Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12
Judean desert plateau, seen from Massada
Many people in "Christian" countries like Britain believe that God expects us to be righteous to some extent if we want to go to Heaven. However, there is no consensus as to the percentage that is acceptable, only a general feeling that most of us live a good enough life, that we are generally good and kind and only make occasional slips into doing bad things. The Koran teaches Muslims that their good deeds and their bad deeds will be weighed up to determine whether they go to Heaven or Hell.
The God of the Bible actually demands a much higher standard. His pass mark is 100%.
Jesus taught, in the Sermon on the Mount, that our thoughts are as important as our deeds, and He said that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees we would not enter the kingdom of Heaven. The Pharisees were the most careful to observe every aspect of the Torah, so this sounds pretty bad news. The trouble is that the pursuit of righteousness by our own efforts is self-defeating because it leads to self righteousness – the kind that is most offensive to God. Paul spoke of all his achievements in righteousness as a Pharisee but said he counted it all as refuse (shit is the closest translation of the original). Isaiah likened our righteousness to filthy rags (a used menstrual cloth in the original). Imagine holding up that sort of thing before God and expecting him to be pleased!
This means that we need to repent of our good deeds as well as our bad deeds! This is why we can see so little fruit among nice people while others are seeing hardened criminals in prison make wonderful conversions to Christ. It is also why Jesus had so many dealings with sinners but religious leaders only argued with him.
Look at it this way - God is perfect/holy so Heaven must be holy – so anything less than holy (you and me) would spoil that holiness. Therefore we can’t get in.
This is where the Gospel of Jesus comes in. By coming in human form as Jesus/Yeshua, God was able to meet and help sinners, while at the same time, maintaining His holiness as the Father. As Jesus He was able to suffer a human death and the separation from God the Father, which was the only punishment severe enough to pay for the sins of mankind. Because Jesus was sinless, his death was acceptable as the punishment due to all of us. If I attempted to die to win salvation for someone else my death would only be what my sin deserved – there would be no merit to pay for the sin of someone else.
But Jesus’ righteousness is IMPUTED to us – it is put on our account – God looks at us and sees the righteousness of Jesus. (See the exchange at the cross)
More than that, Jesus’ righteousness is IMPARTED to us. Once we have repented of attempting to please God by our own efforts and trusted in Jesus, his Holy Spirit takes up residence in us and starts to work on our lives to make us actually righteous like Jesus. This is a lifelong process and will only be completed when we meet him but we can be confident that Jesus’ righteousness will be enough.
With acknowledgment to the teaching of David Pawson. (#6 in his "Islam's challenge to Christianity" talks)
The Tzit-tzit (tassels) which a Jewish man will wear on the corners of his tallit (both the prayer shawl and the smaller rectangular garment worn under the shirt) are reminders of God's requirement for righteousness.
See Numbers 15 v37-40,
The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.
See the Karaite Korner website for more details.
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