Christ and His Righteousness—
8. The Righteousness of God
The righteousness of God, says Jesus, is the one thing to be sought in this life. Food and clothing are minor matters in comparison with it. God will supply them, as a matter of course, so that anxious care and worriment need not be expended on them; but to secure God’s kingdom and His righteousness should be the only object of life.
In 1Cor. 1:30 we are told that Christ is made unto us righteousness as well as wisdom, and since Christ is the wisdom of God and in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, it is evident that the righteousness which He is made to us is the righteousness of God. Let us see what this righteousness is.
In Ps. 119:172 the Psalmist thus addresses the Lord, “My tongue shall speak of Thy word, for all Thy commandments are righteousness.” The commandments are righteousness, not simply in the abstract, but they are the righteousness of God. For proof read the following: “Lift up your eyes to the heavens and look upon the earth beneath, for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner; but my salvation shall be forever and my righteousness shall not be abolished. Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.” Isa. 51:6, 7.
What do we learn from this? That they who know the righteousness of God are those in whose heart is His law, and therefore that the law of God is the righteousness of God.
This may be proved again, as follows: “All unrighteousness is sin.” 1John 5:17. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law; for sin is the transgression of the law.” 1John 3:4. Sin is the transgression of the law, and it is also unrighteousness; therefore sin and unrighteousness are identical. But if unrighteousness is transgression of the law, righteousness must be obedience to the law. Or, to put the proposition into mathematical form:
Unrighteousness = sin. 1John 5:17.
Transgression of the law = sin. 1John 3:4.
Therefore, according to the axiom that two things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other, we have:
Unrighteousness = transgression of the law...which is a negative equation. The same thing, stated in positive terms, would be:
Righteousness = obedience to the law.
Now what law is it obedience to which is righteousness and disobedience to which is sin? It is that law which says, “Thou shalt not covet,” for the apostle Paul tells us that this law convinced him of sin. Rom. 7:7. The law of ten commandments, then, is the measure of the righteousness of God. Since it is the law of God and is righteousness, it must be the righteousness of God. There is, indeed, no other righteousness.
Since the law is the righteousness of God—a transcript of His character—it is easy to see that to fear God and keep His commandments is the whole duty of man. Eccl. 12:13. Let no one think that his duty will be circumscribed if confined to the ten commandments, for they are “exceeding broad.” “The law is spiritual,” and comprehends a great deal more than can be discerned by an ordinary reader. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1Cor. 2:14. The exceeding breadth of the law of God can be realized only by those who have prayerfully meditated upon it. A few texts of Scripture will suffice to show us something of its breadth.
In the sermon on the mount Christ said, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment; but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Matt. 5:21, 22. And again, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery, but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Verses 27, 28.
This does not mean that the commandments, “Thou shalt not kill,” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery” are imperfect or that God now requires a greater degree of morality from Christians than He did from His people who were called Jews. He requires the same from all men in all ages. The Saviour simply explained these commandments and showed their spirituality. To the unspoken charge of the Pharisees that He was ignoring and undermining the moral law, He replied by saying that He came for the purpose of establishing the law and that it could not be abolished, and then He expounded the true meaning of the law in a way that convicted them of ignoring and disobeying it. He showed that even a look or a thought may be a violation of the law and that it is indeed a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
In this Christ did not reveal a new truth but only brought to light and unfolded an old one. The law meant just as much when He proclaimed it from Sinai as when He expounded it on the mountain in Judea. When, in tones that shook the earth, He said, “Thou shalt not kill,” He meant, “Thou shalt not cherish anger in the heart; thou shalt not indulge in envy, nor strife, nor anything which is in the remotest degree akin to murder.” All this and much more is contained in the words, “Thou shalt not kill.” And this was taught by the inspired words of the Old Testament, for Solomon showed that the law deals with things unseen as well as things seen, when he wrote:
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.” Eccl. 12:13, 14.
The argument is this: The judgment passes upon every secret thing; the law of God is the standard in the judgment—it determines the quality of every act, whether good or evil; therefore, the law of God forbids evil in thought as well as in deed. So the conclusion of the whole matter is that the commandments of God contain the whole duty of man.
Take the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The apostle tells us of some “whose god is their belly.” Phil. 3:19. But gluttony and intemperance are self-murder, and so we find that the first commandment runs through to the sixth. This is not all, however, for he also tells us that covetousness is idolatry. Col. 3:5. The tenth commandment cannot be violated without violating the first and second. In other words, the tenth commandment coincides with the first, and we find that the Decalogue is a circle having a circumference as great as the universe and containing within it the moral duty of every creature. In short, it is the measure of the righteousness of God, who inhabits eternity.
This being the case, the correctness of the statement that “the doers of the law shall be justified,” is obvious. To justify means to make righteous or to show one to be righteous. Now it is evident that perfect obedience to a perfectly righteous law would constitute one a righteous person. It was God’s design that such obedience should be rendered to the law by all His creatures, and in this way the law was ordained unto life. Rom. 7:10.
But for one to be judged “a doer of the law” it would be necessary that he had kept the law in its fullest measure every moment of his life. If he had come short of this, he could not be said to have done the law. He could not be a doer of the law if he had done it only in part. It is a sad fact, therefore, that there are in all the human race no doers of the law, for both Jews and Gentiles are “all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Rom. 3:9-12. The law speaks to all who are within its sphere, and in all the world there is not one who can open his mouth to clear himself from the charge of sin which it brings against him. Every mouth is stopped and all the world stands guilty before God (verse 19), “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (verse 23).
Therefore, although “the doers of the law shall be justified,” it is just as evident that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Verse 20. The law, being “holy, and just, and good,” cannot justify a sinner. In other words, a just law cannot declare that the one who violates it is innocent. A law that would justify a wicked man would be a wicked law. The law should not be reviled because it cannot justify sinners. On the contrary, it should be extolled on that account. The fact that the law will not declare sinners to be righteous—that it will not say that men have kept it when they have violated it—is in itself sufficient evidence that it is good. Men applaud an incorruptible earthly judge, one who cannot be bribed and who will not declare a guilty man innocent. Surely, they ought to magnify the law of God, which will not bear false witness. It is the perfection of righteousness and therefore it is forced to declare the sad fact that not one of Adam’s race has fulfilled its requirements.
Moreover, the fact that to do the law is simply man’s duty shows that when he has come short in single particular he can never make it up. The requirements of each precept of the law are so broad—the whole law is so spiritual— that an angel could render no more than simple obedience. Yea, more, the law is the righteousness of God—a transcript of His character—and since His character cannot be different from what it is, it follows that even God Himself cannot be better than the measure of goodness demanded by His law. He cannot be better than He is and the law declares what He is. What hope, then, that one who has failed, in even one precept, can add enough extra goodness to make up the full measure? He who attempts to do that sets before himself the impossible task of being better than God requires, yea, even better than God Himself.
But it is not simply in one particular that men have failed. They have come short in every particular. “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Not only so, but it is impossible for fallen man, with his weakened power, to do even a single act that is up to the perfect standard. This proposition needs no further proof than a restatement of the fact that the law is the measure of God’s righteousness. Surely there are none so presumptuous as to claim that any act of their lives has been or could be as good as if done by the Lord Himself. Everyone must say with the Psalmist, “My goodness extendeth not to Thee.” Ps. 16:2.
This fact is contained in direct statements of Scripture. Christ, who “needed not that any should testify of man; for he knew what was in man” (John 2:25), said, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornication, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness; all these evil things come from within and defile the man.” Mark 7:21-23. In other words, it is easier to do wrong than it is to do right, and the things which a person naturally does are evil. Evil dwells within, and is a part of the being. Therefore, the apostle says, “The carnal [fleshly, natural] mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” Rom. 8:7, 8. And again, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” Gal. 5:17. Since evil is a part of man’s very nature, being inherited by each individual from a long line of sinful ancestors, it is very evident that whatever righteousness springs from him must be only like “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6), compared with the spotless robe of the righteousness of God.
The impossibility of good deeds proceeding from a sinful heart is thus forcibly illustrated by the Saviour, “For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble-bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil; for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” Luke 6:44, 45. That is to say, a man cannot do good until he first becomes good. Therefore, deeds done by a sinful person have no effect whatever to make him righteous, but, on the contrary, coming from an evil heart, they are evil and so add to the sum of his sinfulness. Only evil can come from an evil heart, and multiplied evil cannot make one good deed; therefore, it is useless for an evil person to think to become righteous by his own efforts. He must first be made righteous before he can do the good that is required of him and which he wants to do.
The case, then, stands thus: 1) The law of God is perfect righteousness, and perfect conformity to it is demanded of everyone who shall enter the kingdom of heaven. 2) But the law has not a particle of righteousness to bestow upon any man, for all are sinners and are unable to comply with its requirements. No matter how diligently nor how zealously a man works, nothing that he can do will meet the full measure of the law’s demands. It is too high for him to attain to; he cannot obtain righteousness by the law. “By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified [made righteous] in His sight.” [Rom. 3:20.] What a deplorable condition! We must have the righteousness of the law or we cannot enter heaven, and yet the law has no righteousness for one of us. It will not yield to our most persistent and energetic efforts the smallest portion of that holiness without which no man can see the Lord.
Who, then, can be saved? Can there, then, be such a thing as a righteous person? Yes, for the Bible often speaks of them. It speaks of Lot as “that righteous man.” It says, “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings” (Isa. 3:10), thus indicating that there will be righteous persons to receive the reward, and it plainly declares that there will be a righteous nation at the last, saying, “In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.” Isa. 26:1, 2. David says, “Thy law is the truth.” Ps. 119:142. It is not only truth, but it is the sum of all truth; consequently, the nation that keeps the truth will be a nation that keeps the law of God. Such will be doers of His will, and they shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Matt. 7:21.