How Can We Be Righteous

How Can We Be Righteous

By Georead

Christians speak about heaven. They hope for something better past this life. Many people are aware of heaven yet not many are ready to be a part of its society. Human beings have ugly character attributes none of which can be taken to heaven. If these ugly character attributes were taken there they would be thoroughly discordant. Therefore a person cannot enter heaven before there is character development through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In this process better character attributes must be obtained.

2 Peter 1:4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.  This verse points out that it is possible for us to partake of the divine nature. God’s nature is very different to human nature. God has character attributes that are needful to human beings. These attributes are described in the Scriptures as the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). If we partake of the Holy Spirit and receive the attributes God provides we can be better people fit for a better world.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee. According to the Jews he was a righteous and holy man. In the night Nicodemus came to talk with Jesus. In this interview Jesus told him that in his present condition he was not fit for heaven. Nicodemus was astonished. Even so, Jesus was more definite, prefacing his pronouncements with the determined words “verily, verily”. He told him that he must be born again or that he must be born from above. Nicodemus needed the Holy Spirit to regenerate and renew his heart. He was a church leader thinking he kept the law and believing he was already righteous; but he had been attempting to generate his own righteousness. Instead he needed to look to Christ for righteousness.

To illustrate the point we could use a parable about electricity. What could we do if we had no electricity in the house and it was dark? We might obtain a stationary bicycle and attach to it a small generator that produced electricity. We could wire up the generator to the electricity supply of the house. After this we could pedal away trying to produce enough electricity for the whole house. Pedalling away furiously with our own little generator trying to work up enough electricity the light bulbs in the house might flicker a little, emitting some very dim light. This would hardly be enough to see by. Thus we would keep on pedalling away furiously until finally we were exhausted. We couldn’t keep it up for too long. We could never produce enough electricity for the whole house on our own.

This is the same as trying to be righteous through our own merits or trying to keep God’s commandments in our own strength. It is like trying to attain salvation with the small generator of our own human power. It is impossible.

Why not connect up to the power grid? There are power lines running up and down the street. The power grid will bring electricity to the whole house. We won’t need to generate it under our own steam.

In a spiritual sense we need to connect up to the power grid of heaven and receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus appealed to Nicodemus to do this. He told him that he must be born again. He needed the Holy Spirit to regenerate his heart and to cease trying to generate his own righteousness. None can succeed at this on their own. We need to connect up to the power grid of heaven. This is the only way we can attain salvation.

During the days of the Apostles the people of Galatia fell into error. Initially they had trusted in Christ for salvation. Later there were some who came in among them teaching them to trust in the flesh. (Galatians 3:3) These teachers did not tell them that they were at liberty to sin. Oh no, they told them that they must keep the law.  Yes, they must do it themselves. They must make themselves righteous.

In order to help the Galatians Apostle Paul wrote to them describing the old and new covenant. The two covenants of the Bible are agreements between God and man. The old covenant (Exodus 24:7) was based on the promises of man to attain righteousness and keep the law. In this situation they sought to do it themselves and to make themselves righteous. On the other hand, the new covenant was based on the promises of God to forgive man’s sins and to make him righteous by writing the law in his heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

 In the book of Galatians Apostle Paul makes an allegory between the two covenants and the birth of two sons to different women.

Galatians 4:22-27 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.  But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. 

God promised Abraham a son. But Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren. There had been no child born to them all of their married life. It seemed very unlikely that the promise of God would be fulfilled. Since Sarah doubted the promise of God she worked out a plan of her own devising. She sought to produce a son, not from her own womb, but from that of her bondmaid, Hagar. Abraham became involved and a son, Ishmael, was born.

God did not accept Ishmael as the promised son of Abraham. So about fourteen years after his birth God again reiterated his promise to Abraham that he would have a son by his wife Sarah. However Sarah was now ninety years old. She was beyond childbearing age. Sarah laughed at the idea. She doubted that she could have a child at such an age. Nevertheless a child, Isaac, was born a year later. This was the miraculous working of God.

The birth of Ishmael came as a result of unbelief. It came as a result of human devising in an effort to fulfil the promise of God. It demonstrates what happens when we approach the law of God promising to keep it in our own strength. We attempt to keep our promise trying to generate our own righteousness. Likewise the Israelites entered into the old covenant agreement thinking that they could keep the law by themselves and be righteous. Inevitably they failed which led them to devise a system of human works.

The birth of Isaac came as a result of God’s promise. It demonstrates what happens when we approach the law of God trusting in His promises. In the new covenant (Hebrews 8:10-12) God promises to forgive past sin and to write the law in our hearts so we can obey it. He promises to impart the Holy Spirit to renew and regenerate the heart. Even though human unbelief often gets in the way God has promised to make us righteous through the indwelling of the Spirit.

Many centuries before the first Advent of Christ the Israelites had escaped slavery in Egypt. God performed many wonderful miracles freeing them from Egyptian bondage and bringing them to Mount Sinai in Arabia. In the book of Galatians it is written that the one covenant from Mount Sinai gives birth to bondage. The Israelites had only just escaped Egyptian bondage. Was it God’s intention to take them out of Egyptian bondage only put them into another sort of bondage at Mount Sinai? What occurred at Mount Sinai that could have put them into bondage?

Exodus 19:5,6  Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. When God spoke these words to the Israelites to what covenant was he referring? God had made a covenant with Abraham. This covenant was already in existence. No other covenant had yet been established. If the Israelites would have faith and believe in God, He was able to do for them all that He promised. They would be a righteous and holy people. But instead a covenant of a very different character emerged at Mount Sinai.

The people did not realize the sinfulness of their own hearts, and that without Christ it was impossible for them to keep God’s law; and they readily entered into covenant with God. Feeling that they were able to establish their own righteousness, they declared, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.” Exodus 24:7. {PP 371.4} 

It was admirable that the people agreed to obey God. But in this covenant, the people in their self-sufficiency, rashly took the whole responsibility upon themselves. They believed they could be righteous in their own strength. How miserably they failed when only a short while after many of them were found worshipping the golden calf. The covenant they made with God at Mount Sinai was not adequate, not because of God, it was faulty because of them. Hebrews 8:7,8  For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.  For finding fault with them . . .

If we approach the law of God in the spirit of self-sufficiency, in the old covenant way, it gives rise to a type of bondage. Why does this self-sufficiency end up in bondage? When we attempt to obey God in our own strength we inevitably fail. We try again and fail. We try again and again and again. We’re locked into this cycle of doing and failing. At this point many just give up and go back to their sinful ways. While others like the Pharisees up the anti. For, seeing that they fail to keep the law, they will devise rules and regulations of their own to force themselves to obey. . . . {MB 123.1}  They developed a system of human invention, with its multitudinous exactions . . . {MB 123.1} 

The Pharisees made many extra laws in order to promote righteousness and obedience to the law of God. It was probably all well intended. They defined everything that should and shouldn’t be done on the Sabbath day. Beside this they defined many other laws to cover almost every contingency in life. The guess work of how to be holy or righteous was no longer necessary. The definitions of what constituted righteous were now contained in many written volumes. The Scribes and Pharisees supposed themselves to be masters of the law yet their lives were still full of sin.

Matthew 7:15  Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  Matthew 23:27 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. The Pharisees outwardly appeared holy but inwardly they were full of pride, malice, hate and many other sins. Their legalistic religion, devoid of God’s power, led them to live lives of secret hypocrisy.

John 8:33,34  They [Jews] answered him [Jesus], We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. The Jews were supposed themselves to free men yet Jesus contradicted them. Under their cloak of supposed holiness they hid many sins. They were in bondage to sin. Their system of human works invented to promote the keeping of the law proved a complete failure. Instead the law of God condemned them as sinners. They were in bondage to sin. The law of God is holy, just and good (Romans 7:12) but approaching it in a self-sufficient manner leads to bondage.

Galatians 4:25  For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.  Old Jerusalem with her children, the Jews, were in bondage. Their system of human works and lives of secret hypocrisy were a spiritual bondage. Galatians 4:26  But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.  We are to be children of the New Jerusalem or the heavenly Jerusalem. When Jesus said to Nicodemus, you need to be born from above He was talking about this heavenly rebirth.

Galatians 4:30,31  Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.  So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.  We are to be free men. The slave or the bondman cannot possess anything. He has no control over himself. This is the distinguishing characteristic of a slave. In a spiritual sense he is like a person with no self control. He is a slave to sin and inevitably he will perform the acts of sin. On the other hand, the free born son is heir to all things. He has dominion over everything. In a spiritual sense he has victory over himself. He has self control. He is free from sin and his destiny is assured.

The apostle when speaking of Hagar and Sarah says:  “These women are two covenants.”  These two covenants exist today.  The two covenants are not matters of time, but of condition. Let no one flatter himself that he cannot be bound under the old covenant, thinking that its time has passed.- Glad Tidings, E J Waggoner, pages 100, 101.

We can be bound under the old covenant. It only takes a moment for us to lose our way and take our eyes off Christ. Some think they can generate some kind of righteousness on their own and mingle this with expressions of faith. The Scriptures tell us that this is hopeless. Much is written in the Scriptures about regeneration, being born again and being a renewed man. The real work of the Holy Spirit must take place in the heart for there to be a genuine righteousness.

The Pharisees sought to make themselves righteous. They did this with an element of pride in their hearts. Spiritual pride caused them to take the law a step further than their neighbours. They had no concept of righteousness by faith in Christ. They believed that they were righteous by the fulfilment of deeds in which they had been commanded. They thought that if they stretched and extended the law to the nth degree they would be afforded more righteousness. They imagined they had superiority over their neighbours who weren’t as ‘advanced’. They created a legal minefield that was painful and perilous to negotiate. It set neighbour against neighbour in a spirit of judgment and criticism. It set their minds far from God and his tenderness toward them.

This prideful spirit of clothing oneself in righteousness extended to Sabbath keeping; so much so that the Pharisees thought that the Messiah broke the Sabbath according to their man made precepts (Mat 12:10, Mark 3:2, John 9:14-16). Jesus died without sin; therefore the ‘standards’ of the Pharisees were proved to be out of touch with the Author of the law. They considered their own righteousness to be superior to that of God Himself. Their attempts to define how God’s law should be kept were a complete failure.

A truly righteous person would never attempt to show themselves more holy than others. Luke 18:11,12 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. The Pharisee tells God how he’s so much better than others. He does all these extras things. He fasts not only on the Sabbath but an extra day in the week. He tithes garden herbs (Mat 23:23), tithing ten percent on the growth of mint, parsley and other small herbs in his garden. He is going the extra mile. Yet God resists him and he is not justified nor even counted as righteous (Luke 18:14). James 4:6 God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.  God resisted the spiritual pride of the Pharisees. If we have any element of spiritual pride likewise God will resist us and we will be left to ourselves to make the same experience as did the Pharisees.

It is only by the grace of Christ that we can be better people. If we think to improve ourselves and neglect to obtain help from heaven we are no better than any other sinner. If we fail to look in faith to Jesus for righteousness we have no where else to turn. Trying to generate righteousness from within ourselves will prove hopeless.

Romans 10:3,4 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. The subject of these verses is righteousness. How are we going to be righteous?  Christ is the end by which we can be righteous. There’s no other way to be righteous.

We must go to Christ and ask Him to help change us. Ask Him to give us the Holy Spirit so that we can develop a character ready for heaven. This is the whole point of Christianity. Christ holds the supply of righteousness and we can obtain it only from Him.

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2 Responses to How Can We Be Righteous

  1. Mike Brewer. says:

    Thank you Glen. A very well presented and thoughtful study. Mike Brewer.

  2. Simon O'Rourke says:

    A very good study.
    Yes ‘God resists the proud’! And he shows himself to be of a humble nature, dwelling with those who are of the same character .Isaiah/57:15
    Spiritual pride is a disease leading unto death, those infected by it imagining vainly that outward piety affords humility and contriteness, but God is not mocked.
    Promenading in long robes so as to make a spectacle of themselves before the world, revelling in their fasting showing themselves ‘A peculiar people zealous of good works’, the Pharisees were none the less destined for destruction.
    Christ is our righteousness, Christ and Christ alone.

    Matthew 6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

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