The Righteousness of God
by Pat Hobin
"For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."
"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God."
2 Corinthians 5:21; James 1:19-20
It is absolutely staggering to think that through the work of Jesus, I become the righteousness of God. How can that be? The Greek word for righteousness actually means “in a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God.” What an amazing reality to embrace! What gratitude wells up within my heart, for without the work of Jesus, my “condition” is completely unacceptable to God. So I now live with this reality at play in my life:
- Acceptable versus unacceptable.
- The work of Christ bringing forth my righteousness and acceptability versus my paltry attempts at self-righteousness ensuring unacceptability.
- Intimacy and life with God versus distance and death.
- Truly living life with a deep sense of gratitude versus trying to live life by striving to measure up.
May we live in that truth and reality.
James often sparked some degree of controversy over the topic of “faith and works.” In James 2:18, he makes his point very clear: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” His message is that our “faith” will so move within us that we will do “works.” The works are not to bring about acceptability or salvation but instead come because we have such an understanding from where our acceptability comes.
The emphasis that James brings provides a great mirror for us to look at ourselves. His emphasis causes us to reevaluate life and how we live it. When we become the righteousness of God, as Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, it would seem that we would then desire to live righteous lives. James is presenting the same point to us, and he admittedly does it in a direct manner. He talks about bridling the tongue, visiting orphans and widows in their affliction, keeping oneself unstained from the world, not showing partiality to people of wealth. If we interpret that doing these things gains us our righteousness, we are in serious error and completely miss James’s point. He is telling people who are the righteousness of God to live like people who are the righteousness of God.
If we are indeed up for living this way, then it is important for us to take a more serious look at James 1:20. He states clearly “the anger of man does not produce (achieve) the righteousness of God.” The verse is not a contradiction but instead an emphasis that there is a behavior that is consistent with the righteousness of God. Anger is not. We need that brought to our attention so that a righteous behavior can replace it.
As previously noted, James shared many other behaviors that should be evident if we are living out of the righteousness of God and if “faith and works” are at play. But is there any significance to the fact that anger is really the first behavior he addresses? Granted, in a way, they are all connected, but we have a great tendency to either dismiss or justify our anger; it is important for us to be clearly and directly reminded that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” If that is true, and if you want to live out the righteousness of God, are you willing to take a look at anger?
James gives us a prescription for dealing with anger in our lives. Undoubtedly, we need the Holy Spirit to help us with that, but James says we are to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” How is that an antidote for anger? It may seem overly simple, but in actuality, it is not. Being quick to hear is more than just listening. It often requires setting aside your agenda and preconceived thoughts to actually hear, which can lead to understanding. Instead, most of us are quick to speak and slow to hear, if we hear at all. The thought of being slow to anger never even shows up on our radar. What makes this even more difficult is that we are typically very successful in justifying our anger. Once justification is in place, we abdicate responsibility for our actions and behavior. We do not see it as detracting from the righteousness of God. Unfortunately, we see it as an appropriate response to the circumstances before us.
As we live out the wonderful reality of 2 Corinthians 5:21, may we also live out the reality of James 1:19-20. May we see the connection between the two passages. The righteous of God is our basis for “acceptability;” we want to live doing the things that “produce the righteousness of God.” Though there is definitely a righteous anger that even Christ displayed, the kind of anger James addresses does not produce the righteousness of God, no matter how we justify it. Instead, may we confess our tired and worn out justifications, and may we be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” That behavior, dear friends, is evidence of the righteousness of the God. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.