Meditations on the righteous and on righteousness – Part 2

INTRODUCTION. This is a collection of thoughts on the absolute nature of being righteous and being unrighteous, and of the absolute nature of righteousness and unrighteousness. Degrees in the manifestations of (expressions of, displays of) unrighteousness and of righteousness, and the reason for these degrees. This is the second post in this series.

A USEFUL ANALOGY: PHYSICALLY ALIVE OR DEAD

In my previous post about the righteous and about righteousness (#533, May 20, 2022), we have been talking about the fact that, in the Bible, when used to describe a person’s standing before God, “righteous” is an absolute term, having no degrees or relative achievement. It is a state of being in which you either are or you aren’t. A good analogy to “righteous or unrighteous” is “alive or dead.” In the spiritual realm, a person is either righteous or unrighteous, and in the physical realm, a person is either alive or dead. As there are no degrees of physically dead, so there are no degrees of spiritually unrighteous. As you cannot be “mostly dead” (with apologies to Miracle Max, played by Billy Crystal, in “The Princess Bride”), so you cannot be “mostly unrighteous.” Just as a person is either physically alive or physically dead, so every person is either spiritually righteous or spiritually unrighteous.

MOVEMENT FROM ONE ABSOLUTE STATE TO ANOTHER

But this analogy is also helpful in describing the movement over time from one absolute state to another. For in each pair of absolute conditions in this analogy, there can be movement from one state to another, the movement, if it occurs, is always in the same direction, and the destination state, once reached, becomes the permanent state. Let me explain what I mean.

THE PHYSICAL PAIR

We will begin by considering the pair, physically alive and physically dead. It is plain that physically alive is the beginning state. When a person is physically alive, that person is completely alive, but at some point in time, the person stops being physically alive and immediately becomes physically dead. At the person’s death they completely change states and move from 100% physically alive to 100% physically dead. Once the person has changed states and has reached the “destination state,” “dead” becomes the person’s permanent state. That is, the person will not move from physically dead to physically alive.

REVIEW. I have gone through this process slowly and deliberately to show that:

  • it is possible (and in this case, it is inevitable) to change states and to move from alive to dead,
  • the movement from one state to another is always in the same direction, namely, a movement from alive to dead, and
  • the destination state of “dead” becomes the permanent state for that person. From that point on, the person is always physically dead.

THE SPIRITUAL PAIR

Having examined this movement in the absolute pair of physically alive and physically dead, we will now do a similar examination in the absolute pair of spiritually righteous and spiritually unrighteous. As we have already seen from the plain teaching of the Bible, being spiritually unrighteous is every person’s beginning state (Romans 3:10-18, 23). When a person is spiritually unrighteous, that person is completely unrighteous, and there is no righteousness in him. But because of the gospel, because God sent Jesus to die on the cross so that those who are unrighteous can believe on Jesus for salvation, it is possible for the person by faith to move from the state of absolutely unrighteous to the state of absolutely righteous. The gospel also teaches that once you have moved from spiritually unrighteous to spiritually righteous, “righteous” has become your eternal state. This is because when you place your faith in Jesus, God declares you, the unrighteous, to be righteous in His sight, and God’s declaration of your righteousness is an eternal declaration. The one whom God has declared to be spiritually righteous can never be spiritually unrighteous again.

REVIEW. Once again, I have gone through this process very deliberately to show that:

  • it is possible, through the gospel of Christ, to change states and to move from unrighteous to righteous
  • the movement from one state to another is always in the same direction, namely, from spiritually unrighteous to spiritually righteous, and
  • the destination state of “righteous” becomes the eternal state for that person. From that point on, the person is eternally declared righteous.

As we have considered this movement between absolute states, hopefully it has become clear why the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for condemned sinners. Through the gospel, the one who is fully spiritually unrighteous in God’s sight and condemned by their sin is not hopelessly doomed to hell, although that is what they deserve. All other means of rescue fail utterly, but for the one who will repent of their sin and confess Jesus Christ as Lord, their faith is credited to them as righteousness. By trusting Christ as Lord and Savior, God declares that person as being righteous, and righteous they remain eternally.

SDG rmb 5/22/2022 #534

Meditations on the righteous and on righteousness – Part 1

INTRODUCTION. The first of a short series of posts giving my thoughts on topics like the absolute nature of being righteous or unrighteous, how it is that one who is wholly unrighteous can become fully righteous in God’s sight, how to reconcile a declaration of God’s righteousness with unrighteous behavior, and others. Degrees in the manifestations of (expressions of, displays of) unrighteousness and of righteousness, and the reason for these degrees.

I want to spend the next few posts considering the concept of righteousness and what it means to be righteous, but before we get too far into these critical topics, it would be good to establish some basic ideas.

“RIGHTEOUS” IS AN ABSOLUTE TERM

Every person who ever lives is either completely righteous or completely unrighteous. That is, “righteous” and “unrighteous” are terms which represent two states or two conditions that are mutually exclusive. You are either 100% righteous or you are 100% unrighteous, and there is nothing in between. “Righteous” and “unrighteous” are words like up or down, top or bottom, yes or no, right or left, on or off, positive or negative. These “either/or” words are called “absolute words” or “absolute terms” because they have no presence of degrees; it is either one or the other.

KEY CONCEPT: In the Bible, “righteous” and “unrighteous” are absolute terms. Every person is either righteous or they are unrighteous, and there is no third category.

This is a very important concept to understand because it nullifies many of the most common descriptions of our own moral condition, descriptions which are full of relative and vague terms. When people are asked about their own righteousness or about their condition before God, they will offer something like, “I think I’m a pretty good person.” Whatever that means, it leaves THE question unanswered: “Are you righteous before God? Yes or no.”

            But why spend time thinking about righteousness? And why is it important to know whether I am righteous or unrighteous in God’s sight? Righteousness a critical topic because it is essential for salvation. To enter heaven, you must be perfectly righteous in God’s sight, and yet we are all helplessly trapped in our unrighteousness and are, therefore, under the condemnation of God. We require perfect righteousness but possess perfect UNrighteousness and are without any available means of escaping from our unrighteous state. The question thus becomes, “How can anyone be righteous before God?” This would be impossible were it not for the gospel.

DECLARED RIGHTEOUS

Since there is “none righteous, no, not one” (Psalm 14:1, 3; Romans 3:10ff; cf. Psalm 143:2; Jeremiah 5:1; etc.) and all are therefore unrighteous before a holy God, the Lord has graciously provided the gospel as a way to save sinners. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Lord will declare a person to be righteous on the basis of that person’s faith in Jesus Christ. The Lord’s declaration of their righteousness in time forever transfers that person into the kingdom of the righteous.

We have just stated the good news of the gospel that God will declare any person to be righteous if that person will place their faith in Jesus Christ. So, the Lord declares them righteous by their faith and, at that moment, their righteous eternal life in Christ begins. (Have you responded to the gospel? Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ?)

This is the most important message that could ever be proclaimed, that by faith God will justify (declare righteous) the ungodly (Romans 4:5), and my writing could be complete right at this point. 

BUT NOT DECLARED UNRIGHTEOUS

But, as I continued to think about the unrighteous and God’s declaration of righteousness, I noticed another idea that caught my attention.

We have said that, by faith, God declares the unrighteous person to be righteous. On the other hand, the Lord does not declare a person to be unrighteous. Why is this so? If the Lord declares a person righteous based on their faith, why would the Lord not also declare a person to be unrighteous?

The main reason is that, since every person is, by nature and by action, unrighteous (John 3:17-18), a declaration from God about our unrighteousness is unnecessary. We have all fully merited our unrighteousness by our sins. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Law of God given at Sinai clearly renders us all unrighteous and our unrighteousness is evident for all to see. The sad fact is that all of us are born in a state of unrighteousness and in that state, we remain (unless we place our faith in Jesus Christ) and in that state we will die. Then, on the last day, we will be judged by Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16) and cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). Unless we have come to faith in Jesus Christ, we are absolutely unrighteous and stand fully condemned before God. God graciously warns us about our unrighteousness and our consequent condemnation not only in the pages of the Bible, but also by the inner voice of our conscience (Romans 2:14-15), in the power and the glory of God’s creation (Romans 1:19-20), in the reading of the Law, and in the proclamation of the gospel, so man is without excuse. In short, there is so much evidence of our inherent unrighteousness that a declaration from God is unnecessary.

But there is another, perhaps more important reason God does not declare the sinner to be unrighteous. Recall that when an unrighteous person initially and savingly places their faith in Jesus, God declares them to be righteous, and because of God’s declaration, that person is eternally righteous and will never be unrighteous again. The point is that God’s declaration creates a permanent state that cannot be changed. The person’s righteousness can never be lost.

Now, if God’s declaration of righteousness created an eternal state of righteousness, then God’s declaration of unrighteousness would likewise create an eternal state of unrighteousness which could never be changed and from which the unrighteous could never escape. If God declared the person to be unrighteous, that person would be eternally unrighteous because God’s declaration (or decree) establishes the final state. Therefore, to prevent an unrighteous person from being permanently and irredeemably fixed in an unrighteous state, God withholds His declaration of unrighteousness and instead issues warnings to the unrighteous person through the Law and by means of the conscience and through the proclamation of the gospel so that the unrighteous person will repent of their sins and will place their faith in Jesus. Then God will issue His decree that this unrighteous person has now been declared eternally righteous and is bound for heaven.

SDG                 rmb                 5/20/2022                   #533