Recently I was accused of trusting in my own righteousness for salvation because I said that we should obey all of the commands of God given in His Torah. Because I don’t eat pork and because I worship on Saturday rather than Sunday, am I now trusting in my own self righteousness for salvation, rather than letting the righteousness of Christ be imputed to me?
I’ve been pondering the definitions of biblical words for awhile now. When I was a child, I attended AWANA and memorized many Scripture verses. We also learned definitions, and those little phrases slip easily off my tongue to this day.
For instance, I learned that righteousness means “without sin.” The Hebrew word for righteousness is צְדָקָה or ts’dakah (Strong’s #6666).
“Dictionaries define righteousness as ‘behavior that is morally justifiable or right.’ Such behavior is characterized by accepted standards of morality, justice, virtue, or uprightness.
“The Bible’s standard of human righteousness is God’s own perfection in every attribute, every attitude, every behavior, and every word. Thus, God’s laws, as given in the Bible, both describe His own character and constitute the plumb line by which He measures human righteousness.
“The Greek New Testament word for ‘righteousness’ [δικαιοσύνη, or dikaiosynē, Strong’s #1343] primarily describes conduct in relation to others, especially with regards to the rights of others in business, in legal matters, and beginning with relationship to God.”1http://www.gotquestions.org/righteousness.html
So let’s take a look at what the Bible says about “the plumb line by which God measures human righteousness.”
The Torah Is Our Righteousness
Moses gives us a clear definition of righteousness in Deuteronomy 6.
“These are the commands, decrees and laws YHWH your God directed me to teach you to observe… Be sure to keep the commands of YHWH your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in YHWH’s sight, so that it may go well with you… YHWH commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear YHWH our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before YHWH our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness” (Deuteronomy 6:1, 17-18, 24-25).
The Bible is clear: If we obey the commands of God — and note that these are the commands given by God to Moses for the people of Israel — then this will be righteousness to us.
Are there any other places in Scripture where obedience to the Torah is described as righteousness?
“The law of YHWH is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of YHWH are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of YHWH are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of YHWH are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of YHWH is pure,
The decrees of YHWH are firm,
and all of them are righteous” (Psalm 19:7-9).
“Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of YHWH.
I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
You are righteous, YHWH,
and your laws are right.
The statutes you have laid down are righteous;
they are fully trustworthy.
All your words are true;
all your righteous laws are eternal.
I hate and detest falsehood
but I love your law.
Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous laws.
May my tongue sing of your word,
for all your commands are righteous”
(Psalm 119:1, 7, 137-138, 160, 163-164, 172)
It is clear that the law of YHWH is righteous, defines righteousness, and is truly the righteous standard.
Was it only this way during Old Testament times? No, for “all your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal” (Psalm 119:160).
Didn’t Paul teach that now things have changed? No, even Paul proclaimed that the Law is righteous.
“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12).
Paul taught exactly what Deuteronomy 6 teaches — that all people, both Jew and Gentile, are judged righteous based upon whether they keep the Law of God.
“All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Romans 2:12-13).
“Therefore if the uncircumcision [Gentiles] keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?” (Romans 2:26, KJV).
The apostle John said the same thing:
“Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness… Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous…” (1 John 3:4, 7).
Self-Righteousness Opposes God’s Law
Not only does the Torah define righteousness; wickedness is defined as opposing the Torah.
The fool says in his heart,
‘There is no God.’
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
there is no one who does good.
YHWH looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one (Psalm 14:1-3).
“All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6).
We have already established that the Torah defines righteousness. Are these verses saying that when we try to keep the law, “our righteous acts are like filthy rags”?
No, these verses are saying that our deeds are vile, that none of us does what is good and righteous.
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:1-3).
Since the Torah is God’s standard of righteousness, let’s read this verse again and substitute the word “Torah” for the “righteousness of God.”
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge [of Torah]. Since they did not know [Torah] and sought to establish their own [man-made rules], they did not submit to God’s [Torah].”
As we read the history of Israel in the Old Testament, we see this is exactly what happened to Israel. God gave them His righteous Torah at Sinai, but they would not submit to it or obey it. As they entered the Promised Land, we see that every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; Judges 21:25).
They set up their own idols. They profaned the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:17). They worshiped on their own calendar days rather than on the days YHWH had set apart for them (1 Kings 12:28-33).
“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Isaiah 29:13).
Nothing has changed in our own time either.
“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
But YHWH weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2, NKJV).
Even many of the Pharisees, who appeared to follow the Law, were simply pretending. Rather than carefully obeying the Torah, they would add to the words of God with new rules and regulations simply invented by their rabbis, even going so far as to say that the words of the rabbis were greater than the words of God.
This is exactly what Yeshua accused them of:
“Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’
“But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that” (Mark 7:6-13).
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-28).
“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
Scripture is clear that setting aside the Torah of God and making up our own rules is the definition of unrighteousness.
- When we set aside the second commandment and fill our homes with statues, we may appear righteous but we are setting aside the commands of God for our own traditions.
- When we change the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day, we may appear righteous but we are setting aside the commands of God for our own traditions.
- When we set aside the feast days established by God (Leviticus 23) and observe pagan holidays like Christmas and Easter instead, we may appear righteous but we are setting aside the commands of God for our own traditions.
“Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of YHWH, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteousness” (Isaiah 48:1).
Only God Is Righteous
Of course you know that this isn’t the whole story. I know this verse has popped into your mind by now:
“There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).
In fact, we know that only God is perfectly righteous.
“Righteous art thou, O YHWH, and upright are thy judgments” (Psalm 119:137, KJV).
“YHWH is righteous: he hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked” (Psalm 129:4, KJV)
“YHWH is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works” (Psalm 145:17, KJV).
“O YHWH God of Israel, thou art righteous” (Ezra 9:15, KJV).
“Thou art righteous, O YHWH, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus… Even so, YHWH God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments” (Revelation 16:5, 7, KJV).
It’s not that keeping the Law of God is a sin, for Scripture clearly defines YHWH’s law as righteous.
“YHWH is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable” (Isaiah 42:21).
It’s just that we refuse to keep it. Rather than obeying the Law of God, we attempt to establish our own righteousness, our own rules, our own law. We say that His law is done away with. We do what is right and good in our own eyes.
Indeed, not a single one of us can stand before God and boast that we have perfectly obeyed the righteous law of God.
“…not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9).
The Righteousness of Christ
From the moment of Adam and Eve’s sin, when they transgressed the law of God, God promised that He would send someone to break the power of sin (Genesis 3:15).
The anointed Messiah is prophesied to be different from all others. He is said to be righteous.
The days are coming,” declares YHWH,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5).
Isaiah calls the Messiah the “righteous servant,” and he prophesies that the Messiah would suffer in our place, taking the punishment for our unrighteous deeds (Ezekiel 18:20).
“Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and YHWH has laid on him
the iniquity of us all…
“For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished…
it was YHWH’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
“…YHWH makes his life an offering for sin
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities…
“He poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.”
(Isaiah 53:4-6, 8, 10, 11, 12)
God set up a way for us to be declared righteous, even though we do not obey His commands. The sacrificial system was commanded by God, but those sacrifices were just a picture of the suffering, righteous Messiah, whose blood was shed in payment for our sins.
“For the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers righteousness to everyone who trusts” (Romans 10:4, CJB).
“For just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Messiah] the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
Because none of us is righteous, because not one of us pursues the righteousness of the Torah but rather, we seek to make up our own rules and our own righteousness — we are condemned to death.
“For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Moses wrote that if we were righteous by keeping the law, we would obtain life (Romans 10:5). But we’re not.
It is only through His mercy that God sent Yeshua the Messiah as a righteous servant, who perfectly kept the Law in every way, to be our substitute and to suffer for our sins.
Every act of lawlessness that we have done was written above Him. He took our sins upon Himself.
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with the Messiah. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).
When we turn from our sin, repenting of the deeds of unrighteousness which we have done, God applies the righteousness of Yeshua to us.
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Yeshua the Messiah our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7).
The Pursuit of Righteousness
So what is our response to the mercy, kindness and love of God our Savior? Paul continues,
“This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone” (Titus 3:8).
We are not to continue in our unrighteous deeds (the breaking of Torah), but we are to pursue righteousness (the obedience to Torah).
“YHWH detests the way of the wicked, but he loves those who pursue righteousness” (Proverbs 15:9).
“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11).
“Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
We are no longer under the death penalty of the law. Does that mean we can do as we please?
“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:15-18).
The Torah has been given to us to teach us what righteousness looks like, so that we will stop trying to go our own way and establish our own standard of righteousness that is in opposition to God’s law.
“From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Messiah Yeshua. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
In fact, Yeshua said that pursuing righteousness should be our top priority.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Righteousness is something we should put on every day.
“I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban” (Job 29:14).
“But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14, KJV).
“And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24, KJV).
“Put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Colossians 3:10, KJV).
Righteousness is something we do.
“The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart” (Psalm 15:2)
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
Righteousness is something we preach to others.
“I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O YHWH, thou knowest” (Psalm 40:9, KJV).
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2, KJV).
Righteousness is something we do because He is righteous. It is an evidence of our new birth.
“If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him” (1 John 2:28).
Righteousness is a fruit of the Spirit.
“For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9, KJV).
Obedience to the Torah Is an Evidence of New Life
In conclusion, I cannot trust in my own righteousness for salvation. Why? Because I do not obey all the commands of God as given in His Torah.
I am a sinner. When I open the Torah, I am convicted of my sin. I know that I have rebelled against God and have been disobedient to His righteous commands.
I also see that the Torah points to a Savior. The Scriptures prophesy of a Messiah who suffered in my place, taking my death penalty upon Himself.
Because I love Him, I repent of my sin, of my unrighteous deeds against Torah. Because of the blood of Jesus shed in my place, God forgives me of my sin.
Now I obey Him because I love Him. He sends His Spirit to write His Torah upon my heart, empowering me to walk a new life, a righteous life.
Because I love Him, I don’t eat pork. Because I love Him, I rest on the Sabbath. Because I love Him, I keep His feast days. Because I love Him, I strive to act righteously toward others.
“Everyone who believes that Yeshua is the Messiah is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:1-4).