Years ago, I watched a superhero movie with a rather unique premise. A wizard in another dimension was suffering through old age and looking for a successor. His search took him to Earth, where he was charged with finding a child who is pure of heart. He searched for some time but could find none. In the film, he eventually found a boy who fit the bill. In real life, however, we know that this search would be fruitless. This is because we are all imperfect people born of imperfect people. Purity and righteousness are not things we can receive from our parents. These are things we can receive only from the One who is pure and righteous. These can be bestowed to us only by God himself.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Here, Paul tells us how we can go about gaining revelation of God’s righteousness. He points to the gospel as the place where the righteousness of God is revealed. The gospel is the good news of the hope and promise we receive through Jesus Christ when we accept him as our Savior. It is the story of the new life that is available to us as we are transformed from an old creation to a new creation. This process changes us over time more and more into the character of Christ. More than that, we actually carry his countenance as followers of his. People should begin to see Jesus in us.
When Paul speaks of God’s righteousness being revealed through the gospel, he is speaking of two things. First, he is telling us that the righteousness of God is displayed through his plan of salvation through his son Jesus Christ. In God’s righteousness, He could not simply save mankind without offering up the requisite perfect sacrifice to pay for the sins of so many. He could not merely offer grace and forgiveness without the price being paid. Second, Paul is talking about the righteousness of Jesus Christ that is imputed to us as we believe in him as our Savior. When the Father looks at us, He no longer sees broken and sinful people. He now sees the purity and righteousness that his Son carries. This is because those who live by faith in Jesus Christ have been justified by him, and when we are judged it will be by that standard. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is what saves us from the fire. Our prize of eternal life with God comes from our faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ being sufficient to cover a multitude of sins.
Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
The world is full of counterfeits. We all know what bootleg versions are. They are counterfeit products that are typically illegal imitations of the original offered at a much lower price. These products normally are of lesser quality than the original. The discerning eye can surely tell the difference between a bootleg and an original. In the spiritual world, there are counterfeits as well. For example, man’s own standards of goodness and purity are counterfeits of Gods standards. Where a man might believe that he is good enough and worthy to escape eternal damnation and separation from God because of his own goodness, God’s standard is much higher. His standard is perfection, and no mortal man can meet it.
God’s standard, the original standard, could be satisfied only through his perfect Son. It is the righteousness of Jesus Christ that some try to imitate unsuccessfully, and that imitation leads them away from God. If we are to spend eternity with God and grow closer to him and transform more and more into his character, we must eschew our ideas of goodness and righteousness. We must put down the counterfeits and recognize the original. It is only by submitting to God through faith in Jesus Christ that we can gain the righteousness required to justify us and make us worthy to stand before the presence of God and dwell with him for eternity. As Jesus Christ was the embodiment of the law, his life being an example that perfectly reflected the pure character of God, his is the original righteousness. No counterfeits can save humankind. Only the original will do.
2 Pet. 3:10-13
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
It is no secret that there are many problems with this world. In fact, even those who do not believe the truth can recognize the issues that we face as we exist in imperfection. From wars to natural disasters to the pure evil that can manifest in humankind, our problems are legion. The Earth itself groans with the pains of labor. Something new is coming, and the signs are all around us. This current Earth and this world system of things are full of unrighteousness. Our great hope is in what comes next. We have a promise that this world will one day pass away, and a new world will come. This new Earth will be all that we wished our current Earth is and more.
In stating that the new heaven and new Earth are where righteousness dwells, it stands to reason that this is not the case currently. I do not believe this means that there is no righteousness in existence in heaven or on Earth now. Rather, this seems to be stating that the new heaven and new Earth will be places where only righteousness dwells. The evil that exists in our current heaven and Earth will be gone. The current heaven and Earth are imperfect and full of unrighteousness. We know that there is a lord of the air who wages war in the heavenlies. Scripture tells us of these battles. And we see and experience the unrighteousness that resides on the Earth today. How wonderful it is to know that a perfect heaven and Earth are not merely some unreachable dream but will be our reality one day. How incredible it will be to reside in the righteousness of God without any presence of evil.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.
This passage draws a distinction between righteousness and self-righteousness. To be self-righteous can be defined as having or being characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior. These verses warn us of what is produced by self-righteousness. The self-righteous person is quick to analyze and quick to judge. In his quick judgement he can rush to anger. He might think that this anger is justified as the anger that God might feel about a certain evil. However, the anger that results from self-righteous thought and action is not of God but is of the flesh. Coming from a place of pride and judgement, it produces only condemnation.
The righteousness that God desires manifests as slow, deliberate and thoughtful consideration of that which we observe in ourselves and in others. This righteousness breeds not condemnation but understanding and grace. The righteous person has first examined himself and in humility has rid himself of the evils that so many are quick to entertain. The righteous person has accepted and admitted his imperfection, and he has accepted the sacrifice of Christ as his only means of salvation. He relies not on some false sense of his own righteousness to be saved but recognizes that within himself no redemption exists. This person sees the reality of what he is without Jesus Christ, and that causes him to have compassion on those who are still trudging through the miry clay. He accepts that he can only call himself righteous because the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been imputed to him through justification.
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to this world after He departed. The Holy Spirit has many jobs here, and one of those jobs is to prove the world wrong about certain things. In essence, what the world understands incorrectly are all of the things that Jesus came to teach us. The world’s understanding of sin, righteousness and judgment are flawed. Regarding righteousness, man has thought for many years and continues to think that he is the standard. This is part of the egotism and defiance with which we are born. Once renewed, our eyes are opened, and we can see this clearly. We now know better than that.
We know that Jesus Christ is the standard. When Jesus says that his leaving the Earth makes the Holy Spirit prove the truth about righteousness, He is declaring that salvation is through him alone. This is because the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ fulfilled what prophecy tells us is required for the Messiah to make a way for us to be saved. When Jesus Christ ascended to the Father and sent the Holy Spirit in his place, He fulfilled this line of prophecy and proved himself to be the Messiah. In Christ’s ascension and the Holy Spirit’s arrival, the truth of righteousness is revealed in that man can gain it only by salvation through Jesus Christ.
You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
Death comes to all of us, but here is the key to defeating it. Once our natural bodies die, we stand before the judgement seat of God. For those who do not have Jesus Christ, they will try to rely on their own version of righteousness, their own self-righteousness, to prove their case. Unfortunately, the case that is brought against them will be too strong. When the enemy says that a man is doomed to damnation because he is evil, and the only defense that man has is his own imperfect and evil character, the man cannot win. Damnation will be his fate because man’s idea of righteousness is merely a counterfeit of the real thing, and its flimsy façade falls when tested.
For the one who believes in Jesus Christ, the outcome of the trial is different. When the enemy brings his case against that imperfect man, the man will not rely on himself as his defense. He will rely on Jesus Christ and the righteousness of Jesus Christ that has been imputed to him through salvation. It is not only the revelation of God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ but the receipt of that righteousness through salvation that saves the man. The enemy’s case will crumble. The man who relies on Jesus Christ for his defense will succeed. He will have the chance to reside where righteousness dwells, an existence among the new heaven and the new Earth. There, only true and original righteousness exists. There, man’s counterfeit righteousness will be no more. The righteousness of God revealed through his son Jesus Christ in this imperfect and fallen world will be not only the standard but the norm, and the saved will reside in that righteousness forever.
The world’s version of righteousness and man’s own self-righteousness lead only to condemnation and damnation. The revelation of God’s righteousness through Jesus Christ sets straight man’s faulty ideas of righteousness. There is no excuse for the one who tries to save himself by his own works when the work of Christ is evident and available to all. Let us praise the one true God, the maker of all good things, who provides a way for our salvation by offering to robe us in his own righteousness. Praise be to the God who invites us to dwell in this righteousness with him forever.