The Right Thing to Do
Righteousness has gotten a bad rap in our culture. Perhaps it is an overreaction to hypocrisy. Being authentic is all the rage, and being authentic sometimes means being open and almost proud about the hot mess of our lives.
Righteousness has two very powerful senses to it. There is the righteousness that belongs to Jesus Christ, the perfect One. When we place our faith in Jesus and give our lives to Him, we are covered by His righteousness. Christ becomes our clothing - our covering.
"So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Galatians 3:26-27 NIV) We are granted right standing with God because of the righteousness of Jesus. It is a gift we cannot earn, and it covers, forgives and wipes out all our sin.
Jesus accepts us in the hot mess of our lives. He loves us and receives us as His own in spite of all our unrighteousness. When we are incapable of doing good, His goodness covers us. When we are anything but righteous, His righteousness becomes ours.
But there is more. He doesn't just leave us in the hot mess!
The other sense of righteousness is the freedom we receive in the power of God's Holy Spirit to begin to become righteous - to live right. The power of Jesus' love breaks the power of our selfishness and sets us free to love others by keeping God's commands. We begin to desire to do the right thing. We don't want to embarrass or dishonor Jesus by continuing to live a life of sin.
And so, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we change. The righteousness we received begins to become the right living of our lives. When I gave my life to Jesus at 15 years of age, I had quite a temper. Over the years of growing in Christ, I walked out of that temper and into His patience. Do I still get angry sometimes? Yes, I do. But my life is marked overall by the fruit of patience rather than the ugliness of anger.
Living the righteousness of God becomes important because we have an enemy who attacks us, and a major opening into our lives is unrighteousness. When we tolerate sin we give the devil opportunity to wreak havoc in our lives. Righteousness - both the righteousness we have been granted in Christ and the righteousness we live out through Christ - is a breastplate that protects our heart.
The modern equivalent of the Roman breastplate is the kevlar vest. Just as a breastplate protects the heart from sword or spear, a bullet-proof vest protects the heart from bullet or knife. Righteousness protects our heart from the spiritual attacks of guilt and temptation.
When we consider putting on the full armor of God and we get to the breastplate, I believe it calls us to pray two things. "God, cover my life with the righteousness of Jesus that is greater than any righteousness in me. Thank you for right standing with you through my Savior." And "God, work into my life the righteousness of Jesus so that I begin to live rightly - so that I honor you in everything I do. Help me to do the right thing, Lord."
Then we can live out the vision of a holy life given to us by Jesus in Matthew 5:16: "In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." It's just the right thing to do!