The Righteousness of God
The great dilemma in life, which is answered and depicted in the Old Testament, is that Israel were trying to establish their own righteousness by doing what they thought God required of them, instead of trusting and understanding the message God communicated to them through His word.
The same issue lies at the heart of the human condition today. People still do not make a genuine effort to listen and understand the communication from God in His word, but seek to establish their own rules and standards to convince themselves they are righteous, and foolishly think they can meet God’s requirements, and escape the condemnation of God’s eternal judgment.
Israel did not trust God like Abraham, David, Daniel, Noah, Job and other godly examples in the Old Testament. They did not pay attention and trust what God said, but went about making their own rules and standards to meet what they thought was the “right thing to do”, and how they thought life should be lived.
In the final analysis, their motivation was to create rules and teaching to profit and fulfill their own desires in this life. To obtain blessings in this life predominated their thinking. Thus they corrupted and misinterpreted the communication of God and fell into grievous error and sin.
Again, today we see exactly the same situation in nations, societies, communities, families and individuals. People trying to establish the parameters by which to manage life, and failing to truly accomplish universal well being. Many have created personal communities of well being, which only function within the confines of members with similar ideals and purposes, but exclude all other people who do not fit their established criteria for belonging.
Israel did not understand the overarching purposes of God within the context of salvation of a fallen humanity. A salvation based on the promise of God, to bring about salvation through Abraham's descendant Jesus, which God communicated to Abraham. This is why Paul focuses on the promise of God as the means of salvation so prominently in Romans, and the New Testament.
The whole purpose of the promise of God is to save humanity from destruction and eternal condemnation from the consequences of sin, brought about by humanity’s disobedience to God’s revealed will in His word. God’s dealing with Israel was to demonstrate His righteousness. Demonstrating that all people are lost and corrupted by sin, and in desperate need to be redeemed, justified and reconciled to God.
God’s dealing with Israel demonstrates God’s character, and plan of salvation which culminates in Jesus. The entire Old Testament points to the fulfilment of the promise of God which is realised and accomplished in Jesus’ atonement for humanity’s sin, the defeat of death and Satan, and the inauguration of the kingdom of God to establish a new humanity in accordance with God’s eternal intentions.
The New Testament is the guarantee of the new covenant by grace, through faith in the gospel message, just as the Old Testament saints were also saved by grace, through faith in the same promise of God’s ability to bring about the salvation of the world.
The main difference between the Old and New Testament is not the means of salvation, which is by faith in the promises of God (Hebrews 11) but the object of trust. In the New Testament, Jesus is the object of trust in which we place our faith, and the Old Testament, it is trust in the promise of Jesus’ first coming as the Messiah to fulfill the promises of God.
The New Testament is looking forward in faith to the promise of the second coming of Jesus to finalize the salvation of the world and those who placed their trust in Jesus, in the same way as the Old Testament was looking forward to Jesus’ first coming to inaugurate the promises of God.
As Paul points out in Galatians 3:8, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” The gospel message was preached to Abraham as far back as Genesis 12.
Jesus is the only Saviour of the world. It is God’s world, and He is in control. He has complete understanding and authority to bring to pass what He thinks is best and right. As human beings, created in the image of God for His purpose and glory, we either commit to following Jesus, or we continue to drift further away by ignoring God, and living in rebellion against His revealed will in His word.
Our eternal destination is determined on our response to the promise of God. Do we truly believe, do we sincerely trust in our heart, and are we committed to understanding that even though we do not fully comprehend or see the completion of the plan and purposes of God, like the examples of faith in Hebrews 11; we have assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen, and we are looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God?
If so, then we will do all in our power, ability and strength which God provides, to obey Him, abide in Jesus, and follow Him in the way of righteousness and godliness.
The way to do this is to continually look to Jesus and His message; to commit to spending time in His word daily and thinking seriously and deeply about the things of God, to set our minds and encourage our hearts to press on to know Him, and use all the means of grace available to us; in daily reading His word, praying regularly for ourselves and others, engaging in face to face fellowship with genuine Christians, and serving Him through good works to benefit those in need; and proclaim the good news of Jesus in word and deed by participating in Christian evangelism and discipleship.
Israel failed to submit to God with sincerity of heart but desegregated into superficial religious practice and rituals. They did not give God the proper place in their heart but turned the law into an outward, ritualistic observance, instead of a means to love God and love people. They failed to become holy in character, and holy in heart as Jesus is, and became religious, as Jesus is clearly not.
The prophets were continually calling Israel back to the moral law to understand this very point. Israel was performing the outward rituals and worship prescribed in the law but their heart was not committed and loyal to God. They neglected to show genuine gratitude for His mercy and respect for the blessings and privileges He has bestowed upon them.
Throughout their history, they did not trust in God to provide and deliver them, just like they did in the wilderness with Moses. Their heart was not faithful to God. Psalm 78, is a summary of this very characteristic of Israel’s persistent rebellion against God, and their failure to understand the plan and purposes of God.
Israel is an example of the human condition in sin, and God’s dealing with Israel is an example of His salvation and judgment upon humanity. It is applicable today in the present as it has been in the past. Many churches throughout history and the world today exhibit the same errors and sin to which Israel were susceptible, and it is our obligation, as the people of God, to heed the call and warnings not to follow the same example of disobedience (1 Corinthians 10:1-11).
The whole purpose of the law is to love God with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul, and love our neighbor as ourselves. This is what God requires of us, and all of us fail at this very point. The moral law of God, and His requirement of us as God’s image bearers, has not changed. The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, is the highest exposition that we need to fulfill the demands of the law by faith. Not "for" salvation, but because "of" salvation.
Therefore, by trusting in what God considers right, by believing as Abraham did, and trusting that God will keep His promise, our heart is changed and we begin to bear fruit for God by His Spirit through love, because love is the fulfillment of the law (Galatians 5:14).
The summary of the gospel message of God, to place our trust in Jesus is in Romans 3:21-26.
"But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a sacrifice of atonement in His blood through faith.
This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."
The entire message of the gospel is contained in these verses, and everything else is an explanation and expansion of this very truth. If we can understand and accept this essential biblical fact, we are well on the right path to eternal life.
God will justify all who have faith in Jesus. It really does not get any clearer than that.
May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who spoke face to face with Moses and the Prophets, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the God who provides us with His Holy Spirit as a pledge of our inheritance in His kingdom, as the means of our regeneration and adoption as children of God, bless us and keep us safe by faith, until Jesus returns or our mortal days come to an end.