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Proverbs 15:9 says, “The LORD detests the way of the wicked, but he loves those who pursue righteousness.” One thing that particularly sticks out to me here is that God loves those who pursue or work toward righteousness. I don’t have to attain righteousness for God to love me.
This is important as it is impossible for me to attain righteousness by my own efforts. For example, Romans 3:10-12 says: As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
During the past several months, I’ve seen a few Christians write that they are dissatisfied with their progress in the Christian life, which is all about faith and working toward becoming righteous. Now, that dissatisfaction is good if it spurs efforts toward becoming more righteous, but there is some perspective that is needed here also.
I view our Christian journey toward righteousness something like the trip we would face if we were all at Avila Beach in CA with the intent of getting to Hawaii. There is a great long pier at Avila Beach that stretches it’s way out into the Pacific Ocean. Some of us are just stepping away from the shore onto that pier. Others may have traveled halfway along the pier, and still others may be close to three quarters along the way. You might be a bit farther along than me, and I might be a bit farther along than someone else, but due to the length of a human life and the lack of capabilities of us humans, no one in their lifetime ever makes it to the end of the pier. And, if they did, they’d still have more than 2,000 miles to swim in order to reach Hawaii.
Before we can pursue righteousness, we need to define it. The word most often translated “righteousness” can also mean “justice, justness, or divine holiness.” Righteousness can be broadly defined as “the condition of being acceptable to God as made possible by God.” God’s standard is what defines true righteousness; His power is what enables it. Unless God is its author, we will never possess righteousness. No amount of man-made effort will result in righteousness. To be righteous is to be right with God. A heart that is right with God results in a life that bears “fruit” (John 15:1–2; Mark 4:20). Galatians 5:22-23 lists some of that fruit.
A common substitute for true righteousness is self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is the opposite of what God desires. Self-righteousness makes a list of rules and checks them off, congratulating itself on how well it is doing compared to others. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were masters of self-righteousness, but Jesus had harsh words for them: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27–28).
To pursue righteousness means we must recognize that we cannot please God in our sinful state (Romans 8:8). We turn from trying to justify ourselves by our good deeds and instead seek the mercy of God. We desire that He transform our minds (Romans 12:2) and conform us “to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). In the Old Testament, men were declared righteous when they believed God and acted on it (Genesis 15:6; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). Before Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4), people pursued righteousness by keeping God’s Law, seeking holiness, and “walking humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). No one was justified by rule-keeping, but by the faith that enabled them to obey God (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16).
Likewise, today we are justified by the faith that leads us to Jesus (Romans 3:28; 5:1; 10:10). Those who are in Christ continue seeking God in order to please Him (Colossians 3:1). When we come to faith in Christ, He gives us the Holy Spirit who empowers us to pursue righteousness for its own sake (Acts 2:38). He commands us to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 25).
We pursue righteousness when we pursue the character of Christ and desire holiness rather than fleshly indulgence. We avoid the temptation to become self-righteous when we understand that true righteousness begins with godly humility (Psalm 25:9). We remember that Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When we spend time in the presence of God, we become more aware of our own sin and shortcomings. A dingy shirt looks white beside a dark wall. But, when compared with snow, the same shirt looks dirty. Pride and self-righteousness cannot remain in the presence of a holy God. Pursuing righteousness begins when a humble heart seeks the presence of God (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6). The humble, believing heart leads to a lifestyle of pursuing righteous actions acceptable to God (Psalm 51:10).
Pursuing righteousness is a lifelong struggle in our Christian life. True perfection will not come until the rapture of the church, when we rise to meet Jesus in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). At that time the dead in Christ will be resurrected, and the bodies of the living will be changed (Philippians 3:20, 21; 1 Corinthians 15:54). We will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10) where our works will be judged and rewards will be given (1 Corinthians 3:9–15). Our redemption will be complete, and our sin will be gone forever. We will live and reign with Christ in sinless perfection forever.
We should encourage each other with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:18).