Righteousness is Yahweh’s Gift to Us
It is quite natural for us to think we should earn righteousness, and it is tempting and appealing to think we can earn it by doing good works, performing acts of kindness, and obeying all the Laws in the Bible. This makes perfect sense from a human perspective because most of us have been brought up to think this way.
For instance, what employer would pay you for simply having faith in him? That does not make any sense, and few if any would do it. In our world, we know we must actually do something tangible, something people can see with their eyes and touch with their hands to earn any reward at all. Using our common (natural) wisdom, we know there is no such thing as a free lunch and that no one gives us anything without expecting something in return, even if it is just a simple “thank you.”
But Yahweh does not think the way we think. He said,
“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares Yahweh. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55: 8-9)
Although Yahweh understands common (natural) wisdom, He does not use it, and He does not want us to use it either. Consider this. We know Yahweh expects us to forgive people who hurt us and that we should forgive them again and again if they ask for forgiveness. Does this sound like common (natural) wisdom? No, but it is Yahweh’s wisdom.
Why does Yahweh want and expect us to forgive people time after time even when we think they will never change? Because that is the way He forgives us! He wants and expects us to apply His logic and behave the way He behaves. This wisdom is not common wisdom. It is Yahweh’s wisdom, and learning about Yahweh means patterning our lives and our thoughts after His. If we pay attention to Yahweh’s Word, listen to His Voice, and obey Him, then He uses all circumstances, even unpleasant ones, to teach us His ways and His thoughts and to make us holy.
If we apply only human logic we will never understand righteousness. It is a gift from Yahweh that we cannot earn. He set it up that way for a reason. If righteousness were payment from Yahweh for our good works, then He would be our debtor simply paying us what He owes us. But Yahweh is not our debtor. He is the Sovereign Creator, the God of the universe, and He owes us nothing! We are His creation, and He loves us dearly, but He does not owe us a thing. Yahweh will not allow Himself to be put into the position of owing us anything, and this is especially true when it comes to righteousness. Thus, our good works could never earn righteousness for us.
Yahweh is a wonderful Father. All He has done, is doing, and will do for us is based on His love for us. He enjoys blessing us and giving us gifts, but He does not do it because He has to. He does it because He wants to. Yahweh wants us to be righteous, and He wants to give us righteousness that leads to salvation. But we must understand that it is a gift from Him that we cannot earn.
Yahweh’s plan for making us righteous and saving us is based on His redemptive work alone. In effect, He covers us with His righteousness, a standard we cannot attain on our own. Isaiah explained it this way:
“For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Isaiah 64: 6)
Since we cannot earn righteousness, Yahweh gives us His righteousness and salvation freely if we have faith in Him. This may sound strange, but from Yahweh’s perspective it makes perfect sense. You should recall that one of God’s Names is Yahweh Tsidkenu—Yahweh our Righteousness. His Names tell us about Him, and this Name for God declares that He is our righteousness. But even more, it proclaims that we have no righteousness apart from Him. Take a look at the context in which the Name “Yahweh Tsidkenu” is used, and it will help you to understand a mystery:
“Behold, the days are coming, declares Yahweh, when I shall raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His Name by which He will be called, Yahweh our Righteousness.” (Jeremiah 23: 5-6)
These verses are about the Messiah (David’s righteous Branch or an offspring of David), and they reveal one of His Names—Yahweh Tsidkenu or Yahweh our Righteousness. I hope you understand the significance of these verses because Jeremiah told us the Messiah’s Name in such plain language that you need help to misinterpret what he said. The Messiah’s Name is Yahweh our Righteousness. It just doesn’t get any clearer than that.
Most Bibles translate the Hebrew word tsidkenu as righteousness and that is exactly what it means, but in a literal sense it means “saving justice.” The notion that righteousness is not free is key. Yahweh is holy and perfect, and He cannot abide sin. For us to be with Him, we must be spotless—without blemish. Since we cannot achieve this result on our own, Yahweh took it upon Himself to do it for us. He paid the price for our sins thereby fulfilling the requirement of the Law, and He is our Redeemer. Justice demands a price, and Yahweh paid that price for us and saved us. Therefore, He is our “saving justice” or our Righteousness—Tsidkenu.
The fact that our righteousness comes from Yahweh makes sense from a human perspective if you think about it this way. Consider a married couple for a moment. The relationship between man and wife is not good if either one of them conditions their love on the other one doing something for them. If they feel as though they must earn the love of their spouse by doing something, then they are miserable.
They may accept a bad relationship and learn to live with it, but it is not a healthy, happy relationship because they never know where they stand with one another. They wake up each morning uncertain, wondering if their relationship will fall apart and knowing that if they make a mistake it could come to an end at any moment. In the backs of their minds, they are constantly thinking that maybe he or she will meet another person, someone who can do more than I can or do things better than I can. Doubt and uncertainty take their toll over time and make life miserable.
Healthy marriage relationships are built on love that is unconditional. Each spouse loves the other no matter what happens, and both of them know it. Unconditional love is the hallmark of a good marriage relationship, and it is the kind of love God has for us. He wants us to wake up each morning confident and certain that we cannot lose His love. God wants us to have faith in Him to love us and to take care of us forever.
By declaring that our righteousness is not based on our own effort and initiative but on Yahweh’s righteousness instead, He opens the door for us to have the kind of permanent relationship with Him that He and we desire. Yahweh’s righteousness never changes. He is righteousness!
Yahweh does not want us to wake up every morning thinking we might sin today and destroy our relationship with Him. Yahweh absolutely does not want us to go through life wondering what will happen when we die and meet Him face-to-face for the final judgment. The truth is that all of us sin every day. If Yahweh’s love for us were conditioned on our being sinless, then He simply could not love any of us. Therefore, Yahweh bases His love for us on His steadfast righteousness instead of our righteousness, which as Isaiah said, is “like a filthy garment.” (Isaiah 64: 6) That is true love.
Yahweh is a wonderful Father, and He knows how to give wonderful gifts. He wants us to know that we have been forgiven already and that we are safe with Him. Yahweh wants us to understand that He paid the price for our sins, all the sins we will ever commit, and cloaked us with His perfect righteousness. Doubt and uncertainty are removed, and we are truly free to love Him.
In Isaiah 45: 21-24, Yahweh explained it this way:
“There is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the Word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. They will say of Me, ‘Only in Yahweh are righteousness and strength.’ Men will come to Him, and all who are angry at Him shall be put to shame.”
Now look at Isaiah 61: 10:
“I will rejoice greatly in Yahweh, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
Clearly, righteousness is Yahweh’s gift to us. We could never earn it! In his letter to Titus, the apostle Paul explained it this way:
“There was a time when we too were ignorant, disobedient and misled and enslaved by different passions and dissipations; we lived then in wickedness and malice, hating each other and hateful ourselves.
But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour for humanity were revealed, it was not because of any upright actions we had done ourselves; it was for no reason except His own faithful love that he saved us….so that, justified by His grace (unmerited favor), we should become heirs in hope of eternal life. This is doctrine that you can rely on.” (Titus 3: 3-8)
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul went even farther:
“Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, the Messiah will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from the Messiah, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Messiah Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” (Galatians 5: 2-6)
In other words, if you believe you can earn justification and righteousness by obeying the Law, you are doomed. This does not mean that the Law is unimportant or that we can disobey the Law without fear of consequences—far from it! It simply means that obeying the Law is no substitute for faith in Yahweh.
Yahweh expects us to obey the Law as He commanded, but faith in Him is the only thing that leads to salvation, justification, and righteousness. This subtle distinction is very important, and it has been the source of much controversy since the creation of the human race.
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