As I began reading through this chapter once again, asking the Lord for direction, it occurred to me that we might have sequel to last week’s lesson. Last week we spent a few minutes considering some of the consequences of one particular sin. We began with, “When pride cometh, then cometh shame,” and then moved on to related scriptures. Here in verses 5 and 6 we read – “The righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way” and “The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them.” I thought to myself, if the Bible has another five or six statements which parallel these, I’ll have a profitable devotional. Alas, these are the only verses which directly speak of the profitability of personal righteousness.
In order to reach that conclusion, I asked my concordance to search for the words: “the righteousness of.” It gave me an easily manageable twenty-two scriptures. And generally speaking, they could be grouped into five categories. Having failed in my original thought, I decided to go with plan B. Let’s consider each of these five groups.
One verse speaks of the righteousness of GOD’S WORD.
David says to the Lord in prayerful psalm, “The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting.” We could probably build a healthy sermon around that verse alone. The testimony of God, ie. His Word, is as eternal as God Himself. This should develop in our minds into the doctrine of the eternal preservation of His Word. God’s Word is available to us today, as much as it was to the twelve disciples when they walked with Christ and listened to His voice.
Second, we have every right to interpret the word “righteousness” in the sense of holy perfection. The vast differences in Bible versions is not only unnecessary but contrary to God’s revelation. Just as Jehovah himself does not change, neither does His revelation or His testimonies.
And third, it is absolutely righteous, God’s Word is holy – just as He is holy.
With this in mind we aren’t surprised to find many scriptures which speak of the righteousness of GOD.
Micah 6:5 says, “O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal; that ye may know the righteousness of the LORD.” I found it mildly interesting that only a third of our scriptures are from the Old Testament. More than half come from the pen of the Apostle Paul.
Romans 1:17 – “For (in the gospel) is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” Romans 3:5 – our sinfulness magnifies the righteous of God. Romans 3:21 – “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
There are some great and important verses which speak of the righteous of God. II Corinthians 5:21 – “For (God the Father) hath made him (God the Son) to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” In Romans 10:3 Paul bemoans the condition of his kinsmen, the Jews, blending two of our categories. “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.”
Of course, it is but a tiny step to move from the righteousness of GOD to the righteousness of CHRIST. Or perhaps it is not a step at all, but only a matter of semantics. Peter opens his second epistle by tying together the Father and the Son – “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” People like us – sinners by nature – have been given the opportunity to fellowship with the holy and righteous God through the righteousness of Christ. Romans 5:18 – “Therefore as by the offence of one (Adam) judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one (Jesus Christ) the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”
Paul spends a considerable amount of time comparing two more categories of our subject.
There is a righteousness of THE LAW, which fails us because we fail it, and there is a righteousness which is by FAITH. In Hebrews 12:14 Paul says that “without (holiness) no man shall see the Lord.” For the Jews and much of the rest of humanity, the pursuit of holiness – righteousness – is their religion. But in Romans, Galatians and other epistles Paul reminds us about the failure of this policy. We cannot be cleansed of sin and justified before God by the righteousness of religious law-keeping. The problem is not in the law, but in our inability to keep the law. Again, speaking about Israel, he says, “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” The context explains that “their own righteousness” refers to attempts to use the law to produce righteousness – “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us” – Romans 8:4. But it is an utter waste of effort – poor effort.
In contrast to that fruitless effort, the Bible is full of examples of righteousness which is by faith. Abraham “received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:” “For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith” – Romans 4:11 and 13.
Picture a man born in sin – all the children of Adam are born in sin. This particular man is burdened about his separation from God, and yearns for salvation. For years he tries to rid himself of sin, turning to religion, even to the Bible, looking for righteousness. But despite periods of reasonable success and the pride which results, he knows he is a failure. And then along comes a gospel preacher with the record that Christ has taken upon himself the wicked unrighteousness of sinners, bearing it to the cross. The evangelist tells the man to repent before God and trust what Christ has accomplished. When that sinner stops trying to produce righteousness through obedience to the law…. When by divine grace, he trusts by faith what Christ has done, the righteous which is of faith is graciously given to him. He becomes a new creature in Christ.
And that is when our two verses from Proverbs 11 come into play.
“The righteousness of the PERFECT shall direct his way” and “The righteousness of the UPRIGHT shall deliver them.” Remembering that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, which means that we have no personal righteous in ourselves… How does Solomon get away with pointing to the “righteousness of the perfect” and the ” righteousness of the upright”? He is talking about the righteousness which is by faith. This righteousness is not just a matter of some future salvation – it is the righteousness of the new creature in Christ. It is righteousness which he received from the Sovereign God by faith.
This man who is now a saint of God possesses a divine gift, the seal of the Holy Spirit, within him. He has the witness of Spirit who will direct his way, when that man is willing to listen. He has the righteousness of the Spirit to deliver him from the dangers of temptation and sin. But again, it is not actually his righteousness; it is the righteousness of God through faith. Before the eyes of the Lord, he is “upright,” yea, even “perfect” in the Lord Jesus Christ.