good deed in the world, but if you don't recognize Jesus as Lord, then all that means nothing.
It's like taking a class and then finding out at the end of the semester that your registration didn't go through. You did all the work, yes, but you won't get any of the credit or recognition when it truly matters.
"The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." -Romans 10:8-10
In the end, righteousness is quite simple: it's the belief that Jesus is your Savior. This is the beginning of salvation and obedience.
[pullquote width="300" float="left"]"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven." -Matthew 5:20[/pullquote]
God wants to use you for His Kingdom, but He doesn't want or even need that perfect version of you that you've told yourself you have to become. He wants you with all your faults and weaknesses; the good, the bad and the ugly. He wants it all, no matter what a mess it seems like to you. All the Lord requires is a willing heart, not a perfect barbie doll.
"He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." -Mark 16:16
Because the Holy Spirit doesn't depend on your human works to do His work. He works through faith and mercy. God doesn't need a resume or five years of experience. Human accomplishments hold no value.
All God needs is your absolute trust and obedience.
And the thing about faith? You don't need a lot of it. Because if you have faith the size of a mustard seed (that's super tiny - google it!), "you can tell a mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you" (Matthew 17:20-21).
So, stop wishing and praying for more faith and start using the faith that you do have.
Because you do have faith. You're here right now and your heart is yearning to know the Lord deeper and more intimately. And, if you've already accepted Jesus as your Savior - whether it's in the privacy of your bedroom, at the altar, or through water baptism, then you are walking in righteousness already.
Once you have that tiny bit of faith, it grows into so much more. All those rules? They become a way to express your love for the Lord. No longer are they just a laundry list of things to do or not to do, but a personal, intimate, relationship with your Heavenly Father. Good works will pour out of your life and joy will fill every corner of your heart, because that's what happens when you truly encounter God and subsequently, give your entire life to Him.
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