If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2:29, NKJV)
The Bible says, “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). Yet, the Scriptures identify many people as righteous (Abel, Noah, Job, Daniel, Joseph, etc.). How is the possible? Nobody is righteous through law-keeping; that requires sinless perfection (and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23). The harmony is that these righteous ones were people of faith, and their faith was counted to them for righteousness (Romans 4:3, 5; Philippians 3:9). Note please, the Scripture does not say Christ’s righteousness was imputed to them. Scripture says the sinner’s “faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). We cannot earn righteousness through law-keeping – we are sinners (law breakers)! But, we can “hunger and thirst after righteousness, and be filled (Matthew 5:6). By faith, we can practice righteousness (1 John 2:29). We practice righteousness as we live by faith, following the teachings of the Righteous One. The sinner who is born of God is counted righteous by faith (Romans 1:17). To practice righteousness, be upright in heart and faithful to Jesus, and your faith will be counted for righteousness.
But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die. (Ezekiel 18:24, NKJV)
We are tempted to think of our lives like scales, and as long as the good outweighs the bad, we are okay. But, God will not judge us based on whether we have more good than bad, or vice versa. “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). Today’s verse assures us that if we turn away from righteousness and commit iniquity (lawlessness against God), our righteous deeds will not be remembered. We will experience the punishment of death because of our unfaithfulness. The guilt of our sin brings eternal death (Rom. 6:23). This is another verse that teaches the possibility of apostasy. If it is true that once you are saved you can never be lost, then this verse is meaningless and God’s word is false. John said, “everyone who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 Jno. 3:7). But if we commit sin, we commit lawlessness (1 Jno. 3:4). We cannot live in sin and be counted righteous. Let us heed Ezekiel’s warning and not turn away from righteousness, but instead, pursue it (2 Tim. 2:22).
20 Those who are of a perverse heart are an abomination to the Lord, but the blameless in their ways are His delight. 21 Though they join forces, the wicked will not go unpunished; But the posterity of the righteous will be delivered. (Proverbs 11:20–21, NKJV)
We cannot make God into who we say He is. He is God, therefore, we must yield ourselves into who He wants us to be. God is very clear that perversity of heart and sinful conduct does not have His approval or blessing. Let me illustrate. While it is true that God loves the world, the fact is that God’s love prompted Him to send His Son into the world to save the world from sin. That means God does not tolerate, redefine, or minimize sin. Yet, many who claim faith in God do exactly that. They refuse to define homosexuality as sin – even though God does (1 Cor. 6:9-10). They refuse to define the doctrines of men as sin – even though God does (Matt. 15:7-9). They say that God accepts everyone as they are – but our passage today makes it clear that He does not. God delivers the righteous, but the wicked will not go unpunished. God is ready to save sinners, but He will not tolerate or excuse sin. We must think of sin the way God does (Eph. 5:6-7, 11). And why not? We must yield to His will; He will not yield to ours. He is God, not us.
18 You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the Lord your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment. 19 You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. 20 You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 16:18–20)
Our elected representatives are presently considering a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. A righteous nation seeks to appoint judges who will judge among the people with “just judgment” (v. 18). Such justice requires impartiality – a judge who will not be bribed or swayed by the outward circumstances of either the plaintiff (seeking judicial relief) or the defendant. Poverty and wealth hold no preferential sway over the righteous judge. If it does, then injustice will prevail. Israel was told, “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor” (Lev. 19:15). Impartiality is required if justice under the law is to prevail. The judgments of God’s law are “true and righteous altogether” (Psa. 19:9). Therefore, let us use them to “judge with righteous judgment,” without the bias of circumstance or the prejudice by emotion (Jno. 7:24).
4 The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. 6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” (Psalm 1:4–6, NKJV)
We live in a time when we are told we should not, cannot, must not judge anyone. We agree with Jesus that we must not “judge according to appearance.” We also accept His teaching to “judge with righteous judgment” (Jno. 7:24). The “judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether” (Psa. 19:9). Therefore, when we use God’s word to speak His judgments, we judge righteously and do not judge from our own heart. Today’s verse shows God’s judgment against the ungodly – those who live without God in their lives, lacking piety toward Him and obedience to Him. Here, the word of God says the ungodly shall not be vindicated in the judgment or have a place among the gathering of the righteous. God knows the way of the righteous, and He announces His judgment that “the ungodly shall perish.” Still, God offers us escape from sin’s death in His Son, Jesus (Rom. 6:23). Let us turn our hearts heavenward and live unto God, not unto self, sin, and eternal death.
9 I have proclaimed the good news of righteousness in the great assembly; Indeed, I do not restrain my lips, O Lord, You Yourself know. 10 I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth from the great assembly. (Psalm 40:9–10, NKJV)
Over the past two days we have briefly considered the Ad Council’s campaign, “Love Has No Labels.” Today, let us commit ourselves to a different sort of campaign, one needed by our nation and the whole world; a campaign of righteousness. It is led by Jesus Christ, who was prophetically described as “David a Brand of righteousness,” and as King, who executes “judgment and righteousness in the earth” (Jer. 23:5-6). As David proclaimed good news to the great assembly, even so His physical descendant Jesus Christ proclaims “the good news of righteousness” to the world. Let us join His campaign and proclaim God’s salvation in Jesus (Rom. 1:16-17). Be a foot soldier in His campaign of righteousness and be the “salt of the earth” who flavors this world with righteous living. Join His campaign of righteousness and be the “light of the world” who exposes this dark world to the light of truth (Matt. 5:13-16). God’s grace calls on us to live righteously and godly (Titus 2:11-12). Such living demands that we “do not restrain our lips,” but declare God’s faithfulness, mercy and truth.
15 Do not lie in wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous; Do not plunder his resting place; 16 For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity.” (Proverbs 24:15–16, NKJV)
When a righteous person falls into sin or calamity, the wicked person is tempted to take advantage of the situation; to enrich himself at the expense of the fallen. Yet, the righteous will not remain overwhelmed by the moment of transgression or trial; the righteous rise in confessional repentance to “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (1 Jno. 1:9-2:1; Phil. 3:14). Therefore, do not seize upon the trials of another as if it is your advantage. It is certain that such wickedness will not stand (v. 16). But, the Lord renews the righteous because they trust Him. If you should find yourself overwhelmed by sin or by a burdensome trial, do not lose heart. The Lord forgives sin and strengthens His people to endure present sufferings. Thank God today for His compassion and for the guidance of His word, which renews our faith and strengthens us to move onward to the dawn of eternity.