Reading 1 – Friday, December 1, 2017
Righteousness Is Love
By Francesco Dominico Caputo, Italy
Dear brothers, sisters, and friends, in analyzing this topic, we will answer some questions: What does righteousness mean? What is the source of unrighteousness? What is the relationship between righteousness and love? How shall we approach God?
What does “righteousness” mean?
The Italian encyclopedia Treccani gives the following meaning for the word “righteousness”: “Eminently social virtue that consists of the willingness to recognize and respect the rights of others by giving to each one what is due according to reason and law.” Another meaning is “the power to achieve that which is right with measures that are legally enforceable and with the exercise of this power and the system that allows it to be carried out.” The same encyclopedia reports that righteousness is a principle and a moral virtue that consists in giving each person that which belongs to him (suum cuique tribuere).
From the Biblical point of view, the true meaning of the word “righteousness” is loving God and one’s neighbor. On one side, it is giving God what belongs to Him (love, worship, gratitude, supremacy, sacred time, obedience, virtually all our being). Exodus 20:1-11.
On the other side, it is to give our neighbor his due (affection, help, service). Exodus 20:12-17. Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” Matthew 22:21. He instructs the human being to love God above all; and, his neighbor as himself. Matthew 22:34-40.
What is the source of unrighteousness?
Originally, man was created in the image and likeness of God. Genesis 1:26.
“It was possible for Adam, before the fall, to form a righteous character by obedience to God’s law. But he failed to do this, and because of his sin our natures are fallen and we cannot make ourselves righteous.” –Steps to Christ, p. 62. It is clear: Before the fall, man was able to live righteously, loving the Lord above all and his neighbor (Eve) as himself. His actions were filled with selfless love. Unfortunately, in choosing Satan as his master, the father of our race fell into total misery, practicing self-justification and unrighteousness. This was shown by the answer that he gave to God’s question whether he had eaten of the forbidden tree. He blamed his partner and consequently the Creator Himself. Genesis 3:11, 12.
From that moment on, human nature became more and more corrupt, and righteousness practically disappeared from the earth. There is a progression into greater and greater evil–brother against brother, husband against wife, children against parents, parents against children, uncles who deceive their nephews, brothers who rape their sisters. Polygamy, incest, divorce, child abuse, massacres of innocent people, slavery, and imaginable other evil practices have become common today.
Human beings try to justify themselves by claiming to be righteous, while they blame or accuse their neighbors of unrighteousness. Or they try to establish righteousness by making rules without going to the source of true goodness–God. Jeremiah 23:6. In their foolishness, they draw from broken cisterns that cannot hold water, forgetting the Saviour and Creator. Jeremiah 2:13. They do not recognize that their righteousness is like “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:4-6) and that their actions are devoid of love. Israel, by multiplying its sacrifices in the attempt to demonstrate self-sufficiency, tried thus to buy God’s love and favor while forgetting that the Lord Himself is love–“merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” Exodus 34:5-7.
In bringing sacrifices and fasting, the people of Israel showed that they did not understand the true fast that is pleasing to God. Through the prophet Isaiah He warned His people: “Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high. Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rereward [rearguard].” Isaiah 58:4-8.
Israel did not heed God’s call to live righteously and to love. The repeated appeals through the prophets were ignored. The society’s moral condition became more and more degraded, to the point where it was desperate by the time Jesus came to earth. Pharisaism had made the consciences of the chosen people callous; love, righteousness, and mercy were supplanted by many meaningless rules. There was a show of meritorious deeds; but all the things that were of value to God were neglected or set aside, such as caring for the sick, loving the orphans and widows, keeping the moral law, loving one’s parents, etc.
Jesus reveals what is in man’s heart, urging him to look inside: “And He saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And He said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” Mark 7:18-23.
So, unrighteousness is part of our heritage, of our life, of our very nature. Can this be changed? Is there a remedy for this? Can you and I go back to being righteous, as Adam was before the fall? If so, how does this come about? Jesus came to this earth for this very purpose–to lift up the human race. He lived perfect righteousness, full of love and mercy. His obedience and service were perfect, and therefore He is “The Lord Our Righteousness.” Jeremiah 23:6.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “But of Him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” 1 Corinthians 1:30. And in the second letter to the Corinthians, he added: “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21. Thus, Christ’s merits are imparted to the believing sinner, who is considered righteous through Christ, as if he had never sinned. Through the grace of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, one is able to experience true righteousness, free from pharisaism and full of purity and holiness, because it comes from Christ Our Righteousness.
What is true righteousness?
For Christ, His righteousness is so important that He included it in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6.
When a person is hungry or thirsty, he is so desperate that all of his energy is focused on looking for bread and water to satisfy his need. He does not stop until he finds water to quench his thirst and food to satiate his hunger. Similarly, one who is in Christ will do everything he can to serve God and to meet the needs of his neighbors. By living an active life, full of acts of righteousness and love, it will become natural for him to be a “channel” through which Christ’s love and righteousness flow out to the needy, the afflicted, and those who are searching for God.
Righteousness equated with love
God is righteousness and love at the same time; and because of this, one is justified by faith in Christ. Romans 3:26, 24. Justification is pardon and forgiveness, and this is possible because of God’s love. “Justification is a full, complete pardon of sin. The moment a sinner accepts Christ by faith, that moment he is pardoned. The righteousness of Christ is imputed to him, and he is no more to doubt God’s forgiving grace.” –Reflecting Christ, p. 78.
“God does not deal with us as finite men deal with one another. His thoughts are thoughts of mercy, love, and tenderest compassion. ‘He will abundantly pardon.’ He says, ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions’….” –Our High Calling, p. 27.
“Jesus is the only one who can give you peace. He loved you and gave Himself for you. His great heart of love is ‘touched with the feeling of our infirmities.’ What sins are too great for Him to pardon, what soul too dark and sin-oppressed for Him to save? He is gracious, not looking for merit in us, but of His own boundless goodness healing our backslidings and loving us freely, while we are yet sinners. He is ‘slow to anger, and of great kindness;’ ‘long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ ” –Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, p. 649.
Additionally the Spirit of prophecy relates how righteousness and love are embodied in Christ. As we receive Him, we receive both gifts. “Righteousness is holiness, likeness to God, and ‘God is love.’ 1 John 4:16. It is conformity to the law of God, for ‘all Thy commandments are righteousness’ (Psalm 119:172), and love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:10. Righteousness is love, and love is the light and the life of God. The righteousness of God is embodied in Christ. We receive righteousness by receiving Him.
“Not by painful struggles or wearisome toil, not by gift or sacrifice, is righteousness obtained; but it is freely given to every soul who hungers and thirsts to receive it. ‘Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat,… without money and without price.’ Isaiah 55:1.
“No human agent can supply that which will satisfy the hunger and thirst of the soul….
“As we discern the perfection of our Saviour’s character, we shall desire to become wholly transformed and renewed in the image of His purity. The more we know of God, the higher will be our ideal of character and the more earnest our longing to reflect His likeness….
“If you have a sense of need in your soul, if you hunger and thirst after righteousness, this is an evidence that Christ has wrought upon your heart, in order that He may be sought unto to do for you, through the endowment of the Holy Spirit, those things which it is impossible for you to do for yourself…
“The words of God are the wellsprings of life. As you seek unto those living springs, you will, through the Holy Spirit, be brought into communion with Christ. Familiar truths will present themselves to your mind in a new aspect, texts of Scripture will burst upon you with a new meaning as a flash of light, you will see the relation of other truths to the work of redemption, and you will know that Christ is leading you, a divine Teacher is at your side…
“God has poured out His love unstintedly, as the showers that refresh the earth. He says, ‘Let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together.’ Isaiah 45:8.” –Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pp. 18-21.
Nicodemus and Paul, like all doctors of the law, were educated to seek perfection by righteous acts in order to please God. When did they change this attitude and way of thinking? It was through an encounter with Jesus. Only then did these men of learning come to understand Jesus’ true nature. It was then that they had a change of thinking and asked themselves: “Am I born again? Does my life reflect Jesus’ character?” Paul, after he had a personal experience with Jesus, realized that all his perfection, righteousness, and faithfulness to God were void of true love; he later described such empty love as a tinkling cymbal; in other words, it was useless. Jesus said that His followers’ righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, otherwise they will never enter the heavenly kingdom.
How then shall we approach God?
“Jesus … declared that the righteousness upon which the Pharisees set so great value was worthless. The Jewish nation had claimed to be the special, loyal people who were favored of God; but Christ represented their religion as devoid of saving faith. All their pretensions of piety, their human inventions and eremonies, and even their boasted performance of the outward requirements of the law, could not avail to make them holy. They were not pure in heart or noble and Christlike in character.
“A legal religion is insufficient to bring the soul into harmony with God. The hard, rigid orthodoxy of the Pharisees, destitute of contrition, tenderness, or love, was only a stumbling block to sinners. They were like the salt that had lost its savor; for their influence had no power to preserve the world from corruption. The only true faith is that which ‘worketh by love’ (Galatians 5:6) to purify the soul. It is as leaven that transforms the character.
“All this the Jews should have learned from the teachings of the prophets. Centuries before, the cry of the soul for justification with God had found voice and answer in the words of the prophet Micah: ‘Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?… He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’ Micah 6:6-8.
“The prophet Hosea had pointed out what constitutes the very essence of Pharisaism, in the words, ‘Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself.’ Hosea 10:1. In their professed service to God, the Jews were really working for self. Their righteousness was the fruit of their own efforts to keep the law according to their own ideas and for their own selfish benefit. Hence it could be no better than they were. In their endeavor to make themselves holy, they were trying to bring a clean thing out of an unclean. The law of God is as holy as He is holy, as perfect as He is perfect. It presents to men the righteousness of God. It is impossible for man, of himself, to keep this law; for the nature of man is depraved, deformed, and wholly unlike the character of God. The works of the selfish heart are ‘as an unclean thing;’ and ‘all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.’ Isaiah 64:6.
“While the law is holy, the Jews could not attain righteousness by their own efforts to keep the law. The disciples of Christ must obtain righteousness of a different character from that of the Pharisees, if they would enter the kingdom of heaven. God offered them, in His Son, the perfect righteousness of the law. If they would open their hearts fully to receive Christ, then the very life of God, His love, would dwell in them, transforming them into His own likeness; and thus through God’s free gift they would possess the righteousness which the law requires. But the Pharisees rejected Christ; ‘being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness’ (Romans 10:3), they would not submit themselves unto the righteousness of God.
“Jesus proceeded to show His hearers what it means to keep the commandments of God–that it is a reproduction in themselves of the character of Christ. For in Him, God was daily made manifest before them.” –Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, pp. 53-55.
How do we live righteously?
The first and seventh periods of the Christian church were similarly rebuked. Revelation 2:4; 3:17. The faithful Witness stated that the church of Ephesus had lost its first love; and, Laodicea considered itself rich, when in fact it was “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,” counseling it to buy from Him gold and white raiment. The period of Ephesus is thus a warning to all of us living in the time of Laodicea; we are urged to examine ourselves, our righteousness, and our sufficiency in the light of God’s word and the Spirit of prophecy.
“ ‘I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.’ Revelation 2:4, 5. The people to whom these words are addressed have many excellent qualities, which are recognized by the True Witness. ‘Nevertheless,’ He says, ‘I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.’ Here is a want that will have to be supplied. All the other graces fail to make up the deficiency. The church is counseled to ‘remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent…. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.’ Revelation 2:4-7.
“In these words are warnings, reproofs, threatenings, promises, from the True Witness, He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand….
“When this church is weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, it is found wanting, having left its first love. The True Witness declares, ‘I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.’ Revelation 2:2, 3. Notwithstanding all this, the church is found wanting. What is the fatal deficiency? ‘Thou hast left thy first love.’ Is not this our case? Our doctrines may be correct; we may hate false doctrine, and may not receive those who are not true to principle; we may labor with untiring energy; but even this is not sufficient. What is our motive? Why are we called upon to repent? ‘Thou hast left thy first love.’
“Let each member of the church study this important warning and reproof. Let each one see if in contending for the truth, if in debating on the theory, he has not lost the tender love of Christ. Has not Christ been left out of the sermons, and out of the heart? Is there not danger that many are going forward with a profession of the truth, doing missionary work, while the love of Christ has not been woven into the labor? This solemn warning from the True Witness means much; it demands that you shall remember from whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; ‘or else,’ says the True Witness, ‘I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.’ Revelation 2:5. O that the church might realize its need of its first ardor of love! When this is wanting, all other excellences are insufficient. The call to repentance is one that cannot be disregarded without peril. A belief in the theory of the truth is not enough. To present this theory to unbelievers does not constitute you a witness for Christ. The light that gladdened your heart when you first understood the message for this time, is an essential element in your experience and labors, and this has been lost out of your heart and life. Christ beholds your lack of zeal, and declares that you have fallen, and are in a perilous position.
“In presenting the binding claims of the law, many have failed to portray the infinite love of Christ. Those who have so great truths, so weighty reforms to present to the people, have not had a realization of the value of the atoning Sacrifice as an expression of God’s great love to man. Love for Jesus, and Jesus’ love for sinners, have been dropped out of the religious experience of those who have been commissioned to preach the gospel, and self has been exalted instead of the Redeemer of mankind. The law is to be presented to its transgressors, not as something apart from God, but rather as an exponent of His mind and character. As the sunlight cannot be separated from the sun, so God’s law cannot be rightly presented to man apart from the divine Author. The messenger should be able to say, ‘In the law is God’s will; come, see for yourselves that the law is what Paul declared it to be–holy, and just, and good.’ It reproves sin, it condemns the sinner, but it shows him his need of Christ, with whom is plenteous mercy and goodness and truth. Though the law cannot remit the penalty for sin, but charges the sinner with all his debt, Christ has promised abundant pardon to all who repent and believe in His mercy. The love of God is extended in abundance to the repenting, believing soul. The brand of sin upon the soul can be effaced only through the blood of the atoning Sacrifice. No less an offering was required than the sacrifice of Him who was equal with the Father. The work of Christ–His life, humiliation, death, and intercession for lost man–magnifies the law, and makes it honorable.
“Many sermons preached upon the claims of the law have been without Christ, and this lack has made the truth inefficient in converting souls. Without the grace of Christ it is impossible to take one step in obedience to the law of God. Then how necessary that the sinner hear of the love and power of his Redeemer and Friend! While the ambassador for Christ should plainly declare the claims of the law, he should make it understood that none can be justified without the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Without Christ there can be only condemnation and a fearful looking for a fiery indignation, and final separation from the presence of God. But he whose eyes have been opened to see the love of Christ, will behold the character of God as full of love and compassion. God will not appear as a tyrannical, relentless being, but as a father longing to embrace his repenting son.
“The sinner will cry with the psalmist, ‘Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.’ Psalm 103:13. All despair is swept from the soul when Christ is seen in His true character.
The third angel’s message in verity
“Some of our brethren have expressed fears that we shall dwell too much upon the subject of justification by faith, but I hope and pray that none will be needlessly alarmed; for there is no danger in presenting this doctrine as it is set forth in the Scriptures. If there had not been a remissness in the past to properly instruct the people of God, there would not now be a necessity of calling a special attention to it. The exceeding great and precious promises given us in the Holy Scriptures have been lost sight of to a great extent, just as the enemy of all righteousness designed that they should be. He has cast his own dark shadow between us and our God, that we may not see the true character of God. The Lord has proclaimed Himself to be ‘merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.’
“Several have written to me, inquiring if the message of justification by faith is the third angel’s message, and I have answered, ‘It is the third angel’s message, in verity.’ ” –(Review and Herald, April 1, 1890) Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 369-372.
My brethren, I wish to close this reading by reminding us all of a few verses from God’s word concerning righteousness. These verses speak both collectively and individually, giving us the hope of a glorious future. “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” “He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour.” “And the work of righteousness shall be peace.” Proverbs 14:34; 21:21; Isaiah 32:17.
Even though God is the Righteous One, He makes it possible for us to be considered righteous when we accept Christ’s imputed righteousness by faith. Then, the believer, through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, becomes a partaker of the divine nature through the imparted righteousness of Christ, making it possible for him to live in harmony with the requirements of God’s holy law. Only in this way is one able to fulfill all righteousness and live the golden rule: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12.
Jesus’ life was one of love and righteousness. Let us follow in His footsteps to the end; then we will be with Him in His kingdom of peace, love, and holiness. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33. Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord help us to live our lives through Christ Our Righteousness! Amen!