February 9, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Psalm 92:12-13 (NRSV)
The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
Psalm 92 promises that the righteous will flourish. That sounds good. But how can we be righteous? From a biblical point of view, righteousness is being rightly related to God, to ourselves, to others, and to the world. This kind of righteousness begins with God’s grace given through Christ and it grows to touch every aspect of life. We do not make ourselves righteous, but we can allow the gift of God’s righteousness to transform us.
Today’s devotion is part of the series: Invitation to a Flourishing Life
I don’t remember exactly when I first started hearing the word “righteous” outside of churches. It seems like it was sometime in the 1970s. People began describing all sorts of things as righteous. Surfers, in particular, were always in search of “righteous waves, man.” “Righteous” meant something like “awesome, excellent, or amazing.”
Perhaps the most famous use of “righteous” appeared in the 1986 film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The high school dean of students, Mr. Rooney, was in his office obsessing about how he would finally catch Ferris in one of his legendary misdeeds in order to disgrace him in front of his fellow students. Mr. Rooney’s assistant, Grace, was not so sure, however. After listing all the groups of students who adored Ferris, she concluded, “He’s a righteous dude!”
I’m pretty sure that’s not what the psalm writer intended in Psalm 92:12-13, “The righteous flourish like the palm tree . . . they flourish in the courts of our God.” For Jews immersed in the Hebrew Scriptures, righteousness wasn’t a matter of popularity or general awesomeness. It was, most obviously, living rightly, that is, living according to God’s standards revealed in the law. But, at a deeper level, Old Testament righteousness wasn’t so much legal as it was relational. Righteousness was “right-relatedness” with God, with others, with oneself, and with the world. Such right-relatedness would be expressed in actions that were consistent, not only with the law, but also with God’s intentions for all of life.
Scripture reveals that sin disturbs and distorts right-relatedness. In Genesis 3, after the first humans sinned, they experienced brokenness in all key relationships: with God, themselves, each other, and nature. In Exodus, the law pointed people in the direction of righteousness, but also spotlighted their failure to live rightly in a consistent way.
Christ came to mend the brokenness of the world. To put it differently, he came to lead us into comprehensive righteousness. As Paul wrote in Philippians 3:8-9, “For [Christ’s] sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.” Because of what Christ accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection, we can experience right-relationship with God, with ourselves, with others, and with the world. Complete righteousness is part of God’s promised future. But we can begin even now to know the right-relatedness God intends for us.
The title of this devotion is “Are You Righteous?” If you’re inclined to answer this question by pointing to your good behavior, or even to your healthy relationships, you’re missing the fundamental point. You and I are righteous, not because of our actions or intentions, but because of Christ. Like Paul, we can say, “I don’t have a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ” (Philippians 3:9). When we accept by faith what God done for us through Christ, then we are declared to be righteous. We are brought into right relationship with God, from which all other right-relatedness flows. Even more amazingly, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:12, “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Though receiving God’s grace through faith in Christ brings us into right-relationship with God, it doesn’t automatically impose righteousness on every other part of our life. The experience of complete righteousness will become more and more real to us as we grow into who we are in Christ. In tomorrow’s devotion we’ll investigate how this growth happens.
When you hear the word “righteous,” what comes to mind? How do you feel?
Does it make sense to you to think of righteousness in terms of right-relatedness? If so, why? If not, why not?
In what ways has the righteousness of God, given through Christ, made a tangible difference in your life?
Talk with your spiritual director, pastor, or small group about your experience of the righteousness that comes through God’s grace in Christ.
Gracious God, thank you for creating us to live in full-orbed right-relatedness. Thank you for not abandoning us when we chose sin rather than righteousness. Thank you for the gift of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.
Help me, Lord, to live each day in the righteousness you give me. May I be rightly related to you, to myself, to others, and to the world. As this happens, may I flourish by your grace. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: 3 Examples of Following Christ as Ordinary Christians (Philippians 2:19–3:21)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.