“He guides me in paths of righteousness.”
What is righteousness?
Our heavenly Father created this world (Genesis 1:1) and ‘birthed’ mankind in it (Gen. 1:27-8) as the pinnacle of His creation, through the breath of God breathing life into the dust of the ground. You are not an accident and were created to know and experience God’s love, with righteousness being about engaging in a path of conduct that is in accordance with this relationship.
Our heavenly Father laid the earth’s foundation, shut the sea behind doors, gave orders to the morning and showed the dawn its place (Job 38:4,12). He knows the nature and composition of every atom and molecule, determines the number of stars, and calls them by name (Psalm 147:4-5). He knows all about us and wants the very best for us. We are noticed, known and loved.
Righteousness: a straight path.
Think of a surgeon who is part of the way through an operation. For a short time, everything may seem worse because someone has been cut open and there is blood everywhere. Yet the surgeon knows what he is doing and what he wants to achieve even though it may not look like it at first. We may not always know what is going on but can trust in our heavenly Father who will never leave or forsake us. God knows us by name, and we are precious in His sight; we are very much part of His story and therein lies our hope.
One of the pictures behind the word ‘righteousness’ is that of a straight path with this picture tying in with the word ‘Torah’ which refers to the teaching of God. Think of a father kneeling beside a child and showing them what life is all about and the right way to live and you get the idea. The Torah is God’s law and speaks of a Father’s pointing out the right way to live. Now imagine what this might have been like for us all if we had known this from the beginning of our lives; how different could our lives have been? However, no matter what has gone wrong, there is hope because God knows what we should really be like and what we have become by way of the world. His righteousness can be termed as His salvation-creating activity and through His grace and mercy we can come home and find out who we really are in Him.
Understanding the right way to live.
A righteous person desires what is right and thinks, feels and behaves in a way that fits within the framework of a two-way relationship with his or her heavenly Father. In Jesus we clearly see what this relationship can be like as He walked in obedience to His calling, with a total reliance on His Father and leading of the Holy Spirit. Because of the way He lived His life and His sacrificial death and resurrection, Jesus is the Righteous One who takes away the sin of the world (1 John 2:1). Paul encourages the struggling church at Corinth to see this in saying to them, “Jesus is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:36). He is the One who clearly revealed the heart of the law in the way He lived His life, yet there were those who could not see this.
For example, when Jesus healed the woman crippled for eighteen years (Luke 13:12), a man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:8), and another man with a shrivelled hand (Matthew 12:13), many religious leaders took offence because He healed them on the Sabbath. Yet in Jesus’ words and actions there was no breaking of God’s law or setting it aside. What Jesus set aside was what the law had become in the hands of man, this being more a list of do’s and don’ts according to their interpretation rather than instruction from the heart of a loving Father. The purpose of God’s law is not to crush and destroy but to reveal and encourage us to look to Him. God seeks to nurture, uplift, encourage and restore, with this being the reason David wrote: -
“The Lord reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice. The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”
A righteous person seeks to stay on the right path through following the teaching of a father, yet due to sin entering humanity, we are unable to fulfil our calling (Romans 3:23) and reap what we sow to varying degrees (Psalm 14:2-3; Romans 1:28-30). Even when we turn from some of the things we know are not good for us we continue to struggle, because we are still on the wrong train track in our thinking so to speak. If we are on the wrong train heading in the wrong direction it is not going to help by turning around and walking the other way through the carriages. What we need to do is get off the train track of our own thinking and hand our lives over to God. Thankfully, God helps us to change train and to engage with right thinking.
This is because in an incredible act of loving-kindness, God chose to provide righteousness (right-standing) for us in Jesus in whom we see the fullest expression of God’s salvation creating activity. As already said, Jesus is our righteousness. Jesus is the One who enters into a covenant with God as man’s representative, the all-powerful Holy One who offers us forgiveness and right-standing in God’s family. He is both the covenant-maker as well as the covenant-keeper whilst we were the covenant-breakers. Yet the amazing truth is that when man broke the covenant in the Garden of Eden, God remained faithful without compromising holiness or love. Jesus willingly came to die in our place which was always God’s intention (1 John 4:8; Rev 13:8). Therefore, this world is built on and through sacrificial love.
The heart of covenant.
The heart of covenant speaks of an on-going relationship with no appointed end and in this sense, is not like a legal document such as a tenancy agreement. A tenancy agreement has a fixed term as do most legal documents, whilst a covenant speaks of a giving of self and continuing relationship between two parties with no end. God’s purpose in entering covenant with us is so that we could find forgiveness and so that God’s Spirit could be with us and help us mature and grow in strength, power and love, as one would do in a marriage. So, the incredible news to us is that God so loved the world that He did not pack His bags and leave us to our own devices when Adam and Eve fell into sin. Instead He chose to reach into the world with an offer of life that did not compromise His holiness or His love. Now that’s encouraging.
Our own righteousness fails.
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
The above scripture clearly states that anything we do that we believe making us right with God and earns us merit from Him, is as useless as used menstrual towels, with all that we do in our own strength, being compared to a leaf that shrivels as life disappears and we are swept away by our own wrong choices. I am sure that many of us have experienced something of this in finding things we pursue in order to find security and freedom capturing our mind and heart instead and imprisoning us. It is solely through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we find forgiveness and are reconciled with God. He alone is our righteousness and brings us to a place of freedom and security.
“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Romans 3:21-25; note also Philippians 3:9-10.
A road littered with good intentions.
In Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s book, ‘Extinction’ the authors write about how the World Health Organisation tried to help residents in Borneo exterminate houseflies which were thought to be the cause of an outbreak of disease. Homes were sprayed with DDT and the flies died, as did gecko lizards which ate the flies and the house cats which then ate the sick geckos. The loss of cats caused the rat population to explode and this threatened people with bubonic plague. Government officials then parachuted large numbers of cats into the area to mend the break in the food chain.
Good intentions do not always bring the results we think they should and for many Christians these intentions litter the road to nowhere with activity like that of a hamster on a wheel – ever active but getting anywhere.
Too many believers are fooled into thinking a relationship with God is little more than knowing a few facts about Him and being able to quote some scriptures from memory and little else. To know God is to engage with Him in prayer, and an understanding of the written word, seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit as we do so. There are no short cuts and He is to be our reference point in all things. He is the master of everything.
“Jesus knew how to transform the tissues of the human body from sickness to health and from death to life. He knew how to suspend gravity, interrupt weather patterns and eliminate unfruitful trees without saw or axe. He only needed a word…He is not just nice, he is brilliant. He is the smartest man who ever lived. He is now supervising the entire course of world history (Revelation 1:5) while simultaneously preparing the rest of the universe for our future role in it (John 14:2). He always has the best information on everything and certainly also on the things that matter most in human life.”
D. Willard in ‘The Divine Conspiracy page 108.
Engaging with the right worldview.
In believing in Christ’s saving work we are pronounced righteous after which the work of transformation begins (Romans 12:2) through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit as we get to know God. He is the One who can straighten out our thinking and help us gain His perspective on the world and we need to learn about Him so that we can trust in Him.
“The things Jesus says are very different from what any other teacher has said. Others say, “This is the truth about the Universe. This is the way you ought to go,” but He says, “I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.” He says, “No man can reach absolute reality except through me. Try to retain your own life and you will inevitably be ruined. Give yourself away and you will be saved.”
Taken from C.S. Lewis “What Are We to Make of Jesus Christ?” quoted in The Journey, p 179, Ed Oz Guinness.
We would do well to remember that this world is not something Christianity fits into, as if Christianity were like a doctor’s surgery or counselling centre to run to on occasion. Christianity encompasses the whole of history and helps us understand what this world is all about, who we are, why we are here and what our calling and true destination is. Everything else fits into this or makes way for this because we are a part of His plan and He is not a part of ours. How do we really see the world, self and those around us? For example, are we quick to judge others or do we get alongside them?
Ron Nikkel in his book, ‘Radical Love in a Broken World (p44-45) helps us to see the danger of judging others as if we were more righteous then them in saying…
“Rushing into judgment is a way of avoiding responsibility; it is a way of escaping from caring a way out of compassion, grace and love…when a person’s wrongful ways and guilt are obvious, it is so much easier to go with the flow of criticism against them than to resist that flow with the love and grace of God.”
In failing to seek God and assuming knowing a few verses or having an academic knowledge of God is enough to get us through life, we run risk of ending up like the prodigal son in the pigpen. In short, our circumstances will eventually dominate us. The Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel picks up on this in his book, ‘I Asked for a Wonder’ where he writes of Judaism just prior to the Second World War. Heschel points out how believers often fail to take God seriously through attempting to fit God into their plans and ideas. I can understand this having come across many believers who act as if God were some sort of battery or feel-good factor to empower their lives and help them succeed in the ways of the world.
This is completely wrong and apart from anything else, fails to take into consideration our calling to stand for truth and justice. We build for self and don’t stand for justice and because of this, end up having to fight against the raging fire so to speak, that seeks to consume life. Heschel picks up on the root of this problem in the following words which do not put the blame on Judaism in the 1920’s and 1930’s as if it was the sum cause of the atrocities of World War Two, but does point out how things could have been different not only for Jews, but also Christians. Heschel says: -
“We have trifled with the name of God. We have taken the ideals in vain. We have called for the Lord. He came and was ignored. We have preached but eluded Him. We have praised but defied Him. Now we reap the fruits of our failure. Through centuries His voice cried in the wilderness. How skilfully it was trapped and imprisoned in the temples.” How often it was drowned or distorted!”…. We have failed to fight for right, for justice, for goodness; as a result we must fight against wrong, against injustice, against evil….in our everyday life we worshipped force, despised compassion, and obeyed no law but our unappeasable appetite. The vision of the sacred has all but died in the soul of man…the outbreak of war was no surprise.”
Abraham Heschel in ‘I Asked for A Wonder’ page 124-6
As already mentioned, God is not someone we learn about through the scriptures and then view as little more than some sort of power to get us through our version of life and bring as a sense of success and peace in doing so. He is too big for this, too loving and too caring.
“The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.”
God is the source of all wisdom, knowledge and understanding, with the Holy Spirit being the person who gives us the power to live the new life we have been called to, for we are part of His story. Trying to fit Him into our story is not going to work.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church he reminds us that God’s power is available here and now if we look to Him and acknowledge our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:10) recognising that we were make to walk with Him which, this side of eternity means keeping in step with the Spirit. This ability to walk comes from Him and from our side all that is required is that we want to know Him more and do what is right. We have this treasure – the truth of the gospel and the presence of the Holy Spirit here with us now – treasure in jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7).
The key to walking with God is not found in trying to be squeaky clean as if it was this that earns us a blessing from God - as if God then needed to pay us! The key to walking with God is intimacy with our heavenly Father and a genuine desire to do what is right. This explains why David could say, ““Judge me according to my righteousness” (Psalm 7:8) and not be destroyed by God as one whose righteousness could never meet the requirements of the law. What David was saying is, “Look at the desires of my heart and mind and see that I have genuinely desired to follow your teaching with an open servant heart” and not, “look at how good I am and see how much I deserve” (this being what Isaiah calls ‘filthy rags’).
A believer who is strong and powerful in the Lord and, at the same time, gentle and caring is one who desires what is right and in accordance with the will of God who sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). The physical heart is constantly moving and scripturally speaking represents our mind and thoughts. When our physical heart stops, we die, and when we stop thinking the right way about God, we distance ourselves from the only One who can set us free. God looks at the desires of our heart and it was because of this right desire of heart that Noah was called a ‘preacher of righteousness’’ (2 Peter 2:5) and Abraham had righteousness credited to him through believing God’s promises (Genesis 15:6, Gal 3:6).
Learning to trust in God.
“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
One of the pictures that speaks of trust is that of someone leaning on another as they travel together. Abram believed in the Lord meaning he trusted in and was supported by the One who loved him most. Like all of us, Abram could have faith (Hebrews 11:3ff) because God chose to make Himself known in the first place. The opposite of trusting in God is to rely on our own strength, which from God’s perspective is as ridiculous as trying to lean on a spider’s web…
“Can papyrus grow tall where there is no marsh? Can reeds thrive without water? While still growing and uncut, they wither more quickly than grass. Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless. What he trusts in is fragile; what he relies on is a spider's web. He leans on his web, but it gives way; he clings to it, but it does not hold.”
Abram believed in (leant on) the Lord who then credited it to him as righteousness with the word ‘credited’ speaking of God conflating His strength with Abram. Think of having a bank account that is overdrawn and then having someone put ten thousand pounds into it. You are now in a much stronger position because of the actions of your benefactor. God not only reaches out to us with His resources but walks with us and strengthens us with His presence, as is testified by Christians across the world whether in board rooms or prison cells.
In Romans 4 we find Paul taking these words from Genesis 15 as he points out “it was credited to him,” (also) applies to us also. God credits the righteousness of Christ to all who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (Romans 4:24). Jesus is our righteousness (1 John 2:1-2)
As Christians we have had Jesus’ righteousness credited to our account, having been brought at a price (Romans 4:24, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We are now free from condemnation (Romans 8:1-2) and seated with Christ in heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). In position, we cannot be more righteous than we already are because it is His righteousness that we stand in. In our on-going walk with the Lord in the power of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12-14; Galations 5:25) we grow in righteousness and experience more of what is already ours by way of position (Romans 8:4-5). For example, imagine that tomorrow you are given twenty thousand acres of land. Through the gift you are now a landowner, but in order to experience and benefit from this gift you need to go out and use what you have been given and share the fruit of any harvest with others.
“There is more to being like Jesus than simply recognizing weaknesses and confessing sin. To grow, you must also practice new attitudes and habits. Just as athletes develop their muscles and skills through strenuous training, you will see greatest growth when you repeatedly think and behave properly in response to challenging circumstances. For example, when people provoke and frustrate you, practice love and forgiveness. When they fail to act promptly, develop patience. When you are tempted to give up on someone, exercise faithfulness.”
K. Sande in, ‘The Peacemaker’, p 25.
No condemnation Romans 8:1
Through the work of Christ, Satan has no legitimate grounds to attempt to ‘prosecute’ or accuse anyone and has been cast out of heaven (Luke 10:18). Our legal testimony as the ‘there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ ones, (Romans 8:1) means that we stand solely in the work of Christ that has been credited to our account. We are redeemed (Galations 3:13) and witness to this through a transformed life (Romans 12:2) in the power of the Holy Spirit. This power is not some sort of abstract power like electricity, to do with as we please. It is the power of the third person of the Trinity, who was present at the creation of the world (Genesis 1:2), throughout the ministry of Christ (Luke 4:1) and who indwells and empowers those who genuinely desire to serve and follow God (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 5:18; Revelation 20:17).
God wants to help us.
God’s desire to help us is seen throughout scripture (Zechariah 4:6) and not least of all in Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew’s gospel where we read, “Take my yoke upon your and learn from me” (Matthew 11:29). In an agricultural community an ox would be measured for a yoke that would then fit perfectly and scripturally speaking the yoke that Jesus speaks of is God’s law. We were made to be guided by the law of agape love and although this may feel uncomfortable at times it is uncomfortable because of what we have become and not who we truly are.
For example, imagine a person putting on a three thousand pound made- to- measure suit yet has put on weight during the time the suit was being made. The suit now feels uncomfortable yet there is nothing wrong with it, what needs to change is the person for whom it was made. Through living our own way, we are not what we should be, but in Christ can come home and learn about our identity and calling in Him. Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:48) the One who leads, guides and sustains us and through Him all things are possible.
God works in amazing ways.
In his book, ‘Anointed for Business,’ Ed Silvoso tells the story of Joe, a taxi driver in the Philippines who had recently become a Christian. The taxi driver wanted to reach people in his community and focused on a bar called ‘Sweet Moments’ and applied the principles of prayer evangelism to make peace with the lost and fellowship with them. Ed writes of what happened next…
Every day Joe would go into the bar, order a soft drink and pray peace over the place, its employees and the customers. After a few days of doing this, he befriended the manager, Brian, who was homosexual, a gambler, drug user, drug dealer and a pimp to 35 prostitutes.
The friendship grew and after just a few days Joe was able to lead Brian to the Lord and baptise him at a nearby beach. As Brian emerged from the water, the power of God came upon him and he experienced an instant transformation. All his homosexual drives disappeared. He was also freed from gambling and drug addiction. He was delivered from all his vices and stopped being a pimp, which had supported his sinful lifestyle.
Brian’s transformation became evidence to those around him, and in a very short time all 35 prostitutes also became Christians. Joe and his wife decided to move into a neighbourhood near the bar so that they could minister to this unusual congregation. His wife baked rice cakes prayed over them and distributed them among their neighbours, using food as a way of introduction. One of those neighbours was Teddy, a lawyer who was also the owner of the bar. He later testified that when he ate one of those cakes something happened to him. He became interested in what Joe had been teaching his employees, joined the Bible study and soon became a Christian… The bar eventually became a church building.
You and I are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16) and able to approach the throne of grace with confidence (Hebrews 4:16) because Jesus gave Himself as a willing sacrifice. We are God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) called to exercise authority over our lives by coming under His authority which breaks us free from the tyranny of self. Through incredible grace and mercy, we can do all things through Him (Philippians 4:13) as citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), a royal priesthood and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). Be encouraged; He is the One who restores our soul – who brings us back to our true self in Him and guides us in paths of righteousness (Psalm 23:3). The journey may not be easy, and we may not always see where we are going, but we need never go alone.
“Your righteousness is everlasting, and your law is true.”
Help when life gets tough.
At a time when the early church was about to face increasing persecution from Rome, Peter writes to encourage believers saying, “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” (2 Peter 1:3-4).
When we are under pressure or feel threatened it is easy to go back to old ways of thinking give up altogether. Yet this does not have to happen, because through the victory of Christ and presence of the Holy Spirit, we have everything we need to live the new live we have been called to and there is nothing that can defeat this (Romans 8:37-39) if we trust in Him. We never need to face anything on our own and Peter encourages us to follow the example of Christ in all ways and in one part of his letter writes, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
The word ‘example’ (hupogrammos) is taken from primary education in a world where writing paper was made of bulrushes and very expensive. Because of this, young children were given a shallow wax tablet to practice writing on along with a stylus. The teacher would draw straight lines in the wax and write a sentence at the top of the tablet which was then copied following the indented lines. On occasion the teacher would place his hand over the child’s and help them trace the words along the grooves. (John 10:29). Peter uses this word to show us that when trouble comes, God will help us through it, just as Jesus was led by the Spirit through suffering and hardship. Because of Jesus we can live for righteousness, for by His wounds we have been healed (1 Peter 2:25) with this healing and wholeness of mind and heart coming through the work of Christ and presence of the Holy Spirit as we serve Him.
Be encouraged; you are known, you are noticed, and you have been brought into right-standing with God through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus and in His grace and mercy you can move forward in the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit. No matter the opposition or storms you may face, all things are possible in Him (Philippians 4:13). You are part of His story.
“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter until the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18)
Written and produced by Jem, 2020.