The Authority of Righteousness

“He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 4:25-5:2). God did this “For the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26 nasb).

By John David Hicks

Do you know God? Many people today claim they do. On judgment day, however, the issue will not be, “Do you know God?” Rather, the issue will be, “Does God know you?”

Bob Sorge paraphrases what many will say on that day: “Lord, Lord, I know You! I have prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name. I ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets. I swear I do know You!”

But to some of them the Lord will reply, “I don’t know you, and I don’t know where you’re from. In fact, I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (See Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 13:25-27.)

The word “know” speaks of intimacy: a close, affectionate personal relationship. So what must you do to be known by God in intimacy? It starts with righteousness! Righteousness is the ability to stand in the presence of God without condemnation, guilt, or shame because of the cross of Jesus. We are forgiven and cleansed—made righteous and virtuous.

The Atonement dealt with the lawlessness of sin in our nature: the sins committed and the nature of sin in our heart. Sin’s definition is twofold: rebellion against God and living independent of God. Rebellion is resistance to authority or rule—disobedience. Living independent of God is making oneself lord, or wanting to be in control, which is also self-righteousness, or lawlessness. The heart of all sin is selfishness—putting our desires in front of God’s will and before the needs of others.

Jesus uses metaphors to describe the nature of a righteous man versus a lawless man: sheep/goats; the narrow road/the broad road; a life built on rock instead of sand. In Revelation, John illustrates these natures as hot, cold, and lukewarm. Paul explains them as the natural man, spiritual man, and carnal man. Peter asks, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:18). We know the righteous are saved; the sinner is lost and in rebellion against God. But who are the ungodly? Those who live with no regard to God. They are a law unto themselves.

Will the lukewarm, the carnal, or the ungodly make it to heaven? We are judged on the light we have and our willingness to walk in that light. Those who are not walking in the light show their unconcern for God’s laws of relationship; they are living in rebellion against Him. But God alone is the judge. What the Lord is looking for is a love relationship with Him and with the people placed in our lives.

From the beginning Satan’s lie has been, “You will not surely die.” Satan implies that God is not good or righteous, that you will not be separated from God because of sin. Then he questions the love of God by adding, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).

Satan’s lie is based on self-righteousness, which most false religions are based upon. Satan appealed to Eve’s selfishness, that she would not die, that she would be equal to God, and she bit the lie and took the fruit. People still believe that lie today, that sin is not too bad, that those who try to live just and holy lives are missing out on all the fun. Our culture is plagued by this selfishness, which is the same as sin (1 John 2:15).

On a flight to Boise, I was seated next to Ken, a businessman. As a child he attended Sunday school for a while, but he no longer went to church. It wasn’t important to him. “I’m basically a good person,” he said, “so I’ll go to heaven.”

I shared the Gospel with him. Briefly, this is what I said: “Most people believe in God—even the devil believes. But do you believe God’s Word? His Word reveals His character.

“You said that you are a good person. Can I ask you four questions that will tell you if you are a good person? Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something? Have you ever hated or despised someone? Have you ever looked on a woman with lust?”

Ken said “Yes” to each question. I said to him, “All of us have sinned and broken God’s law. According to His law, you are a liar, a thief, a murderer, and an adulterer. At God’s judgment you are guilty, and God cannot have you where He is, where there is only holiness and justice.”

God’s law as the “schoolmaster” humbled Ken and showed him that in God’s eyes he was a criminal, an evil person with lust (adultery) and hate (murder) in his heart, a thief, a liar, a selfish rebel, and an ungrateful sinner. He saw his need for a Savior. I then led him to Christ the Savior.

Man wants to categorize sin into what is “undesirable” and what may be “tolerated.” God does not! God is perfect, pure, sinless, and holy. He takes sin seriously. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (1 John 1:5-6).

God describes sin as darkness in contrast to light. These opposites are contrary in their nature—repugnant to each other, in conflict, at war! A sinful man cannot come into the presence of a holy God. Sin separates you from God. God will have no choice but to separate you from Him for eternity in hell.

In God’s plan of redemption the only way you can come into the presence of God or go to heaven is to be made righteous, cleansed, justified before God. Picture yourself on trial in the Supreme Court of the universe for a crime that demands the penalty of death. The evidence against you is overwhelming; you know you are guilty. But the verdict comes back: Not guilty!

You shout, “I’m free!” and a burden rolls off your shoulders as you hug your loved ones and friends. The Supreme Court of heaven has declared you not guilty; you are made righteous, cleansed, and justified—“just-as-if-I’d” never sinned! No one can condemn you.

Justification is a legal act whereby God declares you righteous on the basis of the blood of Jesus. But it must be appropriated and received by faith.

God’s Plan

Behind creation is God’s purpose for man. We were made to rule and reign with Him as the bride of Christ. But when man sinned, he separated himself from fellowship with God. In His foreknowledge, God saw the fall of man into sin “before the foundation of the world,” and Jesus volunteered to be our Savior.

Redemption means that man is legally restored to fellowship with God, made righteous. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Jesus Christ was made sin (that is, a sin-offering) for us. Thus, He redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us. He was delivered over to death by the foreknowledge of God. “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5). Christ’s vicarious sacrifice provided for the atonement of the sins of the world.

Satan, the “accuser of the brethren,” keeps records of your sin. Your only defense is the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God. When God sees that the blood has been applied to your life, He then makes you righteous and gives you permission to live in His presence as though you had never sinned (Jude 24).

All the claims of the law have been satisfied. You have been redeemed from slavery to sin and Satan; you “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Righteousness has been imparted to you. Consequently, Christ has secured a position for you before the throne of God.

God imparts to us the righteousness of Christ through the finished work of the cross, which gives us boldness to come before the throne of grace. Justification by faith means we cannot merit righteousness. “By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20 nkjv).

Does this unconditional acceptance with God mean that He has no concern for sin or our conduct? Are we free from all divine law? Paul answers this by saying that when God rejected the law of merit, He established the law of love. He quotes Jesus’ words: “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). Out of love, personal righteousness is established. When your heart is changed, your conduct is changed. “For Christ’s love compels us…that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). We need both imputed righteousness from Christ and personal righteousness that flows from our actions out of obedience.

The faith that saves is in the present tense, which produces obedience (Romans 1:5; 16:26). In Romans 10:16 Paul also compares obedience with faith. Obedience always involves a step of faith, and faith always involves a step of obedience. A sinner has no righteousness before God. Yet when by faith he trusts Christ, he is justified and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to him. Abraham by faith believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Also, you get peace with God (Romans 5:1), and the Holy Spirit pours the love of God into your heart (Romans 5:5). This is by faith alone, but the final justification by faith reflects your works at the judgment seat of Christ. As James 2:17-24 teaches, saving faith produces good works.

Salvation is by faith and not by the works of the law. But the law reflects the holiness of God and is the standard of life and obedience. The law is absolute, universal, and eternal, a reflection of the “divine nature.” The spirit and fulfillment of the law is love, for God and mankind. That is why Jesus came to fulfill the law. God’s love and grace do not release you from obedience, but empower you. Out of the overflow of your heart, you are to serve God. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.… You will be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:26-28).

The seat of sin is in the heart. Sin disfigured God’s image in us. Salvation conforms us “to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). Jesus restores to us the image of God by turning the enmity of the heart into love for God and man. That is why God must change your heart, “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). The law manifests God’s holiness. The law is not a set of rules to be kept, but a principle of love.

Lawlessness Is the Heart of Sin

To understand righteousness, you must understand the concept of sin. In 1 John 3 the apostle John tells us that sin is lawlessness (v. 4). Jesus came to take away our sins (v. 5). No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him (v. 6). And in verses 7-10, the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: one sins and the other does not. No one who is born of God practices sin. If a man continues in his sins, he is not a child of God but a child of the devil. There is no other option!

On the other hand, we all continue to sin: “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). This seems like a contradictory truth: we are not to sin, but we all sin?

The explanation is found in John’s definition of sin: Sin is lawlessness. Sin is not the breaking of the law and the commandments, but a principle of evil within the heart that makes you a law unto yourself. Man is not a sinner because he sins; he is a sinner out of the “overflow of the heart.” Sin is in the heart, not in the body or mind. But sin does affect the body and the mind.

The apostle John explains three false concepts of sin in 1 John 1:

1) If you claim to have fellowship with God yet walk in sin, you lie and do not live by the truth (v. 6).

2) If you deny your responsibility for sin, you deceive yourself and the truth is not in you (v. 8).

3) If you deny the fact of sin and say you have not sinned, you make God a liar and His word has no place in
your life.

God does not send a man to hell because he sins. He sends him to hell because his moral attitude is to sin forever. Men love darkness instead of light because their moral attitude is to sin. They hate the light because it exposes them (John 3:19-20). The last chapter of the Bible speaks of eternity: “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy” (Revelation 22:11). Sin must be dealt with in this life.

John says in his first epistle that when you become a born-again Christian, your moral attitude is in opposition to sin. You want to please God and do His will. The motive and intent of your heart is what matters. God said to Samuel, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Sin is lawlessness that makes you a law unto yourself. Like an “old goat,” sin’s attitude is to do what it wants, not God’s will. That’s why the sheep must be separated from the goats (Matthew 25:33).

Nowhere in Scripture does it say that you have to keep on sinning! God has made provision for sin! God made a covenant, a contract with those who commit sin or fall out of fellowship. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”

(1 John 1:9 nasb). This is addressed to Christians to “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” so we can continue to come into His presence. “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:8-9).

This does not mean that you can never sin or backslide. But it does mean that God’s saving power is conditioned on your walking in the light so that the blood of Jesus can keep on cleansing you

(1 John 1:7). A redeemed heart attitude is opposed to sin and is upset at it. You are now a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4); you live by faith (Romans 1:17) and obey God (Acts 5:29).

Grow in Grace

In Luke 4, Jesus reads from Isaiah about the Year of Jubilee and makes clear His mission: All debts cancelled (forgiveness). Freedom for captives, prisoners, and slaves. Recovery of sight for the blind. Release the oppressed—healing of the body, soul, and spirit. Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Jubilee). Jesus came to preach to the poor—the needy spiritually, emotionally, and physically (Deuteronomy 7:15; Psalm 103:3; Matthew 8:17). “Today,” Jesus said, “this is fulfilled.”

When you become a Christian, you are delivered from condemnation (Romans 8:1) in your spirit, but not automatically from emotional problems in your soul or illness in your body. There is first God’s imparted righteousness and then personal righteousness. So when we talk about righteousness, it is a mistake to talk only about imparted righteousness that makes us in right relationship with God. We also need personal righteousness, to be in right relationship with others and ourself. When Paul says to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), he is talking about personal righteousness. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).

God’s righteousness is complete when you know you are right with God, others, and yourself. You are whole. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

Spiritual wholeness and maturity does not come from a single act of surrender. “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). The risen Lord struck down Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road, but he sent Ananias to give him directions and to lay hands on him and heal him. We need each other in the “body of Christ” to be made complete. C. S. Lewis observed, “God seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do in the twinkling of an eye.”

Righteousness is perfected in relationship with others. Life requires a nurturing family if we are to grow physically. The same is true spiritually. When a person is born again, he must be accepted into the family of God and made a disciple—a discipline learner. That requires someone to teach him about the covenant of relationship with God and others. Without acceptance in the church, new Christians will not feel love, but rejection and abandonment. Backsliding will replace discipleship, because they don’t understand the covenant that their commitment includes God and others in Christ. We are a part of Christ’s body, His church, and He is the head. Paul asks, “Can the hand say to the foot, I don’t need you?” Christians are a “covenant of believers.” When you are in covenant relationship, you are not in it for what you can receive, but what you can give. Covenant requires a commitment to one another that is binding even to the judgment!

Contrast the difference between the world’s lust and God’s love. The world does not want covenant; it wants to use you for its own pleasure and discard you. That is the sin of prostitution and it is disgusting to God.

Your sinful experiences and the culture around you will cause you to believe the lies of the devil and keep you from your identity in Christ. When the truth of God’s Word changes your heart, your outlook is changed. The authority of righteousness is realized when your identity changes and your faith embraces God’s full plan of salvation for you, with both imparted and personal righteousness.

Personal righteousness can only take place in covenant. A new Christian needs a small group of Christians that he is accountable to, a mentor or counselor that will help him deal with denial, so he will stop saying, “I don’t have a problem.” To help with rationalization, so he will accept moral responsibility for his actions. Or to stop projection that blames others and refuses responsibility. We all must take full responsibility for our beliefs, attitudes, decisions, words, and actions. When we face our self-centeredness, immaturity, sin, and ignorance, the soul can be healed and made whole.

Man is a unity of body, soul, and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Sin, faulty thinking, emotional hurts, and physical wounds affect the total person. When man hurts in one aspect of his person, it affects the other parts. Soul refers to the self from the human perspective (Job 30:5; Psalm 42:2; 2 Peter 2:8). Spirit refers to the divine point of view of man (Matthew 27:50; Romans 8:16; 1 Corinthians 14:14; 1 John 4:2). The soul and spirit of a man are eternal and used interchangeably.

“A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” (Proverbs 18:14). All of us have been “crushed” and “wounded” in life. We hurt ourselves with an unforgiving spirit, prejudice, or jealousy.

We are also relational with others. Barriers in our relationships with others affect our relationship with God. You cannot isolate “spiritual” problems from “psychological” problems. They are interrelated. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

For example, a person who is sexually abused finds it difficult to be open to God and to trust others. The human betrayal breeds false images of God. Emotional wounds hold us back from spiritual progress. But when we are delivered from anger, abandonment, fear, and rejection, a new freedom and faith occur. Emotional and spiritual growth goes hand and hand.

The devil or legalistic religion can lay false guilt on you. It starts with rigid rules to maximize performance. The self-condemnation will stop you from receiving God’s forgiveness, kill your prayer life, and obstruct faith in God. Perfection is unattainable in this life, so the guilt-ridden believer needs a small group of Christians to whom he is accountable, a mentor or counselor to help his affected soul escape the self-centeredness and lies of the devil.

Perfectionism is a person’s desire to be valued and accepted before God and men by his performance. When there is the inevitable shortfall, despair and guilt occur. Much of ministerial burnout is tied to perfectionism, for perfectionism leads to a workaholic, which leads to depression, lethargy, physical problems, and the inability to give and receive love.

John Wimber explains inner healing as “a process in which the Holy Spirit brings forgiveness of sins and emotional renewal to people suffering from damaged minds, wills and emotions.” The wounded and crushed must be healed or they will remain wounded and crushed for a lifetime. This ministry takes place in the body of Christ when you are the right person, at the right place, and at the right time in the life of another.

This inner healing takes place when we drop our defenses, unmask personal illusions, and become transparent. “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). When our souls are wounded or crushed, a person who prays for us and affirms us exercises the life-giving ministry of Christ. The love, empathy, and acceptance strengthen our relationship with God and heal our emotions. This grace-filled ministry causes us to grow in personal righteousness. Because we are loved and accepted, we can love and accept others.

Righteousness lets you stand in the presence of God. Out of His presence authority is given and the power flows (Psalm 24:5-6; 89:15; Acts 11:21). That is why Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). The meek have a quiet strength because they know who they are and have nothing to prove. The enemy fears the man who knows who he is (2 Corinthians 2:15-16; Luke 10:19). Any Christian who does not move in righteousness, knowing who he is, does not have power. In the last days men will “have a form of godliness but deny its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Satan wants to steal your blessings and destroy your relationships; Jesus wants you to have life to the full. The work of salvation is to save, heal, and deliver. That is the authority of righteousness: you are first right with God, then right with others. Then there is confidence and boldness in living (1 John 4:4; Philippians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 15:57).

Righteousness is by faith. The authority of righteousness is released by physical obedience. This victory of the heart releases public authority and victory! God gives authority before He gives you power. When you know your authority, who you are in Christ, you can exercise the power.

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