“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:17-19).
Perhaps one of the hardest concepts for us to get into our heads is that of righteousness. What does it mean that God is righteousness? What does it mean to be made righteous? To do righteousness? To live righteously?
Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God. (Psalm 98.1-3).
When one thinks about the fact that God is altogether righteous and then looks at himself, we think that God could have nothing whatsoever to do with us. But the psalmist in the above quote associates his righteousness with his “steadfast love” or “lovingkindness,” faithfulness and salvation. In the following quote from Isaiah the prophet shows that the future salvation of which he speaks will be a revelation of his righteousness. When God brings salvation he publicly demonstrates his righteousness.
Thus says the Lord:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my righteousness be revealed” (Isaiah 56.1).
In the closing verses of the preceding chapter there is a prophesy of the coming kingdom the Lord was going to set up. This was to be a kingdom in which all the ills and wrongs of the former creation were going to be erased and a new order established. In view of what the Lord is going to do, certain things were going to be required of men.
“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:12-13).
“Thus” (Isa. 56:1) introduces a conclusion based on the foregoing information. There is in Isaiah 55:12-13 a clear reference to the curse placed upon the earth Genesis 3:18 on account of man’s sin. At the time of the removal of the curse (thorns and thistles), man was also to be restored to his rightful place as the ruler over creation. But in order to do that he has to be righteous just as God is righteous.
Notice that men were instructed to keep justice, and do righteousness because God’s salvation and righteousness was to be revealed. Man is expected to respond before God’s righteousness with righteousness and justice. Our sins may be removed as we are regenerated and righteousness accounted to us on the basis of faith, but there must be an active practice of righteousness. This is seen in the prophecy of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.
“…the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:73-75).
Jesus was coming in order that men might serve God without fear in holiness and righteousness. We are to serve God. We have a mission in this kingdom Jesus said he was going to establish …
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17).
Jesus was calling people into the kingdom, not just so they could enjoy the blessings is offers, but to become agents of the kingdom – to spread its blessings to the whole world. In order to do so, they (and we) have to repent, to turn from unrighteousness which is not productive of the blessings of the kingdom, to become productive citizens.
What is the service we are to perform in the kingdom? Think of it in terms of the restoration of the earth of which Isaiah speaks. The curse was to be removed and the earth restored to its former glory and beauty (Rom. 8:18-25; Rev. 21-22:5). In order to serve in this restored place, man must be restored as well. Restored to what? Why, to his former condition of being in the image of God, of course.
We were created to be in the image of God. We were made to have dominion over all God’s creation. To be made righteous is to be restored to our rightful place alongside God “in the heavenly places” (Eph. 2:5-6). There we are to do the work God has prepared for us to do – the work we were created to do – that of ruling with him over his creation.
Now, what does righteousness really mean? What does righteousness look like?
The Greek word from which the English righteous is translated is dikaiosune which indicates justice or doing the right thing. It means conforming to established standards or following the ways of God. The word righteous then can also be translated as just.
It should be evident to us that to be righteous is not merely a state of being, but demands that we be active. It is to be seen in terms of our actions and attitudes toward others. Thus, one is declared to be right before God on the basis of our faith in him (like Abraham, Genesis 15:6; James 2:23; Romans 4:3), in order that we might do righteousness (do the right thing, be just).
Now, let’s return to the text we began with – Romans 14:17-19. The people whom Paul was addressing here had a problem with what others were doing or not doing. They were using harsh criticism and strong judgments in condemning their brothers and sisters in the Lord. Paul is reminding them that such judgment was none of their business.
It is not the business of the citizens of the divine kingdom to judge and condemn one another over such matters as eating and drinking, keeping days or not keeping days – matters which the Lord does not judge or condemn. That only results in division and bitterness. Rather our business is to be like him – righteousness (justice) in the same manner as he has acted in righteousness toward each one of us.
When we think of righteousness in this way, it is a tall order. Acting rightly, fairly, justly toward other people. It is a great responsibility, not just because it is the “right” thing to do – it is great because when we act in this way toward others we are showing the image of God in us. This is what we were made to do.
This is why Jesus was sent into the world. This is the reason we have been saved. This is why we have been sent into the world. Our mission is not to be religious. Our mission to the world is to be righteous – to show the world what God is like. Everything else is secondary and incidental.
When we fulfill that mission, there will come as a result the other two elements the apostle says constitute the kingdom. Joy and peace are not primary goals of the Christian life nor of the kingdom. They are the result of being in the kingdom and fulfilling our purpose in it.
In the context in which Paul addresses these matters he is showing those who were concerned about what was right or wrong about certain things that the answer was not in having a definitive answer and forcing those who differed into a kind of conformity. The right thing was to yield to one another and not judge one another. They were instructed to receive one another. In other words, the answer to their problem was through lovingly receiving one another. The righteous thing for us to do in situations like this is to love as Christ has loved us.
“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).
When this kind of environment exists among brethren, the inevitable result will be a joy in brotherhood and a deep and abiding peace that can only come through such love and acceptance.