Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part I

I am on a year-long plan to read through the Bible chronologically (which is not exactly the way the Bible reads if you start in Genesis and read straight through to Revelations). I also read a “verse of the day” in the Bible app (YouVersion) that I use. I begin most mornings with reading the passages of the day in the year-long plan I am following and the Scripture of the day.

Today’s chronological reading begins with Psalm 1[i]. The verse of the day is Psalm 1:1-2:

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.

I almost glossed over the fact that the chronological reading of the day and the verse of the day converged on the same text – Psalm 1. I kept reading out of force of habit, but that still, small voice was whispering in my ear.

“Maybe”, I thought, “God wants me to focus on Psalm 1 today. Maybe He has something to say to me.”

It would take too long for me to explain where I am in my journey of praying, reading and meditating on Scripture and what God has been laying on my heart or how I got here. Suffice it to say that my attention was drawn to the contrast of the righteous and the wicked in Psalm 1.

I realized as I read Psalm 1 a second time, more carefully, that I have some assumptions about those two categories of people – the wicked and the righteous – that I have carried a long time and which may not be completely accurate.

As I have been reading chronologically through the Bible, I have been focusing on the theme of righteousness and justice. I realized this morning that what I have been learning about righteousness and justice reveals that my assumptions about righteousness and wickedness may be a bit shallow and, therefore, a bit off center.

Who are the righteous and the wicked?

That is the question that I believe God prompted in my heart.

Not that I should dare to judge anyone. I don’t even fully know my own heart at times. The human heart is deceitful, says Jeremiah, and I am painfully aware of that in myself. Paul makes it clear that we have all sinned and fallen short, so who am I to judge anyone? God alone is good, and God alone has the right and the position to judge the human heart.

Still, Scripture seems to imply that we should know something about righteousness and wickedness. Scripture seems to urge us to dig into it, and Scripture says quite a bit about it.

Psalm 1, by itself, doesn’t really give us a lot to go on. We see one aspect of the contrast in Psalm 1, but Scripture, as a whole, has much more to say about the contrast than what we find in Psalm 1 (or any one passage of Scripture for that matter).

Psalm 1 indicates that the wicked are sinners and scoffers who go their own ways. Psalm 1 says something about the importance of the company that we keep and of the progression of sin, but it really doesn’t say very much about the characteristics of  the wicked or their opposites, the righteous.

For one thing, we have to recognize that only God is good; only God is truly righteous. God, alone, is the standard of righteousness, and all people fall short of that standard. Thus, when we talk about “the righteous” and the wicked in human terms, we aren’t talking about righteousness on the level of God or righteousness.

In fact, if only God is good, and God alone is righteous, can we even call a man (any man) righteous?

There must be something else going on here.

Of course, there is: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Gen. 15:6) Thus, we understand that Abraham wasn’t righteous in himself. He was only righteous in relation to God by believing (trusting) God – trusting that God is who He appears to be and will do what He says He will do.

This, of course, is basic Christian understanding. We are saved by grace through faith, and that is nothing we do; it’s a gift so that none of us can boast. (Eph. 2:8) If we believe God such that it is credited to us as righteousness, we are righteous.

My general assumptions about the righteous and the wicked might be characterized this way: The righteous are people who believe in God and accept the Bible as God’s Word (and go to church). The wicked are the scoffers who don’t believe in God and don’t accept the Bible as God’s Word (and don’t go to church).

But I think those general assumptions are wrong. At least, they are not quite right. Maybe more accurately, they are not completely right.

I really shouldn’t be surprised, though. Even demons believe! (James 2:19) (And they “shudder” (bristle, stiffen, are horrified[ii])). Demons don’t deny that God exists; they just refuse to honor and Him and submit to Him. Demons know the truth of reality; but they refuse to accept it or live by it.

It seems clear, therefore, that distinction between righteousness and wickedness involves believing God, but it also involved something more than what we believe or don’t believe. In subsequent posts, I will take you on the journey I have started to find a more complete answer to the question: who are the righteous and the wicked?


[i] Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

[ii] The Greek word translated “shudder” is phrissó. See Biblehub.)

4 thoughts on “Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part I

  1. I love your reflective thinking. Here is another one for you to ponder. As Christians, we are told you must acknowledge Christ as your savior… Yet the criminal on the cross next to him merely humbled himself saying he deserved this punishment, but commented about Jesus… “this man has done nothing criminal”. What it DIDN’T say was the criminal acknowledge Jesus as his savior. How did Jesus respond?… “I say to you today you will be with me in Paradise”. This suggests that it is a person’s heart that is judged?… NOT merely what a person SAYS. Your thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. I think it is our heart attitude toward God that He weighs. It isn’t a formula or ritual. It isn’t like putting coins in a machine that will spit out the result we are looking for. I think we can err on the side of reading Scripture too rigidly, too formulaic, and actually miss its very essence, which goes to the heart of each person. I think that is why the writer of Hebrews said “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)

      Liked by 1 person

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