God is righteous and transcendent

One of the most enjoyable aspects of life is to do something helpful, thoughtful, or kind for someone else. It's one thing to desire to do good, but it's another thing to actually follow through with doing good.

Not long ago, I had an opportunity where a member of my family had a need, and after discussing a possible remedy to that need with my wife, we decided to help. Our family member was blessed and encouraged as a result, but so were we. I'm still grateful that we had the privilege to help in this way.

This is a pattern that our Lord wants to see at work in our lives because He is empowering us not to merely think about holy and heavenly things, but also to act on what He is revealing to us. We're called to practice righteousness, not just think about it.

But how can we practice righteousness when, by nature, we're sinful people? And how can anything we do be considered righteous since all aspects of our lives have been tainted by sin? Our God is pure and far above everything He has created, but still His righteousness is made available to us, and in blessing us with it, He remedies this dilemma.


I. God is righteous

“Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true.”
— Psalm 119:142, ESV

God's righteousness is an expression of His holiness. We know He is holy and we know He is good, but we see His holiness and goodness displayed through His works of righteousness. Righteousness is holiness put into action. God is good, but we confidently call Him righteous because He does something with His goodness. He is accomplishing great things for His glory and for our benefit.

The Lord delights in displaying His righteousness. We see the righteousness of God displayed in the many ways that He interacts with what He has made. We also see the righteousness of God described as being an active expression of His nature toward what He has made, in various places in His word. The Lord allows us to come to know Him. The Lord shows steadfast love to humanity. The Lord rules with justice, and He delights to do so.

"but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” -Jeremiah 9:24

God's word also tells us that there is going to be a day when mankind will come before Him and be judged. He will judge righteously. Those who rejected Him will be condemned to an eternity separated from His blessings. Those who trusted in Him and expressed that trust through faithful obedience while looking forward to one day seeing Him face-to-face, will be rewarded. His righteousness will be clearly displayed in the manner in which He judges.

"Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing." -2 Timothy 4:8

These are things we can certainly look forward to if we have a relationship with God the Father through faith in God the Son, Jesus Christ, but keep in mind that in many places in the word of God, we're encouraged to be righteous like Him. How is that even possible? How can a sinful human like you or me be righteous like Christ?

In Matthew 5:48, Jesus said, "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Yikes. What did He mean by that? And in Matthew 5:20, He said, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

In the culture of the time, it was assumed by many of the people that the most righteous people around were members of the Jewish religious sect called the Pharisees. From most external standards, that would have seemed to be the case. But it turns out that the Pharisees primarily sought the praise of men. Their deeds of righteousness were mainly attempts to be lavished in the praise that should have been given to God.

In the statements Jesus made, He was telling us that our righteousness needs to be more than just external. We need the internal righteousness of God in our lives so that our actions and motivations will be empowered by His grace and intended for His glory.

So how is the righteousness of God obtained? How can His righteousness become part of our lives? Our sinfulness prevents us from being able to earn or deserve it, but it can be given to us as a gift.

Through faith in Christ, we are given His righteousness. Theologians like to call this "imputed righteousness" which means His righteousness is attributed to us or added to our account. At the same time, our sin was imputed to Him. He bore our sin at the cross, then blesses us with the gift of His righteousness when we come to faith in Him.

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:"  -Romans 3:21-22

Isn't it amazing that our God would make that kind of trade? It seems beyond comprehension to imagine that a holy, righteous God would take our sin upon Himself so that He could lavish us with His righteousness. But if He didn't do so, we would have no hope. We would have been forever lost in our sin. Our Lord deserves our praise because, in His steadfast love, He orchestrated the only way that we as sinful people could be made completely righteous in His sight.


II. God is transcendent

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. 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, ESV

To say that God is transcendent is to say that God is above what He has created and is not dependent on what He has created or made. Rather, creation is completely dependent on Him. There is no other being that is transcendent. Only God can claim this distinction. He is completely superior to everything in the created universe, in every way conceivable.

Scripture teaches us that the thoughts of God are higher than our thoughts. He knows things we don't know. He can see every issue from every side. He knows all details about the past, present, and future. He can foresee every possible outcome of every decision.

Scripture teaches us that the plans of God are higher than our plans. We tend to make short-term plans with short-term outcomes. Even our so called "long-term plans" are still short-term from God's perspective. He, on the other hand, has a perfect plan that is far superior to anything we can plan. He is orchestrating things that we would never naturally perceive with the long-term goal that many will come to faith in Jesus Christ and forever give Him glory.

Scripture teaches us that the motives of God are higher than our motives. Our motives are often impacted by the corrupting presence of sin and selfishness. God's motives are pure and incorruptible. He is sovereign over His creation and acting for our benefit, and His motives are completely holy and good.

Again, it's important to be clear that God is above everything He has created and no created being can share this distinction, but it's also wise to gain an understanding of the fact that the Lord invites us to adopt His manner of thinking and living as our own. This is the Father's plan for us. This is what Jesus came to this earth to make possible. This is what the Holy Spirit is empowering us to practice.

Our lives are being divinely empowered to mirror God's "above-ness." As people who have been rescued by the saving work of Christ, we're encouraged to stop diving head-first into pits of worldly sin. Jesus Christ has lifted us out of that pit and His word implores us never to return to the mess He redeemed us out of.

"Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God." -Colossians 3:2-3
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh." -Galatians 5:16

The word of God is teaching us not to be consumed with lesser or worldly things that drag us down and enslave us. Our transcendent God lives within us. He who is above us invites us to adopt His perspective. He who lifted us up invites us to look up. He who granted us true spiritual freedom doesn't ever want to see us living like we're slaves to unrighteousness any longer.

I read something recently about Sam Houston that I appreciated. Sam Houston is legendary not only in Texas, but also among many people who study leadership, government, and military history.

At one time, the Texas hero was called “The Old Drunk.” While he was governor of Tennessee, his wife left him. In despair he resigned as governor and tried to escape his problems by going to live among Cherokee Indians. He stayed drunk much of the time. It is said that the Indians, as they walked through the forest, would have to move him out of the path where he lay in a stupor.

Later, he went to Texas, where he became the great hero of the Texas revolution when he routed General Santa Ana’s Mexican army. Houston’s battle cry, “Remember the Alamo!” helped win independence for Texas. He married the daughter of a Baptist preacher and later trusted Christ, but he still had some of his old tendencies. One day as he rode along a trail, his horse stumbled. Houston spontaneously cursed, reverting to his old habit. Immediately he was convicted of his sin. He got off his horse, knelt down on the trail, and cried out to God for forgiveness. Houston had already received Christ, but God was teaching him to live in fellowship with him moment by moment. And as soon as the Holy Spirit made Sam Houston aware of his sin, he confessed it.
— Darrell W. Robinson, People Sharing Jesus, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), p. 17

Our transcendent God could have chosen to remain unknown to us, but He didn't. Instead, He offers us the righteousness of Christ and empowers us to adopt His manner of thinking as our own. We're called to be confessors of sin, not embracers of sin. We're called to be lovers of righteousness who set our minds on things above.

In general, how are you feeling right now? Have you embraced the gift of the righteousness of Christ or does this world still have you in its grip? Is your mind caught up in worldly things that only produce death, disease, and depression, or would you like to begin to adopt God's perspective as your own and begin setting your mind on the very things that reflect His heart?

© John Stange, 2018