When I hear the word righteousness, I picture a severe, mirthless character standing on a mountain-top looking down upon a valley of wretched sinners. Or a silver-haired, sour-faced reverend dishing out long lists of rules. Or a stuffy church lady in her fancy Sunday hat criticizing unruly teenagers.
Boy, are we wrong. These caricatures are waaaaaay off the mark. In fact, each one represents pride rather than righteousness.
So what IS righteousness? And why does it matter?
Last week’s blog suggested that we might be putting our spiritual armor like a toddler puts on his clothes…inside out and backwards! We examine how truth is a protecter, how it is absolute, and how God’s Word IS our source of truth. We were challenged to say more than a trite prayer to really wear the first part in our armor, which is the belt of truth.
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. Ephesians 6:13-14 NLT
The next part of our gear is the body armour, or breastplate, of righteousness.
If righteousness is not the proud picture of piety described in the first paragraph, then what is it? The American Heritage Dictionary defines righteousness as “meeting the standards of what is right and just”.*
Righteousness is the breastplate that protects our heart.
According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, a breastplate protects us from our necks to our waistlines. Within that space resides the organs that keep us alive: heart, lungs, liver, stomach, etc. When those organs are vulnerable, our very lives are at risk. Righteousness protects the very essence of our beings! When God fills us with His righteousness, He is giving us fool-proof armor against the enemy’s temptations and our very own sin nature.
We cannot maintain purity without Divine help. We may set out to do right, but without the Holy Spirit’s power, we are powerless against sin. Despite our best intentions, our own will power is not enough to protect us.
Righteousness comes from Jesus, not ourselves.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. Isaiah 64:6 ESV
The very best we can do is pathetic in God’s sight. Even if we do our best to attend church weekly, read our Bibles, pray daily, and obey God, it still comes up far short. James said in his epistle that if we break even one of God’s laws, we are guilty of all of them. We cannot manufacture this piece of the armor! It is divinely crafted.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.Philippians 3:8b-9 ESV
When we come to Jesus by faith, He covers us with His own righteousness. We don’t have to be good enough on our own. Jesus did the work for us! We just have to accept it by faith!!
Righteousness is the key to God’s presence.
Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his Holy Place? The one who has innocent hands and a pure heart; the person who does not delight in what is false and does not swear an oath deceitfully. This person will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.Psalm 24:3-5 ESV
Christians are sometimes mocked for actually believing that a Divine Being would take time for a mere human. Yet God says plainly that innocence, purity, and honesty are what allow us into His presence. We have already established that these righteous traits do no come from within ourselves. When we are passionate in our quest for God, Jesus covers us with His own righteousness and the Holy Spirit heals our hearts. This cleansing and covering give us access to God Himself, so that we can live as royal sons and daughters…with full access to our Creator!
As we live in a state of perpetual humility and confession, God adds great power to our prayers. James 5:16b (ISV) confirms this: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
Righteousness is God’s gift to those who seek Him.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.Matthew 5:6 ESV
In His famous sermon on the mount, Jesus promised to satisfy our hunger for righteousness. It will not always be outside our grasp. He will give it to those who seek it. The key is in how much we long for it. When we are disgusted by our constant failures, we are in the perfect position to seek Him with every fiber of our being. This passionate quest for more of Jesus draws Him to us. God told Jeremiah the prophet that, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 ESV)
So instead of rattling off a list in a hurried prayer, let’s earnestly seek God’s righteousness with David’s prayer of repentance:
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right[b] spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 51:7-12 ESV
*The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd college edition, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company) page 1063.