Let’s begin with a few familiar verses of scripture:
- Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
- Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
- The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
- The righteous need not fear.
These and many other verses stress the importance of being righteous people as servants of God. Do we know what that means? If you were asked to describe righteousness in just a few words, which of the following would you select?
- Doing good things
- Not sinning
- Doing a lot of work for the Church
- None of the above
OK, have you made your choice? Then, let’s go through them one by one.
Doing good things is not the same as being righteous. It may well be true in one direction — a righteous person should typically be doing good things — but it may not be true in the other direction. There are many people in the world who do good things while having no relationship with God, perhaps not even believing in God, so these clearly wouldn’t be considered righteous people. So, we will eliminate Choice A.
If you selected Choice B, you’re probably not alone. Many of us would probably describe righteousness as not sinning. And this is not incorrect — avoiding sin is definitely a key component of being righteous. But there’s more to it than that. Imagine a person who is careful to not sin but who also does absolutely nothing for the Lord, for the Church, or for other people. That doesn’t sound very righteous, does it? So, let’s not use Choice B as the definition — it’s an incomplete description.
If someone is avoiding sin (Choice B) and also doing a lot of work for the Church (Choice C), that person would be considered righteous, right? Well, in most cases, that is likely true. But what if God directed the person to do a specific work and the person ignored that and chose to do some other work instead? Is that still righteousness? And what about people whose opportunities to work for the Church are limited? Can they never be considered righteous?
OK, so what is righteousness? Here’s the best definition that I’ve come across:
Righteousness = Doing what God wants you to do
This definition includes avoidance of sin — God wants us all to do that. But it also includes doing whatever work God calls you or inspires you to do. The specific work will differ from person to person — some may be called to do much work and others less — but we all should be open to being led by the Holy Spirit to do what God wants us to do. So, it’s not only about what you don’t do (sin) but it’s also about what you do (what God directs) that makes a person righteous.
And, the greater our collective righteousness becomes, the more unified we will be as the people of God:
- If each of us could agree that what goes against the Word of God is sin and make our choices in life accordingly, we would enjoy great unity in knowing that we’re all on the same side in the battle against sin. Some of the positions may be unpopular in today’s society, but we can all be unpopular together.
- If each of us can have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus (see Philippians 2:5-8) and make ourselves available as a servant to do whatever work the Lord wants us to do, God will assemble us into an efficient team that can work together toward a common goal — building the kingdom of God on earth.
Jesus used an interesting demonstration to illustrate how righteousness unifies His followers. As He was speaking to a group of people, Jesus was interrupted by a man who said that His mother and brothers had arrived and wanted to speak with Him (see Matthew 12, Mark 3, Luke 8). Jesus surprises the man by saying, “Who is my mother? And who are my brethren?” Just as everyone is probably wondering how Jesus could not know who His family is, He points to His followers and says, “Behold my mother and my brethren!” Huh? Then He explains:
“For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matthew 12:50)
How about that? Jesus considers all who are righteous (who do what God wants them to do) to be part of His family (like His brother, sister or mother). This is how we can achieve true unity — when each of us is connected to Jesus as part of His family and therefore connected to each other as one big family. So, let’s all do our best to do the will of our Father which is in heaven such that we can be blessed with unity in righteousness.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.