14 But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.
Acts 3:14-15 NASB
This post is part 1 of a 2-part series on the difference between the words righteous and holy. My hope is to break these words down so that we better understand what each one means and how they apply to the lives of us believers. Today, we will concentrate on the word righteous.
Who Is Man?
Who is man to think that he can truly understand the righteousness and holiness of God? Likewise, who am I to think that I could possibly add to all that has been expressed by others on this topic or be able to truly define and articulate the difference between these two words (righteous and holy) or how they relate to the life of the believer? In his book titled The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer wrote:
“Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is. Because He is holy, all His attributes are holy; that is, whatever we think of as belonging to God must be thought of as holy.”
What a beautiful way to describe the holiness of the one true God. I'm not so sure that I could add to this in any way that would make it more complete or articulate God's character more clearly. Yes, "He is that standard."
Nevertheless, it seems to me, that although there is already in circulation much literature to learn more about this subject, many Christians that I meet cannot really articulate the differences between these two terms, nor can they describe how each would apply to one's life. In all fairness, I too have wrestled with these ideals and how it is that I should live out the principles defined in each. Although I don't expect this to be the final word on these topics, my hope is that I will nevertheless give cause for you to deeply consider how the righteousness and holiness of God should impact your life and the lives of those believers in your care. It is also my goal that this discussion would ignite in you and me, a desire to seek God more, and to know Him more deeply.
Jesus, Righteous and Holy
Our passage today (Acts 3:14) helps us to see that Jesus was both righteous and holy. But before we can truly digest what that means, we need to better define each term.
As we discuss the word righteous, we need to keep in mind that we are discussing our ability to be right with God. The word righteous literally means rightness with God. For a person to be called righteous in the eyes of God, means that they are right with Him. Merriam-Webster defines the English word righteous as "acting in accord with divine or moral law: free from guilt or sin." Originally, man was created with an intimate relationship with God; we had "rightness" with Him from the beginning. However, after Adam and Eve's sin, all mankind was separated from God; because of our rebellion in Eden, our original relationship with Him was severed. Through Adam, sin entered the world (Romans 5:12), and from that time forward we are no longer "right with God". The Law, given through Moses, showed mankind just how far away we truly were from a right relationship with the Creator. The Law also became the proof-text for mankind to realize its need for a savior since no man could ever achieve rightness with God on his own. For man to ever renew our relationship with God, it would require us to live a life of absolute purity, to be found perfect by God's standards. But the Law showed us that this task is impossible for man to accomplish in his own strength; the Law was to point us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).
In Matthew 5:20, Jesus tells His followers "unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." You see, the Pharisees worked to be made right with God through their own ability to fulfill the Law. They were relying on their own "self-righteousness" as though they could somehow make themselves right with God through their own efforts. Romans 3:9-18 tells us that no one is righteous and that all men have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
True righteousness (without sin; perfect with the Law) is an absolute requirement for reconciliation with God (salvation). Without this reconciliation, or a renewed righteous state with God, man cannot be saved from death and eternal separation from God; it is truly impossible. We see the need for righteousness throughout scripture and we also see that a person's belief (or faith) has been paramount to achieving a rightness with the Creator. Even in the Old Testament, we see that a person's belief in God was the necessary requirement for reconciliation with Him:
6 Then [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and [God] reckoned it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness... Romans 4:1-5
This necessity for belief continues today under the work of the New Covenant which God provided through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Going back to our scripture for today (Acts 3:14-15), we see that Jesus was truly righteous before God; He was pure, without blemish, and fulfilled the legal requirements of the Law of God. In addition, if we believe (place our faith) in Christ Jesus, then we are hidden in the righteousness of Christ!
21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21
3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3
You see, Christ said that the self-righteousness of the Pharisees would never meet the requirements necessary to achieve rightness with God. That is why He said that our righteousness must surpass (or exceed) that of the Pharisees. But as believers who put our faith in Christ, we are hidden in the righteousness of Christ! Just as with Abraham, our faith in Him is credited to us as righteousness and because of the righteousness of Christ, we are then justified (acquitted of our sin) and made righteous in the eyes of the Father!
Through Christ, we have been made right with God! Therefore, we are now reconciled to God and have received the gift of salvation!
Romans 10:10 gives us a clear understanding of how the righteousness of Christ is provided to us at the moment we believe: 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
Confess with your mouth, believe in your heart. This beginning act of faith is where we find reconciliation with God. And to those of you who may be wondering, no, water baptism is not a necessary part of this equation for peace with God. Remember that it is rightness with God that man longs to achieve once again, and this has been made available by the rightness of Jesus Christ. Believe in Him who died as the payment for our sins and was raised to life for our victory over death and you will be saved.