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THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD Lesson #25
The Righteousness of God Matthew 6:33
That person who spends all his time, energy, and care seeking nothing more than mundane, earthly, perishing things is a fool. Even the necessities of life, food, drink, clothing, and shelter for the body, are not worthy of great concern to eternity bound men and women with immortal souls. Is man no more than a brute beast that he should spend his life seeking the grass of the earth? No! Our Lord Jesus Christ says to you and me, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
“The kingdom of God”
“The kingdom of God” is the gospel of Christ and the worship of God through the ministry of the Word (Cf. Malt. 21:43; Mk. 1:14; Lk. 4:43; 9:2, 60; 16:16). Our Lord is telling us that the worship of God, the preaching of the gospel, and the ministry of the Word are the most important of all things. The kingdom of God is to be diligently sought after and constantly attended. It is to be preferred to our necessary food and clothing, and certainly to the riches and pleasures of this world. To neglect the worship of God is to neglect your own soul, to neglect life, and to despise God’s Son, his grace, and his salvation. To prefer anything to the worship of God is idolatry. And idolatry will cost a person his immortal soul.
“The kingdom of God,” ultimately, is that kingdom of glory which God has prepared for his own elect from the foundation of the world. This is eternal life. And it is the free gift of God to all who trust his Son. If we are wise, we will seek eternal life above all other things.
The only hope of entrance into the kingdom of God is “His Righteousness,” that is the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel. In Matthew 6:33, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us that the one thing we must seek, while we live upon this earth, is the righteousness of God, without which no one can enter into the kingdom of God. But what do we know about the righteousness of God? If we must have the righteousness of God in order to enter into the kingdom of God, we would be wise to search the Scriptures and seek to know what we can about the righteousness of God. It is described in four ways in the Scriptures:
1. It is called “The Righteousness of God” (Rom. 1:16-17).
The gospel of Christ reveals the righteousness of God’s nature. It reveals that righteousness is an attribute of God, essential to his Being as God. Here Paul is talking about the rightness of God’s Being. As we have seen already, all that God is, all that he does, all that he requires, and all that he accepts is right. When the Bible declares that God is righteous, the meaning is, “God is right.” "Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne” (Psa. 97:2).
2. It is called “The Righteousness of the law” (Rom. 2:26).
The righteousness of the law is that perfect obedience which God requires from men. The law of God is holy, just, and good, for it is a revelation of God’s righteous character. The law could never give or produce righteousness. But the law does reveal righteousness in God; and it demands righteousness from men.
3. It is described as The Righteousness of Christ (Rom. 3:21-22).
The righteousness of Christ denotes more than the absolute perfection of his nature as God. It speaks of his perfect obedience to the law as our Representative and his satisfaction of the law by his death as our Substitute. The righteousness of Christ is that righteousness which Christ accomplished for his people, by which we enter into the kingdom of God.
4. And It is set forth as The Righteousness of faith (Rom. 10:6).
This is the righteousness which we receive by faith in Christ. It is the righteousness of God, the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. Righteousness is God’s attribute, his requirement, his provision, and his gift.
With these things in mind, read Matthew 5:20. Here our Master is addressing his own disciples, who seemed to stand in awe before the scribes and Pharisees, the great religious leaders of the Jewish world. He pointed to those highly esteemed, devout men, and said, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
The scribes were the religious scholars, the theologians, who copied and expounded the Scriptures. They gave their lives to this one great work for God and man. Yet, our Lord said, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes, you cannot be saved!” The Pharisees were the strictest sect of the Jews. None exceeded the Pharisees in outward morality, obedience to the law, saying of prayers, Scripture memory, personal righteousness, and public approval. Yet, the Son of God declares, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, you cannot be saved!”
What is the meaning of those words? Is our Lord telling us that we must do more and be better than the scribes and Pharisees? Is he telling us that we must seek to gain a greater measure of personal righteousness and holiness than they possessed? Not at all. In fact, he is saying just the opposite. Our Lord is declaring the utter impossibility of gaining favor with God on the basis of our own personal righteousness. He is telling us that there has never been one son, or daughter of Adam on this earth good enough, righteous enough, holy enough to inherit, or inhabit, the kingdom of heaven. There is not now, and there never shall be, one person in heaven who got there because he was righteous, holy, and good upon the earth. “Verily, every man at his best state is altogether vanity” (Psa. 39:5). “There is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psa. 14:1-3; Rom. 3:9-20). Somehow, we must get the idea of personal goodness Out of our minds, and the very word ‘good” out of our vocabulary, when we think or speak of any human being in God’s sight. God declares that “every imagination (and desire) of the thoughts of (every man’s) heart is only evil continually” (Gen. 6:6).
The very best men who have lived in this world all lamented and mourned over the evil of their nature (Job 9:20; 40:3-5; 42:5-6; Psa. 51:1-5; Isa. 6:1-5; Rom. 7:18-24).
We are all sinners by nature, incapable of performing righteousness to any degree. Our only hope of salvation is the righteousness of another, even the righteousness of God, This is a subject of immense importance. The very name of God our Savior is “The LORD our Righteousness!” If we would be saved we must know and possess the righteousness of God. Important and vital as this subject is, it is a subject about which almost the entire religious world in which we live is totally ignorant (Rom. 10:1-4).
It is my prayer that this study will, by the blessing of God’s Spirit, give the reader a clear understanding of the gospel’s good news, which is the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. Do what you will, without the righteousness of God that is in Christ Jesus, you cannot enter heaven. “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” I want to show you from the Scriptures how a sinner can obtain the righteousness of God and be forever accepted in his sight. In order to do so, I want to show you four things.
By the sin and fall of our father Adam we all suffered a threefold loss of righteousness, which cannot be denied. The preacher said, “Lo, this only have I found, that God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccles. 7:29).
When Adam sinned in the garden man lost his righteous nature. Man before the fall was more than innocent. He was holy, righteous, good, and pleasing to God (Gen. 1:31). But after the fall, man was sinful, guilty, corrupt, repulsive to, and condemned by God (Rom. 5:12). Every faculty of man’s being was corrupted, defiled, twisted and deformed by the fall. He lost all moral, spiritual goodness. Fallen man has a perverted heart, a corrupt will and a vile nature. There is no righteousness, goodness, or possibility of goodness in any of us by nature. In our “flesh dwelleth no good thing.” “So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 7:18; 8:8).
At the moment Adam sinned, we also lost all legal righteousness before God (Rom. 5:19). Because he sinned, Adam was put out of the Garden, separated from God. And we, being made sin, are by nature separated from God. “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you” (Isa. 59:2). Man, by reason of his sin, is so far off from God that he cannot ever, of his own will, or by his own works, return to God (1 Tim. 6:15-16). Unless God himself intervenes to bridge the gulf between himself and fallen man, man must be eternally separated from God in hell. Having broken the law by sin, we have no legal righteousness, no legal grounds of acceptance with God.
And fallen man has lost all understanding of righteousness. When man had righteousness before God, he understood that he had it by the gift of God in creation. And he never gloried in his righteousness. But even since he lost righteousness, man has thought that he has righteousness, pretended to have it, and boasted of it as a grounds of acceptance with God. The fig leaves that Adam and Eve made for themselves after the fall, the bloodless sacrifice that Cain offered to God, and the prayer of the Pharisee (Gen. 3:7; 4:3; Luke 18:11-12) exemplify the proud, self-righteousness resident in the depraved hearts of fallen men. Being ignorant both of the righteousness of God and his own sinfulness, fallen man goes about seeking to establish his own righteousness (Rom. 10:1-3; Isa. 64:6). But it is an impossible task. When man has done all that he can, to the utmost of his ability, our Savior says, You will have to do better than that “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
RIGHTEOUSNESS REQUIRED - What does God require of man? How good does a man have to be to get into heaven? He must be as good as God. God requires perfect righteousness. But here is the problem - Man’s definition of righteousness depends entirely upon his definition and understanding of God. And few have seen God’s glorious holiness (Isa. 6:1-6; Job 42:5-6). Once a sinner has been made to see God’s holiness, he cries, “Who can stand in the presence of the holy Lord God?”
The Fact is no son of Adam can ever stand in God’s presence upon his own merit, for we are all cursed (Gal. 3:10). God is so holy that he charges his angels with folly, so holy that the heavens are not pure in his sight, so holy that when he found sin upon his own beloved Son he forsook him and killed him! With Isaiah, the sinner convinced of God’s holiness, that holiness that demanded the death of his own dear Son when he was made to be sin, cries, “Woe is me! I am cut off! And I dwell among a people who are all cut off, unclean, undone, and without hope!”
Only one who is himself God can stand in the presence of God and please him (Psa. 24:35; Matt. 17:5). That righteousness which God requires only God can perform. But, thank God, blessed be his name forever, according to his own Word, there is good news - There is a Man who is himself God who has magnified the law and made it honorable. He has brought in everlasting righteousness. And that Man-God is Jesus Christ our Lord.
RIGHTEOUSNESS IMPUTED - The Lord Jesus Christ came into this world for the purpose of fulfilling all righteousness. And he did it. He brought in, established, and finished the work of righteousness for all God’s elect by his obedience to the Father as our Representative. It is this righteousness, the righteousness of God, that is revealed and proclaimed by the gospel (Rom. 3:24-28). The gospel of Christ reveals and proclaims a fourfold message of grace to sinners:
1. Perfect Atonement (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13)
The Lord Jesus Christ took our sins upon himself and paid for them, completely satisfying the justice of God’s holy law for all his people.
2. Perfect righteousness
It is not enough for the sinner to be pardoned. We are required to keep the law of God -“Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10). This, too, Christ has done for us. His faithful obedience to God is the righteousness of God fulfilled for us (Rom. 3:19-
3. Perfect imputation
Christ has given us light and understanding by the gospel, enabling us to see and receive the imputation of his righteousness by faith in him (Rom. 1:16-17; 4:3-8, 20-25). Righteousness is sovereignly imputed to chosen, redeemed sinners in justification. Yet, it is received by faith in Christ. That is to say, the regenerate soul looks to Christ alone for righteousness. Righteousness is not imputed to us upon the basis of our faith, but upon the basis of Christ’s faithfulness as our Representative (Rom. 3:22). This imputed righteousness is received by faith as we look to Christ for it. This righteousness is imputed to us without works (Gal. 2:16). And this imputation of righteousness is irrevocable (Rom. 4:8).
3. Perfect liberty (Rom. 8:1-4)
Since justice has been satisfied, the law has been honored, and righteousness has been imputed to God’s elect, we are now completely freed from all possibility of condemnation. Where there is no debt, there is no liability. Where there is no sin, there is no curse. Where there is no guilt, there is no fear.
Righteousness is imputed to the believer in justification. That is our standing before God. Righteousness is imparted to God’s elect in regeneration by the irresistible power and grace of God the Holy Spirit. That is our experience of grace (2 Pet. 1:3-4; 1 Pet. 3:10-12). Imparted righteousness does not mean that the believer is without sin, or that the old Adamic nature is changed, or that any work of the believer is accepted before God upon its own merit. I presume that any who read these lines are fully aware of these things. I know that every believer is (1 John 1:8, 10). We love the law of God. We love the truth of God. We love holiness. But we know, by daily, bitter experience, the evil of our own hearts. Every child of God in this world confesses with Paul, “I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there is nothing good.”
Yet, the Word of God clearly teaches that the regenerate soul, the believer has a new, righteous, holy nature imparted to him by the grace and power of God the Holy Spirit in the new birth which cannot sin (1 John 3:9). That person who is born of God is a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Those who are born of God walk in the Spirit, living by faith in Christ (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:16-23). Because there is in every believer these two opposing natures, the flesh and the Spirit, sin and righteousness, there is in the heart of every regenerate person a constant warfare, a warfare that will never end until the body of flesh is consumed in death (Rom. 7:14-24). The flesh will never surrender. Yet, the Spirit reigns. And those who are born of God mind the things of God (Rom. 8:5). Believers are sanctified by grace. In the tenor of their lives the saints of God live as saints in this world. Believers love Christ and one another. Believers identify themselves with Christ and his church. Believers are men and women of honesty and integrity. Believers hate sin and long to be free of it. Believers are generous, kind, and merciful. Believers are committed, sold out to, Christ, lock, stock, and barrel. Believers will continue in the faith, clinging to Christ alone as Jehovah-tsidkenu, “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS,” to the end. Let us ever renounce all personal righteousness as filthy rags and submit ourselves to the righteousness of God - “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that belleveth” (Rom. 10:4).
Until the righteousness of God which is by the faithful obedience of Christ is proclaimed, the gospel has not been preached. And any gospel that offers sinners any other ground of righteousness is a false gospel.