Righteousness

—that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.

— Philippians 3:8-9

If you define righteousness in the common-sense, that is, in the divine fashion—for religion is nothing if it be not the deepest common-sense—as a giving to everyone his due, then certainly the first due is to him who makes us capable of owing, that is, makes us responsible creatures. If anyone were born perfect, then the highest duty would come first into the consciousness. Imperfect as we are born, it is the doing of, or at least the honest trying to do many another duty, that will at length lead a man to see that his duty to God is the first and highest of all, including and requiring the performance of all other duties. A man might live a thousand years in neglect of duty, and never come to see that any obligation was upon him to put faith in God and do what he told him. I grant that if God were such as he thinks him he would indeed owe him little; but he thinks him such in consequence of not doing what he knows he ought to do. He has not come to the light, been a man without guile, true and fair. But though faith in God is the first duty, there is more reason than this why it should be counted for righteousness. It is the one spiritual act which brings the man into contact with the original creative power, able to help him in every endeavor after righteousness, and ensure his progress to perfection. The Bible never deals with impossibilities, never demands of any man at any given moment a righteousness of which he is incapable; neither does it lay upon him any other law than that of perfect righteousness. When he yields that righteousness of which he is capable, content for the moment, it goes on to demand more: the common-sense of the Bible is lovely.

Commentary

 Common-Sense Righteousness
by Dave Roney

  Photo credit:  Michael Belk, from his book titled “Journeys With the Messiah”

Photo credit: Michael Belk, from his book titled “Journeys With the Messiah”

When we herein speak of “common sense,” it is with reference to spiritual common sense and not that form which indicates to a man he shouldn't put his hand in a fire or walk off a cliff; we are speaking of the ethical type, that which separates for us between that which is good and that which is evil and of which we have common knowledge.  It is the common sense of righteousness:

“If you define righteousness in the common-sense, that is, in the Divine fashion—for religion is nothing if it be not the deepest common sense—it is giving to everyone his due...”

And is there any rational person who does not both expect what is due him, and know that he is obligated to render that which is due to his neighbor?  Common sense places a yoke about our shoulders, does so because the common sense of righteousness always makes demands upon us, and these always entail some degree of personal sacrifice.  The demand upon us to be fair always is such that we must surrender some comfort, some labor, some expense, to ourselves.  If we can think of it as no higher than our obligation, then it is a duty for us to do, to God first and then to our neighbor (and neighbor includes every person, enemy as well as friend—all to whom we owe fair-play).  The duty is fairness, first to God, and the sacrifice is our very selves; it is fairness to God that we surrender all that we are and have to Him, to be obedient to all we know to be obedient, to let Christ rule in our lives and to will, through the surrender of will, to conform ourselves to His image, to empty our selves of Self that we may then be filled with the Spirit of our Lord.  This is only fair-play.  The Apostle's words are that we should “present our bodies as living sacrifices;” it is another way of saying render to God that which is fair to God, for anything less is unfair to our Father.

But what of the man who does not acknowledge God?  Does the Divine common-sense apply to him as well as to the believer?  Yes, indeed; though he deny God, God cannot deny Himself.  The common-sense of righteousness extends to all men in common else, if it were the province of only some, it would have another name; it is not for particular men, but all men everywhere, regardless of their present conditions.  We have all alike been endowed with this spiritual common-sense of righteousness by our Creator.  The worst of men, as the best of them, knows in his heart this common-sense righteousness, and though he knows it dimly, and with distortions, he nonetheless is aware of it in him:  

“The Bible never deals with impossibilities, never demands of any man at any given moment a righteousness of which he is incapable; neither does it lay upon him any other law than that of perfect righteousness.”

There is an ethical wall separating between that which is good and that which is evil, of what is fairness in this thing but unfairness in that other thing; it is an innate knowledge common to every man, for God never demands of man what is impossible for the man, nor is the thing to be done esoteric but is “common” knowledge.  If a man willfully climbs over the wall to do the evil, he knows it, knows it as well as does those whom he wrongs, as do the onlookers and witnesses; all know it because all have the same common knowledge of righteousness and, therefore, of unrighteousness as well.  Thereby, the Lord declares, “they are without excuse.”  Yet, God ultimately brings good from evil and life out of death; the unregenerate man will, though he abuse the common-sense righteousness which he has, it being only perhaps a small flickering candle and not the glory of unshielded sun in him, will eventually as did the Prodigal, come to his senses and thereafter seek his Father:

“A man might live a thousand years in neglect of duty, and never come to see that any obligation was upon him to put faith in God and do what He told him. But though faith in God is the first duty, there is more reason than this why it should be counted for righteousness.  It is the one spiritual act which brings the man into contact with the original creative power, able to help him in every endeavor after righteousness, and ensure his progress to perfection.”

It is by this sense of righteousness common to all men, whether they obey it or not, that the Holy Spirit works in the heart to convict of sin, of unrighteousness, and to lead unto salvation:

The man may begin by realizing and ruing his mistreatment of another, having been—as his heart tells him so—that he is unfair.  It may be the best the man is capable of, for a time—perhaps for all the years of his earthly life—and he may never take upon himself the yoke of sacrifice to make things right, to square the account with his neighbor.  But from this beginning, which is duty to the lower rather than first to the Highest, he is convicted; and I am not sure, but suppose, that what we are here describing as the “common-sense of righteousness” is actually something greater; that it is the living Spirit of God doing his work in the conscience of the sinner, actively prodding him toward the Light and Life.  And I see not reason for doubt that what God has begun in a man's life at his birth in this world continues indefinitely after his demise.  Eventually, though it may take eons of eons (but I think not nearly so long a time), the man will repent himself, no longer content with his former sense of righteousness, but will be led by the Spirit to Him Who is nothing at all unless He is Fair:

“When he yields that righteousness of which he is capable, content for the moment, it goes on to demand more: The common sense of the Bible is lovely.”

One might find the prospect of our Lord walking the road with a Nazi to be unlikely, but that is just how our Lord is; and whatever in the man of this inborn, innate, God given “common" sense of righteousness, which through atrocities he may have violated, it was still in him; it is what opened the door for the Lord to enter.  His own evil, which leads to destruction, is the one thing—a violation of his conscience, of the ever present “sense of righteousness” common to all people, which God can use to reach to even the chief of sinners.