The Righteousness of God
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 33).
- Matthew 6:25-34
It is interesting to observe how infrequently we hear Christians express a desire for personal righteousness. People want to learn how to be more spiritual and more holy, but seldom it ever do we encounter someone who wants to be more righteous. Perhaps this is in part because we don’t want to appear self-righteous, but mainly it is because the biblical doctrine of righteousness has not received much attention in our day.
At the time of the Protestant Reformation, however, righteousness was a major concern, and this is because righteousness is a primary concern of the New Testament, particularly of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul described the Gospel as the revelation of God’s righteousness (Romans 3:21). Jesus said that the main thing we should seek after is God’s righteousness. Clearly, the Reformers were following Scripture in emphasizing this theme.
We should consider righteousness in three dimensions. First is the righteousness of God Himself. God’s character is righteous, and is the definition of what righteousness is. We don’t declare what is right and what is wrong. God’s very character is the standard of what is right.
Second, because we are sinners, we must be made righteous. The Bible is clear: we are conceived and born in sin, and we continue in sin until we die. We cannot make ourselves righteous. The doctrine of justification by faith, so precious to the Reformers, tells us that God counts us as righteous based only on the finished sacrifice of Jesus Christ. His death takes away our sin, and His resurrection establishes us in His kingdom of righteousness. This is called an “imputed” (credited) righteousness.
But third, we are to seek and pursue personal righteousness. Anyone who has truly been saved from sin will hate sin and will seek righteousness. Jesus not only told us to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness, but He also told us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, we would not see the kingdom of God (Matthew 5:20). It is obvious that we are to seek to become righteous people as we obey God’s law and walk in His ways.
Would it embarrass you to be known as a “righteous person”? We should think about ourselves biblically, and use biblical language as much as possible. We should not let the world scare us away from words like righteous. Instead, we need to model this righteousness even in a hostile environment.
Passages for Further Study
- Deuteronomy 14:2
- Titus 2:14
- 1 Peter 1:13–19; 2:9
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