By William Jackson
I was sitting in the Doctor’s office and the results were in. The Doctor says, “Mr. Jackson, if you don’t have this surgery immediately you will become a quadriplegic”. “Wow!” I thought. This seems pretty extreme, especially since my only symptom was numbness in my extremities . I kept thinking that if it weren’t for these tests (x-rays, MRIs… etc.) and specialists (Doctors, Nurses… etc.), this silent killer would have blissfully taken away my life, or at least the quality of my life. Coming to the conclusion that I needed a laminectomy on my own would have be impossible. Imagine me trying to self-diagnose myself without the benefits of a MRI and the medical personnel who reads the images? There is no way that I could have done all of that on my own. The same thing holds true when it comes to assessing our own righteousness. Without a comprehensive understanding of the standards and proper assistance, you would end up floundering. For instance, there are many people who perceive themselves as righteous when they are not. Likewise there are those who are righteous, but don’t think that they are. How does one know where they stand?
We should first start with an elementary question: “Why pursue righteousness?” If you are reading this, you are probably somebody who takes your relationship with God pretty seriously. Righteousness is a very important part of that relationship. The definition of righteousness is “an attribute that implies that a person’s actions are justified, and can have the connotation that the person has been ‘judged’ or ‘reckoned’ as leading a life that is pleasing to God.” Therefore it is implied anyone desiring a relationship with God would also desire to be righteous. In addition, there are other benefits, which include:
- Receiving the love of God: Psalm 146:8, Proverbs 15:9
- Being protected and rescued by God: Psalm 5:13, 34:16, 20, Proverbs 11:8, 21, 13:6, 18:10
- Receiving God’s rewards: Ezekiel 18:19, Psalm 58:12, 75:11, Proverbs 3:33, 11:18, 28, 12:21, 13:21, 25, 21:21 We also have all of Proverbs 10, which talks about the curse of the wicked and blessings for the righteous.
- Life: Ezekiel 18:9, 17, 19, 21, 27, 28, 32, Proverbs 10:2, 11:4, 19, 30, 12:28, 14:32, 21:21
Now that we know the benefits of living righteously, how is can we go about being righteous? As stated earlier we need a reference to evaluate ourselves. The Tanakh serves as this gauge. Each of the following verses are linked to the Hebrew word “tsaddiq,” which means righteous. These are statutes in the Tanakh one must meet to be considered righteous:
- Honor God:
- Obey God’s Laws: Deuteronomy 6:25, Isaiah 48:18, Ezekiel 18:9, 17, 19 (Refer to the list of Commandment)
- Repent: Isaiah 1:27, Ezekiel 18:21-22, 28
- Serve God: Isaiah 26:2, Malachi 3:18, Psalm 64:11
- Do not engage in pagan acts: Ezekiel 18:5-6, 14-15
- Behaving appropriately in our community and homes:
- Do not be stubborn: Isaiah 46:12
- Do not be prideful: Habakkuk 2:4
- Think before speaking: Proverbs 15:28
- Be lawful: Ezekiel 18:5
- Do not be deceitful:
- Be just: Ezekiel 18:6, Psalm 37:30, 112:5-6, Proverbs 12:5, 21:15
- Do not take bribes: Exodus 23:8
- Reject injustice: Ezekiel 18:8
- Do not lie: Proverbs 13:5, 16:13
- Be Charitable:
- Be generous: Psalm 37:21, 112:9, 142:8, Proverbs 21:26
- Be a merciful creditor: Ezekiel 18:7, 16, Psalm 112:5-6
- Don’t keep collateral from poor debtors: Ezekiel 18:7, 16
- Help the poor: Ezekiel 18:17, Psalm 112:9, Proverbs 29:7
- Do not rob the poor: Ezekiel 18:7
- Feed the hungry: Ezekiel 18:7, 16
- Clothe the needy: Ezekiel 18:7, 16
- Care for animals: Proverbs 12:10
- Grant loans without interest: Ezekiel 18:8, 17
- Behavior in our marriages:
- Do not commit adultery: Ezekiel 18:6, 15
- Do not have intercourse during the woman’s menstrual period: Ezekiel 18:6
God is referred to as righteous over 50 times throughout the Tanakh (see note). No wonder King David in Psalm 143:2 tells God that compared to Him, no one is righteous. Nevertheless, the Tanakh does establish that there were those who are considered righteous: Noah (Genesis 6:9, 7:1, Ezekiel 14:14,20), Abraham (Genesis 15:6), Daniel (Ezekiel 14:14,20) and Job (Ezekiel 14:14,20). We of course know these men were less than perfect, unlike God. We must understand being righteous is not a permanent status. As Psalms 11:5 tells us, God will test us. This implies we could fail the test and sometimes lose our righteousness or even be considered wicked (Ezekiel 18:24). Many fall short – even Job communicated his frustration with measuring up to God’s righteousness (Job 4:17, 15:14, 25:4). For that reason, we need to remember that if we are righteous today, maintaining that place is a challenge. Righteousness is a vulnerable position, and we must guard it by adhering to His word. Just remember as King Solomon said, if we fail His test the good news is we can recover:
Proverbs 24:16 For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity.
Ecclesiastes 7:20 For there isn’t a righteous person on earth who does [only] good and never sins.
We spent a considerable amount of time determining the elements required for an individual to be considered righteous. In the first paragraph we spoke about tests and machines used in the medical field that can assess our health, but we have not addressed a critical component. That, of course, is the Doctor or Nurse. Yes, we need an external source to help us confirm where we stand. Think about it – if we went through life determining the scores of our own report cards we would all pass with “flying colors!” As such, we need somebody who is at the same place in our faith walk or preferably further ahead. This person has to know us well, and he or she can’t be afraid to “tell us like it is.” This person is often a spouse but it can be somebody that you have chosen as an accountability partner. So why do we have to bother with accountability to a third party? Okay, let’s take charity as an example (since it appears to be very significant on the list of factors that comprise righteousness). Many people consider themselves charitable but upon closer examination, you might see they have been stingy with a tip or that they do not donate time and/or money to the less fortunate. An accountability partner or spouse might be capable of giving constructive criticism or possibly generating dialogue that would allow you to be more objective, and in doing so, you would be able to achieve an accurate self-appraisal. When we are held accountable, our performance improves.
The pursuit of righteousness is an ongoing struggle. In spite of there being promises, King Solomon was all too eager to tell us in Ecclesiastes that sometimes bad things happen to good people and sometimes good things happen to bad people (Ecclesiastes 7:15, 8:14, 9:2). The frustration that comes from this downside can be a way of determining the sincerity of our quest. If we are doing it for the reward and not the relationship with our Maker, then we will be subject to resentment. Remember, when we do something without desiring something more, our sincerity has become genuine.
Note: Verses where God is considered righteous; Deuteronomy 32:4, Judges 5:11, 1 Samuel 12:7, Isaiah 5:16, 24:16, 26:7, 42:21, Jeremiah 11:20, 23:6, 33:16, Zephaniah 3:5, Psalm 7:12, 18, 9:5, 11:7, 22:32, 35:28, 36:7, 11, 48:11, 50:6, 51:16, 71:15, 19, 24, 72:1, 88:13, 89:15, 17, 97:2, 6, 12, 103:17, 106:31, 111:3, 112:3, 4, 116:5, 119:7, 40, 62, 75, 106, 123, 137, 138, 142, 144, 164, 172, 129:4, 143:1, 143:11, 145:7, 17, Job 36:3, 37:23, and Daniel 9:7