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. 

When Truth Stumbles in the Public Squares

Have you ever considered how vital truth is to justice? 


“Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares….”

Thus, said the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 59:14 ESV) to the nation of Judah approximately 700 years before the new millennium that begins at 1 AD. Thus, might a modern prophet say today, over 20 years into the new millennium beginning with 2000 AD. Justice is still turned back while truth stumbles today in the public squares.

Fake news is the story of our times. We can’t trust anything written or said in the public squares. Never has so much information been available to people; but the glut of information comes without a guaranty: Buyer beware.

Indeed, information has become a commodity that is bought and sold. We get to choose our own facts. We can take our facts from Fox News, CNBC, Dailywire, Buzzfeed, and hundreds (probably thousands) of sources – served up just the way we like them.

We’ve also dispensed with the distinction between fact and opinion. Facts now are served up with ready interpretations. We used to call it “spin”, but we don’t even bother anymore. Facts are sorted for us as well, packaged together in neat bundles, with the pesky counter facts removed for our convenience.

Have you ever considered how vital truth is to justice?

Should there be any wonder that justice is turned back as truth stumbles in the public square?

“Behold, the Lord ‘s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear…. No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity…. [W]e hope for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before you, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities: transgressing, and denying the Lord, and turning back from following our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.”

Isaiah 59:1-2, 4, 11-13 ESV

The way to justice is the way back to God. The way to justice requires truth, honesty, integrity and righteousness.

Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part II

Righteousness and justice are what they are because God is who He is.


Who are the righteous? Who are the wicked?

This was the question prompted in my heart recently as I read Psalm 1, which begins with a warning not to walk in step with the wicked, stand in the way of sinners or sit in the company of mockers. I describe how that question was prompted in Part 1 of this blog series.

Beyond equating the wicked with “sinners” and “mockers” (and speaking to the company we keep), Psalm 1 doesn’t go into much detail on the characteristics of the wicked (or the righteous). I realized as I responded to the prompting in my heart that I had some old assumptions about those things that might not be true, or at least not completely true, so I set out to dig a little deeper.

As Christians, we know that no one is righteous; we have all sinned and fallen short. We know that righteousness is credited to those who believe God and have faith (trust) in Him. We might assume, then, that there isn’t much more to it – that believing God, and the Bible and going to church is all it takes to make a person righteous; and, of course, that these things distinguish the righteous from the wicked.

This view, though, is only partly right. Even demons believe (Jam. 2:19), but that doesn’t make them righteous! We need to dig a bit deeper to develop a more complete understanding of what it means to be righteous. God, of course, is righteous, and our righteousness is gained only in relation to Him – by believing in Him – by what does that mean for us?

Continue reading “Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part II”

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.

Continue reading “Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part I”

The Gospel and Justice Go Hand in Hand

Jesus was the Gospel incarnate, so we should follow His example.


I am on the Board of Directors of Administer Justice, a faith-based legal aid clinic. Bruce Strom, the founder of Administer Justice moved on five years ago to form the Gospel Justice Initiative that has established 75 other faith-based legal aid clinics around the country. The tagline for GJI is “communicating the truth of the gospel through justice.” That tagline inspires this blog.

Justice, especially with the social prefix, is code in some circles for a liberal, progressive political orientation. Gospel, in some circles, suggests conservative “Christian” people who ignore issues involving justice. These perceptions are often inaccurate mischaracterizations, but one thing is true: focusing on one to the exclusion of the other misses the heart of God.

We have no better example of God’s heart than Jesus: God who become flesh and lived among us, being obedient to the purposes of God the Father, even to the point of dying on the cross for us. His life is the Gospel incarnate. This Jesus will ultimately mete out justice to all mankind.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. The people of every nation will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right but the goats on his left.” (Matthew 25:31-33)

Do you know the basis of the justice that Jesus will mete out?

It will be based on what people did when they saw the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the needing clothes, the sick and the imprisoned. (Matthew 25:34-46)

Why? …. Because Jesus said,

“Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

When John the Baptist was in prison and wanted some assurance of who Jesus was, before Jesus answered him, “[Jesus] healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.” (Luke 7:21) Then Jesus said:

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22 alluding to Isaiah 61:1-2)

The message Jesus gave to signal who he was – the Anointed One, the messiah the prophets spoke about – was given only after the demonstration. Continue reading “The Gospel and Justice Go Hand in Hand”