“If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).
The Bible frequently calls Christians “children of God.” He is our Father. We are His sons and daughters. Children resemble their parents. Thus, children of God should be similar to their heavenly Father. One way in which we should do that is by bearing His righteousness.
1 John 2:29 tells us that God is righteous. In its comments about this verse, The Disciple’s Study Bible (Nashville: Cornerstone Bible Publishers, 1988) says, “God is righteous, meaning that He not only opposes what is evil but is the source of what is right.” The Old Testament even uses it as one of the names of God, when Jeremiah 23:6 calls Him “Jehovah-Tsidkenu,” meaning “the Lord our righteousness.” Many Christians like to quote another of John’s descriptions of the Lord, that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16), but God’s righteousness is just as essential as His love. We cannot ignore it. We cannot think that God’s love is somehow divorced or detached from His holiness and righteousness.
Likewise, we cannot assume that we are true Christians without resembling some of His attributes. We will not be as holy, loving, righteous, or just as He is, and we will always fall short of Jesus’ standard during our earthly lives. We will not be perfect on Earth. However, if we do not bear some of God’s righteousness and justice, we cannot claim to have His Holy Spirit within us. If we are not practicing righteousness—as defined by Scripture, not by the secular media and pop culture—we cannot claim to be children of God and followers of Jesus Christ.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a season of anticipation and preparation for the celebration of Jesus becoming human; it is also the first day of a new year on the church calendar. The world will wait until January 1 to make its New Year’s resolutions, which most people will give up within three weeks. Last year, on the first Sunday of Advent, I challenged readers to pursue a “One Year, One Thing” challenge, inspired by a quote from Thomas a’ Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ: “If every year we rooted out one vice, we would soon become perfect men.” Take some time over the next few days to look at your life: Is there an area of unrighteousness in your life? Is there an aspect of God’s righteousness that you are lacking? Aim to grow in one attribute, turning from one form of unrighteousness, in the coming year. You can read more about this challenge here.
May the coming year be a time of greater righteousness and justice in your life.
How do you think God wants to reveal more of His righteousness through you? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
One mistake a Christian can make is to emphasize one of God’s attributes while ignoring others. God is a Personal Being, and sometimes His actions can seem complicated or paradoxical. As we consider God’s righteousness and justice, we cannot forget His love and mercy. As James 2:13 says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible). God’s judgment is present alongside His mercy.
The Israelites learned that lesson after crossing the Red Sea. They rebelled several times after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. They worshiped a golden calf while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments. They frequently complained about how God fed them.
On one occasion, they seemed almost ready to enter the Promised Land. Moses sent 12 spies to survey the land. When they returned, 10 gave a bad report, saying the Israelites would be wiped out by the people of Canaan if they tried to enter. As a result, the Israelites threatened to kill Moses and return to Egypt.
God’s glory appeared, and He had another idea: He could slaughter all the Israelites, spare Moses, and start over with a new nation descended from Moses.
“But Moses said to the LORD, ‘Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, “Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.” But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, “The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now’” (Numbers 14:13–19).
Moses intervened and asked God to preserve the people who had just threatened to kill him. They did not deserve mercy. God had already forgiven them several times. This was not the first time Moses had to stand in the gap for them. It would not be the last time, either. The people of God have always been flawed humans—from the time God first revealed Himself to Abraham, through the Exodus and ministry of Moses, throughout the rest of the Old Testament, into the New Testament, and throughout church history until today. We have always needed God’s forgiveness, and we always will. We do not deserve it, but He forgives us anyway.
God most clearly reveals His glory and power through mercy and forgiveness. Moses reminded God of an earlier occasion when He appeared to him. At that time:
“Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations’” (Exodus 34:6–7).
As God pronounced judgment upon the nation, Moses recalled these words. He did not have to coerce God. He simply recalled how God had revealed Himself. God promised that He would be merciful and forgive. Moses took God at His Word and prayed that He would remain faithful to it. God responded by forgiving the people: not because they deserved it but because forgiveness is one of His specialties.
Yet, God made it clear that His mercy was not an excuse to sin. God forgives, but there can be consequences. Sometimes, the effects of that sin last for generations as he “visits the iniquity…to the third and fourth generations.” A few hundred years after Moses’ time, Israel’s ruler, King David, committed adultery with a married woman named Bathsheba and murdered her husband. God forgave David, but the child died. Despite that, his next child with Bathsheba, Solomon, became Israel’s wisest king and an ancestor of Jesus. Despite David’s sin, he was forgiven and mankind was blessed with salvation. There were painful consequences, but God’s mercy triumphed even amid judgment.
When Moses prayed for the Israelites, God spared them. However, there were consequences. The people thought that even God could not get them safely into the Promised Land. Therefore, God held them to their word. Only two of the adults who left Egypt eventually entered the Promised Land—Caleb and Joshua, the only two spies who believed God could give them victory. God forgave, but there were consequences for the people.
Today, we cannot separate God’s mercy from His righteousness and justice. God still forgives. However, sometimes He will leave us to face the consequences of our sin. God may forgive us, but we suffer just the same. Perhaps we may bring pain and suffering to our families. He may forgive us if we commit sexual sin, but we may have to accept the consequences of unwanted pregnancy, disease, or wounded reputation. God can forgive us for sins committed in anger, but we may have to endure broken relationships. He can forgive us if we steal or otherwise break a law while sinning, but we may have to suffer the legal consequences.
God’s mercy triumphs over judgment, but His great desire is to write His law in our hearts so that we can reveal His righteousness, justice, and goodness through our lives. Let us thank God and trust Him to remain merciful, allowing His love to propel us to be more like Him.
Has God ever shown you His mercy while correcting you with His justice and righteousness? How have you seen God’s mercy in your life? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
“The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated).
I intended this post to begin a new series on God’s justice. However, as I studied, I realized we might benefit by using two English terms interchangeably: justice and righteousness. They are almost synonyms in the Bible.
“Mishpat” is the Hebrew word that is most frequently translated as “justice,” providing the root for the word “just” in the above verse; Scripture often uses it in legal settings or when God executes His judgment on people, sins, or nations. Another word, “tsaddiq,” is translated “righteous” above and is usually translated that way in the New American Standard Bible. It is also translated as “righteous person,” “righteously,” “right,” “one who is in the right,” “just,” “blameless,” and “innocent.”
The equivalent New Testament word is the Greek “dikaios” and various terms related to it. It is translated as “righteous,” “just,” “justice,” “right,” or “innocent.”
Nelson’s Three-in-One Bible Reference Companion defines justice as “administration of what is right.” Righteousness is an attribute of one’s character; justice is that righteousness in action. Since the terms are so closely related in Scripture, throughout this series I will use them interchangeably. While there are slight differences in emphasis, the meanings of the words are similar enough to justify this usage.
Now, let us consider a few difficult questions: What do righteousness and justice look like? How do we know an action, behavior, or decision is righteous or just?
While we often think of justice in legal terms, we cannot always trust man’s laws to be just or righteous. Before 1865, slavery was legal in much of the United States. It was banned after the Civil War, but legalized racial segregation remained on the books in southern states for about 100 years after that. It might have been legal, but it was not righteous or just. The Nazi holocaust that killed six million Jews was legal—the government authorized it—but it was not righteous or just.
People and societies lose their way when they have no objective standard for justice. Humans can agree that we want justice in our culture, but we may disagree about how to bring it about or which activities are righteous or just. In recent years, a branch of America’s Democrat Party (including far-left liberals like New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) has referred to itself as “justice Democrats.” They claim to promote justice with their emphasis on environmentalism, racial equality, women’s rights, etc. However, they often do so at the expense of biblical truth and the traditional Judaeo-Christian values that provide the basis for our nation’s legal system.
I will add that many Republicans err as well. They may support values that are more consistent with Scripture in some regards (e.g., opposition to abortion, support for traditional marriage). However, some of them might ignore Scripture’s teachings about defending the poor and showing no partiality to the rich and powerful. Political party platforms are not a valid objective basis for defining justice.
True justice is an attribute of God. The prophet Jeremiah referred to Him as “Yahweh tsidkenu”—The Lord our righteousness. Any concept of righteousness or justice that ignores or contradicts God’s nature or Word is not true justice. Equitable enforcement of godless legislation is not justice. God’s Word is the foundation of all justice. Psalm 119, the Bible’s epic hymn of praise to God’s law, says:
“Righteous are You, O Lord, And upright are Your judgments… Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Your law is truth” (Psalms 119:137, 142).
Elsewhere, God’s Word says:
“The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward” (Psalms 19:7-11).
We should continue to fight for justice. Christians should be on the front lines of the battle against injustice, corruption, and oppression in society. However, we must not follow a political platform or cultural norms. Instead, we must continue to live by and declare God’s Word. When our favorite politician deviates from Scripture, we must remain steadfast in our obedience to the Lord. God has called us to be His ambassadors.
How do you see justice and righteousness? How would you like to see it manifested today? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.
A Bible teacher, writer, editor, and former pastor, with a B.A. in Psychology and Journalism from Syracuse University (1987) and an M.Div. in Pastoral Counseling from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (1991).