If you think about the fruit we are bearing as bearers of the life of Christ, one fruit is unavoidable in scripture—the “fruit of righteousness.” If the word sounds off-putting to you, that’s fine. It did to me too. To be honest, until very recently, I have always hated this word—“Righteousness.” I thought it sounded so judgmental and old fashioned and “churchy” so when I sensed this was the next step for me in understanding what God wants, I admit I was unenthusiastic. I did not understand how to get my words and mind around this concept because it was wrapped up in “religion” for me. But as I started looking into the scriptures, this concept started to sparkle for me and come alive with promise. The word righteousness appears 567 times in scripture. We cannot ignore this fruit. In fact, righteousness may be the foundational fruit that ignites God’s work in the world through us.
Righteousness in English means moral “right-ness” or being justified on the grounds of moral law. In fact, righteousness is often paired with justice and the two pillars are the foundation of His future kingdom (Psalm 89:14), not to mention the very character of God. Righteousness is something that something God is and something He has (Isaiah 5:16); a standard by which He wants us to live (Proverbs 21:3); something he gives us (Romans 4); and something that he wants to see grow out of our lives and spill over through us to the world (Philippians 1:11). Righteousness is associated with love, peace, and faith, godliness, faithfulness, gentleness, paying attention to the dignity and physical needs of the poor, generosity, faithfulness, being slow to anger, and meekly accepting the “implanted word (which can mean scripture, the message of the Kingdom, and Christ Himself in us, the hope of glory).” (Ezekiel 18:5-9, James 1:19-21)
Let’s explore the fruit of righteousness! Here are ten principles we learn about righteousness.
1) Righteousness is the opposite of sin and straying.
Righteousness is often called a “pathway” where life is found and death is avoided. Righteousness is a peaceful fruit of discipline that demands self-control, yielding to God’s correction, and consistent decisions to choosing His way.
All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Hebrews 12:11
Righteousness is purity, staying on target, keeping to a path (Proverbs 12:28), not pursuing evil (Proverbs 11:19), and staying “true” in the sense that one can stay true to a law, purpose, or intent. Righteousness was considered an offering able to be brought by those pure at heart in a priestly or kingly role (Malachi 3:3).
On the other hand, self-righteousness is the attribute belonging to people who mistakingly think they do all of this already on their own (Luke 18:9-14, Romans 10:3). Jesus hated self-righteousness because it keeps people from repentance-from seeing their need for Him.
Unrighteousness is also a pathway of idolatry, impurity, unfaithfulness to marriage vows, robbery, dishonest lending, injustice, or sinful anger (Ezekiel 18:5-9). James adds pursuit of evil or wickedness, and filthiness (James 1:19-21). Paul adds to the list “love of money” and “youthful passions” (1 Timothy 6:9-11, 2 Timothy 2:22).
Where would you place yourself in these three categories: righteous, self-righteous, or unrighteous? If you consider yourself a “Christian” but still are living in self-righteousness or unrighteousness, you probably do not understand what it means to be a Christian. But it’s not complicated and it’s really joyful! Read on.
2) Righteousness and justice are eternally inherent in the character of God.
Always and forever, God is characterized as good, faithful, and loving, because of His unfaltering consistent actions of goodness, faithfulness, steadfast love and mercy. And His actions create a circular argument for His character. Have you ever wondered whose definition we are using when we say “God is good”?
It’s Him! He is the only being morally justified in seeking his own glory because He is the truest, best thing. He IS the definition of goodness because He is good, even when we cannot understand it always from our vantage point. He is love because He is always acting lovingly. He is righteous because He is always acting righteously. For us to follow and love Him, we must believe this about Him.
For me, honestly, the decision to believe all this about Him took even more faith than believing in Jesus. I’ll never forget learning this lesson when a friend of ours lost their baby at two months of age. As we rode the rollercoaster of mourning and anger and grief with this couple, we were faced with the choice to believe that God was actually good or not. By our definition, not protecting the life of that baby was not good, it was neglectful at best and violent at worst. But this couple chose submission to trust God and crucified their knowledge of good and evil, choosing to believe instead that God is good. My heart followed their lead. We decided if HE is the one who defines goodness, then all His ways are good, even His seeming inaction, even if we cannot understand how. What about you? Do you believe this about God? Is He the firm steady bedrock of unchanging faithfulness who is inherently good?
Deuteronomy 32:4 The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He.
Isaiah 5:16 The Lord of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.
Psalm 89:14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. 15 Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord. 16 They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness. 17 For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn.
Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousnessfor his name’s sake.
To believe that God is love, by the definition of His character and actions, not my own assessment of Him, requires that I realize I know my place of submission to Him. I choose to violently reject the fruit of the “knowledge of good and evil” where I judge God and decide right and wrong for myself. I yield to His definition of sin— I ask Him to wrestle fear and distrust out of me, because trust has to overwhelm my own understanding of good and evil. What right do we have to judge the One who defines goodness and rightness and love? And yet, we keep defining goodness by what we “think” is good and right and true. We keep defining love by what “feels right” to us. The truth is, thankfully, that He provides our standard and only leaves us one option—yielding in love-driven obedience to His law.
3) Righteousness and justice can describe a human who chooses to act in a righteous way.
So beyond being an attribute of God, the Lord invites us to “live righteously” according to this standard of His goodness and morality as He defines it in the moral law (the commandments of the Old Testament). Some men did this so we know it is possible to live this way.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. Genesis 6:9
The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but the righteous is gracious and gives… I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous person forsaken or his descendants begging bread. Psalm 37:21, 25
The Lord loves the righteous. Psalm 146:8
You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Deuteronomy 16:19
Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Ezekiel 3:20
The commandments written on stone were given as a lifeline to define right and wrong action for a confused people coming out of Egyptian pantheistic society. This was the moral law of God that we were meant to obey. There were also laws governing sacrificial worship and governance as well as the interpretation of laws and legal rulings given by Moses and the judges. Put all together and these codes start to seem heavy. But the moral law was actually meant to be followed by all the Jewish people. If they chose not to to live righteously, the atoning sacrifice was made for their sin. And they were covered by God’s mercy. In fact, the ark of the covenant, where the blood was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies, was called the “mercy seat.”
God’s moral law was very simple. Righteous living is tied to trusting, reliant worship of the One True God (Psalms 112:6-7). And it turns out He values righteousness (right living with others in mercy and justice) over sacrifice. Furthermore, living this way in obedience and humility allows God to usher rest and peace (Shalom) into the world.
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8
Proverbs 29:7 A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.
Amos 5:21-24 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. 22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. 24 But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Even now, I wonder how He views our intense efforts, singing and service poured out within the religious centers, buildings, and structures of the modern-day church, all of our offerings of “ritual and sacrifice” in the worship services. He wants the body of the church to impact our communities in real ways. He is telling us to get onto the front lines and pour out righteousness and justice to those around us who need it, to do what Jesus did and walk as He walked in complete unity with His Spirit in us and in His authority to heal, cast out demons, raise the dead, both in body and Spirit (Matthew 10:8). We are called to help the broken (Luke 10:25-37), set captives free, to open eyes that are blind (Isaiah 42), to give water to the thirsty, visit the sick and imprisoned (Matthew 25:35-40), to care for the disenfranchised orphan and widow, immigrant and foreigner among us. He is still challenging us that true righteousness is naturally paired with acting in humility and justice in our actual relationships and communities, for righteousness without the real work of humility, mercy, and justice is simply not the completed work.
4) Righteousness can protect us and directs us in peace.
It seems from scripture like righteousness can act as protection for us. This “righteousness” is analogous with “character.” God seems to be especially interested in shielding the righteous in terms of favor and protection and blessing when we acknowledge His power and right to rule over our lives.
Proverbs 11:6 The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.
Psalm 5:8, 12 8 Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me… 12 For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.
Righteousness will guard us. Now, this is a beautiful truth, but you might be thinking about the times it seems that we are not protected from sickness, loss, temptation and evil, even as the unrighteous seem to prosper. How is that fair? Sometimes we, like the wise yet jaded writer of Ecclesiastes, get the impression that “All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad,the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.” (Ecclesiastes 9:2), but this is not true, as we will see in Malachi in a moment. We complain that even though we are “living righteously” we still experience heartache and sickness and pain as if our status as God’s people should prevent all earthly pain. The writer of Ecclesiastes was not the first person to perceive that the righteous and wicked did not seem to experience different things in life. We can all plainly see that both destruction and prosperity come to both good and bad people. Looking at the world through an earthly sense of justice, our prayers often seem like they bounce off the ceiling and sometimes it seems like as followerers of Jesus, we struggle financially or emotionally or physically more than those around us who are living however they want! It’s just not fair, right?
Be careful here, friends.
Read how the people of God accused God of treating the evil and righteous the same way in Malachi. Our accusations are not without effect. Look how the Father takes offense at the critique of His people.
17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask. By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”
13 “You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord. “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ 14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”
God says these complaints sound like character assassination to Him, like “arrogance.” Why? We have not submitted our definition of goodness to trust that He, Himself is the very definition of goodness. We cannot see the whole picture. Where we see the wicked prosper, God is extending mercy to them in the same way He extended it to us by not wiping us out “while we were still sinners.” He sees the long view. We see short-term. Our assessment of the world and the people in it can only always be partial. And yet, we see injustice and hopelessness for God’s people that confuses us. Our honest response can be petty complaining and comparing to others or it can be worship. There is something about us that wants God to exercise justice on the evil around us now and show “us” righteous ones favor (because we forget that we have no righteousness apart from Jesus).
Look what happened in the next few verses Malachi. People got together and began to honor God in the way they talked about Him. Read what happens next:
16 Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. 17 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.
God was so moved by their faithfulness to Him and their confidence in His character, their refusal to accuse Him, and it moved Him to make them His treasured possession. I hope that when the opportunity comes for me to talk about God, I do not let accusations of His character come out of my mouth. He is faithful. He is good. He does distinguish between the righteous and the wicked and between those who serve the Lord and those who deny His authority in the world. His righteousness will be a shield to those who trust Him. And those who live righteously will enjoy the protection of God.
5) Righteousness is a covering that God has to give us.
Throughout scripture we read “The righteous shall live by faith.” (James 2:23, Jeremiah 23:6, Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 1:16-17). In the Old Testament, God often counts faithfulness and trust as our righteousness by allowing HIS righteousness to substitute in for our missing the mark (as a result of His enduring righteousness).
The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. Proverbs 18:10
In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Jeremiah 23:6
[The Lord] put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. Isaiah 59:17
Genesis 15:5 Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” 6 And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith.
Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For our offenses are many in your sight,
and our sins testify against us.
Our offenses are ever with us,
and we acknowledge our iniquities:
13 rebellion and treachery against the Lord,
turning our backs on our God,
inciting revolt and oppression,
uttering lies our hearts have conceived.
14 So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
15 Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
The Lord looked and was displeased
that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him.
17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
“The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the Lord. “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord.
We see here that God is actually concerned that no one is acting righteously, so He takes it upon Himself to bring His righteousness into the situation.
6) No one is righteous
I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, but look deep in your heart and you will see it for yourself. No one is right before God. Even if we are doing really good things and trying hard not to kill people, it is our hearts He looks at, because sin is not only what we do, it is at a very core level, embedded into our mental and emotional patterns of how we operate.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sisterwill be subject to judgment…27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:21-30
So alright. Jesus made it clear that the law was more than a series of outer actions and ritual requirements for good behavior status. God is looking at the heart, not just the actions we actually do. He judges our motivations and our intentions and our thoughts. The sin issue is so great that it pervades our motivations at an unintentional level and so for this, there were sacrifices for unintentional sin in the Old Testament. Not only are some sins unintentional, but we lie to ourselves to deceive ourselves into believing we have no sin. That secret enjoyment and thrill from a movie, book, or story about promiscuous sexuality, homosexuality, adultery is sin in our heart. That delight in an innocent trick, or the seemingly harmless slice of sarcastic comment, or a deceit that gets concealed and “not found out.” That is sin. We struggle with it even as those who follow Christ until we are renewed in our minds and hearts by the Living Water of the Holy Spirit and feasting on His Word. And even then, we are still susceptible to temptation and sin.
It is not judgmental to tell someone the truth about their sin. God will judge them. But we can easily judge the difference between good and evil because it is not our rationalization or decision. The law has been given! And, according to Jesus, this law will be upheld until the day of harvest, the judgment, so our righteousness will have to surpass that of the Pharisees! (Matthew 5:20).
Despite the clear invitation and preference of God for us to live upright; despite the law; despite the faithfulness of God, we fail thoroughly at righteousness. A lot. Completely. Being righteous in character (at an acceptable level to God) is actually impossible to maintain on our own (knew that this was coming, didn’t you?):
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. Isaiah 64:6
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Psalms 14:3
For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1John 1:8
It is even possible to appear righteous in our outer works, but not actually be clean internally because we have been so concerned with our perfection and reputation that we have rejected true repentance and the Spirit of God. Righteous living without God is self-righteousness, arrogance, and idolatry. But… (here is the good news!)
7) Jesus is the firstfruits of righteousness, and He became our righteousness for us, so that we could receive His Spirit in us and have restored relationship with the Father, as a delightful son or daughter!
Jesus was the only man ever to live consistently righteously because He was the seed of God, not man. He was completely righteous, completely delighted in by HIs Father, His body holding the very person and righteousness of God, so He could take the penalty for our sin. He chose obedience and submission to the Father constantly and daily and moment by moment even all the way to the cross (1 Peter 2:22), so that we could be declared righteous, and then empowered by abiding in the Holy Spirit for right living and vibrant, intimate relationship with God.
Now Jesus is righteousness available to anyone in the world when we look to the cross and trust the blood He paid for our sins to be not counted against us. We lay ourselves down, our sin and selfishness die with Him, and we let Him live in us by the Spirit. Why? So that we could be children and heirs of Christ righteousness, allowing us to live continually in His presence with Him and the Father (John 14-16). We are heirs to royal status of righteousness that was not originally earned by us, but given as a covering to make relationship with God possible again. He “counts” or “considers” us truly righteous.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21
He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:5-7
Jesus became righteousness FOR us, so we yield the fruit of righteousness ONLY through HIM and His Spirit in us.
Romans 4 tells us that God “credits” righteousness to us who believe that Jesus died and rose again for our “justification.” Only He can justify us. I think about how my children try to justify their behavior to me when I try to discipline them or point out that they have done something wrong. They always have an excuse, but rarely is their disobedience justified because of the sheer fact that disobedience happened! All of their reasoning for disobeying matters little in the light that they did not trust my instructions to be their best course of action. This is at best rebellious and at worst downright dangerous for them.
It’s amazing how easily we convince ourselves that “we are not doing anything wrong.” For a time when my son was six, he would say “I didn’t do anything!” every time he “accidentally” hurt his sisters. “I didn’t do anything!” when clearly the proof was on their arm or leg—red welts resulting from his “not doing anything wrong.” Just as he was not justified by their stated rationales or intentions, the fact is that there was a wrong committed. The Bible says that we will not be justified on any other ground before God than the grace of Jesus becoming out covering and payment for our disobedience and becoming righteousness FOR us. What a simultaneously profound insult and relief!
It reminds me of a girl I met on the Mexican border who had just been deported for human trafficking. I began talking to her about God’s love and how he wants her to have a fresh start. She told me she had been thinking about God for the last four days and meditating a lot. She told me she believed in God. She replied, “I know God only sees the good in us.” While I was desperate to comfort her, I knew true comfort is found in being right with God and not simple complacent with sin. I had to tell her the truth in love because she was worth it even though I was nervous because I did not want to seem judgmental.
Here’s the truth…no one is righteous.
“The truth is, Jessica, that He does treasure you and love you, but He also sees our bad motivations, our failures and sin and all the dirtiness in us. The truth is that the penalty for our sin is spiritual death. He sees everything we think, feel, and do to reject His way. Every lie, every theft, every wrong, every hurt, makes us worthy of the death sentence, because of the sin that has taken root in us from the time we could make our own decisions. Jesus took our punishment for our sin and became our righteous covering for us. God, the judge, gave us His Son to die for us on the cross and take our punishment for us. Because of His great love for us to be genuinely free from sin, God, the judge, strips us of all our own self-justifying words and thoughts by the law given clearly in scripture, and then in His mercy He chooses to cover us, make us His child, wrap up like a robe of purity, letting His goodness cover our sin and wash us clean forever, so we can start fresh—so we can be legitimately pure and obey His by the power of His Spirit!”
When she heard the truth about the seriousness and penalty of her sin and the promise of purity, her eyes started to fill with tears. She softened. The soil of her heart was ready to accept Jesus as her righteousness. She gave her life to Him that day and started on a journey toward wholeness, where the righteousness that covers us is also completed inwardly by drawing upon the power of the Holy Spirit to renew our minds and hearts.
Galatians 3:10-14 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”[ 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
Our trust in Jesus’ righteousness immediately is credited (like a warranty) on our behalf and makes us justified before God. We rely on the righteous covering of God. But the work of righteousness is not complete there.
There is a response where we decide to obey God’s commandments because we desire closeness with Him. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” John 14:23 This intimacy becomes our driving motivations in becoming obedient and then, eventually, by default, consistently righteous in action and behavior.
God will remember our faithfulness to Him in the same way we remember His faithfulness to us. For those who live trusting God, they are safe in Him, because His faithfulness becomes their righteousness. This promise became reality in Abraham’s seed, Jesus. And for those who came before Christ, they trusted in the future sacrifice and provision of God to be their righteousness. Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac on the same mountain that would become Jerusalem, where Jesus would die on one day. When he found a last-minute ram as a substitute sacrifice provided by God, He foreshadowed the substitution of a perfect lamb to be the one-time and forever sacrifice for our sin for those who choose to trust (Genesis 22:1-19). We need to accept and trust in Jesus, the seed of Abraham. He is, and has always been, our only source of righteousness! This seed (Jesus) would be planted in us and grow His righteousness out of our lives (Mark 4).
So our faith/trust in Him allows God to see Christ’s righteousness covering us like a robe, like a breastplate over our hearts (Isaiah 61:10). We are clean (1 John 1:9). We are free from the law and pressure to live righteous on our own. Instead, we will bear righteousness from the authentic life of the growing seed of Christ in us like good soil yields fruit of the seed that is planted in it—like a branch simply produces life as a byproduct of being connected to the vine to bear fruit! We yield it by the flow of the Holy Spirit (John 15)
9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is [valuable], and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit (or harvest) of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
You will be filled with the fruit of salvation—the righteous character produced in your life not by your works, but only by reliant obedience to Jesus Christ, empowered by His Spirit. Why does our righteousness have to be through Christ, not our own efforts? Primarily, because He loves us and He is inviting us still to an Eden lifestyle of returning, rest, quietness, and trust and most importantly, because this is going to bring much glory and praise to God. Jesus, Himself, is going to grow His righteous character in us as we walk as He walked! The purpose is God’s glory and praise! The best part is that the means for production of the fruit of righteousness are not produced in our own strength…Look! This fruit of righteousness is the fruit coming from the seed of Yeshua/Salvation in your life.
It only follows that in order to grow the fruit of righteousness, we have to go deeper again into trust and reliance on the person of Jesus by His Spirit! It is the power of God that gives me righteousness, both in terms of my instant new status before God as morally justified in Christ and in terms of the actual righteousness of character he will produce in me. It is all the work of God, nothing else. Isn’t that just wonderful? I may think I am failing at righteous living, and that everyone else is too. But with Jesus, everything changes. Now I am not a slave to sin but to Christ (Romans 6:1-7, Galatians 4:1-7, 1 Corinthians 7:22).
What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces[a] of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. Galatians 4:1-7
I am His child and we have the same heart, the same goals-righteousness and justice and peace and joy and faithfulness. We are aligned in purpose. I can make the choices in keeping with His standards of righteousness that go all the way to my mind, heart, souls and strength. We are connected by the Holy Spirit who flows in us and bears the fruit of righteousness in us. We simply yield it in utter moment by moment obedience driven by profound mutual love.
Again, all we do is the one thing necessary. We get relationally connected to Jesus, emptying ourselves, and stay connected through constant power of the Living Water of the Holy Spirit. The seed of Jesus in us is maturing the faithfulness of God in our lives and all the fruit of the Spirit. Now He says He will never leave us or forsake us? This is the ultimate safety and security. When we start to yield this fruit, our character changes, and, by extension, our way of being “in the world” changes too. The fruit of righteousness begins to overflow authentically into the world around us, not out of our own efforts to produce righteousness, but out of the life of Jesus in us. He starts to impact the world through us! Here’s where this whole thing gets really exciting!
8) Yielding the actual fruit of righteousness is not only possible, but God’s desire for us, and our natural response to His Life in us, by His Spirit.
I used to think being righteous was impossible. Indeed, living up to a standard of God’s righteousness is impossible, until it’s fueled by a surrendered will, an acknowledgment of the depth and grossness of our own sin, and reliance on the the fire of the Holy Spirit.
We have to live a lifestyle of repentance, realizing that we can still choose to reject righteousness every time we turn away from God to draw from some other source of fulfillment, satisfaction, joy or strength, even our own reserves. Over and over again, our stubborn self-reliance keeps us from knowing His indwelling power to obey those who truly learn rest and reliance on Him. God’s discipline against His people is needed only when we do not realize our need for Him. If we would only acknowledge ourr sin, that our ideas of “right-ness” are not able to stand compared to His, they would see a Father running for them (Luke 15: 11ff), a lover pursuing them (Song of Solomon), and a warrior come to fight their battles for them (Isaiah 59), enabling them to stand firm against temptation and to obey!
Seeking righteousness is encouraged. It is something that we should crave, hunger and thirst for, and desire in our own lives so that we will be filled with it (Matthew 5:6)! We can go back to the Old Testament and see what God desired for humanity from the beginning, knowing that now we have the power to actually walk worthy of the one who created us to be fruitful and multiply! It is something that we are chosen for, to teach our children (Genesis 18:19). It’s the way we should lead if we are in administrative positions (2 Samuel 8:15, 1 Kings 10:9). It should be a natural fruit of the life under submission to God’s kingdom and authority.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33
Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 1 John 3:7
Now, with the person of God, Himself living in us, righteousness should be a natural fruit of the life under submission to God’s kingdom and authority. We can read the words of Jesus and instead of judgment, feel them as a promises now absolutely fulfilled by His Spirit living in us! We can practice real, true righteousness as a way of life and pour it out to others with mercy, because judgment is not ours but God’s.
This expectation is set then. We, especially as Christians who have the clear message of Jesus and His Spirit in us, have no excuse for not knowing what God wants from us. It has not changed.
9) Righteous actions motivated by love-driven obedience to God and love for others will change our communities and our world.
It bridges the gap between the fruit of our personal lives and the collective fruit of the people of God, bringing the peace of Jesus to a broken world, especially when it is paired with justice, as it so often is in scripture.
Righteousness as a fruit that comes into the world by Christ in us is the the harvest, not people! What we are growing is righteousness, the very thing that God asked us His people to do in the world through it the Old Testament. Except now, we are doing it in an atmosphere of love-driven, confident, empowered, relaxed reliance of abiding in powerful connection to Him instead of relying on fear-driven religious rules, our own willpower, and ritual adherence to the law. Each person must accept the seed of Christ for themselves into themselves, and the whole world will be impacted, not because we save others, but because God rescued us and we overflow in righteous activity all over the world.
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him…10bthen shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. 11 And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. 12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in. Isaiah 58:6-7, 10b-12
Doesn’t reading these make you want to give yourself away for others? Don’t you want to be a repairer of the breach, a raiser of foundations, a restorer of the streets, guided by God, satisfied even in the desert, and strong from the bones outward?
Nothing’s keeping you!
Once you start living this way, the delight itself will be your motivation. Just try it. Give food away. Secretly meet a financial need of someone who needs it. Give a big thing away. Show mercy in a situation where the person does not deserve it. There’s so much joy in it! That’s how God’s kingdom works—brothers and sisters holding things loosely!
38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 8:38
I love this promise and picture of joyful obedience and generosity flowing through the people of God. Now, all the time, I am looking for yokes to break, for oppression to lift off, for something to give away. Now, I am constantly seeking to still the pointing finger and end wickedness. Here’s what this has started to look like in my sphere of influence.
It starts with our time with Jesus and then expands to our own little worlds of family and work and ministry. How can I break the yoke of oppression on my children, my husband, my students, the people I lead in worship? I can speak encouragement into them where others see only failure. How can I warn people about sin but still show mercy? How do I reserve judgment and vindication for God alone? This is hard. It takes practice and staying close to Jesus so He can teach me step by step.
Maybe I can shepherd my people into His peace like Jesus shepherded me. What would that look like? Maybe I can be the yoke breaker like He broke mine. How would that feel to have my children one day say their Mama broke the yokes the world tried to put on them? Maybe I can teach my music students that musical excellence is not the goal, but that righteousness is. Maybe I can motivate them not by fear but love—by modeling Jesus and encouraging them to love and obey Christ letting all growth and multiplication come naturally as a byproduct of Christ growing in them. Maybe I can coach my people about being soil (Mark 4), about Living Water (John 4, John 7:38-39); about the one thing necessary (Luke 8:37-42). Maybe I can feed the people around me like the widow who fed Elijah and pour gifts out on them, even in my own lack, without seeking repayment (1 Kings 17:7-24). Maybe I can lead people into worship with open hearts and hands ready for the living water to flow through us back to God in the fruit of our lips. Maybe I can shine light on racist systems and unrighteous heritages and educate my children in the atrocities people in our country committed against the poor, the slaves, the immigrant. For my ministry placement as a missionary, global worship and songwriting facilitator, maybe I can help break the yoke of colonialism that still hangs like a foggy vapor around the world church and encourage local worship and collaboration in local song styles that authentically communicate their hearts to God.
How will God lead you to break yokes, pour yourself out for the hungry, and satisfy the desires of the afflicted?
In a very literal way, we also want to find the poor and oppressed in our community. Where are the poor? Not just the homeless, but the housed poor. What do they need? How can we as the people of God fight to be the ones who meet those needs. We want to be the generous ones! We want to be the ones who get to give! Why? Because it brings us joy and it brings God glory! In fact, we are supposed to seek out these promises like ones who find treasure in a field (Matthew 13:44-46). We just never would have thought the treasure was found in giving all of ourselves and our possessions away. The wealth of the kingdom of God is found in making ourselves poor, not for poverty’s sake, but for gaining and storing up treasure in heaven by helping others in obedience to Christ (Mathew 6:19-21). The kingdom is backwards—to gain you lose! You empty out. You go lower, not higher, you give away, instead of storing up (Matthew 6:26). And it is this emptying of our possessions and our joyful righteousness in the power of the Spirit and authority of Jesus that has the power to repair hearts, minds, and bodies, and to restore communities! We should practice this now because here is the endgame…
10) Righteousness, justice, mercy, and steadfast love will be the defining characteristics of Jesus’ future kingdom which He is preparing for us.
We will never see righteousness and justice fully reign until Jesus brings His Kingdom. We may have revivals, we may have awakenings. But one day, the dream will be real. He is coming back to rule in righteousness. Jesus will rule. And we will rule and reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12). He will establish and sustain his kingdom with justice and righteousness, quietness and trust (Isaiah 32). We cannot accomplish this on our own. It will be something HE accomplishes (Isaiah 9:6-7).
3bHe will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. Isaiah 11:3b-5
His throne will be established in steadfast love, and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness” Isaiah 16:5
God, place opportunities in our lives to reach those who feel oppressed and burdened. In communities where there are a lot of people hosting the seed of the life and righteousness of Jesus, there should be very little poverty, orphans, homelessness, racism, older people in need, sick people without caretakers. We are the righteousness of God in this world until His kingdom comes. It’s completely possible to start living righteous lives. Now to be clear, I do not personally believe it’s wise to expect that we will never sin, but that’s really not the point here. We will sin less as we move into clothing ourselves with righteous acts. You will know God’s delight and pleasure in your life like Jesus did and experience a deep joy (Psalm 45:7, Hebrews 1:9), even in trouble. HE will build this new kingdom through His zeal!
What if the President of your country invited you personally to use His personal financial resources change your friends, family, and community—to make a place where God’s will is done like heaven in the peoples’ lives around you? Would you count that an honor? Would you offer your body as a living sacrifice so you can discern His will (Romans 12)? Would you drop everything to take on His projects?
Now, isn’t God higher than any governing worldly authority—the king of the entire world is calling you and me to be His hands and feet on the ground in our “little worlds” (spheres of influence), carrying out his initiatives with His unlimited resources—walking in an “already-not yet” kingdom of righteousness and justice and peace and steadfast love. Even now, we get to see God’s kingdom come to earth as we pour out his grace, love, peace, and hope wherever we go. This is a one-day-at-a-time kind of living, just simply obeying his step-by-step agenda, flowing in His righteousness, justice, and mercy and love.
This is the fruit that is produced out of our connection to Him. In being with Him and in Him, He bears His fruit us through the seed of Christ. As He grows in us we see the fruit of His righteousness producing righteousness in us! His righteousness means that nothing can deter Him from His purposes, from His sovereignty, that He will finish what He started because of who He is. It is for His glory and the sake of His staying true to His Word that He has planted in us. It’s hosting His life that bears fruit that produces and multiplies more seed! It’s more of Jesus in us telling the message of Jesus in the world—a foretaste of the kingdom to come, the kingdom taking root in us, being born in us, bearing fruit of righteousness and justice out of us until He returns. That’s the invitation.
Here is the amazing thing. In cooperation with our yielded obedience, God is going to produce the fruit of righteousness and faithfulness in us—the same quality that He embodies as the sower! We are actually fulfilling the original intent of our creation—being re-made into the image of God, like our Eden identity. Really, this time—and this only made possible by the grace and mercy and life of Jesus in us. Instead of being easily misguided and wrongfully motivated by our greed, pride, ambition, and fear, we are nurtured faithfully to continually come under the authority and power of God as we worship and seek His glory, His kingdom, His justice, and His righteousness, becoming good rulers and stewards of this world he gave us as it should have been from the start.
But the truth is, God will never accomplish this utopian society before the return of Christ. We will not see a steady increase of righteousness leading seamlessly to the kingdom of God. Things will get very difficult and we will see an increase of wickedness before the day of the Lord. But we will be made righteous and beautiful and ready for the return of Christ.
In the end, here’s how it’s going to happen…this warrior king—He is going to marry us! That is the depth of his faithfulness and passion for us. He has bound us to Himself in righteousness, justice, steadfast love, and mercy, and now we will really know the Lord as He truly is.
Hosea 2:19-20 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.
Revelation 19:6-9. Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
8 Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)
9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
His righteousness will be realized to the fullest extent in us because we are now betrothed to Christ “in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.” How beautiful! How in the world does that even happen, that a creator falls in love with the creation, that a king marries a prostitute, that a farmer marries the soil. But here it is, the ultimate revelation of our true identity—we are His passion, His beloved, His treasure, His goal, His bride. To be truly known. To be truly unified. These are His desires. What’s ours is His and what’s His is now ours. He took on our debt as His own and paid it in full so we could take on the riches of His love and faithfulness. The filthy rags that were ours is His He traded for His robes of righteousness! We now take His name—heirs of God (Romans 8:17 and Galatians 4:6–7)! No longer will there be a disconnect between what we think righteousness should be and who He really is. We will just know Him and be known by Him. And we are, even now, clothed in His righteousness, justice, mercy and faithful love. Even now, we are His forever!