I didn’t have anything to post from my (disappointing – hint,hint) team of contributors, and I simply have not had time to write anything myself. So, I’m pulling out a sermon from a couple of weeks ago (part 1 of 2). I’m in a series on the Beatitudes.
Do I even need to prove this assertion? This is a seriously messed up world. It is a world in which lies often seem to overwhelm the truth. The news is filled with stories that take our breath away, recounting acts of depravity that defy imagination. How can people do some of the things that they do? How can they walk into a movie theater or an elementary school and just start shooting? How can tyrants sleep at night while oppressing and exploiting their own people for personal gain? How can racism and discrimination still abound today? How can men force women into slavery and the sex trade? How can men beat their wives or brutalize them with cruel words? How can parents do unspeakable things to their own children?
But there is one question even more common than any of these that I have mentioned. How can a God of love, mercy and grace allow such things to happen in this world? Where is he when a woman is being brutalized or a child is being abused? Where was he when Saddam Hussein was using poison gas on his own citizens? Couldn’t God have sent someone to stop Adam Lanza from walking into Newtown Elementary school? Why does he permit massive tornadoes to send swaths of destruction across Oklahoma or hurricanes to wreck coastal cities? Does he not control the weather?
Many people look at the world we live in and wonder if God really cares about us, and if he does care about us, why does he not do more to stop tragedies and alleviate pain?
This has been one of theology and philosophy’s thorny issues through time – the existence of evil. In theological terms, it is called theodicy. How can a good God let so many terrible things happen? You and I watch the news and cringe at what we see, but we know that there is nothing we can do about what is happening in this world. God can do anything, so why doesn’t he? The poet Archibald MacLeish said this, “If God is good, he is not God. If God is God, he is not good.” This is more than a philosophical problem, it is also a practical one. Many have lost faith when a tragedy befell them or their family, stumbling over questions that went unanswered. Why did God let this happen? How can God allow such great evil in his world?
But the Bible asserts that which people have trouble believing. God is righteous, just and fair. What he does is right and good. And he is also loving and kind. We may never completely understand how or why a good and loving God allowed all the evil to happen in this world. I don’t know. You don’t know. I am not smart enough to understand the workings of God. But I know what the Bible reveals – that our God is in control of this world, that his glory is being worked out in everything that is going on in this world. I know that God is good and loving. Even though we cannot see it, his goodness is at work in everything that happens – even those awful things that leave you shaking your head in confusion. God is still God and he is still good!
And he is righteous. He is pure, sinless, just and fair in everything he does. And he calls us to live lives that reflect the righteousness of God. He is righteous and he wants our lives to come in line with that righteousness. That is why Jesus said, in the fourth Beatitude, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6) Those who seek the righteousness of God as the deepest passion of their lives will receive exactly what they are looking for!
Five Facts about Righteousness
I would like to make 5 assertions, based on God’s Word, about righteousness, about the fairness and justice of God.
1) God is Righteous.
Psalm 71:19 says it absolutely clearly. “Your righteousness reaches heaven, God, You who have done great things; God, who is like You?” That truth is echoed in verse after verse of the Bible. God is righteous.
What does that mean? It means that God always does the right thing. You may not always understand it, but if God does it, it is right. It means that God is perfectly just and fair, and that he will keep perfect books, repay every evil deed exactly as it deserves, and that while his justice may be delayed, it is never denied.
Righteousness is not something God tries to do. It is who he is. I try to do the right thing, but my sin nature makes me want to do the wrong thing. God has only one nature – righteous. He rules this world in righteousness and he treats you according to his righteousness. You can take that to the bank!
2) God has set a standard of righteousness by which we must live.
We live in the time of the Judges, when “there was no king and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” We have set each one up as their own king to live as they please and decide for themselves what is right and wrong. It is a lie. There is a King in heaven who has set the boundaries of human behavior. I do not get to judge for myself what is right and neither do you. God has established a righteous standard by which all people are to live – a perfect, just and holy standard.
What time is it? We all have our watches and clocks and each of them is set a little different. But that does not mean that there is not an official standard. There is Naval Observatory master clock that keeps perfect time – down to the millionth of a second. It is an official standard. Your watch is right if you are in line with that. If you are fast or slow, the problem is not with the observatory, but with your watch!
God has set a standard for life. He started with two laws. Love God with all your heart and love others like you already love yourself. He added ten laws to explain those two laws – things like “you shall have no other god before me,” “honor your father and mother” and “you shall not commit adultery. The Ten Commandments are an expression of the righteous life that God expects us to live. They are God’s righteous standard for my life and yours.
They are not negotiable. They are not subjective. They are God’s official, righteous, unbending standard.
3) No one enters God’s presence without righteousness.
God does not just look the other way at sin. Human sin separates us from God. Romans 3:23 says that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory – his righteous standard. Revelation makes it very clear that certain things, certain types of people will never be allowed into heaven.
Revelation 21:8 states this unequivocally. “But the cowards, unbelievers, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars —their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Verse 27 adds this, “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false.”
We have developed a false doctrine about God; that he doesn’t get that upset about our sins, that he tolerates whatever we do and would never judge us or condemn us. We have abused God’s love and turned it into a denial of his righteousness. But the Bible is clear, unless you have a perfect righteousness, you cannot enter into heaven. Sinful people can’t be with God.
And that is a problem, obviously, since each and every one of us is a sinner. We have all fallen short of God’s law. We have failed the righteous standard. In our own works, we are absolutely, completely and eternally without hope.
Fortunately, that hopeless, depressing message is not the end of the story.
4) God provides righteousness to unrighteous people.
That is what the book of Romans is all about. Romans 3:21-24 says, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Look at the key elements in this verse. The righteousness from God comes apart from the law. That means that it is not based on what we do. It comes by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one who justifies us – he makes us righteous before God. He does for us what we could never do for ourselves.
We are not righteous. But Jesus was. Every moment, every second of every day of his life he followed the law of God perfectly. In Matthew 3:15, Jesus expressed his intent to “fulfill all righteousness.” And that is what he did. Perfectly. Without a single slip up or failure – ever.
He earned heaven. You earned hell. He earned life. You earned death. And Jesus then made the great exchange – the one that justified us; that made it possible for sinners like us to be righteous. He took what you deserved and gave you what he had earned. He suffered your death on the cross, dying for your sins, absorbing the wrath you deserved and experiencing the hell you would have one day had to endure. Having paid for your sins, he offered to give his righteousness to you, if you would simply believe in him.
When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you are declared righteous in him. There is a lot to that, which I don’t have time to explain. But boiled down, it means this – I am clothed in Christ’s righteousness. When God looks at me, he does not see my sin, but he sees his son’s righteousness. My sin was transferred to Christ’s account and Christ’s righteousness was transferred to my account. So, God gave me a righteousness I could not earn.
But that is not the end of the story.
(Point 5, the good news, will have to wait for another time).