Can Anyone Be Righteous?

It is a “key” verse to the evangelical – “There is none righteous – no, not one”

Some evangelical preachers use this verse to say that nobody is righteous, and that only Jesus was righteous. They say that nobody can obey the law. Only Jesus can obey the law. They say that Jesus obeyed the law for us, so that we, who could not obey the law can benefit from Jesus’ obedience by receiving Him as our Righteousness. (The implication here is that we should not even try to obey, because we can’t)

But we are left with the verse, “There is none righteous. No, not one”. Some people take that verse, and apply it universally, absolutely, and indiscriminately. But is this the proper application of scripture? Are there absolutely NO righteous people? Some Christians say that there is no such thing as a righteous person, because no one can be righteous according to the law.

But the Bible also refers to the “righteous” people over 200 times from Genesis to Revelation! Is God talking about imaginary friends?

Some people do not believe that anyone can be righteous. They follow the old 4-step salvation plan. They put their faith in that. But does it match up to scripture?

They say that God gave us the law through Moses, and no one could keep the law, that is why we need Jesus.

That sounds all fine and dandy on the surface but is it true?

It sounds so “Christian” and “religious”, but does it match up to scripture?

Is it true that no one can be righteous?

The Bible makes it very clear:

  • Noah was righteous (Genesis 6:9)
  • Abraham prayed that God doesn’t destroy the righteous with the wicked in Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23-28)
  • Job was “perfect” and “upright” (Job 1:1)
  • Zechariah AND Elizabeth were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. (Luke 1:6)
  • Paul said, concerning the righteousness which is in the law, he is BLAMELESS. (Philippians 3:6)
  • This is not to mention the other 200+ times that God refers to righteous people within the scriptures.

The word “blameless” in the above references is from the Greek word, amemptos, which means “free from fault or defect”. The scriptures clearly say that Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Paul were literally “free from fault or defect” concerning the law. They obeyed every last commandment. So much so that it is impossible to find blame or fault.

Do we need any more evidence?

After the giving of the law through Moses, God said, “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.” Deuteronomy 30:11 (NIV)

God makes it perfectly clear – the commandments of the Law of God (the Torah) is not too hard for you to obey.

It IS possible to live perfect, blameless, upright, and righteous according to the law of God. God is not, and never was a ruthless dictator which demands obedience to a law that you cannot fulfill. That is NOT the character of God.

Jesus affectionately called Him, “Father” while still living in the “Old Testament” era. Indeed, several scriptures referred to God as “Father” before the new covenant in Jesus’ blood came into effect.

Jesus commanded us to be PERFECT (Matthew 5:48)

Jesus said that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees in order to see the kingdom of heaven! (Matthew 5:20)

Would you earthly fathers demand that your children obey rules that you knew they couldn’t obey? That is abuse!

If you evil fathers wouldn’t do such a thing, how much less the Father of heaven?

The Woman Caught in Adultery

One of the most well-known stories of Jesus is when the Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in the act of adultery. By law, Jesus could have stoned her. But Jesus saw right through the Pharisees pride, and hypocrisy.

Knowing the hypocrisy of the men who brought the woman to Him, Jesus said that the one without sin should cast the first stone. Eventually, they walked away. And Jesus didn’t kill the woman either…

Most preachers finish telling the story there. But they leave out Jesus’ last words.

Last words are the most powerful words. Read on…

Jesus left the woman caught in adultery with a command.

Jesus last words to the woman: “Go and SIN NO MORE!!!”

It is possible for this woman to live the rest of her life without sinning? Absolutely! Otherwise, Jesus would not have commanded it. Jesus is not a ruthless tyrant that He should command someone to do something that they cannot do!

None Righteous? No not one?

But the question remains – why did God talk about the righteous people over 200 times, specifically naming several people – and then turn around and say, “There is none righteous, no not one”?

The answer is simple. God was not talking about everyone, at all times, everywhere, in an absolute sense. He was talking about a specific people, at a specific time, in a specific circumstance.

Understand the Context of Scripture

Isaiah 6:9-10 KJV – “9 And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. 10 Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”

Indeed, it seems as though this verse is talking about all people in general, as the previous verses do not specify anyone in particular. But later, Jesus made it clear that this verse (written several hundred years before Jesus was born) was referring to a limited group of people in His day.

Likewise, the “none is righteous” verse also appears to be talking about everyone, everywhere, without exception. But obviously, when matched up with all the other verses about righteous people, it is clear that this verse is talking about a certain group of people, and NOT all people, everywhere.

We must be careful not to take a verse out of context.

Another example: Genesis 6 declares that God looked down and saw that the whole world was incredibly wicked. But don’t forget that Noah, and his family was exempt. He was considered righteous. Here again we cannot take one verse and apply it in an absolutely universal sense, including absolutely everybody.

Once again, the scriptures say in Psalms 14 that God looked down to see if there were any who were seeking Him. And He found none that fit that profile. But obviously, that does not mean everyone, everywhere, at all times, in an absolute, universal sense. Because we know that from Genesis 4… onwards it says that men began to call upon the Name of the Lord. We can see that men have been calling upon the name of the Lord all along.
In Deuteronomy 26:17-18 the people of Israel said that they will call upon the name of the Lord and do all of His commandments.
In 1 Kings 18:24 Elijah calls upon the name of the Lord.
In Psalms 116:17 David vows to call upon the name of the Lord.
Joel 2:32 prophesies that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be delivered.

Once again, Psalm 14 is talking about a specific people at a specific time in a specific context – not everybody, everywhere, at all times.

All of Your Righteousness Like Filthy Rags?

You might say, “Well, OK. So Noah, Job, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Paul obeyed every one of God’s commandments, was blameless, and perfect. But all of their righteousness is as filthy rags.” (referring to Isaiah 64:6)

The “all of our righteousness is as filthy rags” doctrine is a favorite in some Christian circles. But let us read the scripture in context:

Isaiah 64:5-7 NKJV –

5 You(God) meet him who rejoices and does righteousness, [Who] remembers You in Your ways. You are indeed angry, for we have sinnedIn these ways we continue; And we need to be saved.

6 But we are all like an unclean [thing], And all our righteousnesses [are] like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.

7 And [there is] no one who calls on Your name, Who stirs himself up to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us, And have consumed us because of our iniquities.

Take Special Notice:

1. The people that Isaiah is talking about are people who are engrossed in sin. The enormity of their sin has caused God to rise up in anger against them.

2. The people that Isaiah is talking about are people who are not interested in seeking God.

3. God hides His face from this kind of people.

4. God “consumes” them because of their iniquities.

The people who like to quote, “all our righteousness is as filthy rags” ought to also say that they are not interested in calling on God… that they have engrossed themselves in so much sin that God, in His anger, hid His face from them, and purposed to consume them.

You get my point? The “all our righteousness is as filthy rags” quote is almost always misquoted, misinterpreted, and taken way out of context.

If you opt-in to the “there are none of us who are righteous” teaching, you SHOULD also claim the horrible state of the people described in the context of that verse.

Obviously, in context, this passage of scripture is regarding those who do not seek God, who are so steeped in sin that their sin provokes God to anger, so much so that God hides His face from them, and “consumes” them.

God is talking to a bunch of God-haters who have no interest in Him, whose sins reach the magnitude of provoking God to anger.

Everyone has their own “righteousness”. Everyone believes that they are at least somewhat honest, and right in their actions. Everyone has some sense of right and wrong. Even the worst of unregenerate criminals have some sense of their own righteousness. But it may not be God’s righteousness. It may not be in line with the righteousness that is evident in the law of God.

This passage of scripture is about carnal righteousness not God’s righteousness. It is talking about the righteousness that comes from your own “law”, not God’s law.

Isaiah 64 paints a picture of a people whose sins are like a truck load of fresh feces. Their “righteousness” is like a little perfume sprayed on tons of rotten garbage. The little bit of perfume they use won’t make a difference to a truck load of feces. It’s still filthy. Likewise, when you sin 99% of the time, and do good 1% of the time, your “goodness” is so polluted by your sin that it makes no difference. It still stinks.

In the same way, Isaiah 64 tells the God-hating sinner that it doesn’t matter if they sprinkle their load of sin with a little “righteous perfume”. It is still a load of crap. And it doesn’t impress the Lord of Heaven. They need to repent, and get rid of the truck load of sin. They need to repent from following their own law, and start to follow and obey the law of God. Then and only then will their righteousness be like that of Noah, Job, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Paul – lovely, pure and perfect in the sight of God.

In summary, the profile that Isaiah paints in chapter 64:5-7 is a profile of a people who are loaded with sin, don’t care to call on God, and because of the enormity of sins, they are objects of God’s wrath and rejection.

May I submit to you that Noah, Job, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Paul do not fit this profile. They are not people that refuse to call upon God, whom God is angry with, engrossed in sin, whom God hides His face, and annihilates them because of their sin. Therefore, their righteousness is NOT as filthy rags.

Why Then, Did Jesus Die?

So if it is possible for people to obey the law in it’s entirety, then why did Jesus come?

Jesus: “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13)

Jesus’ first words in ministry were “repent”. But Jesus knew that it takes more than the command to “repent” to set a sin-steeped sinner free. It takes death.

Jesus said that just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent on a pole, so He will be lifted up (crucified). The serpent was a symbol of sin. Jesus prophesied that He would become like that serpent. Jesus came to become sin for us. When Jesus was on the cross, He became sin, and died. He came to condemn sin in the flesh, so that we could say, “I am crucified with Christ”. Jesus had to die to set us free from the sinful nature with all of it’s passions and desires.

The preaching of the law in necessary. We need to obey the law to the best of our ability. But the unregenerate man struggles with overpowering temptations to sin. Jesus got to the root of the sin problem by giving us the law through Moses, and then destroying every evil passion and desire on the cross.

Therefore, after the law is given, and by the faith of Christ we have the law to guide us, and we have the freedom to live in righteousness because the sinful nature, which drives us to sin is dead.

Paul said, How can you, who are dead to sin, live in it any longer?

Paul said, those who belong to Christ HAVE crucified the sinful nature, with it’s passions and desires. This is something that only the cross of Christ can accomplish. The law could not.

Jesus had to come and die, that our sinful nature could be crucified, NOT so that we could be free from the law of God, but so that we could be more effective in obeying the law of God.

Jesus came to set us free from the bondage of sin!

Not so that we can live in it, and be “covered”.

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