Over Easter, our pastor challenged us to live like Jesus is actually risen. Someone I know (quite rightly) asked the question “but what does that look like?” My response is that part of the answer is righteousness, but that might need some explaining.
Righteousness? What’s that?
One of the many things that Jesus rising from the dead means is that we have been made righteous—justiﬁed. What many Christians don’t know is that this means more than “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned” (though certainly not less). But, because our culture doesn’t really use the word righteous much, we don’t really get the concept.
So what does it mean to be righteous? Being unrighteous is all too easy to describe: Imagine you are a child in a group of children about to play a game. Two captains are picking team members one by one, and as child by child is picked, you are the last one left. At that moment you know that neither team really wants you—both captains think their team will perform worse for having you with them. In the eyes of those captains, you are unrighteous—you don’t make the cut.
Righteousness is the opposite of that, but is still a little harder to describe in our culture. Imagine you are a high school student just completing your final year. You have worked very hard, but you have no idea really how you have done in your exams. Then, an envelope arrives in the mail from overseas. You open it up and inside is a letter of acceptance from Oxford University offering a full scholarship. You didn’t even apply—your parents filled an application on your behalf—but you have been accepted; you have been found worthy; you are in. In other words, Oxford has found you righteous.
Times a bazillion
The righteousness we get from God is a little bit like the righteousness from Oxford, except a bazillion times more significant. Because the God who declares us righteous is so much bigger and more important than any university or person. This is the God who put the stars in their place with but a word. This is the God who makes the earth tremble and mountains shake. This is the God who dwells in unapproachable light. This God is saying you’re OK; you make the cut; He’s picking you to be on his team. When the bible says that Jesus’ righteousness has been given to us, it means that when God looks at us, instead of seeing all our unworthiness and imperfection, God sees Jesus’s worthiness and feels towards us the way he feels towards his Son.
Now this may all seem very nice, but what does it mean to live like Jesus is risen in light of that? Well, if we really get that our sins are forgiven and we are righteous, it means not being controlled by guilt or obligation. Our sins are forgiven, completely, so we have no need to do anything out of guilt. It’s all been done; finished by Jesus. God is not angry at our sin any longer, so we do not need to appease him. We don’t have to prove that we are a good person to God, because God has given us Jesus’ goodness. It’s all been done.
Jesus being risen also means never needing to prove ourselves. No more need to be somebody or make something of ourselves. The mighty ruler of the universe picked us—adopted us. We are royalty. The great God of highest heaven looks at us now and says “you’re OK.” So we don’t have to prove anything to anybody.
So, what are the practical implications? Here are a few:
- Just because a pastor, or a parent, or a co-worker asks us to do something, or suggests something is a good idea—that does not mean we have to do it. We are free. We can do it if we want to because we agree that it’s a good idea, or because we love them, or because we are grateful to God and think He would like it. But, we are not obliged.
- If we feel guilt for something we have repented of, then that is not coming from God—it’s coming from someone or something else. We don’t have to accept it or listen to whoever is trying to make us feel guilty. The almighty ruler of the universe who will judge the living and the dead has declared us not guilty. Anyone else’s opinion on the matter (including our own) is irrelevant.
- If we do a ‘good work’ of some kind that is inconvenient, or time consuming or tedious—then we do it because we choose to, and we do it gladly. Since we are not compelled by guilt or obligation any more, it’s our choice to do these things. If we don’t want to do them, then we don’t have to.
- If we are feeling weighed down with obligations or guilt or being over-committed, then we have probably forgotten what it means to be righteous. So we should probably stop and focus on remembering that instead of pushing on and getting resentful, tired and burned-out.
It’s all been done. No more guilt. No more obligation. Jesus paid it all.