Ethics: The Righteous Life

This is the 4th of a 9-part series on Christian Ethics.

Righteousness is an important part of the Christian life. In the Old Testament God instructed Israel to live righteously because God himself was righteous. The people of Israel were to live their lives in a way that reflected who God was, and what he had done for them.

Righteousness is equally important in the Christian life. Because Jesus Christ has already died for our sins and risen from the dead never to die again, we are to live lives that reflect his character and what he has done for us.

The sad part of life is that no one is able to live a life that is pleasing to God by his or her own efforts. The scriptures tell us in Isaiah 64:6 that, “Our righteousness is as filthy rags.” Therefore, even though we may make many efforts to do the right thing and always behave in a right manner, because our nature is troubled with sin, we fail to live righteously all of the time. This is one reason why Jesus came, that through faith we might be given his righteousness as a free gift that God will be pleased with us. But even though we can receive this righteousness as a free gift, God still requires us to live a life according to certain standards—standards of righteousness.

In this study we will examine God’s righteous requirements and what it takes to live a life that is pleasing to God. Most importantly we will see this righteousness is not simply a matter of doing the right thing, but it is also an important standard of relationships.

God: The Righteous God

Righteousness is that standard by which God always thinks, feels, and does what is morally right.

“He is the Rock, His work is perfect; for all His ways are justice, a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

“He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5).

“I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right” (Isaiah 45:19).

Because God’s character is always true, faithful, and good, his thoughts, feelings, and actions are always right. God always thinks right things, feels right things, and does right things.

What kind of character do most people have? Do most people do right things, or do we have a different way of behaving?

Righteousness is more than “doing” what is right, it is also a standard of relationship – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are always in right relationship to one another.

“Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:18-20).

“Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:3-5).

There is no such thing as doing right or wrong outside of a relationship. We either do what is right or wrong to others, or to ourselves, or to God. We cannot be righteous without a right relationship to God.

God’s righteousness means that he is always in a right relationship to himself. How can you receive the righteousness of God?

God’s righteousness and his justice are the same. God always judges our relationship to him justly and rightly.

“Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” (Jeremiah 9:24).

“…whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26).

Deciding justly between right and wrong, and between that which deserves reward or punishment requires an understanding of right and wrong behavior. God’s behavior is the highest standard of righteousness available.

Examine your relationship to God, are you in a right standing with him? How do you think God judges your relationship to him?

Jesus: The Righteous Son of God

Jesus Christ felt, thought, and acted exactly as the Father did in all things, demonstrating that he is a righteous Savior.

“Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father 4 does, that the Son does likewise…I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent m” (John 5:19, 30).

“Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9).

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15)

Because Jesus is the Son of God in human form, all of his words and actions were the expressions of the eternal God, expressed through an earthly life.

Since Jesus felt, thought, and acted exactly like his Heavenly Father, what does this tell you about him?

Jesus spent his life working to bring us into a right relationship (righteous) with his Heavenly Father.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

“…that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:19).

Jesus did what was right by us in that he expelled his life for our sin, paving the way for us to know God personally. Jesus’ purpose was to give us a righteous life in right relationship to God.

How did Jesus provide a way for you to come into a right relationship with God?

God executed his righteous justice upon Jesus Christ for the sins we have committed, enabling us to have a right relationship with God.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4).

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:9-10).

We are not able to live a righteous life, earning God’s favor on our own. Isaiah 64:6 says “Our righteousness is as filthy rags.” Jesus’ death and resurrection allows us to receive his righteousness by faith, as a free gift of God to us.

We can live a righteous life in response to what Jesus has already done for us. How can you life become righteous?

Becoming a Righteous Person

By receiving the Jesus as our Savior we come into a right relationship with God and God imputes to us the righteousness of Jesus.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).

“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:11).

Since we cannot live a righteous life acceptable to God under our own effort, we must receive the free gift of righteousness that God has given us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior? If you have received Jesus then God declares you are righteous in his sight. However, is your life being lived righteously?

A Christian should always being growing in righteousness, with his thoughts, feelings, and acts conforming to God’s moral standards.

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (II Corinthians 5:14-15).

“…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and  to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Living a righteous life is important evidence that a person has received God’s forgiveness and his really a Christian. A person who claims to be a Christian but is not growing in righteousness is either not a Christian or is living disobediently to Jesus Christ.

Examine your life right now. Are you growing in righteousness, thus demonstrating that God has indeed changed you from within?

As we grow in righteousness our thoughts, feelings, actions will become more just and our lives will reflect the character of Jesus Christ.

“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22-25).

“But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (I Timothy 6:11).

Being a just person means treating others with equity, holding fast to what is right and shunning that which is evil. Just as God loves righteousness and hates sin, so too we must be growing in the same heart and mind.

How has your life changed since you came to know Jesus Christ? How do you want your life to change as a result of what Jesus has done for you?

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