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Righteousness


RIGHTEOUSNESS

A righteous person is one who is morally true or justifiable. In the Biblical sense, righteousness is the state of being right in front of God. God is righteous (Ps 11:7) and He will judge our righteousness (Isa 33:22). We humans are weak and have the tendency to slip away from righteousness. This weakness started from the time of our first parents. However, there have been righteous people specially mentioned in the Bible.

According to the Hebrew Bible, righteousness is one of the chief attributes of God. Righteousness stands for good ethical conduct. “You shall not pervert justice in measuring length, weight or quantity” (Lev 19:35). In the Biblical context, a just person means one who is faithful to God and to society. The Bible characterizes Noah, Abraham, Job, Jesus’ foster father Joseph, and others as righteous people. They had God-assigned special roles in salvation history, which they faithfully accomplished. The apostles were just men in that role. God called their successors and other disciples of Jesus throughout the centuries to do the righteous work of God. Those who welcome them and cooperate with them will also receive rewards equivalent to a righteous person. “For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct” (Mt 16:27).

In order to understand righteousness, let us examine the reasons for considering some as righteous in the Bible. Abel was righteous because “by faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice greater than Cain’s” (Heb 11:4), “Enoch walked with God” (Gen 5:22) and hence he was righteous (Gen 5:24). “Noah was a righteous man and blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God (Gen 6:9). “Abram put his faith in the LORD, who attributed it to him as an act of righteousness” (Gen 15:6). Besides, Melchizedek (Heb 7:1-2), Lot (2 Pet 2:7-8), Job (Ezek 14:14,20), Daniel (Ezek 14:14,20), Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, and the prophets (Heb 11:32-33) are presented as righteous during the Old Testament period.

In New Testament times, Zechariah and Elizabeth were “righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly” (Lk 1:6). Joseph, the husband of Mary (Mt 1:19), Simeon (Lk 2:25), John the Baptist (Mk 6:20), Joseph of Arimathea (Lk 23:50), and Cornelius (Acts 10:22) are others specially mentioned as righteous. So, all who keep their fidelity to God and walked according to God’s ordinances are righteous.

No human is perfect because all have sinned (Rom 3:10, Rom 5:12, 1 Jn 1:8,10) “There is no one on Earth so just as to do good and never sin” (Eccl 7:20). Only God is perfectly righteous and Jesus, who is God incarnate. Those who are called righteous gave priority to God instead of sin. Only by the merit of Jesus, we have access to Heaven. “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21). That was the purpose of Jesus coming into the world as Christ. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). At the resurrection of the dead, Jesus will select only the righteous for reward (Lk 14:14).

Jesus said, “whoever welcomes a just man because he is just will receive the reward of a just man” (Mt 10:41). When Jesus sent out his apostles, they had the double task of preaching the gospel and performing miracles in his name. “As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (Mt 10:7-8). Proclaiming the gospel was their prophetic role and doing acts of mercy through the working of miracles was the role of a just man.

RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE SCRIBES AND THE PHARISEES

While observing the ceremonial and traditional practices, the hearts of the Pharisees and the Scribes were not with God. Jesus criticized their duplicity. “The Scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice” (Mt 23:2-3). He pronounced woe to them: “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing” (Mt 23: 27-28). Jesus presented them also as “blind guides of the blind” (Mt 15:14).

The Scribes and the Pharisees claim themselves to be righteous. From God’s perspective, they are not. Jesus calls them hypocrites (Mt 23:13,15). The Scribes and the Pharisees rejected Jesus and denounced his teachings. A Christian cannot be like them. They have to be righteous in the genuine sense. “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one” (Mt 5:37).


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