Righteousness is a word that might sound complicated, but in reality it’s not. It simply means to be “in the right.” But when we see in in biblical terms, we have to make sure that we understand what it means to be “in the right.”
So if we just for argument’s sake say that there is a Creator who made this world, including its plants and animals and human beings, with land and water, atmosphere and solar system, stars, moons, and planets within the entire galaxy and universe, then it would be logical that he made each item with a purpose. He set up laws that this universe abides by such as the law of gravity: what goes up, must come down. There are many others, but that’s the easiest one for us to recognize. At the same time there are moral laws for those beings that contain a moral code embedded deep within them, specifically: humans. The easiest of these to look at would be the Ten Commandments.
Now, let’s take the natural law first and let’s say we were playing a little pepper. We take the baseball and throw it up so we can hit a soft grounder to first base. But when we throw it up it never comes back down. There it hung, right in front of our eyes, never falling. We’d just stare at it in bewilderment trying to figure out how the law of gravity just got broken. Meanwhile, our son, who’s waiting for the grounder shouts out, “What’s wrong!?” The ball is what’s wrong. It has broken the law of gravity. As long as the ball goes up and comes down, it’s in the right. We could say that it’s a righteous ball. But the moment the ball stays in the air and will not come down, it is in the wrong. It’s unrighteous. It’s a wicked ball.
Let’s go back to the moral law. God has given us, for argument’s sake, ten moral laws to abide by. Do not have any other gods before Him, don’t make any idol, do not take his name in vain, remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, honor our parents, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, and don’t covet. As long as we are obedient to those laws, we are in the right. We could be considered righteous. But the moment we break one of those laws we are in the wrong. We are unrighteous, or a synonym would be that we are wicked.
So the moment that we cheat off of someone’s test in school we have stolen answers. The moment that we lust after a woman or man, we have committed adultery according to Jesus. The moment we get angry with someone we commit murder in the heart, according to Jesus. The moment we find someone or something that we love more than God we commit idolatry. The moment that we say, OMG, we have taken God’s name in vain. So there is no denying that in some way we have all broken a moral law, and thus in some way we have all been shown to be unrighteous.
God has said, this is the right way to live. This is the right way to go about your life, and He gave us his laws. When we do not go in the way He has commanded, we prove that we are unrighteous.
Once we are unrighteous, there’s no going back, at least not on our own. Imagine eating spaghetti in a white shirt. You drop a meatball on the shirt and stain it. Later on you take the shirt off and throw it in the dirty laundry. A couple of days later, you’re sorting your clothes to wash them, and you see your white shirt. It still has the stain on it!! How can this be!? The shirt has no ability on its own to remove the stain. An outside agent, you with a bottle of bleach, must remove the stain for the shirt.
So it is with us. We are stained, forever stained in the wrong, unrighteousness, wickedness. We have no way of removing that stain on our own. It doesn’t matter how hard we try to obey the rest of the laws. It doesn’t matter how much we try to make it up to God. We are forever stained. Our record of unrighteousness follows us everywhere we go, just like a prison record. It cannot be expunged on our own.
But what if there was someone on the outside, who came and took the stain away? Who could expunge our record of unrighteousness? There is, and that’s why we celebrate Resurrection Sunday. As we look at Romans 3.21-26 these next few days, we will see exactly how it all has come about.
To be continued…