Righteousness Made Real

Christlikeness isn’t some idea we pursue—it’s the essence of who we are in God.

When it comes to words, this one scared me. Righteous. How could I ever be that? During college, when I committed my first big moral failure—a pregnancy out of wedlock, with disappointment writ large on the long-suffering faces of my devout but uncondemning Christian parents—it was the last thing I could imagine. My own righteousness.

Sure, the word was part of my background. I grew up in church. I’d heard the Beatitudes from my youngest days in Sunday school. So, I could imagine Jesus—His eyes sad, seeing the scruffy crowds described in Matthew 5. Looking out on their noise and confusion, His heart breaks. They’re lost—their souls churning with panic, greed, fear, and spiritual turmoil. He needs to teach His disciples His way of understanding such unloved masses, His commitment to God’s intended gifts for each of them deep. Thus, Jesus climbs to a hillside and sits down to teach. And to praise God. This won’t be a rushed sermon.

 

Some scholars say the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount—including the Beatitudes—was probably preached over several days. Why? Massive truth about God’s kingdom needed to be addressed. Heaps of nuance about real faith, and how God rewards it, needed to be corrected.

For the crowd.

For the crowd, indeed, Jesus intends that His disciples understand His audacious love for each crushed soul. This was true even though, as the writer Frederick Buechner put it, “they’re not what you'd call a high-class crowd—peasants and fisherfolk for the most part, on the shabby side, not all that bright. It doesn't look as if there's a hero among them.”

Yet for their sake, and with love, Jesus takes His sweet time. Righteousness is no quick fix. Thus, He begins: “Blessed …”

The disciples must’ve gasped. Blessed? Did Jesus say that? About this crowd?

“It doesn't look as if there's a hero among them.”

But who better to speak such a word?

Jesus, as evangelist Charles Spurgeon preached, “was not only the Prince of preachers, but He was beyond all others qualified to discourse upon the subject … Being Himself the ever-blessed Son of God, and the channel of blessings, He was best able to inform us who are indeed the blessed of the Father.”

So, the Lord—sitting on a hill outside Capernaum, a working-class fishing village—doesn’t mince words. His words twist our thinking, in fact. Blessed are the poor. I’m sure I spent many childhood Sunday mornings trying to figure out the sweet, astounding truth of this beatitude No. 1. Therefore, in beatitude No. 8, any talk of righteousness was far beyond my understanding.

Righteous people, as I saw it, were the elderly people in my church. Holy and old, they always sat on the front pew, praying with their eyes closed, tears streaming down their faces.

In contrast, I’d never choose that for myself. That’s what I declared—until my own life hit rock bottom.

Then, suddenly, I understood why the “holy and old” people were crying in church. They were sinners, too. Just like me. Except they understood what I was just beginning to learn:

When we put our faith in Jesus, our Father God doesn’t consider our sin—He sees the righteousness of our Christ.

That our entire world is a scruffy and fallen village, stained by relentless sin. How did Paul put it? That when it comes to you and me, “there is none righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10).

Yet God is loving, and when we put our faith in Jesus, our Father God doesn’t consider our sin—He sees the righteousness of our Christ.

As I write that, I’m sure I sound like a seminarian. Kind of holier than thou myself. But I’m nothing of the sort. Instead, I’m still little first-grade Patricia, still stunned, in fact, that Jesus loves me.

This is great news, especially to an adult—that despite my sins, I’m counted in Christ as righteous, and you are, too. Of course, we’re not to keep sinning. But knowing we’re justified before the Father by the righteousness of the Son is a blessing, indeed.

Writing about it, John the apostle spoke to another scruffy world of sinners: “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

He was an old man himself then, determined to reteach those led astray by false teachers of their day. As he explained: “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29).

Many, however, were lured by antichrists, who denied Jesus was God. And so, John declared the truth of Christ again, adding a warning: “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7).

We’re not to keep sinning. But knowing we’re justified before the Father by the righteousness of the Son is a blessing, indeed.

This is righteousness made real, especially for early believers persecuted by hostile religious leaders for turning from the law to take up the cause of Christ. For that crowd, Jesus sat on that hillside and declared:

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). Or, My reign over all the earth, Jesus is saying, will include you. Can you imagine what this means? A fairly low-rent mass of unwashed, downtrodden folks would now—because of their faith in righteous Jesus—be declared one of His blessed. Members of His heavenly kingdom right here on earth.

In a parable, Jesus taught it like this: “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous? So the last shall be first, and the first last” (Matt. 20:15-16).

This is righteous good news, and I have needed it more times than I can count.

Like you, I don’t deserve to be blessed by God. Nor move from last to first. But He died to put us aright. Why in heaven would we tell Him no?

 

Illustration by Adam Cruft

Related Topics:  Gods Love

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What happens to my notes

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.

2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying,

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13 You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;

15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20 For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

21 You have heard that the ancients were told, `YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and `Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'

22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ` You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, `You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,

24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

25 Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.

26 Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

27 You have heard that it was said, `YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY';

28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.

31 It was said, `WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE';

32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

33 Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, `YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.'

34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,

35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING.

36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.

37 But let your statement be, `Yes, yes' or `No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil.

38 You have heard that it was said, `AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.'

39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.

41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.

42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

43 You have heard that it was said, `YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.'

44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

10 as it is written, THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;

29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.

7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;

10 Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?'

16 So the last shall be first, and the first last."

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