Leslie M. John
Righteousness is to be ‘right’ with God. It is not according to worldly reasoning that it is the shortest line that can be drawn, either straight or perpendicular, or inclined to the plane of horizon, between two points. Geometrically it is correct. In reasoning what is right for one may be wrong for another. In reasoning it appears good to say “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”. However, when we deal with the Scriptures it is to be right with God.
The essence of the word “righteousness” is described in the Old Testament. It is the obedience of man to God and to do what is right in the sight of Him. It is to fear the LORD and obey His commandments, keep His statues, and to do His will.
“And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day. And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us” (Deuteronomy 6:24-25)
“But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalms 1:2).
Inward purity is more important for a Christian than the external purity and ceremonial laws. While we compare the term “righteousness” used in the Old Testament and in the New Testament there is a possibility to infer that it is all about keeping ceremonial laws given by God to the children of Israel through Moses. The word “righteousness” deals with both permanent and temporary aspects. The definite aspect of it is to do the will of God, and to do what is right in the sight of God. It also deals with the changing element under different conditions in different periods of time.
Pharisees laid great importance in external purity and obedience of ceremonial laws to the detriment of man’s true obedience to God in spirit and in truth. It was important for them to exhibit what they are actually like. Their hypocrisy demanded them to seek importance before men rather than before God. Jesus warned of their righteousness. He condemned their attitude of offering “tithe of mint and cumin” and omitting important features of the “law, judgment, mercy and faith”.
“For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20)
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone”. (Matthew 23:23)
Apostle Paul takes us into a clearer understanding of the term “righteousness”. He questions if righteousness would mean observance meticulously of the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament. He also questions if Gentiles are to be treated as having failed to be righteous before God when they did not keep the tenets of Old Testament, which demanded keeping of ceremonial laws and judicial laws, besides moral laws that were based on The Ten Commandments. The ceremonial laws were applicable to the children of Israel when they were journeying through wilderness, and thereafter until Lord Jesus became sacrifice for us. Likewise, judicial laws differ from region to region, and country to county. He asserts in the negative saying, inasmuch as the children of Israel sought to attain perfection by their own good works and not by faith, they never achieved their goal.
Therefore, the Lord became a “stumbling block” to them, and they stumbled at Him. He was their “stumbling stone” and they stumbled at it, which was laid in Zion, as a rock of offense, not with an intention that they should fall to be injured, but that they may realize that falling on it would injure them, just as the rock falling on them will do to them. The injury they suffered by stumbling at it was because of their refusal to accept Lord Jesus as their Messiah, eventually leading them to be injured of their conscience and salvation.
“What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Romans 9:30-33).
Obviously, Paul had in his mind, the words of Prophet Isaiah, and of Lord Jesus Christ. Prophecy of Isaiah says that the Lord will be their Sanctuary. (A sanctuary was the temple, a sacred place, where in the “most Holy Place” the “Ark of the Covenant” was located; and into this “Most Holy Place” no one was allowed to enter, except the high priest once a year to intercede on behalf of the people). The prophesy was that they would see the preaching of Jesus would differ from that of their attempts of becoming self-righteous by keeping the Mosaic Law. Accordingly, they did it meticulously as an outward show instead of purifying their hearts.
It was imperative that they should believe Jesus was the Son of God, came down from heaven, according to prophesies to deliver them from their sin, but they waited for the kingdom to be re-established. They thought the sole purpose of their Messiah coming to this world was to re-establish their lost kingdom. The Lord, who would point their spiritual condition, and He will be their stumbling block and a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel (House of Judah and House of Israel). Therefore, they will stumble.
“And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken” (Isaiah 8:14-15)
Jesus spoke of their spiritual condition and questioned them if they have not read that which was written in Scriptures that the stone which they rejected had become the head of the corner. Without the corner stone the house would crumble, and so will be they who reject Lord Jesus as their Messiah.
“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet” (Matthew 21:42-46)
Apostle Peter also wrote of this rock of offence. The Lord will be precious to those who believe in Him, but for those who are disobedient to Him, He will be a stumbling block, on which if they fall, or if they fall on them, the result will be their destruction.
“Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:6-9)
The writer of Hebrews writes…
“For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (Hebrews 2:2-3)
Paul had great concern for the children of Israel because he was a Jew by birth. He had great desire that they may be saved. He says they try to establish their own righteousness, and are ignorant of God’s righteousness.
As for those who believe in Lord Jesus as their Savior, He is the end of the law, but for those who do not believe the law does not provide salvation but it still points sin. The Lord fulfilled the Law but he did not destroy or annul the law, as some would believe that the whole law came to be ceased by His fulfilling the conditions of the Law. Instead, the Lord gave two commandments which contain entire Law, and it is to be follow what He said in Matthew 22:37-40
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).
Righteousness and Justification go hand in glove with each other. When a man is born-again he is justified as righteous before God. It is the blood of Lord Jesus Christ that cleanses the sin of the sinner and the Lord presents us blameless before the Father,
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. (Jude 1:24-25)”