Our Defining Priority (4)
Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. Romans 14.17, 18
If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. 1 John 2.29
Children of light
The apostle Paul reminds us that all who have come to faith in Jesus Christ have undergone a great reset: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5.8). We once occupied that kingdom of darkness, the character of which we have briefly considered. We embraced and followed lies, rather than the truth that is in Jesus. We sought meaning and happiness in things and experiences; and, since none of those ever quite satisfied, we made it our business to pursue more of them, or different ones, hoping to find the golden needle we sought in the haystack of stuff and fun.
But, out of the infinite enormity of His love, God chose not to leave us there. He has conveyed us, by grace through faith, into the Kingdom of His dear Son, the Kingdom of light. Now therefore, Paul continues, our calling is to “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord” (Eph. 5.9, 10).
What is not acceptable to the Lord is that we should continue living in the darkness in a self-centered existence where God has, at best, a marginal role. We are no longer subject to the power of darkness, for God has delivered us from it (Col. 1.13). We are children of the light and of the day; we are not of the night or the darkness (1 Thess. 5.5). The apostle John warns us, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 Jn. 1.6). We have been given a presence in the Kingdom of God, and that Kingdom presence means an altogether different way of life.
Thus, leaving behind our old life, we step out into the wondrous, spiritually enriched, glorious, and fraught-with-promise-and-power world of the Kingdom of God. In that realm, Jesus Christ is making all things new. He has made us new creatures, has given us His indwelling Spirit and Word, and is about the business of refashioning us into His own image (Rev. 21.5; 2 Cor. 5.17; 2 Cor. 3.12-18).
The first order of business for our King and His Kingdom is bringing righteousness to earth, just as it exists in heaven, in and through those He has conveyed from the darkness into the light.
The nature of righteousness
But what is righteousness? Can we define righteousness concisely, so that we may then begin to patch its various features and facets onto our lives? That seems superficial—more like a way we might have sought to transform our lives while we still lived in the darkness.
Righteousness is not, in the first instance, a characteristic, attribute, or trait. Righteousness is a Person: Jesus Christ is righteousness, as John explained: “He is righteous”. Paul reminds us that the Good News about Jesus reveals the righteousness of God in Him (Rom. 1.17). The entire Law of God points to Jesus as the standard of righteousness (Rom. 10.4). Jesus became incarnate that we might see and know what the righteousness of God is (1 Cor. 1.30). If we want to know what righteousness is, we need only look to Jesus.
God has imputed the righteousness of Jesus to everyone He is pleased to save. That is, Jesus and His righteousness are credited to us by God as part of that instantaneous process whereby He gives us grace to believe in Jesus, deposits His Spirit in us, and conveys us into His Kingdom. If you were born in the United States, you were a full-fledged citizen of this great nation, enjoying all the rights and privileges of our freedoms and heritage, from the moment you first drew breath. Of course, while you enjoyed good standing as a citizen, you would have to grow into the many benefits that standing offers; you would thus realize more of your citizenship the older you became, the more you understood, and as you lived as a citizen.
The same is true with righteousness. When we were born again into the Kingdom of God, we were declared to be righteous because God stamped the righteousness of Jesus on our spiritual birth certificate. He conveyed us by the new birth into a holy spiritual realm where righteousness is the ambiance and aim of Kingdom life. Now Jesus calls us to seek His Kingdom and righteousness as the defining motif and highest aspiration of our new lives in Him (Matt. 6.33). Not just the first in a list of new priorities, but the defining priority, the present-in-every-priority priority. We who believe have been plunked down out of the darkness into the glorious Kingdom of light, and now it is our privilege and duty to seek that Kingdom and its righteousness as the ambiance and aim of all we do.
So how do we do that? In short, we see Jesus. All Scripture is about Jesus, so the more we read Scripture, looking for Jesus, the more we will understand what righteousness is and how we may imitate that righteousness like the apostles did (Jn. 5.39; 1 Cor. 11.1). Our desire is to increase in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, so that we might glorify Him in all we are and do (2 Pet. 3.18). All who have been conveyed into that realm of light and life where Jesus rules will set their minds on Him, looking to discover in Him all that pertains to the righteousness which He is, which has been imputed to us, and which we are called to seek as the priority of all we are and do (Col. 3.1-3; Ps. 16.8).
This means we must use every resource at our disposal to help us see Jesus, beginning with the Scriptures, but looking also to our Christian heritage of hymns and other music, art and literature, the example of our Christ-like forebears, the testimony of others who know Him, and the witness Christ daily expresses through the things of creation (Heb. 1.3; Ps. 19.1-4).
We want to see Jesus, to have a clear image and sense of Him in our minds, what He’s like, how He thinks (1 Cor. 2.16), what He loves and desires, and how He might act in any situation. We want to increase in the likeness of Jesus and His righteousness because this is our Kingdom presence in this world, a presence of righteousness that points beyond us to Jesus. The more we see Jesus, the more we will know what righteousness is, and the more the Spirit and Word of God will transform us into that very image and likeness, thus confirming and expanding our Kingdom presence in the world.
For reflection or discussion
1. As you think about Jesus, how does He lead you to think about righteousness?
2. How would you describe what comes to mind when you hear the word “Jesus”?
3. What can you do to increase the clarity and constancy of your vision of Jesus?
Next steps – Preparation: Review your approach to knowing Jesus—through Scripture and other means. What can you do to focus more continuously on Jesus in your prayers, reading of Scripture, appreciating the creation, and so forth?
T. M. Moore
A companion study to this installment is entitled, “We Would See Jesus.” The four installments in that series are available free of charge by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study.