What is righteousness? Paul argues convincingly that it, like salvation, is dispensed solely by God’s grace (Romans 3 & 4); the righteous living by faith. (Romans 1:17) Using Abraham as a prime example of a man living and responding to God in faith, and considered righteous solely on that basis. As, “…without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

But doesn’t any conversation concerning faith embrace the idea of faithfulness as well? Jesus pointedly explaining to his disciples that a faithful and wise servant is one who obeys his master’s wishes and commands. (Matthew 24:45,46 & 25:21) John claiming that, “If (we) know that He is righteous, (we) know that everyone who does what is right is born of him.” 1 John 2:29 This topic concerns me as it can be somewhat confusing and because it appears that some in the church present an unbalanced interpretation of God’s dispensation of salvation and his expectations of us afterwards. Jesus actively seeking the lost and offering God’s gift of saving grace (Luke 19:10) yet declaring that, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” John 14:23 Re-emphasizing that aspect of loving Him through obedience at His ascension where He declared that all new converts were to be taught to, “…obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 20:28

So how do we reconcile Paul’s insistent denial of “works” having anything to do with righteousness that leads to salvation and scripture that calls for a form of righteousness that involves “good deeds”? (Indeed, Paul himself called people to “…the obedience that comes from faith.” in Romans 1:5) Maybe examining what some consider to be the two faces of God would be the place to start; for here too people become confused and embrace a one-sided, deficient view of the Father of salvation. On one hand, God is shown to be too holy to countenance sin (Habakkuk 1:13), committed to punishing evildoers – removing them from amongst his people (Is. 13:9-13); the penalty for sin being death. (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:22) And yet, he is also depicted as full of compassion (Psalm 86:5), eager to forgive wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:6,7; Luke 19:10) The truth of these seemingly contradictory strains of God’s character often lost in our desire to embrace the loving, forgiving side of his personality while ignoring the side that expects something better from us; the Father who punishes or disciplines his children for their own good. (Hebrews 12:5-11; producing a, “…harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”) Because of his keen sense of love and justice, we are warned that he will not leave the unrepentant guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:7b), nor overlook those who “deliberately keep on sinning” after hearing the truth of the gospel. (Hebrews 10:26-28)

The solution was substitution; a sacrificial system that evolved into a means of mere” scapegoating” (Leviticus 16:10), finally replaced by a more personal sacrifice of God’s Son as a sin-offering for all mankind. (John 3:16) His expectations of those who accept His offer of salvation characterized by the good deeds we do or don’t do in appreciation of His gift. Ministering in his name to those yet unaware of his mercy and grace being the epitome of “good deeds” as described in scripture. (Matthew 25:31-45) Please note, I am not talking about a pursuit of salvation – as that is instigated and administered by God and God alone. I am rather talking about what we do in appreciation of it. For, “…no one (is) righteous, not even one…” as”…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:10 & 23,24He alone bringing about our salvation (Acts 4:12), redemption (Colossians 1:13,14), justification (Romans 3:21-26), and sanctification. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

The only part we play in salvation is recognizing our need and acknowledging God’s call; repenting of the sin that separates us from his presence. (Acts 17:30 & 2 Peter 3:9) God’s expectation of us then after salvation is to, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Luke 3:8 Jesus asserting that we will be identified by the “fruit” we produce in our lives (Matthew 7:16) and that any “branch” that fails to do so will be pruned away. (John 15:2) Even Paul explaining his ministry as being based in preaching repentance from sin – the proof of that occurring in one’s life lying in their “deeds” afterward. (Acts 26:20) Further asserting that, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6

Paul felt “obligated” (Romans 1:14) and “compelled” (1 Corinthians 9:16) to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. Shouldn’t we feel just as obligated and compelled to imitate Paul (1 Corinthians 4:16) and others (Hebrews 13:7) who in reality modeled themselves after the example of the God and Savior they proclaimed? (Ephesians 5:1) Pursuing righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22), seeking first God’s Kingdom and his definition of right living (Matthew 6:33), earnestly attempting to please God and refuting the envy and lies of unbelieving men (1 Peter 2:15), never tiring of doing what is right, (2 Thessalonians 3:13), always hungering and thirsting for its manifestation in our lives. (Matthew 5:6) John defining a righteous person as, “He who does what is right…” 1 John 3:7

Jesus set the ultimate example, submitting to baptism to “fulfill all righteousness.” Matthew 3:15; and going on from there to heal the sick, provide for the needy, encourage the downtrodden; calling for repentance (Matthew 4:17) and it’s consequent “good deeds.” (Matthew 3:7-10 – John the Baptist’s words but certainly uttered in the same vein as Christ’s.) And even though He specifically said he did not come into the world to condemn it (John 3:17), he never shied away from identifying sin either; urging people to stop engaging in it. (John 8:1-11 – See also 1 Corinthians 15:34) As, “He himself bore our sins… so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.” 1 Peter 2:24

James pointedly asking, “What good is it… if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” Because if all we offer the world is well wishes and good intentions; what good are we? For faith, unaccompanied by action, is lifeless and “dead.” (James 2:14-16) In fact, he too uses Abraham as his example of “righteousness”, not in conflict with Paul but in tandem with him; even as he approaches the subject from a slightly different angle. Seeing a righteousness of faith and deeds, his faithfulness completing him as a man of God. (James 2:20-24 – See other examples of heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11 who responded, in faith, with righteous deeds to life’s challenges and difficulties.)

Paul emphatically explaining that even as we can lay no claim to salvation on our own merit, we are indeed, “…God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…” Ephesians 2:1-10 (See also Titus 2:14) Jesus summing up the meaning of the Law and the Prophets, as well as his new covenant with us as loving Him first and foremost and “…do(ing) to others what you would have them do to you,…” Matthew 7:12