Are you righteous?
Proverbs 1-9 is an invitation to live wisely and follow the commands of God. These passages compare the benefit of wisdom against the foolishness and folly of rejecting God’s ways. Proverbs 10 appears to open a second section, and switches topics. For the next nine chapters, we will contrast the upright/righteous man and the wicked/ungodly man.
Who is the righteous man? We’d all like to think we are in that category! We all certainly like to think we’re “right.” Where does righteousness come from?
The Hebrew word is tsaddiyq. It is also translated as “just” or “lawful.” This word is used as one of God’s special names, Jehovah Tsidkenu, the Lord our Righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6). Righteousness is one of God’s immutable attributes; He can do nothing unjust or unrighteous, and He alone defines what righteousness is.
The New Testament teaches us our righteousness is found only in Christ, as we repent by faith and exchange our sinfulness for His gift of righteousness. No one is righteous in God’s eyes, no matter how “good” we are in comparison to others.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
If Christ alone makes men righteous, then who is the writer of Proverbs talking about as he compares the righteous with the wicked? Christ hadn’t come yet; could people in the writer’s day be called “righteous?”
According to one lexicon, the word can also be defined as “obedient to the laws of God, hence, upright, honest, virtuous, pious (pious means devoted to God).” For the Old Testament saint, his righteousness was found in looking ahead by faith to the cross of Christ and shown by his obedience to the sacrificial, ceremonial, and civil laws that God had given to the nation of Israel as a picture of what one day happen on Calvary. Our New Testament salvation looks back by faith to the cross of Christ and is shown by our obedience to God’s command to repent and believe in Christ.
Righteousness can only be obtained by the fulfillment of the laws of God, which are ultimately and completely (and only) fulfilled perfectly by Christ. Thus, for both the Old Testament and New Testament saint, righteousness is a gift by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:21-26).
Can we, as Christ-followers made righteous by Christ, claim the blessings available for the righteous man in Proverbs?
I believe we can, but only as we continue to be obedient to God. We can be made righteous in Christ, but if we live disobedient, ungodly lives that are not submitted to God’s commands, we forfeit the everyday benefits of our position in Christ. We don’t lose our salvation, but we can miss out on the abundant life and God’s blessings. As people made righteous, we must live righteously, which is why the Bible is so important to us. It teaches us how to live righteously.
I believe the reverse is true as well. The principles of a righteous life benefit all, even people who do not believe in Jesus. Why? Because God’s ways work! He created us and He knows how life is supposed to work. All of us would agree that morality, kindness, justice, diligence, integrity, hard work, humility, love, compassion, honesty, understanding, graciousness, generosity, discretion, truthfulness, prudence, and trustworthiness are elements of a productive, successful life. But even if we exhibit every one of these characteristics (all of which are attributed to a righteous man), they do not make us righteous in God’s eyes and earn us eternal life. Only Christ’s righteousness can do that.
Right now, our world is in conflict. Righteousness versus wickedness. Light versus dark. Good is called evil, and evil is called good. Strife, violence, confusion, hatred, anger, and injustice are the “new norm.” Confusion and chaos are ruling. The Bible tells us that for a time, unrighteousness is going to have its day. If you have read the end of the story, you know that even more troubling times are coming for our world. One day all unrighteousness and wickedness will be judged by the only Righteous God, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Until then, God is allowing sinful man to exercise his free will and choose between life and death. God’s Word will be fulfilled.
What is our hope?
Jesus. Jesus alone. He can show us what righteousness really is, and He alone can make us righteous. As Christ-followers, we rest in His righteousness and strive to live in obedience to Him. I want the blessings and benefits of the righteous life, both here and in eternity.
I’m looking forward to the day when true righteousness rules.
His name is Jesus.