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Righteousness by Works

Matthew 5:20 quotes Jesus as saying:

"For I say unto you. That unless your righteousness Exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, You will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."

Righteousness sounds pretty important doesn't it?

From where does a person's righteousness come? Is there more than one kind of righteousness? What kind of righteousness is required to obtain eternal life?

These are a few of the important questions that all Believers need to consider, for as Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) said, only the 'righteous' will attain eternal life:

Matt. 25:46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment [G2851 (correction)], but the righteous into eternal life.

If only the 'righteous' will be saved, then it is essential that we understand what constitutes true righteousness, and the method required for obtaining it, so that we may all "...enter into eternal life..."

As stated in Matt. 19:17, "...If you will enter into life, keep the commandments."

(1 Pet.4:17-19) "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now, 'If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?' Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator."

Is there more than one kind of righteousness? There is. There is righteousness by works and righteousness by faith.

Today I want to discuss righteousness by works. The next time I speak, I'll be discussing righteousness by faith.

Let's begin by considering righteousness in general, then we'll get into righteousness by works. I'll provide Hebrew translations for added clarity of meaning.

According to the dictionary, a righteous person is one who is "without guilt or sin," and who lives a "morally upright" life. This is a very workable definition, as it presents the two primary aspects of Biblical righteousness as it applies to mankind. However, one needs to go much deeper in order to fully understand all of the implications of what constitutes a 'righteous person' and/or a 'righteous life.' The trait of righteousness is so important that it is the only one which exemplifies the Bride of Messiah on her wedding day: (Rev. 19:7-8)

"'Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints."'

The Bride is not pictured as being 'beautiful,' 'charming,' 'intellectual,' 'athletic,' or 'poised;' nor is she described by any other adjective. The only trait that is explicitly mentioned in connection with the Bride is that of being clothed in "righteous acts" (in other words, in righteousness).

In the English versions of both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures there is remarkable uniformity in definition and usage of the words which are translated as 'righteous,' or 'righteousness.' In addition, the English words 'just,' 'justify' and 'justification' are often used in place of some of those very same Hebrew and Greek words. For example, when an English Bible states that a person was a 'just' man, it could just as correctly be rendered a 'righteous' man, and vice versa.

There are four primary Hebrew words for 'righteous:'

In like manner, the companion words for 'righteous' and 'righteousness' in Greek are all derived from directly related words:

There are many nuances to these Hebrew and Greek words which the translators have tried to capture by using various English words. However, the bottom line is that in order to be considered a righteous man (a Tzadik'), and thereby qualify for eternal life, one must practice right living (righteousness), AND be cleared of past accusations of wrongdoing through a court of law that has the power to render one innocent.

James 2:18 Show me your faith without your works, And I will show you my faith By my works.

Without a doubt, God sets the ultimate standard for righteousness, a standard that can not be fully achieved by mortal man. Yet the fact that we cannot be totally and completely righteous like our Father in heaven, does not excuse us from striving to achieve that goal, no matter how impossible the task might seem. In this sermon we will explore what it means to have righteousness through good works, and how Righteousness by Works results in great blessings to each member of the Bride.

The Scriptures abound with stories about both men and women who strove to be righteous. In fact, all of the great men and women of old exemplified Work's Righteousness in their individual lives, and when the children of Israel corporately practiced a degree of 'Righteousness by Works,' the nation as a whole was blessed accordingly. Interestingly, when the leaders of Israel and/or Judah were practicing righteousness, the nation as a whole tended to do the same. Likewise, when the leaders of Israel and/or Judah were wicked, the nation as a whole tended to fall into the same path of wickedness. Food for thought relative to America's present leadership.

Just like society today, all of the children of Israel were never completely righteous or completely wicked. However, there were usually a fair number who did live righteous lives, at least to a degree. At one point Elijah the Prophet thought he was the only righteous man (in Hebrew, Tzadik (Zah-deek')) left in Israel, until God revealed to him that there were an additional seven thousand who had remained faithful:

(I Kings 19:18) "'Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."'

What is a Righteous Man?

Many passages in the Scriptures testify to the simple fact that living a righteous life in the flesh (by observing and doing righteous acts) renders a person 'righteous.' People who live such lives are referred to as Tzadakim', which is the plural form of Tzadik in Hebrew, or as Dikaios (dik'-ah-yos) in Greek. Their righteousness is based upon the Scriptural understanding of righteousness which is achieved by works, that is, by how well they have lived their lives in accordance to God's will.

Noah is the first righteous man listed in the OT. (But in Mat 23:35 Christ included Abel.)

(Gen. 6:8-9)"But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. ... Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God."

The New Testament, which is called the Brit Chadasha (Breet Hahdah-shah or ReNewed Covenant in Hebrew) confirms this title for Noah and also adds Lot to the list:

(2 Pet. 2:5) "... Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, ...
Verses 7-8 "... And delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed with the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds) ..."

David was recognized as a Tzadik' or righteous man by his predecessor, King Saul, when he spared Saul's life:

(I Sam.24:17-18) "Then he (Saul) said to David: 'You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil. ... for when the LORD delivered me into your hand, you did not kill me."

King David understood that he was considered to be a Tzadik', and he was brave enough to pray the following:

(Psalm 7:8)"...Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, And according to my integrity within me."

God Himself designated three particular men as being righteous, when He spoke through the mouth of the prophet Ezekiel:

(Ezek. 14:12-14) "The word of the LORD came again to me, saying: 'Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it. Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,' says the Lord God."

(Notice the deliverance mentioned in this passage is a physical one, not one to eternal life.) People in today's world should fear God's punishment. Of course, the three primary 'righteous men' of the Hebrew Scriptures are the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Several times in Scripture they are referred to as God's 'servants,' and the memory of their righteousness was often used by others (such as Moses) to remind God of their faithfulness to Him, and His promises to them:

(Deut. 9:27)"'Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not look on the stubbornness of this people, or on their wickedness or their sin, ..."

There are a number of righteous men mentioned in the New Testament as well. They include:


(Matt. 1:19a) "Then Joseph her husband, being a just man...."

John the Baptist:

(Mark 6:20)"... Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him...."

Mary is not specifically called 'righteous' but the manner in which Gabriel addresses her tells us that she was considered to be so by God:

(Luke 1 :26-28)"Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed [i.e. engaged but not yet married] to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her , 'Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!"'

Joseph of Arimathea:

(Luke 23:50-51)" And behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. ... who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God."

Zacharias and Elizabeth:

(Luke 1:5-6)"There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless."

Here we see six people, all central to the life of our Messiah Yeshua, who are said to be Dik'aios (righteous). In addition to proclaiming Zacharias and Elizabeth righteous, Luke also wrote about the criteria which is used to determine righteousness. That criteria is to walk in (i.e. keep) all the "commandments and ordinances " of God in a "blameless" manner (Luke 1:6). This corresponds perfectly with the Hebrew Scriptures, where we read the following definition of righteousness:

(Psalm 119:172)"My tongue shall speak of Your word, For all your commandments are righteousness."

It is generally accepted that the 'commandments' mentioned here include all of the 613 commandments that are said to be found in the Torah (i.e. the Pentateuch). If all of God's commandments are considered to be 'righteous,' then the manner in which a person can be deemed righteous is to follow those commandments. Thus, Righteousness by Works can be attained by following all of the commandments of God as laid out in the Holy Scriptures. This includes, but is not limited to the 613 commandments that are said to be found within the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, not all 613 commandments apply to any single person. Some apply only to men, others only to women, priests, or kings, etc. Some apply only to the Temple.

For the time being, it is important to understand that the Scriptures (both Testaments) teach that obedience to the commandments of God is required in order for an individual to be considered a Tzadik' (i.e. a righteous person). However, we must be careful not to allow Righteousness by Works to be confused with 'Righteousness by Faith.' Righteousness by Faith is also very important and will be covered in my next sermon.

Righteous Commands:

As we have seen, Psalm 119:172 gives the definition of righteousness as being all the commandments of God. Many Believers understand this to be referring only to the Ten Commandments. However, the interesting thing to note here is that the "Ten Commandments" are not called commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures. Instead they are called the 'Ten Words,' or even the 'Ten Things.'

(Deut. 10:4)"'And He wrote on the tablets according to the first writing, the Ten ... (davar), which the LORD had spoken to you in the mountain from the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly and the LORD gave them to me."'

The Hebrew word davar ( dahvah'r, Strong's #1697) is defined as: a word; a matter or thing. There is a different Hebrew word that is almost always translated as 'commandments.' That word is mitzvah (meets-vah', Strong's #4687). Mitzvah (mitzvot is the plural form) means: a command, whether human or divine, law, ordinance, precept.

In Judaic tradition, all 613 'commandments' found in the Torah constitute mitzvot. So, in this understanding, when a person abides by any one of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah, that person is said to be committing a righteous act, because, as Psalm 119:172 says; "...all Your (mitzvot) are righteousness." Likewise, if a person performs a good deed, that good deed is also considered to be a mitzvah. Thus, the keeping of the commandments are mitzvot, and the doing of good deeds are also mitzvot. Now, if a deed is truly 'good,' it will, in some way, fulfill a command; for the fulfillment of any one of the commandments is, by its very nature, a good deed. One could say that keeping the commandments of God constitutes "Living in the fullness of Torah."

To live in the fullness of the Torah, means that the Believer is doing 'good deeds,' or mitzvot. There can be no 'law' against mitzvot, since it is mitzvot that make up 'the Law.' It is written:

(James 1:27) "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."

In other words, performing mitzvot (good deeds) by properly caring for the orphans and widows, is religion in its purest form. But James (in Hebrew, Ya'acov) goes on to also instruct each one of us to keep ourselves "unspotted from the world." This too is a direct reference to the 613 mitzvot of the Torah, since it is within these commandments that we are given instruction about how to remain pure in God's sight. So, the keeping of the commandments is a mitzvah and the doing of a good deed is also a mitzvah, and all mitzvot are righteous.

Prominent Commands:

In Judaic teaching the Ten Words are considered part of the 613 commandments or mitzvot of the Torah. However, because God designated the Ten as davar' (words) rather than mitzvot (commandments), they receive a more prominent stature. This also stands in accord with the New Testament despite the fact that no differentiation is made in the Greek between the Ten and the other 603 mitzvot. In Greek all 'commandments' are called entole' (Strong's #1785). Nevertheless, Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew, also gave the Ten prominence by referring to them several times in His teaching; to the exclusion of the others. For example:

(Matt, 19:16-22)"Now behold, one came and said to Him, 'Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?' "So He said to him, '... if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.'
"He said to Him, 'Which ones?' Jesus said, 'You shall not murder, 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
"The young man said to Him, All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?'
"Jesus said to him, 'If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'
"But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."

Apparently the young man had tried very hard to observe all of the mitzvot, yet, after speaking with Yeshua, he came to the realization that he had either failed or was idolizing his possessions, for "he went away sorrowful."

A careful study of the Scriptures reveals that the 613 mitzvot can be structured into three levels. First of all, there are the two great commandments:

(Matt. 22:35-40) "Then one of them, a lawyer , asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?'
"Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Deut. 6:5) This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (From Lev. 19:18) On these two commandments hang all the Law (i.e. the Torah) and the Prophets.' "

Just beneath these two great commandments, lie the Ten Words. The first four (some say the first five) apply to the first of the Great Commands, which is to love God. The last six (some say the last five) pertain to loving one's neighbor. Then underneath these twelve, lie the remaining 601 mitzvot.

Yeshua, i.e. Jesus, Taught Righteousness by Works:

In the Parable of the Tares, Yeshua (Jesus) included those who practice righteousness and those who practice lawlessness:

(Matt. 13:41-43)"'The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!'"

According to this parable, at the end of the age people will be divided into two groups:

But, some may ask; How can we know for sure that Yeshua did not 'do away with the law' (i.e. the Torah)? And so we answer; He did not do away with the law because He specifically said that He did not:

(Matt.5:17-19)"'Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets, I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one Jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them (the Torah or Law) he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.'"

Controversy often erupts over the meaning of the words 'fulfill' and 'fulfilled' in the preceding passage. Interestingly enough, these two words are completely unrelated in the original Greek language. The word 'fulfilled' is gin'omai (Strong's #1096) and means: "to cause to be," or "come to pass." It would be better translated "occurred." In other words, not even the smallest letter or decoration upon the letters will disappear until everything that is supposed to occur has occurred. Since heaven and earth still exist, all things have not yet 'occurred.'

The word 'fulfill' is plero'o (Strong's #4137). It means; "to make replete." It would be better translated as 'complete.' In other words, Yeshua did not come to abolish the Torah (law or instruction), but to complete it. This means that He was sent to show Believers how to live in the fullness of the Torah. This is why Yeshua was known to disciples as the Living Torah; the One who walked in, i.e. kept, the commandments and statutes perfectly; exactly the way God intended them to be kept when He gave the Torah at Mount Sinai.

This would also explain what Jesus, i.e. Yeshua, meant when He made the following statements:

(Matt. 6:33)"'But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."'
(Matt. 5:20)"For I say to you that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."'

The followers of Yeshua are not only to appear righteous on the outside, they are to be dedicated to righteousness on the inside as well. They are to live righteously whether anyone is watching or not. For Jesus said:

(Matt. 23:27-28)"'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."'

Yeshua taught that we are to obey both the letter of the law ( so as to be righteous before men) and the spirit of the law (so as to be righteous before God). This means we must not only forgo murder, we must also forgo hatred, for that is the emotion which leads to murder. In addition, we must not only forgo adultery, we must also forgo lust, since that is the emotion which leads to adultery (Matt.5:20-30). Good behavior and right attitude of the heart are both required of the disciples of Yeshua HaMashiach (i.e. Jesus the Messiah).

Now, when some of the Pharisees saw Jesus sitting at a table eating a meal with tax collectors and sinners, they complained to His disciples. But Yeshua answered them:

(Matt.9.13)"'... go and learn what this means: "I desire mercy and not sacrifice. " For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."'

Please notice, the subject here is not salvation but repentance. Yeshua is saying that sinners have a need to repent of their sinfulness.

Everyone (both the righteous and the sinner alike) needs salvation, which comes from Righteousness by Faith. But repentance (a complete change of heart and a determination to turn one's life around and walk in the path of Righteousness by Works) must go hand in hand with Righteousness by Faith. (More on this in my next sermon on Righteousness by Faith.)

The concept of repentance is more fully expressed by the Hebrew word teshuvah (teh-shoe-vah), which means not only feeling sorry for one's sins, but, even more importantly, turning from them and returning to the ways of God.

Each year the Jewish people observe a forty day period called Teshuvah, which leads up to the great day of final judgment and forgiveness: Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). During this period of time each individual is expected to identify their own sins; both those against God and those against their fellow man. They are expected to go to their fellow man seeking forgiveness and, likewise, to grant forgiveness to those who come to them in the same manner. Only when that exercise has been completed may they go before God and seek His forgiveness as well. This is why Yeshua taught His disciples to pray:

(Matt. 6: 12, 14-15)"'And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.
"'For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.'" [an ominous warning]

Forgiveness is the gate through which we are able to move from Righteousness by Works into Righteousness by Faith, for it requires that we have complete trust that God has also forgiven us for our sins. Forgiveness is also the evidence that teshuvah has taken place in our lives and is the ultimate way in which we can show our faith through our works.

Paul Taught Righteousness by Works

It is a fact that Paul emphasized Righteousness by Faith far more than he emphasized Righteousness by Works. However, he did teach Righteousness by Works. Consider the following passage where Paul declares the Torah (instruction) to be righteous:

(Rom.7:12)"Therefore the law (Torah) is holy and just (righteous) and good."

Paul was emphatic that we must not partake of sin when he said:

(Rom. 6:12-15)"Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

"What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!"

(1 Cor. 15:33-34)"Do not be deceived: 'Evil company corrupts good habits.' Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame."

What is sin? First and foremost:

(1 John 3:4)"Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness."

Sin is the breaking of the mitzvot' (commandments) of the Torah, as well as the instructions given in other parts of the Scriptures.

However, there are two other definitions of sin found in the New Testament:

(Rom. 14:23b)"... Whatever is not from faith is sin."
And, (James 4:17)"... To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin."

Whatever we do, it must be from a position of total faith or trust that our actions are not contrary to the written word of God. In addition, as Believers we need to be performing mitzvot, i.e. all of the law, in the form of good deeds.

Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, asserts that all of Scripture (and he had to be talking about the Old Testament) is inspired by God and that we are not to ignore any part of it, for:

(2 Tim.3:16-17) "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."

The written word, which includes the Torah and its 613 mitzvot' (commandments), was inspired by God to be instruction in righteousness for the children of Israel. Since all Believers have been grafted into the 'Olive Tree of Abraham,' we too have become the 'children of Abraham.' Therefore, all of those instructions apply to us as well:

(Rom. 11:17)" ... and you, (Gentiles) being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, ..."

What do other teachers tell us?

In addition to Paul's teaching on Righteousness by Works, Peter also taught that Believers should live their lives for righteousness, and not fall back into the sins that required Yeshua's sacrifice in the first place.

(1 Pet. 2:24-25) (For Christ) "..... bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness - by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."

James (Jacob or Ya'acov in Hebrew), the half-brother of Jesus, was the most outspoken of the Apostles when it came to teaching the doctrine of Righteousness by Works. His position was that Righteousness by Faith would remain hidden within the heart of the individual, and no one else would know it existed until it was made manifest by Righteousness by Works:

(James 2:21) "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? . ... You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith, i.e. trust, only.
(Verses 24-26)"Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."

The Apostle John also considered the 613 mitzvot' to be in force:

(1 John 2:3-4)"Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him."

This is very strong language and we all need to read it and believe that it means what it says, for John goes on to say that what he is writing is not a new commandment but an old one:

(Verse 7) "Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning."

What does the phrase "the word which you heard form the beginning" mean? At that period in time (1st century) and in that place (Judea) it could only mean the commandments found in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). In other words John is speaking about the Torah and its correct application as taught by Yeshua, i.e. Jesus.

Immediately following this statement John goes on to say he indeed does have a "new commandment" to give to the Believers:

(Verses 8-10)"Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him."

This new commandment has to do with the heart, for it is possible to inwardly hate a brother and yet treat him in an amicable fashion:

(Verse 11)"But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes."
(1 John 3:24)"Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us."
(1 John 5:2-3)"By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome."

All of these Scriptures show that Believers are bound to keep all of the commandments of God which apply to them:

(Deut. 30:11-16 Tanakh) {11} "'Surely this instruction which I command you today, it is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. {12}It is not in the heavens, that you should say, "Who among us can go up to the heavens for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?" {13} Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it? {14}But the word is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.
{15} "'See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. {16} For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess."'

However, if we plan on obtaining eternal life as a result of keeping the commandments, then we will fail in our endeavor; for the Scriptures do not promise that obedience to the commandments (even total obedience all of one's life) will bring us eternal life. The Apostle Paul addressed this when he said:

(Eph.2:8-10)"... you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."

Just what are these "good works" that were "prepared beforehand?" They can only be the righteous mitzvot (commandments) of God which are written in the Torah, having been given at Mt. Sinai some fifteen hundred years before the time of Paul. So even though we cannot be saved by our own good works, we are still instructed to perform them.

What are the Reasons For Righteousness by Works?

The purpose of Righteousness by Works is threefold:

1.) To show God that we love Him and His only begotten son, Jesus (i.e. Yeshua), and that we are indeed sincere about wanting to be in His Kingdom:

(John 14:15, 21) "'If you love Me, keep My commandments. ... (21}He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself in him."

2.) To afford the Tzadik' (i.e. the righteous individual) blessings during this life. Let me list some of the earthly blessings that will accrue to those who are determined to follow the instructions found in the Torah:

(Deut.28:1-2)"'Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God:

(Verses 3-7) " 'Blessed shall you be in:

"'the city ... the country ... the fruit of your body ... the produce of your ground ... your basket ... your kneading bowl ... when you come in and ... when you go out."'
(Verse 14) "'So you shall not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them."'

3.) To provide a basis for rewards in the world to come:

(Luke 14:12-14)"Then He also said to him who invited Him. 'When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just (i.e. the righteous)."
(Matt. 16:27) "'For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works."
(2 John 8)"Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward."
(Rev. 22:12)"' And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work."'

Work's Righteousness should hold a very important place in the life of each and every Believer. To forgo Righteousness by Works is to turn one's back on the very instructions of El Shaddai (i.e. God Almighty). As the Apostle Paul said:

(Rom. 6:1-2) "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?"

To lead a righteous life means to avoid sin at all costs. A person living such a life will no doubt receive a great reward in The World to Come.

But Righteousness by Works Cannot Accomplish Everything

Righteousness by Works cannot grant an individual eternal life. No matter how good a life one might lead, in God's sight there is no one who can be considered fully and completely righteous:

(Rom. 3:10)"As it is written:

......'There is none righteous, no, not, one;...(This is a quote from Psalm 14:3)'"

(Psalm 143:1-2)"Hear my prayer, O LORD, Give ear to my supplications! In your faithfulness answer me, And in your righteousness. Do not enter into judgment with your servant, For in your sight no one living is righteous."
(Titus 3:4-7 NKJV) But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, {5} not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, {6} whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, {7} that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Even those acts of righteousness which we do accomplish in our life time, when compared to the righteousness of God, are seen to be little more than nothing:

(Isa. 64:6)"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."

What this passage actually says is that our righteousness (when compared to God's) is no better than a used menstrual cloth. For this reason, all men are in a very dismal state unless their sin is removed. For as the Apostle Paul said:

(Gal. 2:16 at the end)" the works of the law no flesh shall be justified."

However. there is a way for sinful man to become justified (made righteous) in the sight of God. That is the topic of my next sermon on righteousnes: Righteousness by Faith.

In Summary:

The standard for righteousness is established by God. It consists of keeping the mitzvot' (commandments) which He set forth in the entirety of His word (i.e. the Letter of the Law). It also includes keeping the Spirit of the Law, for it addresses how a person should feel in his heart about obeying.

The fact that Righteousness by Works is important can be seen by the way God describes the righteous men and women of old. They are all considered to be Tzadakim; i.e. righteous people who were loved by God.

The entirety of the New Testament teaches us that Righteousness by Works is extremely important. Yeshua, i.e. Jesus, taught it, Paul taught it and so did Peter, John, and James (i.e. Ya'acov, the half-brother of Jesus).

In Jewish teaching, commandment keeping and good deeds are interwoven. To observe a commandment is a good deed, and to perform a good deed is to keep a commandment. In Hebrew both are called mitzvot.

Righteousness by Works cannot give the one who performs it eternal life, for that is the sole realm of Righteousness by Faith. However, Righteousness by Works does accomplish three important things:

Righteousness by Works is an extremely important element in the life of the Believer. Righteousness by Works is what Paul was talking about when he wrote:

(Rom. 12:1-2) ''I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."

Finally, our Savior, Jesus, i.e.Yeshua, taught that entrance into the Kingdom of God will be bestowed upon those who are deemed righteous according to the Torah (instruction), especially if they are persecuted for practicing righteousness:

(Matt.5:10) "'Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."'

May we all strive to be obedient to God through the vehicle of Righteousness by Works.

This sermon was adapted, with permission, from articles in Hebrew Roots magazine

Sermon given by Wayne Bedwell
13 August 2011
Copyright 2011, Wayne Bedwell

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