Righteousness

At the heart of the gospel, is a very important word, but also a very misunderstood word. Romans 1:17 says, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed–a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”

Righteousness

On the surface, this definitely seems like good news. But the challenge is, for much of the world, this word “Righteousness” doesn’t really compute. It’s not a part of our culture’s everyday vocabulary, and it has more of a negative connotation in today’s world than anything else. You’ll normally find it in a sentence like, “You’re self-righteousness makes me sick.” So even though many Jesus Followers use this word, and potentially talk to their non-believing friends about it, in mostly ends up sounding like “righteous-nonsense.”

But does that mean we should just punt and stop talking about it? I don’t think its possible! This word is literally all over the bible. It’s found all throughout the Old and New Testaments and I would argue that it’s something that every human alive thinks about, and strives after, every single day.

So what is it? What is righteousness?

Well, in its most basic form it simply means “the state of being right, or straight, or conformed to a standard.” In modern English, it means, “adhering to moral principles.” But in the bible, the words justice, right, upright, righteous, just, justified… all revolve around this word for righteousness. And the best way that I know how to describe it is that righteousness is simply the way things are supposed to be.

Think about this with me for a minute. So God, first and foremost, is described as righteous and just, all throughout the bible, but both of those words for humans revolve around our conforming to either a moral or a legal code, something that is higher than us. For example, the word for righteousness in the New Testament was specifically a legal term, and it meant that someone was declared in conformity to the written code of the law. And so a judge could “grant” you, or give you righteousness. But ultimately, the law is higher than the judge, and the judge is just making a judgment.

But when God acts justly, or righteously, He isn’t conforming to a code. There is no one who could sit in judgment of God and say, “That’s not right, you aren’t being fair, you aren’t being just.” You see, because justice isn’t something that exists outside of God, it’s just a word that describes the way that God is.

My son Judah is learning letters right now, and every night at bedtime he says, “Let’s talk some letters daddy.” So we lie down and I’ll say, “Tell me a word that starts with… P” Sometimes he’ll think for a minute and say, “I don’t know daddy.” And then I’ll say, “What abouuuuuuuut Popcorn?” And then he’ll say, “Popcorn, dat’s right!” Or I’ll say, “What aboooooouuuuuut PENGUIN?” And he’ll say, “PENGUIN! Dat’s right!!”
And what I’m coming to understand, is that Righteousness is just God looking at something and saying, “Dat’s right!”

But do you get what I meant when I said that every human does this every day? We spend every waking moment looking around and saying either, “That’s right, or that’s wrong.”

Think of how many times recently you’ve said, or thought what someone else should or shouldn’t do.
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that.”
“He shouldn’t be there….”
“What is she thinking saying that!?!”
“She definitely shouldn’t be wearing that….”
“You’re going to regret that.”

With every one of our judgments we’re saying, that’s not the way things are supposed to be.
If you read the book of Proverbs, which has a LOT to say about righteousness, the author goes on and on to describe both the benefits of living a righteous life, and the consequences of living a wicked life.

But I don’t think the question we all struggle with is, “Should I choose righteousness or wickedness?”; the question that we each look in the mirror every morning and ask our self is “Am I righteous?”

Well, no one actually says that… but we do look in the mirror and ask, “Am I the way I’m supposed to be?” “Am I doing this life right?” “Does God look at my life and say dat’s right!!?”

And these are pretty huge questions, right? These are the questions that drive everything we do, and so I want to try and go about answering them for you in a slightly different manner. But before we go further I have to give you a few points to chew on.

1st thing is this. The bible is pretty clear that the answer to the question of, “Am I righteous?” is, “No, you are not righteous.” Paul in Romans 3:10 says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” And Isaiah 64:6 says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”

That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news. The gospel tells us that we can be righteous, and that righteousness comes from Jesus, and it is something you receive by faith, not something you could ever earn. This IS the gospel. Romans 3:21 says, “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

So if there’s ever a point along this journey where you feel proud, or righteous, or better than someone else because of what YOU’VE done… realize that you’re missing the gospel, and you’re missing Jesus.

This idea of righteousness is the foundation of what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ, and so it’s a theme that we have spent a lot of time thinking about at WDA. Without a solid understanding of how God sees us, and an assurance of our forgiveness and “rightness” before God, it’s almost impossible to have an active, growing relationship with Him. This is one of the reasons that we have produced the Cornerstone Project, which helps believers build a robust understanding of their salvation and place in God’s Kingdom.

We believe that this strong foundation of biblical truth will set believers up for a life long pursuit of Christ-like maturity and character. For more information on Cornerstone please go here.
(editor note: The Cornerstone features materials from Phase I and II.)
But in order to get a better understand about what our righteousness looks like practically, tune back in a few weeks for Part II, which uses a modern day interpretation of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet to get a picture of how this fleshes out into real life.

This Article is part 2 of a series on Transformation. Part 1 can be read here.

To walk with Jesus in this life we have to allow God’s word to transform us, and this transformation involves 3 steps that we walk through again and again.  The movements are: Repent, Believe, Abide.  These three movements can be found in Luke 9:23, “Then he (Jesus)  said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”

3 movements:  1. Turn from your ways 2. Take up your cross daily 3. Follow Me

This is a cycle.  It’s daily; it’s moment by moment.  And if you think about it, the movement always begins in your head, moves down to your heart, and then is lived out through your hands.

Let me explain that a little bit more.  Step 1: Turn from your ways: this is repentance.  It’s admitting that you’ve believed lies and that you’re lost.  It’s coming to Jesus with a humble heart and saying, “My way doesn’t work, Jesus.  Would you teach me your way?”

Isn’t that freeing just to say?  My way doesn’t work, Jesus, would you teach me your way?

But what’s next?  After we repent of lies, we must believe, actually walk out, the truth.  Jesus says that you then take up your cross… daily.  He commands us to carry around with us the instrument of our death.  Why?  Because this is our daily walk of Faith.  When the bible talks about belief, it almost always suggests an action, that something has changed.   Jesus says in the next verse, Luke 9:24, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

And it’s important to remember that this is an act of the heart.  1 Peter 3:15 says, “But in your HEARTS, set apart Christ as Lord.”  We live from our hearts, and we love from our hearts, and the throne of our lives resides in our hearts.  And since this is an act of the heart, it means that real change in life has to happen in the context of relationships.

This is why we encourage disciples to be in a small group:  to create a safe place where people who know your story, who you trust and who you connect with, can encourage you daily to live for Jesus;  to do the hard work of radically reorienting your life around the words and ways of Jesus.  I don’t know about you, but this is the hardest part for me.  It is a daily battle to surrender my heart to Jesus, and one that I’m so thankful that I don’t have to do alone.

The people who I love the most are the ones who love me enough to ask hard questions, and constantly remind me to submit my life and heart to Jesus, and to let His words and truth shape my reality.

The last movement is to simply follow.  It almost seems odd that Jesus even has to say this.  Like, if I’m going to deny myself and take up a cross, then following is the least of my worries… but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had God do something powerful in my life, or show me some great truth, and I’m feeling awesome and filled with the Spirit and I’m ready to go change the world, and I’m sprinting ahead… and after awhile I finally look around and realize… I’m all alone.  And Jesus is standing there right where we started.

If you turn from your ways and repent, then walk in obedience to God’s word, and then if you stay close to Him, if you follow where he leads, if you abide in Him, then you will be transformed and begin to love like Jesus.  And when you love like Jesus, you will change the world.

Jesse Dukes is part of WDA’s Next Generation Staff and also serving as the Discipleship Minister and  worship leader at Legacy Christian Church in Senoia, GA.

Part 2 of 2

This article is part 2 of 2 on the topic of transformation.  If this article has been meaningful to you consider the following WDA resource on this topic, “Disciple Building: A Practical Strategy”.  You can visit the WDA Store under Leadership Manuals.  

 

When I was growing up, I dreamed of one day becoming a Nuclear Physicist.  To answer your question, yes, that does make me a gigantic nerd. I’m still not exactly sure where this dream came from, but I know that I was always amazed by the power that nuclear energy represented.  I remember being so intrigued by the idea that by manipulating this infinitesimal speck, an atom, you could power an entire city.  Another thing that always fascinated me about nuclear energy was the fact that such great power also comes with the possibility for great danger.  It’s not advisable for humans to be in the presence of radioactive materials unprotected, because they emit radiation that has the power to transform our bodies on an atomic level.  To be in the presence of a radioactive material is to change, but not for the better.  It’s effect on humans is sickness, mutation, cancer, and ultimately death.

In a very similar way, to be in the presence of God is to change.  God is the source of all power. His power is omnipotent, meaning it’s the power that powers all other powers; He is all powerful.  Nuclear power and the gigantic blazing torch that is our Sun are both tiny flickering flames in comparison to the Power of God.  Psalm 62:11 says, “Once God has spoken; twice I have heard this: that power belongs to God.” (NASB)  And much like radioactive materials, God’s presence has a profound impact on any who draw near to Him.  But by contrast, to be in the presence of God is to change for the better.  In Exodus 34, Moses goes up on a mountain and speaks to God, and when he returns the Bible says in verses 29 & 30, “His face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.  When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.” (NIV) As a result of being in the presence of God, Moses’ face shone with the glory of God.

But the Bible tells us that the glory of God eventually faded from Moses’ face, and everything eventually went back to business as usual.  The transformation was not lasting.  If you are in the presence of radioactive materials, you need special clothing to wear that will protect you from the harmful radiation; and in the same way, the Bible says that to stand in the presence of God, we must wear special clothing as well.  We must wear the clothing of righteousness.  But what’s incredible is that this is something that we can’t do for ourselves. Our best efforts at righteousness, or self-righteousness, always end up woefully short, and in fact, further complicate matters because we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are covered when we are not.  Imagine walking into a nuclear power plant with the special “Atomic Shorts” that you bought online, “Guaranteed Full-Protection or your money back!”  You’re not only in grave danger, you’re doubly lost because you don’t even know it!

But thanks to God, there is a covering available for us, and it is the one found in Jesus Christ.  In fact, Jesus is literally the covering himself!  Galatians 3:27 says, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (NASB) This covering is called the Atonement of Christ, which literally means a state of “at-one-ment” or joining, or unity with God. The word for atonement in the Hebrew is the word kaphar which in its most basic form means: to cover, and carries the connotation of being brought close in an embrace.

So in order to see transformation in our lives, we have to continually seek to be in the presence of God. The only way that we can remain in the presence of God is through the Atonement of Christ, wearing His righteousness as our covering.  When you repent of your brokenness and sin and put your faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection as the source of your righteousness, you begin that amazing transformation.  And what is even more incredible is that Christ is the actual result of the transformation as well.  Romans 8:29 says, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”   This isn’t something that happens immediately, but it’s a process that involves actions that we take and miraculous things that God does.  As we daily “clothe ourselves with Christ” (see Romans 13:14) we become more and more like him.  That is the mystery and majesty of God, if you will just put yourself in His presence, you will change for the better.  “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

Then you may ask, “How do you ‘go’ into God’s presence?”  It may be a better question to ask, “How can you ‘leave’ God’s presence?” because He’s everywhere!!  David wonders in Psalm 139:7, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”  So in a very real way, we are always able to be in the presence of God.  The question is whether or not we will hear His voice when He speaks to us.  Hebrews 3 warns us against hardening our hearts to God’s Word and refusing to listen when He speaks. “As has just been said: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.'” Hebrews 3:15

While God can and does speak to anyone at times, the best way to learn to hear God’s voice is through His word, and specifically by reading and meditating on the words of Jesus.  Jesus perfectly heard His Father’s voice all throughout His life.  He also perfectly obeyed His Father at all times because of His love for the Father.  Jesus says in John 14:24, “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”

Whether or not we obey the words of God is of huge importance.  But, it’s also of huge importance to note that we cannot get “closer” to God by obeying His commands, our faith in Christ is the only thing that allows us to approach God.  You cannot “earn” your way into God’s presence, or “work” your way into a better relationship with God.  But refusing to obey God’s Word is an act of rebellion, and that will naturally draw you away from God.  Also, as you obey God, you will come to know Him more, and trust Him more, and the Bible promises both present and future blessings for those who obey God.

Jesse Dukes is part of WDA’s Next Generation Staff and also serving as the Discipleship Minister and worship leader at Legacy Christian Church in Senoia, GA.

Part 1 of 2

This article is part 1 of 2 on the topic of transformation.  If this article has been meaningful to you consider the following WDA resources on this topic “Disciple Building: A Practical Strategy”.  You can visit a WDA Store under Leadership Manuals.  

 

process vs Holy SpiritI had an interesting conversation with a friend over lunch a few months back.

We’re both in the process of joining with other believers in our area to form missional communities and to live out the gospel in community together, so we were getting together to encourage one another and share stories and learn from each other. We got on the topic of processes though, and my friend noted that their community was trying to stay away from all processes whatsoever and really just listen to and be led by the Spirit as to what to do, and where to go with their community in all things.

He noted that this is mainly because many of their leaders are very process driven people (industrial engineers and such), and they feared greater allegiance to the process, than to Christ. He noted that the word organic is getting thrown around a lot these days, but that that was really what they were aiming for.

While I see a lot of wisdom in that thinking, I still wonder if it’s exactly what Christ intended when he told us to “go into the world and make disciples and teach them to obey everything I’ve commanded.” I love that a lot of the language around the missional community movement is the language of discipleship. Making disciples who make disciples, but the follow up question is always, “Okay, so how do we do that?”

Because, as I wrote a while ago, even organic things, or rather especially organic things, go through a process. But then again, most organic things aren’t aware of that process, it just happens naturally, as it was designed to–Mankind being the exception to the rule.

The more I think about this, the more I am amazed by the wonder and mystery of God. He has created us with minds to search through history and scripture and see how He has worked in the lives of countless believers throughout the long river of faith that we belong to. But he has also given us his very spirit, and Jesus said of Him:

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” Jn. 16:13

At WDA it’s our aim to help people grow into Christlikeness; and if you’re interested in reading some more about the complex balance between our involvement and God’s involvement in the growth process, then I would suggest checking out our document Disciple Building: A Biblical Framework.

As I grow myself, I’m learning (or having to be reminded) that this building of disciples is more an act of listening than it is speaking or following a plan.

Is it just me, or do you ever forget to take time to listen to the Spirit of Truth and ask him for guidance in all things?

Earlier we’ve talked about how the word discipleship has come to mean both everything and nothing. But obviously this can’t be where we end. I’ve found that unless you define the terms that you use and make clear what you mean, then what you say will often be meaningless.

So I have come to understand that discipleship can be simply defined as this: Submitting to the Father’s authority and leadership, by following the words and ways of Jesus.

I shared Jesus’ command to a prospective disciple to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me” in the last post because I think it gets to the heart of what it means to be a disciple. What’s fascinating is that as you begin to study Jesus you can see two stark themes emerge:

1) The good news announcing the nearness of God and his authority (The Kingdom of God)Kingdom of God Graphic
2) The challenge to radically obey the words of Jesus, which are the words of the Father

Our response to the first theme is limited to two options, submit or rebel, humble submission or arrogant defiance. Jesus goes on to describe time and again that the kingdom belongs to the humble of heart, the meek, the poor in spirit…this is essentially the command to deny yourself. There could be an entire book written on this idea (oh right, there has been… it’s called the Bible).

Our response to the second is much the same, obey or disobey. Over and over again Jesus stresses the importance of obeying his words and that the Father is the source of his words and actions (Matt. 7:24; John 5:19, 7:16-17, 14:10). Jesus models this radical obedience as he goes to the garden and prays in anguish, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” There is no better place to look for how to take up your cross than this.

So the movements of discipleship are to submit and obey, deny yourself and take up your cross… there is no other way to follow Jesus. And the path that we follow him down is one where we must become more and more like Christ, or cease to follow him.

Is this the message that we preach in the Church today though? At WDA, it’s our unflinching claim that, in spite of what we may want to hear, maturity in Christ is what matters! We must become like Him, or what we are becoming is quite unbecoming. Take some time and ask yourself if you have made the commitment to being a disciple of Jesus and have counted the cost of what that means and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.