The Power of Righteousness (Part 2)
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom’” (Hebrews 1:8). “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30)
By John David Hicks
Righteousness is not a concept we encounter frequently. What is it really? Righteousness is the ability to stand in the presence of God without condemnation, guilt, or shame. Adam and Eve walked and talked with God in the garden without any guilt or shame until sin entered the picture. Then they hid from God because they knew they had offended Him.
This condemnation, guilt, and shame also affects us. It keeps us in sin and bondage—a slave to the kingdom of darkness. But in the New Testament we read, “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God’s plan of redemption imparts righteousness to us, and He wants us to reign as kings and sons. Jesus has redeemed us, brought us into His kingdom of light, and adopted us as His children and heirs. It’s hard to even believe and receive the blessings Father God has for us. We do not know how to act or live.
When 4-year-old Kathy’s red helium-filled balloon flew up into the sky, she cried out, “Mommy, why do red balloons fly away?” “It’s not the color of the balloon,” her mother responded, “but what’s on the inside that makes it fly.”
Likewise, it’s not the person (the outside), but God-given righteousness that causes you to soar into the presence of God.
From God’s presence come the authority and power that affect your character and life. The issues of life flow “out of the heart” (Matthew 15:19). From the inside, God changes your heart, your motives, your outlook—your life. God must change your heart. This internal righteousness, given by God, will cause you to soar into victory.
But many Christians still live in darkness, failure, and bondage to Satan. It’s hard for them to believe they have been fully redeemed. These “babes in Christ” have received only a partial inheritance of this inner righteousness. Paul writes, “Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life” (1 Corinthians 3:1 NLT). These Christians still had the world’s values; they acted like babies in Christ. “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness” (Hebrews 5:13).
God wants you to be mature, a spiritual adult. This is one of Paul’s themes in his letter to the Ephesians. “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15).
Peter also writes about growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The Greek verb tense here refers to “continually growing” in grace, in the knowledge of God’s unmerited favor, gifts, and blessings.
In Christ, I am righteous, holy, and freed from bondage. With this God-given righteousness, I can stand in the presence of God without condemnation, guilt, or shame. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…. Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:1, 33). The righteousness we lost in Adam we get back in Christ.
Remember that “who you are” is defined by who you are in relationship with. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10 NASB). Who you are, and who you are in relationship with, determines your success and destiny.
Paul discovered his personal identity in Christ. He discarded his previous identity for the purpose of winning Jesus Christ his Lord. His former self was as dung compared to what he had found in Christ. His testimony was that he was able “to do all things through Christ Jesus.” He labored, “struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Paul’s identity came from a relationship with Jesus: “For me to live is Christ!” Christ Jesus was Paul’s reality, his source of existence, and his very life.
Living in the flesh—by your own ability—leads to frustration and defeat. Obviously it means that you are not living by the Holy Spirit’s power or by His righteousness. “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT). Satan veils the truth of God and blinds the mind, lest you would receive this glorious “Good News” about righteousness.
The key to the fruitful Christian life is the power of righteousness. To “be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:9). It is “Christ in you,” your hope of ever being what you were meant to be.
There are four powerful symbols in Scripture of the righteousness that God bestows on the believer—a robe, a breastplate, a crown, and a scepter. This righteousness is God’s gift to you. But like all gifts from God, the gift of righteousness must be received by faith and acted on.
1. A ROBE IS THE SYMBOL OF COVERING—TO COVER YOUR NAKEDNESS SO YOU CAN STAND IN GOD’S PRESENCE WITH NO CONDEMNATION, GUILT, OR SHAME.
When Adam and Eve sinned, they knew that they were naked. Adam said, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Genesis 3:10). Shame and fear are the first fruits of sin—shame for being exposed and fear of condemnation. When you are converted, you receive the robe of righteousness, which puts your sin behind you and covers your nakedness. The prodigal son’s father gave him a robe as a symbol that he was fully accepted as a son and heir. The past has been forgiven; there is no shame or condemnation.
On the other hand, in another parable the man without a wedding garment, the correct robe, was thrown out into the darkness. He was shamed and condemned. Without the robe of righteousness, you will be draped in the darkness of sin and bondage.
The book of Revelation expands on the symbolism of the robe, picturing it as clean, shining, and white. “They were all standing before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes” (Revelation 7:9). “They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy” (Revelation 3:4). “Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life” (Revelation 22:14).
Under the law, God required righteousness from all of us. But under grace, God gives righteousness to all who will receive His mercy and forgiveness. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22). Because God is the author and giver of this righteousness, it meets His approval. Jesus secured it, the Holy Spirit convinces us of it, and faith receives all that the Father provides. This righteousness will “present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24).
But how will we wash our robes if they get sin on them? When you stumble, confess your sins. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin…. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7, 9). In the Greek, the verb tense for “purifies” indicates continual action. By walking in light and confessing, your robe is kept continually clean. Sin is not only forgiven, but also wiped out by the blood of Jesus.
Faith appropriates the robe of righteousness, but it’s Christ’s blood and grace that has secured it. You can now stand before God without any fear of condemnation or any sense of inferiority, for you are in Christ and have become “the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Guilt no longer holds sway over you. “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies” (Romans 8:33 NASB). The judge of all the earth has proclaimed you righteous.
But some have fallen into a trap—the performance trap of religion. Trying to be “good enough” to obtain God’s favor and blessing will cause you to lay aside your robe of righteousness.
When I was a young Christian and sinned, I would make myself feel miserable all day and then accept God’s forgiveness. If the sin were more serious, I would maintain my misery for two or three days and then accept God’s forgiveness. When did God forgive me? As soon as I asked! But I was trying to make myself feel worthy of His forgiveness. Jesus paid it all and so I don’t have to. I just need to receive it (John 1:12). Your standing with God is based on the finished work of Christ.
When God forgives you, He gives you the power to forgive yourself and frees you from sin and shame. Recall God’s instructions to Peter in Acts 10 when He dealt with the Jews’ prejudice against Gentiles. After Peter received a vision, a voice from heaven said, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
That is what God is saying to you about your shame and condemnation. “I have forgiven, cleansed, and accepted you. Don’t you even dare to bring up your sin. I am the one who has made you righteous.” God assures us, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more” (Hebrews 10:17). Put on your robe of righteousness!
2. A BREASTPLATE IS THE SYMBOL OF PROTECTION. THIS VEST DEFENDS YOUR HEART FROM ACCUSATIONS AND CONDEMNATION.
“Above all else, guard your heart [your affections], for it is the wellspring of life,” warns Proverbs 4:23. In ancient times, warriors wore a breastplate to protect the vital organs of the chest. In Ephesians, Paul instructs us to wear the breastplate of righteousness in order to shield the heart. Jesus said that the things that defile a man come out of the heart (Matthew 15:19-20). When you wear the breastplate of righteousness, Satan’s darts of condemnation and rejection cannot penetrate you.
This breastplate guards your affections against rejection and condemnation. Every saint gets some kind of rejection. But taking these snubs personally and wanting the approval of men over God’s approval will defeat you. “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Satan knows that condemnation and rejection produce unbelief and will destroy your faith. If he can get you to think that you are unworthy, a failure, and worthless, your guilt will generate doubt and unbelief. Then there will be no power or victory. Low self-esteem, instability, inconsistency, lack of assurance, and lack of peace will be your portion. Satan’s condemnation has robbed you of the ability to stand in the presence of God. Without the breastplate of righteousness, you have no power, authority, or faith.
But in Christ, righteousness gives you a bold faith and a confident life. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain” (James 5:16-18). A righteous man is right with God, right with his fellow man, and right within—he has boldness in living.
The Bible does not say that you and I are to be like Elijah, but that Elijah is like us! Because of righteousness, we are bold in faith and life and our prayers are “powerful and effective.”
Peter understood this when he healed the lame beggar. A crowd gathered. “Men of Israel,” Peter preached, “why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?... It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see” (Acts 3:12, 16).
We too have the right to use the power of Jesus’ name. It is not our power or godliness but His, the righteousness that God has given us.
Paul prayed in Colossians 1:11-14 that you would understand your righteousness with “steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (NASB). As a Spirit-filled Christian you have died to self by dying to the law—your performance. The power of sin is in the law. Thus, sin has no power over you; you have died to it. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
A few years ago June and I visited Niagara Falls. Every minute, 500,000 tons
of water plunge into the Niagara River gorge. The electrical generating station
powers several large cities. God could have used a lot less water, but He
didn’t. He could have made the falls lower, but He built them more than 12
stories high. And because they are from His creative hand, people come from
around the world to see Niagara Falls.
That is how I see the flow of the Holy Spirit and God’s righteousness! This righteousness flows from the Holy Spirit like a mighty river (John 8:38). Flowing without measure, it is like Niagara in superabundance to clean, empower, and meet your need.
The old hymn says it well: “His love has no limit, His grace has no measure, His power has no boundary known unto men; for out of His infinite riches in Jesus He giveth and giveth and giveth again.”
We are commanded to wear not only the breastplate but also the rest of the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:13-18). That includes the belt of truth that undergirds your faith and defends you against lies. Your feet are fitted with the gospel of peace so you can stand your ground and move in peace. The shield of faith protects you from the devil’s flaming arrows of accusations. The helmet of salvation protects your mind with the assurance of salvation. The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, is an offensive weapon against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
3. A CROWN OF RIGHEOUSNESS IS GIVEN TO ALL WHO LOVE HIS APPEARING.
When Jesus was on earth, He had a revelation from heaven of God’s will. He was given a commission as God’s Son to do God’s will, and He was given authority and kingship to accomplish it. God has now commissioned you with that same authority to do His will.
“There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8 NASB). What “appearing”? It may be the Lord’s return at the Second Coming, but it possibly could also be an “appearing” to reveal truth or God’s will.
Righteousness gives us a deeper knowledge of His lordship and His will. Throughout Scripture when God or an angel appeared, it was for revelation—to reveal truth or God’s will. When you “love His appearing,” there is intimacy of relationship (John 15:15).
This crown is given to those who are “in Christ,” in relationship with Him. His sheep “hear His voice” (Matthew 7:23). Only those who “love His appearing” live in intimacy with Him. There is a difference between expecting the Lord to appear and loving it.
You are a child of God, an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ (Romans 8:17). This gives you standing to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). As God’s child, you can come boldly and confidently to this throne, for the King is our Father and He loves His children. With great assurance you know that you have been redeemed by His mercy. “He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5). Thus, you can be confident to “receive mercy and find grace to help” in your time of need.
Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords; nevertheless He came to do the will of the Father. “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:28-29). Spiritually speaking, you are seated with Christ in the heavenly and wear this “crown of righteousness.” You are “in Christ,” thus Christ is in you (Colossians 1:27). As the church we are pictured as a part of His body. You are to minister as His hands and feet. You are here to do His will.
What happens when you choose to do the will of God? “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17). Teaching means doctrine, way of life, guidance—whether it is from man or God. You won’t miss it.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14 NKJV). When God speaks the Christian knows it in his spirit. At times you will feel it, see it, read it, think it, say it, dream it, or experience it. You will “know” in your spirit. You have a peace and conviction that God has spoken. The saints have testified that when God appears there is a sense of His person and His presence. When God speaks He creates. When you get a revelation from the Lord, the ability to accomplish it is always there (Psalm 33:6; Ezekiel 12:25).
I believe the “crown of righteousness” will shine brighter than all other crowns, because it is given to those who are “in Christ” in a loving, intimate relationship. They love His appearing!
4. A SCEPTER IS THE SYMBOL OF POWER, AUTHORITY, AND RULE. YOU ARE TO GO IN THE “NAME OF JESUS,” WITH HIS POWER AND AUTHORITY, TO CONQUER ALL THE POWER AND TERRITORY OF THE DEVIL AND HIS KINGDOM.
“But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom’” (Hebrews 1:8). A scepter is the symbol of the authority and the power of a king. The “scepter of righteousness” is not a physical scepter but a symbol of spiritual power and authority.
The authority and power of the Christian life only comes when you know your position in Christ—who you are. The “scepter of righteousness” gives you that. Your position is your possession. As a Christian, you are in Christ and in His kingdom. “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). “I have given you authority to...overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you” (Luke 10:19). “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).
It is righteousness that enables you to rule and reign. “Righteousness means living and acting in accordance with right and justice, that is, it must express itself in a man’s bodily life.” So says Oswald Chambers in Conformed to His Image. He continues, “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous” (1 John 3:7).
Imputed righteousness must never be made to mean that God puts the robe of His righteousness over our moral wrong, like a snowdrift over a rubbish heap; that He pretends we are all right when we are not. The revelation is that “Christ Jesus…is made unto us… righteousness”; it is the distinct impartation of the very life of Jesus on the ground of the Atonement, enabling me to walk in the light as God is in the light, and as long as I remain in the light God sees only the perfections of His Son. We are “accepted in the Beloved.”
In the Old Testament, Joseph is an example of a person who lived a righteous life before God. When this young man was a slave in Potiphar’s house, he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife to commit sexual sin. His response: “No, I will not sin against God.”
Although Joseph was wrongly imprisoned, righteousness still ruled in his heart. He did not get bitter but ministered to others. God always promotes righteousness. Eventually, Joseph was seated next to the pharaoh in power and authority and was given the power to act in the name of the king.
As Christ’s ambassadors you are given a crown and the scepter of authority. His righteousness entitles you to use Jesus’ name. There is power in the name of Jesus when you act fearlessly and confess boldly—Satan fears you. You have authority to use that name and the power will flow. “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:12-14). “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:23-24).
Matthew Henry's Commentary says: “The miracles which the apostles wrought were wrought in his name, and by faith in him; and this magnifies his power more than anything, that he not only wrought miracles himself, but gave power to others to do so too….”
“Therefore they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent’” (John 6:28-29 NASB). The object of faith is the important thing—Jesus! You are “in Christ,” in His righteousness. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-20).
When I was in Rwanda this summer, the pastors presented me with an African walking stick as a gift. I called it my “scepter for Africa.” I told the pastors that it reminds me of the story told of Sir Henry Morton Stanley who was sent from England to Africa to find David Livingstone, the famous explorer and missionary. On his journey, Stanley came in contact with a powerful, war-like tribe that controlled that whole region. In poor health, Stanley was in no condition to fight them. His interpreter suggested he make a truce with the king, but Stanley was hesitant to make any commitments.
Stanley’s conditions kept growing worse, and his interpreter again urged him to make a covenant with the king of the tribe. He explained that everything the chief had would be Stanley’s if he needed anything, and so he finally agreed.
During several days of negotiation, the chieftain questioned Stanley concerning his motives and his ability to keep the agreement. There was a meal with the exchange of gifts. The gift the chief wanted was Stanley’s white goat, which Stanley depended on for milk. Finally, however, he agreed to the king’s terms and gave him the goat.
In exchange, the chief gave Stanley his seven-foot, copper-wrapped spear. What good is that? thought Stanley, believing that he had been taken advantage of by the chief. But when he left the king to continue looking for Livingstone, he was surrounded by 300 warriors. When he lifted up his spear, they all bowed down to him and helped him every way they could. Stanley discovered that wherever he went in Africa with that spear, it was a symbol of authority and everyone submitted to him. It was like the king’s scepter, giving him authority and power everywhere he went.
Years later, the German explorer Emin Pasha was cut off from civilization by warring tribes and all who were sent to rescue him were killed. The kaiser asked Queen Victoria to send Stanley from England to Africa to find him. Stanley went out with his scepter of authority and brought back the missing explorer.
Jesus has given us His scepter of righteousness. “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom” (Hebrews 1:8). Out of that righteousness “we are more than conquerors.” That is why James said, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” When you know you are right with God, with others and yourself, there is boldness in living. You have the scepter of righteousness and can go anywhere in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If you are going to be “thoroughly equipped for every good work,” you must know you are in right standing with God and have the power and authority of righteousness to live the life He has called you to live. Even though outwardly you are still on planet earth, spiritually you have been set free. Spiritually you’ve been seated with Christ in heavenly places. Your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3) and you’ve been blessed “in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). But all this must be released by faith. Faith activates all God’s blessings and gives Him power to work in your life.
“The just (or righteous) shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). “Just” and “righteous” are the same word in the original text. It is by faith alone that God accepts anyone as righteous. It is faith in Christ’s finished work of atonement—without human works of any kind. This faith is the channel by which you receive God’s grace. Faith flows from hearing the word of God and being obedient to what you hear (Romans 10:17). “So also faith, if it does not have works (deeds and actions of obedience to back it up), by itself is destitute of power (inoperative, dead)” (James 2:17 Amplified). Faith is based on God’s Word (2 Corinthians 1:20). All that you receive from God is by faith (Hebrews 11:6).
No wonder Satan does not want you to know about your righteousness! It’s like having a million dollars in the bank, in your name, but you don’t know about it; so you live in poverty, hardship, and want. This faith must be appropriated by your corresponding actions. How do you do that? “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (Psalm 37:5-6).
Notice the two conditions: “Commit your way” and “Trust in Him.” Commitment and trust are the essential attitudes of faith that bring things to pass. As a result, “Your righteousness will shine.” Your right relationship with God will be evident to all.
As a child of the King, you are complete “in Christ” and seated at His right
hand with four wonderful symbols of righteousness: a robe, a breastplate, a
crown, and a scepter. Understanding your righteousness equips you for every good
work (2 Timothy 3:17).