“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” — 2 Corinthians 5:20-21
In this week of pursuing excellence we have been looking at some foundational virtues for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. As we have examined the previous four virtues there has been a specific action associated with each: show mercy, declare blessings of peace, speak truth in love, and be kind. But righteousness does not sound quite as interactive as these others. And yet, it is truly a foundational principle for those who are in Christ. But how do we “do” righteousness?
There is a key in the passage quoted above. Paul says that “in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Righteousness cannot become a reality in our lives unless we are “in Him”. And Paul speaks of us “becoming” the righteousness of God. Pursuing righteousness means we become a work in progress. It is perfected over time through our obedience to Christ, and it slowly reveals itself as evidence of our faith. To pursue righteousness we must work at it every day.
In the current climate in our nation it is essential that those who are in Christ do not succumb to the ways of the world. Sadly, many have compromised their faith and relationship with Christ. We have looked for an expedient solution to problems we are facing and have relied on our own wisdom and insights, allied with political factions or social causes, and broken our reliance on God’s Spirit to direct us. The practice of righteousness means having the courage to maintain our integrity regardless of the circumstances. We cannot compromise our righteousness because we fear the outcome of an election or what a change in political leadership might mean. “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked” (Prov. 25:26). We must never be so desperate that we turn our backs on our values. Remember that Christianity has most often flourished and grown stronger in times of trial rather than in times of prosperity. Our God will supply all that we can ever need (Phil. 4:19), and He alone can deliver us out of all our troubles (Psalm 34:17).
Righteousness is about “becoming” like Christ. The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). St. Athanasius in the fourth century stated that principle even more strongly. He said, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” And St. Thomas Aquinas said that “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in His divinity, assumed our nature, so that He, made man, might make men gods.” God wants us to be remade in His image, to make us “partakers of the divine nature”, and “sharers in His divinity”. That is the goal of our pursuit of righteousness, that we walk in a right relationship with God.
We have been looking at verse 21 in the passage quoted above, but the context of that verse is extremely important for us in understanding how to pursue righteousness, and how it impacts the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. In verse 20, St. Paul says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Ambassadors represent the one who sends them, and as ambassadors for Christ we re-present (present again) Him to those both inside and outside the walls. God is at work in those who are in right relationship with Him, and “God [is] making His appeal through us.” We have not always walked faithfully in relationship with Him. As Paul says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23). Therefore to pursue this right relationship with God “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” The beginning of righteousness is reconciliation with God through repentance of sin and reception of God’s abundant grace and mercy. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Righteousness IS interactive. We are called in righteousness to an intimate relationship with God in Christ, to be reconciled to God in Christ Jesus. And when we are walking in that right relationship with Him we can faithfully re-present Him to our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and to those who are not yet part of the Body of Christ. The world is looking for the righteousness of God to be revealed. St. Paul told the Church at Rome (8:19) that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” When we walk in righteousness, as ambassadors for Christ, we become more and more like Him, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” and the world will see His righteousness “revealed in the sons of God.”