Emmanuel explains how we can put on the breastplate of rightiousness.
(Little introduction into the series)
Definition according to the dictionary
“Good in doing what is right”
I think righteousness has got something to do with the question: What makes someone a good person?
Most religions have got a view on this matter, as do most people.
“Doing good things, care for the poor, treat everyone nice, don’t do bad things like stealing”
Righteousness in many religions is a requirement to be allowed into “heaven” or “eternal life” or to another enlightened place or state of being
Even in relativistic religions that do not belief in good or bad, there often is a “required way of living” to enter into a higher state of being.
“If you follow the right path, you end up in the right place…”
I think we can safely say that being a good person (whatever the definition) is universally important to people, even to people who don’t call themselves religious, like atheists
And interestingly, most religions have got something that is often called “the Golden rule”, a summary of how a person is supposed to live
“Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them..” (Mat. 7:12)
And many people conclude from this Golden Rule that in essence all religions are the same and the differences are mostly outward appearances.
Well, I beg to differ and I will explain to you why and I want to do so on the basis of the Christian understanding of righteousness.
Yes, Righteousness is also a very important theme in Christianity.
In the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible, we learn that someone is righteous when he/she perfectly keeps the Law of Moses (Ten Commandments)
But if you broke one of the rules in the Law, you had broken all of the Law! (James 2:10, New Testament)
If you intentionally broke the Law you would be punished by death, always. Even for minor offenses (E.g. the guy who collects wood on sabbath! Numbers 15)
If you unintentionally broke the Law you could atone for your sins by making a blood sacrifice: an animal would die in your place
Every year, once a year, the Israelites had to atone for sins they were unaware off. They had to lay their hands on a goat and the goat was then send into the wilderness to die in their place: a scapegoat
No wonder the Apostle Paul in the New Testament calls the Law the “ministry of death”! (2 Cor. 3:7)
But, what do we learn from this, apart from all the cruelties?
With the risk of over-generalizing, but generally, when we think about a good person, we don’t think of someone who does not do anything wrong
Generally we think of a good person as someone who does generally more good things than bad things.
If someone does something good 9 times and something bad the 10th time, depending on the bad thing, we’ll probably say she is a good person.
In this view you can calculate someones righteousness: 10-1=9 -> 90% good -> she is more good than bad…
But God’s standard and understanding of righteousness is very different: He doesn’t do these kind of maths!
You had to keep the rules 100%, not 51%, not 75%, not even 99,9%. It was all or nothing: breaking one rule, was equal to breaking the whole Law! (James 2:10)
In the Old Testament we find the commandment: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45)
“Holy” means “perfect” or “flawless”. “Holy” is an absolute, not a relative. You cannot be a little bit holy or generally holy. You are 100% holy or you are not holy at all!
We talked about relativism last week. Holiness is not relative or subjective:
God does not say: be as holy as you can be according to your capacities. Be as good a person as you can be
Nor does He say: be more holy than other people. Be a better person than everyone else
Instead He says: I want you to be as good as I am! Anything less good is not good enough and not good at all!
It also shows us that the standard of holiness, of good, is not a set of rules, but God himself.
So, “not being holy” is not just “breaking the rules” it is “offending God”.
And just as the requirements of holiness are not based on human standards, but on the character of God, so is the punishment for offending God!
Offending an eternal God requires eternal punishment.
Which leaves us with an eternal problem: because everyone of us knows we are not 100% perfect and therefore we are guilty of offending God!
Objection: some will say “this was all Old Testament, but what about the New Testament and Jesus? Doesn’t he forgive sins and stuff?” Well let’s listen to what Jesus has to say:
Mat. 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
1. Jesus does not contradict the Law, He affirms and fulfills it!
2. Just a little background information: these scribes and Pharisees Jesus is talking about, they were the religious leaders in Jesus’ days. They were experts in the Law of Moses and would keep every detail of it!
If people could be called righteous it was them! But still Jesus says: if your righteousness does not exceed their righteousness you will NEVER enter into the Kingdom!
So Jesus leaves us with the same unsolvable problem! And He even makes matters worse! Listen to what He says in the same sermon:
Mat. 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[c] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Mat 5:27 “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 lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
The Old Testament Law was only concerned with outward behavior, but Jesus points out that true holiness and righteousness start with our inward being!
The real problem of our unholiness is not our behavior. Our behavior is a symptom, the result of who we are.
And, I know this is not very nice to say, but what Jesus is actually saying is that we are rotten to the core!
In order to solve our unsolvable problem we can’t simply change our behavior, we ourselves have to be changed! This is exactly what the Bible tells us:
Ez. 31:22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.[a] 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses.
This is exactly where Christianity differs from any other religion
In most other religion YOU have to do something, YOU have to follow a certain way of living and as a results of what YOU DO and YOUR righteousness you may or may not end up in heaven.
But the Christian God says: I will do something, I will make you a different person, I will make you righteous, I will clean you, I will give you my Spirit!
Christian righteousness is not based on what you do for God, but on what He has done for you!
This is what the apostle Paul has to say about righteousness
Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded.
1. The Law teaches that our righteousness depends upon our good performance – and since no one is good, no one is or could ever be righteous.
In other writings Paul explains to us that all the Law does, is show us that we are not perfect, but it does and cannot help us to become perfect! It only tells you you are wrong!
It’s like a husband who constantly tells his wife what to do, bring me my newspaper, bring me my beer, but never does anything to help her!
But, says Paul, even if the Law can’t help us, it is still Good and Holy! It shows us that only God can bring a solution to our problem…
2. Humanly speaking, God could have lowered the bar, but then He would not be righteous anymore, nor would we be righteous! (murder is still wrong, even if you don’t call it right)
God is perfect which also means perfectly just. He is morally obliged to Himself, his own character to punish every injustice.
But, says Paul, in his patience, in his mercy God has “passed over the former sins” which means that God has as it were “closed an eye”…
All the animal blood sacrifices that were brought to pay for people’s sins were only a temporary solution.
Hebrews 10:1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Only a perfect sacrifice could atone for the sins against a perfect God.
3. Solution: God put forward someone who would perfectly fulfill the requirements of the Law and who would also be the perfect sacrifice: His Son, Jesus
Isaiah 53:4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
cursed by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
4. We can become righteous, when we trust in God’s solution.
Which means that instead of trusting in ourself, we trust in Jesus.
Instead of trusting our own imperfect good works, we trust in the perfect works of Jesus.
Trust is what the Bible also calls “faith”. When we have faith in Jesus, we trust in Him.
Only when we trust in Jesus, God will give us this new heart and his very own Spirit!
Sometimes people say that “many roads lead to Rome” (or to salvation).
But this is a grave misunderstanding of who God is and what God according to the Bible has done.
God proposes a solution. When we reject His solution we are effectively rejecting Him.
God puts forward His very own Son as the solution. He gave His Son as a sacrifice for us.
When we reject Jesus as the only solution, we are actually saying that other solutions are just as good as God’s solution and God did not have had Jesus die…
Conclusion – application
We’re still looking at our spiritual armor, in case you forgot!
The Breastplate of righteousness – defensive armor part – protects us from something
This breastplate of righteousness is not our own imperfect, untrustworthy righteousness, but the righteousness of Jesus that has become ours when we started trusting in Jesus.
1. It keeps us humble
Sometimes people think of Christians as people “who think they are better than the rest of us”.
Unfortunately Christians did great efforts to promote this idea…but the true Christian message is that we are absolutely not better than other people, we might be even worse!
It is only by the grace and mercy of God that we are forgiven and made righteous!
So, knowing to whom we owe our righteousness helps us to be humble towards other people, to be graceful to them (we also were sinners, death in our sins! Eph. 2) and prevents us from judging, condemning people.
2. Christianity is “not trusting in your own good works, but trusting in the good works of Jesus”
Knowing the difference between these two is very important.
Some christians think that not christians cannot do good things. But that is an incorrect understanding of the Gospel.
Non christians can do many good things, often more and better than christians can!
But our good works will never save us, they will never make us holy persons! Only trusting in Jesus will…
Knowing the difference helps us to honor people for the good things they do. Ultimately everything that is good comes from God and as it happens, God can also work through sinful people and people who don’t even know Him!
3. Knowing to whom we owe our righteousness makes us give glory to the one to whom all Glory belongs
Instead of boasting about ourselves, our cleverness, our goodness, our anything, we point others to the Grace of God.
4. Knowing that we are made righteous makes by God keeps us realstically honest and truthful about ourselves without getting fatalistic or getting depressed
We are not perfect, nor will we be perfect in this life. But Jesus is perfect and He promised that we will one day be perfect.
We still do wrong things, we cannot trust ourselves. But we can trust Jesus: He is faithful and just and when we confess our sins He will forgive us and cleanse us from our unrighteousness
We can be extremely honest about our shortcomings, just like Paul did “I am the worst of all sinners, but thanks to the grace of God…”
5. Knowing to whom we owe our righteousness gives eternal assurance of salvation and releases us from feelings of fear and guilt!
People of other works-based religions or christians who do not have a good understanding of Grace constantly have to live in fear of being rejected by God.
If you have to live up to God’s standards first before He accepts you, there is always the possibility that you will fail and He might reject you.
The Bible says we are children of God.
Can you imagine that my children would have to prove to me, every day, that they are my children?
Everything they do would be to prove they really are my children, their motivation for doing good works would be for fear of rejection!
They would lead a terrible life…
Instead I first accepted them, even before they were born, even before they could prove anything.
And I love them, even when they cried all night, even when I had to clean up their mess! I still love them even when they disobey me! And I am not even God!
Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[j] 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.