Plain Papers for Young Believers: Practical Righteousness

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 10
In the first of this series of papers we spoke about our standing in righteousness and sanctification before God. We saw that, by the work of Christ, as brought out in Romans, we are made the righteousness of God, so that we are justified from all things through our Saviour’s death and resurrection. We also saw that in Hebrews the same work is presented as perfectly sanctifying us and fitting us to worship within the sanctuary in the presence of a thrice holy God. We must, however, carefully remember, as we noticed at the time, that in both cases we were only considering our standing before God, and not our state. And having thus briefly considered the former, and subsequently spoken of the new life within us, we may now look at the two ways in which that life flows out of us, leading us to practical righteousness, and holiness, or sanctification.
Two Righteousnesses
If we look at Romans 3 we find the righteousness of God is the constant theme; but if we look at chapter 6, although we find righteousness continually spoken of, it is never the righteousness of God; the reason of the difference being that there are two righteousnesses perfectly distinct. One is God’s, the other is the believer’s; and while in chapter 3 the former is the theme (connected with our standing), in chapter 6 it is the latter (connected with our state). For an instance of these two, let us look for a moment at the first person who is clearly said to have both. We are repeatedly told that Noah was a just and righteous man, and also that he was a preacher of righteousness. We know that he was not a preacher of what we call “the gospel,” but that his preaching and practice were characterized by righteousness of walk and ways. This is analogous to the righteousness of Romans 6.
Noah Had One and Was Heir to the Other
If we now turn, however, to Hebrews 11, we there find that Noah “became heir of righteousness which is by faith.” Mark the language well. In the first place, he is an heir to it, which implies two things—the one, that he has not got it yet, and the other, that he has not worked for it—no man can work for what he inherits. Second, this righteousness is by faith. Turning to Romans 3:2222Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: (Romans 3:22) (so perfectly does Scripture explain itself), we see clearly that the righteousness which is by faith is the righteousness of God. We thus see that Noah lived in one righteousness, and became heir to another. The reason he was only heir to the righteousness of God is explained in Romans 3:2525Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; (Romans 3:25), where it is shown that God could not declare His righteousness, in passing over Noah’s sins, until an adequate propitiation had been made by the death of Christ.
By considering this case, we see that the righteousness in which Noah stands (or will stand) before the throne, is the righteousness of God, as seen in the perfect work of Christ; whereas that in which he lived and glorified God on earth was his own practical righteousness.
Practical Righteousness
Taking PRACTICAL RIGHTEOUSNESS first, we will briefly consider what Scripture says on the subject. In 2 Corinthians 6:1414Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14) we notice this remarkable fact: that it is the first thing mentioned in separation from evil. It is also the very first thing that we are called to follow after (1 Tim. 6:1111But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. (1 Timothy 6:11) and also again in 2 Tim. 2:2222Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)). Thus on three separate occasions it occupies the first place. Nay, more, it is the first of the three things of which the kingdom of God is said to consist practically (Rom. 14:1717For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. (Romans 14:17)). In 2 Corinthians 6:77By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, (2 Corinthians 6:7), it is generally described as the Christian’s armor (consider this expression well), in Ephesians 6 as the breastplate, or that which protects the vital parts. Practically, it is said to give a good conscience (1 Pet. 3:1616Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. (1 Peter 3:16)), which is also of all importance. God’s eyes are over the practically righteous man (1 Pet. 3:1212For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. (1 Peter 3:12)), and that His ears are open to his cry, is seen not only here, but also in James 5:1616Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (James 5:16), where the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Not in one of the passages that have been alluded to does the word “righteous” refer to our standing before God (or what is common to all Christians, and what each possesses in full perfection), but to the individual acts and character in which none is perfect, and no two are alike. Turning to Ephesians 5 we find further that this righteousness is the fruit of the light (Eph. 5:99(For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) (Ephesians 5:9), according to the best versions), an important point to which we shall refer again. In 1 John 3:77Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. (1 John 3:7), we find that Christ only, is the standard of it, and in verse 10 that it is a proof of the new birth.
Righteousness in Daily Life
Such then is a brief review of the way in which Scripture speaks of this quality of the new nature. In what then does it consist? In perfect uprightness of walk and ways. How is it obtained? By living daily in the light of God’s presence. It is the fruit of light.
Do you suppose for one moment, that the man who walks to his daily business, and transacts it before God, can stoop to any of the thousand tricks of trade that pervade every calling — practices that are either commonly winked at or openly allowed, but which are not according to God’s standard of right? Impossible. He must do one of two things: he must forego all such ways and buy and sell and transact his business according to the perfect light in which he stands as a Christian, or, turning his back on the light and shutting his eyes to it, he must descend to the level of this world’s morality, and allow many a thing to pass in his business life that he would shrink from allowing privately. Alas, how few are found in all things to carry out the former practically! How many dwarf their souls, check their spiritual life, and grieve their Lord by slipping into the latter. O beloved reader, weigh for a moment your daily life as you read these pages; consider how it will all look before the judgment seat of Christ. Think not, because it may be you are not actively employed in business, that this has no voice for you. All have their temptations to unrighteousness, and often in most insidious forms. Live as Paul did, in the light of God’s presence and the nearing eternity, and do not allow yourself to stoop to any action, however advantageous to yourself, however commended and advised by false friends, which will not bear that light.
Be Righteous in All Things
It is fearful to think how many of us live in daily unrighteousness in what we call little things, and then venture to approach God in prayer, and the Lord’s table at His supper, without confession. His ears are open to the cry of the righteous. Do not forget that. Nothing so arrests the attention of the world, and makes it believe in the reality of Christianity, as righteous acts that are to one’s own disadvantage. For there is no disguising the truth, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” You cannot fear God and be heaping up riches for yourself. You may lose money, and many a seemingly good opening, if you walk strictly in practical righteousness; but in eternity I need not say who will be the gainer. If you enjoy and trust in “the grace of God” that has brought you salvation, remember and practice its lessons, and see that you live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. Search out all the wonderful Old Testament promises made to the righteous man; and remember that you are not heir to these even spiritually, save as you walk in practical righteousness. Happy indeed is the man who, standing before God in the righteousness which He has provided, walks before his fellow man in that practical rectitude which can alone adorn the grace that has picked him up.