“I am worried. I do not know what to do. I have made mistakes and I do not know if those mistakes will come back to shorten my days. The future seems dark, the present seems long, and I do not want to remember what happened in the past, as it makes me think of the wretched life I led.”
Or so I used to think.
When I was unrighteous, my insecurities swelled with boasting—boasting of my talents, boasting of how I lived my life, and boasting of my successes. In reality, I was missing something. I did not know what that something was until I discovered it with new eyes (Acts 9:18 ESV throughout). Even more so, I was not searching for anything. Instead, it appeared as a blip on my spiritual radar that would light up occasionally to tell me it was there, getting closer to the center, and me not doing anything about it.
Only, what I thought was my center was nothing more than sin living in me (Rom. 7:17 NIV).
Over the past several months, I have gone through a transformation. I wrote about this transformation and the things that I have learned in my previous post Forgiveness. In short, I wrote about reconciliation and letting go of grievances in order to move forward to becoming a new person in Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17 NKJV). I also learned God has played a bigger role in my life more than what I was expecting. I found evidence of a deeper theme running through my years that, although I was not aware of it, came in the form of a realization.
This post is about that realization.
The Verse That Changed My Life
Those unfamiliar with the Holy Bible, the book of Matthew, chapters 5-7 is where Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount, teaching his disciples about God’s blessings on the humble and the peacemakers, instructing them on how to overcome anxiety, and encouraging them to set aside treasures in heaven. As God was leading me into a new walk with him (Mic. 6:6-8 NIV), the one scripture that kept appearing everywhere throughout this period came from Jesus sitting on the Mount,
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mat. 6:33).
Do Not Be Anxious
Learning about the concept of “and all these things will be added to you” required me to not only search, but after having found it, to read the entire passage in context beginning from (Mat. 6:25), “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” The anxiety one feels striving after food, drink and clothing also extends to attaining lodging and all the other necessities this life has to offer. In other words, Jesus says I should not worry about all that. Verse 26 explains why, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” He goes on to explain that Solomon, King of Israel, once the richest and wisest man in the world, could not compare his array of royal garments to the attire with which God clothes the lilies of the field.
When I think about it, there really is no need to hold on to that sinking feeling of uneasiness regarding tomorrow because God has it all figured out today. If he can look after flowers and animals, which are of lesser value than I am, who is to say God will not take care of my needs? Did he not create me out of the dust of the ground, shape me into his image, and breathe into me the breath of life making me into a living soul? Has he not given me dominion over all things under the heavens and in the sea below? Was it not he who forged the universe and everything in it promising it as an inheritance to all who believe in his son for generations to come?
If he could do all that, he can certainly look after my needs and me. Nothing is impossible for God (Mat. 19:26). Jesus even emphasizes this point when he concludes his teaching by stating, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mat. 6:34).
To understand Jesus’ intentions when he came to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, I had to define what the kingdom of God was. To do that, I dedicated last year to accomplish one of my life goals—to read the bible from cover to cover. I reasoned that if I needed to understand God’s will, I had to understand his word.
Much to my astonishment, I am reading the bible again this year for the shear pleasure of it.
The Kingdom of God
During one of my study sessions, the very first verse I came across regarding God’s kingdom I found in the Lord’s Prayer, “Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’” (Mat. 6:9-10). Above all things, Jesus wanted God’s kingdom to come on this earth and taught his disciples to desire likewise. And why not? Part of his mission was to proclaim the kingdom of God to the entire world, as described in the gospel of Luke, “And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose’” (Luke 4:42-43).
Aside from being the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29), Jesus also taught others to seek the kingdom of God. However, he preached his message in such a unique way that the people at that time sought him from all the ends of Judea and Galilee. Only, his method of delivering his message was not for preaching the kingdom of God to everyone but to a select few, “And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven’” (Mark 4:10-12).
As strange as it sounds, Jesus taught in parables not to make things clearer, but to hide the true meaning of God’s kingdom. Odd, is it not? Why would Jesus do that? Why would he want to hide the true meaning of the kingdom of God? Was it not his mission to save everyone from his or her sins?
Surprisingly—for that time—no.
Jesus was the sower planting the seeds, and it was his disciples who would reap the harvest (Luke 10:2), in terms of the new church he was building (Mat. 16:18-19). The book of Acts reveals the actual growth that took place once Jesus had ascended to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit for all those who hungered for the kingdom of God, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41).
Over the course of his ministry, Jesus likened the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, yet, once fully grown, provides a shade for which birds can build their nests (Mark 4:30-32). Said differently, Jesus emphasized how his ministry, proclaiming the kingdom of God, which started humbly soon after the arrest of John the Baptist (Mat. 4:12-17), would one day flourish to engulf the entire world, as written in Revelation 22:1-5, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
Being a believer to me means looking forward to the time when God will reign over all things with power and great glory, and his kingdom, of which Jesus proclaimed there would be no end.
Yet, the kingdom of God is only one-half of what I should be seeking.
Getting back to the last part of (Mat. 6:33), where Jesus stated “and all these things will be added to you,” I desired never to worry about food, drink, or clothing ever again. Instead, I concentrated my efforts on God’s will.
His will for me was to seek his kingdom. His will also was for me to seek his righteousness.
Of course, what I did not know was how to define God’s righteousness. In my mind, righteousness had to do with integrity, morality, and walking upright in the face of adversity. However, those were just words according to my own opinion. Anyone, really, could have an opinion as to what God’s righteousness is. What I wanted to know, though, was God’s definition of righteousness. At any time, had he made a clear statement about it? If so, where could I find it? Was it something complicated I could not understand on my own? Or was it as simple as reading a single passage?
Psalms 143:1-2 came to mind, where it talks about God being righteous. However, there is more to it than that. It says, “Hear my prayer, O LORD; give ear to my pleas for mercy! In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.”
When I first read this, I wondered if I even had a chance to understand God. If no one is righteous, what is it to say that I can seek his righteousness in order for him to bestow me all things? I had to know more. It could not simply end there.
And it does not end there. The apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans as a means to address the necessity for justification through faith due to sin, as he wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:16-17).
Paul was saying faith gives life to the righteous. Without faith, the righteous could not understand God because faith reveals God’s righteousness. To put it another way, faith is my lifeblood. Faith is the means by which I will know God. Hebrews 11 demonstrates that throughout the generations great biblical figures have accomplished incredible things, not from anything other than by faith.
Therefore, as Paul stated later in Romans 6:1-11, death does not have dominion over me because I have died to sin and am now alive through faith in Jesus. Verses 12-14 says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
It took me a long time to figure out what Paul meant because I thought through grace I was free to do whatever I wanted, including sinning without penalty. But Paul was not condoning that idea at all. On the contrary, I became aware of sin through the knowledge of the law (Rom. 3:10-20). Without the law, I would not have known what sin was. Additionally, when sin is no longer the chain that holds me in bondage, I am free to act as God’s instrument for righteousness.
Who Are the Righteous?
Throughout these studies, though, the question that kept resurfacing was, “Who are the righteous?” If Psalms 143:2 declares that no one is righteous, and in Romans 3:10, Paul agrees, then why does Jesus say, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mat. 9:13)?
The bible is replete with verses pointing to the righteous as those whom God will show favor.
For instance, Abraham attempted to intercede on Sodom’s behalf asking God if he would punish the righteous along with the wicked for the city’s iniquities (Gen. 18:23). And after Solomon built the temple of the Lord, he presented a prayer of dedication to God expressing his desire for God to condemn the guilty all the while rewarding the righteous according to their righteousness (1 Kings 8:32). And the prophet Isaiah foretold of God’s judgement on Judah and Jerusalem assuring the righteous the protections afforded to them by the Creator of all things (Isa. 3:9-10).
Nevertheless, the question remains: Who are the righteous?
The apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved and whom Jesus gave charge over his mother while hanging on the cross (John 19:26-27), wrote his first epistle to the church in Asia Minor (now Turkey) instructing believers there to remain faithful to the truth. In (1 John 1:5-6), he wrote, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Later in verse 9, he said, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Now, for a long time I had to think through that idea because I had the notion I was unrighteous. I thought my sins would always keep me separated from God. Yet, what John was saying is God will purify me and make me righteous.
John brings the message home in 1 John 3:7, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” And to ensure it is God’s righteousness of which he is referring, John explains it clearly this way, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (v. 8-10).
I cannot describe how incredible a truth (1 John 3:7) is. I will repeat it once again, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”
Which brings me to the realization I spoke about earlier.
The Wow Moment
Jesus gave his life as a ransom for sinners (Mark 10:45). He was perfect in every way, without blemish (1 Pet. 1:18-19). He was righteous. To think I could measure up to Jesus’ stature is unthinkable. Still, the scriptures are clear. If I practice righteousness, I am righteous, as he is righteous—not only I—but also everyone who repents, accepts him as savior, and sins no more.
No other truth comes close to understanding God’s love than for him to have given his only begotten son, Jesus, as a sacrifice for the sins of the many so that I and everyone else can live a true life in righteousness.
And that, dear friends, is a wow moment!
I learned this over the course of several months, but not after a lifetime of doing things the wrong way. I still find it difficult to imagine that I had no clue who God was.
Yet, he was there for me. He never left me. He simply waited—waited for me to catch up while he did a great work (Deut. 11:7).