Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part III

Abraham’s faith was more than naked belief; it was belief that prompted him to act in trust in God.

“All Scripture is breathed out (inspired) by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness….” (2 Tim. 3:16)

I was prompted in reading Psalm 1 to focus on the distinction between “the righteous” and “the wicked” in Who are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part I. As I began to dig into it, I observed that only God is righteous, and our righteousness depends wholly on our relationship to God. If we believe (trust) Him, he credits His righteousness to us. (See Part II) Abraham is our example: when he believed God, His faith in God was credited to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15:6 & rom. 4:3)

This is all very fundamental to Christianity. It might prompt us to make the assumption that people who merely believe God, believe the Bible (and go to church) are righteous. There is a fly in that ointment, however; and James identifies it in his letter.

James acknowledges that Abraham believed God, and his belief was counted to him as righteousness (James 2:23), but James digs a little deeper into what “the righteousness that comes by faith” (Rom. 3:22) really looks like. After all, even demons believe in God (James 2:19), but they aren’t righteous! The difference between the righteous and the wicked, therefore, involves something more than merely believing in God

We explored the idea that righteousness is something that flows from God, out of His very Being. It is not something God decreed, but something that God is in His very nature. Righteousness is not an abstract ideal that God lives up to; God is righteous. We don’t describe God in respect to righteousness; we know righteousness by knowing God.

It helps, perhaps, to take morality out of the equation and to look at it through a more scientific lens. Just as gravity is what it is and operates the way it operates (because that is how God created the universe), righteousness is simply what it is. Righteousness, however, isn’t something God created, like gravity; righteousness flows from the very nature and character of God.

To put it very simply: God defines righteousness by who He is, and righteousness is defined in relation to God.

Thus, we can only know righteousness in relation to God. We can’t be righteous, because only God is righteous. God credits His righteousness to us who believe (trust) in Him, but that is only the beginning.

Christians might call this being born again. We believe God; God counts us righteous; and, thus, He welcomes us into relationship with Him. A birth, however, is only the beginning.

When we dig deeper, as James did, we see a specific characteristic to the belief that Abraham by which God credited it to him as righteousness. That characteristic is something more than bare belief. Demons, who also believe, don’t have that characteristic (otherwise their belief would be credited to them as righteousness too). This characteristic is what James is getting at when he says that “faith apart from works is dead”. (James 2:26)

Abraham’s faith prompted him to action. James says that Abraham’s “faith was active along with his works”, and his “faith was completed by his works”. (James 2:22) Thus, Abraham’s faith was more than naked belief; it was belief that prompted him to act in trust in God.

Having some understanding of what makes a righteous person righteous, and what doesn’t, is essential to our relationship with God.

Faith that doesn’t prompt a person to action is not the kind of faith Abraham had; it is not the kind of faith that is credited to a person as righteousness. Faith that only prompts feelings is not the kind of faith that leads to righteousness. (James 1:19) The faith that leads to righteousness is faith that prompts a person to be a doer of God’s word. (James 1:22-25) It is faith that prompts love for God and love for neighbor, and that love is active! (James 1:26-27)

Faith that doesn’t result in a change from the core of a person’s being that emanates out into a change of heart and change in action is not the kind of faith that can be described as being born again. It is not saving faith, and it is not the kind of faith that God attributes as righteousness to people. 

The Difference Is In What We Do


These were the words I read this morning when I opened my Bible app:

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10 ESV)

As I think about this exhortation from Paul, I realize that our faith is meant to be manifested in doing good. It also occurs to me that, maybe, we have gotten the emphasis wrong.

I can understand how it happened. Common people didn’t have the Scripture to read for themselves. The church had gotten corrupted by power and wealth. Priests sold indulgences and turned faith into a religion of required observances and superstitious piety.

John Wycliffe and others made Scripture available to the common people, and Martin Luther and the people he inspired rediscovered the that salvation is received by faith. It’s a matter of grace, not of works, lest any man boast.

These things were inspired by the Holy Spirit at the time, but we always flirt with the danger of settling into religious ruts that prevent us from appreciating and considering the whole counsel of God. Western Protestantism has tended for centuries to accept the stuffy air of an academic, heady faith that gets too little exercise in the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”.[1]

This is the progression: We are “saved through faith”; this is not our own doing; “it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”.[2] But we can’t stop there. We have to realize the truth of the very next statement: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[3]

We are saved by faith, not by works, in order for us to do the good works God prepared for us to do.

We are saved by faith, not by works, in order for us to do the good works God prepared for us to do.

Paul’s words in Galatians and the entire thrust of Scripture suggest that the hallmark of Christian faith is the good that we do that flows out of the salvation we received by faith.

Continue reading “The Difference Is In What We Do”