Why Pursue Righteousness?
IN THE violent world before the Flood, one man stood out as different. That man was Noah. He and his family walked with God while the rest of mankind ignored Him. As a result, “Noah was a righteous man” in those wicked times, and to unheeding worldlings he became “a preacher of righteousness.”—Genesis 6:9; 2 Peter 2:5.
Sometime about the year 56 of our Common Era, the apostle Paul was in prison in Caesarea. When summoned from his prison to the presence of Governor Felix, Paul seized the opportunity to preach to this high Roman official. What was the gist of his words? “He talked about righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come.” (Acts 24:25) Yes, Paul too was a preacher of righteousness.
The concern that these two faithful servants of God showed for righteousness was surely appropriate. Jehovah is “a righteous God and a Savior.” (Isaiah 45:21) Hence, the inspired proverb tells us: “The way of the wicked one is something detestable to Jehovah, but the one pursuing righteousness he loves.” (Proverbs 15:9) All of God’s servants must pursue righteousness.
Unhappily, many today have a casual attitude toward this quality. They say: ‘I do no harm to my neighbor, so I am sure God is pleased with me.’ Or they may maintain: ‘There are many paths to righteousness. Everything will be all right as long as I am sincere about my religion.’ Do you think such a relaxed attitude is acceptable to God?
Others may raise a different issue. They may be aware of Paul’s statement: “We have been declared righteous as a result of faith.” (Romans 5:1) In view of this, they may wonder: ‘How are Christians, who are already declared righteous, supposed to keep on pursuing righteousness?’ How would you answer such a question?
A God of Righteousness
According to the dictionary, righteousness is moral rightness, justice, harmony with divine or moral law. Since Jehovah is a God of righteousness, any who wish to please him must be concerned about this vital quality. “Jehovah is righteous,” said the psalmist. “He does love righteous acts. The upright are the ones that will behold his face.” (Psalm 11:7; Deuteronomy 32:4) The apostle Peter said: “The eyes of Jehovah are upon the righteous ones, and his ears are toward their supplication.”—1 Peter 3:12.
Hence, we cannot be casual in this matter, as many of the Jews were. Many of them were no doubt decent people who did no harm to their neighbors. They were also sincere—even zealous—about their religion. But in the first century, the majority were not righteous in God’s eyes. Paul said: “I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God; but not according to accurate knowledge; for, because of not knowing the righteousness of God but seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”—Romans 10:2, 3.
Where did the Jews go wrong? Paul says they did not pursue righteousness according to accurate knowledge. Their warning example tells us that it is not enough just to have a pleasant personality and avoid doing harm. It also indicates that there are not many different paths to righteousness. Clearly, there was something wrong with the path chosen by most Jews in the apostles’ day. We can successfully pursue righteousness only if we listen to God. The book of Proverbs says: “My son, if you will receive my sayings and treasure up my own commandments with yourself, in that case you will understand righteousness and judgment and uprightness, the entire course of what is good.”—Proverbs 2:1, 9.
The Way of Righteousness
From Moses down to Jesus, righteousness was linked to obeying God’s commands as stated in the Mosaic Law. Since the imperfect Israelites were unable to keep from transgressing these commands, they had to offer sacrifices and sin offerings prescribed by the Law in order to cover their guilt. Moses told the Israelites: “It will mean righteousness for us, that we take care to do all this commandment before Jehovah our God, just as he has commanded us.”—Deuteronomy 6:25.
For many centuries no one fulfilled the Law perfectly. Nevertheless, many sincerely tried to pursue righteousness by means of it, and the Bible speaks of some of these as being righteous. For example, the parents of John the Baptizer are described as “righteous before God because of walking blamelessly in accord with all the commandments and legal requirements of Jehovah.”—Luke 1:6.
Jesus, however, opened a new way to pursue righteousness. He kept the Mosaic Law perfectly—the only person ever to do so. Jesus died on the torture stake, and Jehovah accepted the value of his perfect life as a ransom for mankind. From then on, sacrifices under the Law covenant were no longer needed. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice covered the sins of all righthearted humans.—Hebrews 10:4, 12.
True Christians Declared Righteous
Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, then, righteousness has been linked with exercising faith in this righteous Son of God. (John 3:16) While the orthodox Jews of Paul’s day did not attain to righteousness because they rejected accurate knowledge about Jesus, we read about faithful Christians: “They are being declared righteous by his undeserved kindness through the release by the ransom paid by Christ Jesus.”—Romans 3:24.
In the context, these words apply directly to anointed Christians who, because of their faith in Jesus’ sacrifice, are declared righteous with a view to their being coheirs with Christ in the heavenly Kingdom. Today, however, as foreseen by the apostle John, a great crowd of Christians with an earthly hope have come on the scene. These also exercise faith in the ransom. They ‘wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb’ and so are declared righteous as friends of God with a view to their surviving the great tribulation.—Revelation 7:9, 14; compare James 2:21-26.
Keep Pursuing Righteousness
Notice, though, that the pursuit of righteousness does not end with our putting faith in Jesus. Timothy had been a dedicated, anointed Christian for many years when Paul wrote the following words to him: “Pursue righteousness, godly devotion, faith, love, endurance, mildness of temper. Fight the fine fight of the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:11, 12; 2 Timothy 2:22) Why did Timothy have to “pursue righteousness” if God had already declared him righteous?
Because the word “righteous” is also used in the Bible in a more general sense to refer to one who lives an honest, moral life and does his best to obey God’s commands. This is the sense in which the parents of John the Baptizer were righteous. (Luke 1:6) Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, and Joseph of Arimathea were also righteous in this way. (Matthew 1:19; Luke 23:50) The fact that Christians have been declared righteous does not remove their responsibility to pursue righteousness in this sense. Indeed, any Christian who ceases to live an honest, moral life or fails to obey God’s commands will lose his righteous standing before Jehovah.
Pursuing Righteousness—A Challenge
Pursuing righteousness is a challenge. Why? Because all of us are imperfect and have a strong tendency toward unrighteousness. (Genesis 8:21; Romans 7:21-23) Moreover, we are living in a world that encourages unrighteous thoughts and acts and is under the control of Satan the Devil, “the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19; 2 Corinthians 4:4) No wonder that when writing to Timothy, Paul linked pursuing righteousness with ‘fighting the fine fight of the faith’!—1 Timothy 6:11, 12.
Can we be successful in this “fine fight”? Yes, but only if we develop a heartfelt love of Jehovah’s standards and a hatred of what is bad. The Bible says of Jesus: “You loved righteousness, and you hated lawlessness.” (Hebrews 1:9) We should have the same attitude: an intense desire to cultivate a love for what pleases God and an aversion to anything that displeases him.
At the same time, we should remember that the pursuit of righteousness is not a competition. If we view ourselves as better than some others, or if we are proud of our own righteousness, then we are like the Jewish Pharisees. (Matthew 6:1-4) Those who pursue righteousness successfully have a genuinely humble view of themselves, ‘considering that the others are superior to them.’—Philippians 2:3.
Paul highlighted the importance of Bible study in the pursuit of righteousness when he wrote: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) If we study the Bible and attend Christian meetings where the Bible is discussed, we will be trained in righteousness. The Bible can mold us so that we put on ‘the new personality, which is created in true righteousness and loyalty.’—Ephesians 4:24.
When righteousness becomes an integral part of us, we will truly hate lawlessness. We will not be tempted to seek the bad associates of this world. (1 Corinthians 15:33) We will not be influenced to love the things of this world or to conform to this world’s materialistic values. (Proverbs 16:8; 1 Timothy 6:9, 10; 1 John 2:15-17) Certainly, we will not be attracted by the immoral and violent entertainment that is so widely available today.—Ephesians 5:3, 4.
The Blessings of Righteousness
Yes, pursuing righteousness Jehovah’s way is a challenge, but the struggle is worth while. Why? Because it leads to our enjoying a personal relationship with Jehovah himself. What a remarkable privilege! The Bible tells us: “The abiding place of the righteous ones [Jehovah] blesses.” “Jehovah is far away from the wicked ones, but the prayer of the righteous ones he hears.” (Proverbs 3:33; 15:29) In addition, we come to a rich understanding of Jehovah’s purposes. “The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.”—Proverbs 4:18.
The Bible promises protection to seekers of righteousness when this unrighteous system of things comes to its end. “Seek Jehovah, all you meek ones of the earth, who have practiced His own judicial decision. Seek righteousness, seek meekness. Probably you may be concealed in the day of Jehovah’s anger.” (Zephaniah 2:3) Thereafter, for those with an earthly hope, the Bible offers a truly wonderful expectation: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Psalm 37:29.
What marvelous reasons for pursuing righteousness! As God himself says: “He that is pursuing righteousness and loving-kindness will find life, righteousness and glory.”—Proverbs 21:21.