The Meaning of Righteousness

"The words "it was credited to him" were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification." Romans 4:23-25 (New International Version)

There once was a man named Lot who ventured far away from his homeland in the country of Ur. Fortunately for him, he was not the only relative to leave everything that was familiar that day. Several other family members departed with him. One of the senior members of the family decided that the group had traveled far enough and settled short of the group's intended destination in a town called Haran. After this elderly one had died, Lot and one of his favorite uncles, Abraham, left to go on to a remote area in the land of Canaan among a people neither one of them were familiar with at all.

Everyone has a story. I am convinced more and more that no one reacts to life the way she does without the sum of her experiences influencing her actions. The story of Lot can be found in the Old Testament book of Genesis. Decisions made by Lot that seemed to be insignificant at the time they were made drastically affected Lot and his family. One of them was to settle inside the gates of the wicked city of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Lot later found himself smack dab in the middle of an incestuous relationship with both of his daughters. The result was that he was both father and grandfather to the ancestors of two of Israel's most vicious and long-time enemies. The last we hear of Lot's story in the book of Genesis is of him living in a cave with his two daughters and two sons/grandsons. What a mess! If he were alive today, he would certainly be shunned by society, even ours, which claims to be so tolerant. Incest is looked down even on the most liberal-minded. Lot would be written off as a worthless good-for-nothing.

Scripture does not stay silent on Lot, however. Thousands of years later, a man by the name of Peter wrote the following words about Lot in 2 Peter 2:7-9

"...and if [God] rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment."

I have often pondered why it was Peter who was chosen by the Holy Spirit to give us an inside look into Lot's heart. Peter was the disciple who swore to follow Christ to the death, yet denied his association with Christ three times in one night as Jesus went through a mockery of a trial that ultimately ended in His death on the cross. I believe that Peter knew what it was to be tormented in his soul over his actions. Maybe that is why God revealed to Peter the true condition of Lot's heart.

We are surrounded in our churches with Lots and Peters--people who have made unwise decisions that contradict their true hearts for God. We can easily judge someone who made an unwise decision, which resulted in a fall from grace, and be tempted to write them off forever. That moment of weakness in a person's life becomes a label that he/she can carry around forever. It is smothering, self-condemning, and produces enough guilt to rob that person of joy. And God never means for them to live under that label either they or others give them. Grace is always God's intended gift for all of us. Grace means unmerited favor. I don't deserve it anymore than anyone else. But God gives it to anyone who humbles herself before Him.

What is righteousness? Righteousness is right-standing with God. It is utterly impossible for me, a human being who cannot possibly attain the standard of perfection that God demands, to be righteous by my deeds. Every action of mine is tainted somehow. My human nature knows nothing but to be selfish, ungrateful, or disobedient. I have to fight those base desires everyday. A good deed that comes from me has been stained somehow by my inability to be good enough by myself.

The Bible tells me the meaning of true righteousness. It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with my Jesus.

Romans 4:4-5 (New American Standard Bible)

"4Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.

5But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness..."

In other words, I can not work for salvation. I can only believe that Jesus is my righteousness. That belief credits me as having right standing before God. That explains why Lot could be called a righteous man thousands of years after his many sinful actions. He believed that his right standing with God had nothing to do with him and everything to do with his Creator. Peter did, too. And you and I can also.

We are not what we do, praise God! We are whom we have believed--that Jesus is bigger than any momentary fall from grace. We are not our sin! He is the lifter of our heads. We do not have to carry around those labels that others or we ourselves put on us. If we have humbly repented, believing that Jesus Christ is Lord, that His blood has cleansed us from our sin and that God the Father raised Him from the dead, we are righteous, no matter what blots may be on our life's story. Praise God that He has the final say!

Jesus, thank You that the blood you shed on the cross will never lose its power. I am called righteous because I believe that You are my righteousness, not because of what I do or don't do. Thank You that if we confess our sin to You, You are faithful and just to forgive us of that sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). Help us to stop the futile act of trying to be good enough in Your sight. You are our righteousness!