During part 2 of our study on Righteousness - A basic foundation for effective prayer and fasting, we will discuss the following topics.
Does righteousness mean we must be perfect?
How do we walk in righteousness?
Does righteousness mean we must be perfect?
Each time the word perfect is mentioned, what readily comes to mind is the keeping of laws, such as: dos and don’ts, sinless living, correctness in every area of life, error free living and so on. It is a fact that God requires that we should be perfect (Matthew 5:48) but it is also a fact that the Bible concretely confirms that no one is perfect. One may not agree, but when the context of many scriptures is applied on that note, it confirms that no one is perfect. For example, Mark 10:18 confirms “And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God”. If no one is good, how can anyone then be perfect since perfection is ranked higher than being good in correctness? It is quite clear that if no one is good, then no one is perfect as well, except God. Perfection is an attribute of God.
Can God then contradict Himself by demanding that we shall be perfect, and at the same time says we are not good? Let see what God said in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it”? Genesis 6:5-6: ―And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth; and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually‖. The above scriptures are directed to the nature of the heart of man which disqualifies him for self-perfection.
If we study the account of the atonement work on the cross, we will agree that God does not contradict himself. The perfection He means is that of Christ which is now made ours by reason of justification - purchase of righteousness by His blood. The divine exchange that took place on the cross in which Jesus Christ exchanged our imperfection for his perfection so that we could have a right standing with father God is what makes us perfect. 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”.
Each time father God sees us, He sees Jesus. This is the reason that the only way to attain perfection is by putting on Jesus. He sees us through Jesus Christ. When Jesus says that no one is good except God, we can understand the value of the free gift of righteousness of Christ that qualifies us for perfection. When we understand that, by our own strength, we are not qualified to be rated ―good‖, which is substandard to perfection, and in spites, we are promoted to perfection which we did not merit, then we can better understand how great His free gift is. No wonder the Bible described the preaching of this message as ―good news‖. It is indeed good news. This Godly perfection is not earned by work, title, talents, and/or gender, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus makes us perfect when we accept His atonement for our sinful nature (divine exchange). Thus, we are made perfect through Him. God sees us now through Jesus.
Based on the finished work on the cross, we are correct to say that we are perfect and at the same time we are right to say that we are not perfect. How wrong or right we are on this topic depends on the context or basis of the perfection we meant. Is it based on self-effort or the divine exchange on the cross? If the argument is based on the free gift of righteousness, which is accessible by faith, it is right for us to say a born again Christian is perfect because that is the potential which is infused in each born again Christian at the very moment one steps out and receives Christ. In this context, it would also be right to call a 5 month old baby girl a woman. Though all the potentials of a perfect woman is not yet seen in her, however the potential was born with the baby. It is in the DNA of her blood. It is only a matter of time and condition in which the baby is subjected for growth and development. The same thing works for a born again Christian, it is just a matter of time and condition in which a born again Christian is subjected for growth and development of a Christ like character.
On the other hand, if the argument of perfection is based on our effort, then it is correct to say that we are not perfect. Any claim of perfection on personal merit is scripturally incorrect. Otherwise, there would be no reason for Christ to have come and saved man from the debt of death - penalty of sin. The Bible tells us that the righteousness of man is as filthy rags before God. Isaiah 64:6 “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away”. We can be perfect by keeping all the rules of the Old Testament. This would mean that we would keep them all of the time, but this is impossible for sinful humans. The other way is completely different—not by keeping a set of rules, but by faith in Jesus.
The knowledge of the free gift of God’s kind of righteousness will help us in our praying and fasting, as well as assist us to come into the presence of God without guilt of past confessed sins. This knowledge will give us a sense of boldness and confidence in our approach to God regarding our prayer requests.
As I mentioned earlier, after we have exercised our faith in Christ Jesus by repenting and accepting the gift (righteousness), we also need to commit our life to live the lifestyle typical of that gift (righteousness). Living out this lifestyle is what I refer to as walking in righteousness.
How do we walk in righteousness?
Walking in righteousness means living out a life that is in harmony with the image of the lifestyle of God (Jesus Christ), through whom we are born again. Our lives should be expression of Christ in this life, just as Christ is an expression of God the father. 1 John 4:17: “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world”. Just as living things are born and grow into resembling their source of origin, born again Christians should also grow to resemble Christ. The lifestyle of Christ should be our model of life. We can achieve this by abiding in Christ (John 15:1-12) through doing the Word, building an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit as well as spending time in the word of God and prayers.
Paul says the following in Philippians 2:12-16, which relates to walking in righteousness: “
12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”.
13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain”.
If we read this scripture carefully, we find that Paul was speaking to believers. They had already given their lives to Christ and were followers of Christ, but he still told them to work out their salvation. What salvation is he talking about if they were already saved by accepting Christ in their life? What Paul was really saying is that they should live out the lifestyle that is in harmony with their salvation so that they will experience the things that salvation has made available for them. Note that righteousness (right standing with God) is a part of many things that salvation offers to believers. Though these were believers like us, they already had the salvation released into their lives at the very moment they gave their lives to Christ, but the potentials and promises deposited in their lives, in the realm of the spirit, need to be expressed in the physical world.
Paul did not fail to tell them how to work out their salvation. He mentioned the following:
Fear and trembling (reverence and regard for God)
Not to murmur
Not to live in strife
In verse 15, Paul further mentions the results of obeying the instructions listed above:
Becoming sons of God
Free from rebuking
Becoming light in the world
In verse 14, Paul reminds them that God is working in them to will and do His pleasures. When we look at the entire context, we find that Paul was explaining to the Christians at Philippians how to live out the life in harmony with their salvation.
Working in righteousness does not mean we are immune from making mistakes or from falling into sin. We often make mistakes or fall in sin, but we must be quick to confess and repent immediately upon noticing any sin. 1 John 2:1: My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: Our goals as born again Christians should be to align our style of living in a way that takes us to perfections in the physical, which is already ours in the realms of the Spirit. The way to pursue it should not be by keeping of the rules but by faith that expresses itself in our work. This means even when we suddenly fall in sin we have to qucikly repent quick and keep going.
Walking in righteousness should be seen as committing one’s life to living out a lifestyle that is in harmony with our righteousness in Christ. Committing our lives to living out the lifestyle of Christ entails an urgency to repentance, a willingness to die to sin not minding the cost, and willing to develop an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit.
We have seen above that although righteous living means we must be perfect before God but perfection does not mean the type that could be achieved by human effort of keeping of the rules rather by simple faith in God. It is talking about the perfection of Jesus Christ which we inherited by divine exchange on the cross on the day we accepted Him into our lives – our imperfection was exchanged for His perfection. Now God sees us through Jesus Christ. And each time He sees us, He sees the perfection of Jesus Christ in us, as long as we keep connected to Christ by abiding in Him and His Word in us.
Secondly, we can walk in righteousness by abiding in Christ (John 15:1-12) through doing the Word, building an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit as well as spending time in the Word of God and prayers.
Understanding our value to God by reason of the free gift of righteousness will give depth and quality to our prayers and fasting, and that will take us to positions we could experience miracles in things that we are trusting God for. In the upcoming post, I will discuss, among other things, how our faith in God could impact our lives in becoming more and more Christlike thus bringing us physically to a place where our lifestyle expresses Christ.