Must Christians Be Righteous?


Over the last many months, the Lord's question has rung in my ears, “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).   Why would he ask that question?  Surely the Lord Jesus must be asking the question because there is the possibility, the likelihood, or even the certainty that he will not find a biblical, saving faith when he returns. 

Jesus described the days preceding his return:

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.[1] (Matthew 24:10-13).

Jesus prophesied there would be an increase of wickedness in those days.  We observe the world and see an increase in wickedness.  More worrisome is the increase of wickedness in the church.  George Barna has studied the behavior of those who claim to be Christians.  His research shows that most of them live no differently than non-Christians.  Even worse, on the specific subject of divorce, Barna found that more Christians divorce than atheists.[2]  Sexual sin has reached unheard of levels, particularly in the realm of lust as pornography is easily within the reach of any professing Christian with an internet connection. 

The Requirement for Righteousness As Part Of a Saving Faith

I have explained many times in other articles that a saving faith is not single dimensional.  It is like a diamond with many facets.  Each facet of a saving faith has the following characteristic:  The Bible may say that a person who has that facet will not enter the kingdom of heaven (or have any inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, or will not be my disciple, or cannot be my disciple) or that only those who have that facet will enter the kingdom of heaven.  Each facet is a condition of salvation. 

Because we know that salvation is by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and not through faith plus this facet and plus that facet, we know that all the facets (conditions of salvation) are part of a saving faith.

Jesus created the faith-facet of righteousness when he said,

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).

The last phrase of the sentence makes righteousness a facet of a saving faith.  We will not be saved unless our righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees.  Jesus made righteousness a condition of salvation.

Righteousness Defined

What does it mean to be righteous?  John explained:  “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [Jesus] is righteous” (1 John 3:7).  The opposite of that is the person who does what is not right – he is unrighteous or wicked.  Doing what is not right is sin – wickedness.  Notice that the definition of righteousness includes action – doing what is right.  It does not say thinking what is right or planning to do what is right, but doing it.  Keep that thought in mind as we'll be seeing much more of it as we proceed.

Righteousness is much like obedience.  The difference seems to be that I can have an obedient mindset.  I can determine to be obedient when faced with choices.  But my righteousness will be determined after I act.  Were my actions righteous or not?

Can a person do what is sinful and be saved?  Many say, “Yes, of course!”  The Apostle John disagrees.  He taught, “He who does what is sinful is of the devil (1 John 3:8) . . . . This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right (act righteously) is not a child of God” (1 John 3:10).  Contrary to popular thinking, John taught that those who are unrighteous – who do what is sinful (act wickedly) – are of the devil; they are children of the devil.

The Apostle Paul confirmed that continued sinfulness (sinfulness equals wickedness) cannot exist in the lives of true believers:  “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” (2Timothy 2:19).  All true Christians confess the name of the Lord.  That means that all true Christians must turn away from wickedness.  That is really what repentance is – to confess our sin and turn from it.  Unless we repent (another facet of a saving faith) we can not be saved.  Unless we confess our sin and turn from it, we will not be saved.

How can that be, you may ask?  Are you saying that if I ever sin I am of the devil?  That could be, but that is not what I am saying, or what I believe the text is saying.  Note the word “does.”  It is a continuing verb.  I think it reasonable to say we can rephrase John's statement by saying, “He who continues to do what is sinful is of the devil.”  That is consistent with what the Apostle John said on another occasion:  ” No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6).  It is also consistent with an earlier statement:  “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).  We all know that upon occasion we sin, hopefully infrequently, hopefully inadvertently.

The opposite side of that – acting righteously – is to be interpreted the same way.  We can rephrase that with a continuing verb to say:  “Anyone who does not continue to do what is right (act righteously) is not a child of God.”  This statement requires a consistent Christian walk.  That means an obedient walk.  As John said, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 1:6). 

Conformed To His Likeness

The prior paragraph is closely tied to another facet of a saving faith – God's predestined condition that true believers must be conformed to the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:29).  God predestined that only those who are conformed to the likeness of Jesus will be saved.  In his definition of righteous, John added a phrase, “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [Jesus] is righteous” (1 John 3:7).  Jesus is righteous and those who will be saved, who are conformed to his likeness, will also be righteous.  Jesus is called the Righteous One (Acts 3:14, 7:52, 22:14, 1 John 2:1).  Jesus' disciples must also be righteous ones. 

The Centrality of Righteousness


Let's look at how central righteousness is to the kingdom of God.  Jesus made righteousness the number one priority:

“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Yes, first!  Almost everyone knows the part that says, “Seek first his kingdom,” but how many remember that it is not only his kingdom to are to seek first, but also his righteousness?

Righteousness is central to the purposes of Scripture.  Paul told Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Scripture will teach us how to be righteous.  Scripture will rebuke us for actions that are not righteous.  Scripture will correct our wrong thinking about what is and is not righteous.  Scripture will help us to train ourselves to be righteous.

Jesus told the following parable to teach the centrality of righteousness as the standard by which men are judged at the end of the age:

The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  He who has ears, let him hear (Matthew 13:41-43).

Note that there is no reference here to what a person believed but only whether they did evil or were righteous.  We must understand that a saving faith gives evidence of itself through righteousness.  A false faith (or no faith) gives evidence of itself (or of the lack of faith) through evil and wickedness.  In this parable, Jesus made sure we understand that there is only fiery judgment for those who do evil, but blessings in the kingdom for those who are righteous.

We find the same message in the first Psalm where God distinguished between the wicked and the righteous:

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.  For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:5-6).

Peter taught the same:  “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:12). 

Yes, the contrast is clear.  The Lord is against the wicked who will perish and be condemned but the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, his eyes are on them, and his ears are attentive to their prayer.

Two of the Beatitudes – the rules that describe how to live in the Kingdom of God – concern righteousness:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. . . .  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:6,10).

The second Beatitude is a salvation promise, but also involves persecution.  What a reassurance it is for those who are being persecuted, as so many Christians are throughout the world, to know that when they are persecuted for righteousness, they have a sure promise that the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

A saving faith gives birth to righteousness:

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith (Hebrews 11:7).

Note again that Noah did what God told him to do.  He was righteous because he did what was right – he obeyed God and built the ark, even though there was no evidence whatsoever that an ark would be needed at the time he built it.

Consider what Peter said, “He himself [Jesus] bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).  Peter equates the reason Jesus took our sins upon himself on the cross was so we may die to sin and live to righteousness.  That makes righteousness very central to our salvation, doesn't it?  It also makes it central to the purpose for Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. 

What Is Right?

The definitions above speak of those who do what is right.  What are those “right” actions that the followers of the Lord Jesus are to do in order to be righteous?  Surely that is the most important thing to know because if we don't know what is right, we can't do what is right. 

One of the popular sayings these days is “We're not under law, we're under grace!” (Romans 6:14-15).  Those Scriptures can be easily misinterpreted.  They refer to the Old Testament Law.  All the Jews had been raised to follow and obey that law.  However today those scriptures are often interpreted as if to say that there are no rules (law) for the Christian. 

Is that what Paul thought?  No, he spoke of being under the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).  Paul told the Corinthians, “I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law” (1 Corinthians 9:21).  Paul was under Christ's law (the same as God's law), and so must all those who claim to be Christians.   

Christ's Law

What is Christ's law?  Christ's law is everything Jesus taught and commanded.  In one of his last commands, Jesus commanded his disciples (and all his followers in succeeding generations) to make disciples of all nations, to baptize them, and to teach them to obey all that he [Jesus] commanded them (Matthew 28:18-20). 

What did Jesus not say in that command?  He did not say that we are to obey the Old Testament Law (Moses' Law).  He did not say we are to obey the Ten Commandments.  If we were to obey the Ten Commandments, then most Christian churches are in immediate disobedience because they do not keep the Sabbath.  Jesus affirmed nine of the ten commandments, but did not affirm Sabbath worship.  For a more complete discussion of this issue, see “Which Law Does the Christian Obey?”[3] 

Jesus said that everything he did and said while on earth was what his Father told him to do and say (John 8:28, 12:49-50, 14:10, 14:24, 14:31).  Thus everything Jesus said and did was the will of God.  We see the connection to another faith facet Jesus taught – the need to do the will of God – when he said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). 

Now we can see the connection.  Christians are under the law of Christ that includes everything Jesus taught and commanded while on this earth, all of which are also the will of God.  When we are true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we obey his teachings and commands – we do those things that are right and are righteous.  Those who do not obey the law of Christ, do not do those things that are right and are unrighteous – wicked.  If we are righteous, we are children of God.  Those who are unrighteous are children of the devil.

Paul taught that obedience leads to righteousness:

16 Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:16-18).

It follows naturally that obedience leads to righteousness.  If we obey the teachings and commands of the LordJesus, as we have been commanded to do by our King and Master,  we are doing right – the definition of righteousness – and we are doing the will of God.

And that is what Paul taught, combining a teaching about obedience and righteousness:  “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 2:13).

Satan's Efforts to Deceive

Knowing what you now know about the importance of righteousness, would you expect Satan to try to find ways to oppose righteousness, infiltrating the church with false doctrines that teach that being righteous is not necessary or, better still, that it is not possible, or best of all, that our righteousness comes only through Jesus – an imputed righteousness – and has nothing to do with our personal righteousness.  And that is what he has done successfully.  As we have seen, Barna's surveys show that many professing Christians live just as wickedly (unrighteously) as those in the world who make no profession of faith. 

The great deceiver is always trying to deceive those who want to be loyal followers and disciples of the Lord Jesus.  He wants them to believe the lie that personal righteousness does not affect one's salvation.  He wants them to follow the ways of iniquity and unrighteousness and become his followers – children of the devil. And in far too many cases, that is what has happened.

Within these passages discussing righteousness, John said, “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray” (1 John 2:26) and “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray” (1 John 3:7).  Even in the first century of the church there were those deceived by Satan who sought to lead the believers astray by claiming that personal righteousness is not a condition of salvation.  We will next examine many false doctrines now firmly established within the church that lead believers astray from the clear message of Scripture that the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ must be righteous. 

The deceptions are now within the church and have taken root.  There are those in the church who claim we cannot be righteous, saying that we sin all the time.  Others in the church claim we shouldn't even try to be righteous because that would be attempting to earn our salvation by works.  Those same people often claim we shouldn't attempt to obey the teachings and commands of Jesus because that would also be an act of works in which we are trying to earn our salvation.  The most prevalent false doctrine claims righteousness is not an issue for those who are saved as all their future sins are forgiven – that happened (they say) when the person declared his faith and trust in Jesus as his Savior. 

We are not discussing simply academic arguments.  Being righteous is a condition of salvation that must be met by those who would be saved.  Heaven or hell are in the balance.  Let's examine some of these false doctrines to see how they square with Scripture. 

False Doctrines Causing Wickedness


False:  Only Imputed Righteousness

Some teach only imputed righteousness – that the perfect righteousness of Jesus is imputed to those with a saving faith – claiming that is what Jesus spoke about in Romans 8:29, that God predestined that those he foreknew would be saved would be conformed to the likeness of Jesus (with imputed righteousness).    According to them, all we have to do is have the proper faith and we will have the required righteousness imputed to us by God – the righteousness of Jesus. 

They rely on such scriptures as “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Romans 3:28).  For such people, they equate justification with salvation.  In Ephesians 2:8-9, the language is:  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Both of those passages have a similar message – we will not be either justified or saved by our works or by our efforts in observing the law. 

Typical of false doctrines, part is true.  As we can see from Jesus' teaching about righteousness, a proper faith includes exemplary righteousness – a righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  All true Christians with a saving faith have the righteousness of Jesus and are blameless and free from accusation.  We see that expressed in Colossians 1:21:  ” Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he [God] has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”  Christians with a proper understanding of repentance know that whenever we sin, we are to repent immediately of that sin.  When we repent of our sins and are forgiven by God, we find ourselves holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.  In every case, our pure and holy state is made possible only by the shed blood of Jesus.  When we are washed in his blood, we are truly clean, blameless, and free from accusation. 

Scripture calls us to be different – to a lifestyle that is righteous and holy.  But many say that is impossible.  As to such people, the Apostle John warned, “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray.  He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.  He who does what is sinful is of the devil” (1 John 3:7).  That seems simple, doesn't it?  We need only do what is right to be righteous in God's eyes. 

False: The Doctrine of Unconditional Eternal Security

There is likely no false doctrine that will damn more people to hell than this doctrine, commonly referred to as “once saved, always saved.”  If you are taught repeatedly that once you have confessed faith in Jesus you cannot be unsaved, that your sins are forever forgiven, you have lost all reason to fear God.  Why would you fear God?  You have been taught God is love.  You are assured his wrath will burn only against those who have never confessed faith in Jesus. 

Does that square with Scripture?  Let's see what Scripture teaches.  Since our primary subject is righteousness, let's look at what Scripture says happens to the wicked (the unrighteous).  Let's pay particular attention to whom the warnings are given.  Is it to the unbelieving world, or are these warnings given to those in the church – to Christians?

Those Who Deliberately Continue In Sin

There are two startling passages in the book of Hebrews.  We'll examine first the passage that deals with deliberate sin: 

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31).

This passage deals with those who deliberately continue in sin.  Does the passage say that if we continue in sin we will feel less comfortable, and that we will miss the abundant life the Lord has for those who have confessed faith in him?  NO!  It doesn't speak to our emotions, feelings, or an abundant life.  It speaks to judgment – a raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

Who is the passage speaking to?  Is it speaking to unbelievers living in sin?  NO!  It speaks to those who have received the knowledge of the truth.  The author includes himself in this warning, saying, “If we . . . ”  For those who have received the knowledge of the truth to continue deliberately in sin is to treat as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him and to insult the Spirit of grace.  Note that the passage said “received” the knowledge of the truth and the blood of the covenant that “sanctified” him – both in the past tense.  It says nothing – just the opposite, in fact – about always being sanctified and justified because of once making a confession of faith.  It warns that the person who has received – not just heard – the knowledge of the truth will be condemned to the raging fire that will consume the enemies of God if they continue in deliberate sin.  Shouldn't that passage cause each of us to fear God?

Those Who Fall Away

Let's look at another passage that deals with those who leave the faith:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace (Hebrews 6:4-6). 

We are dealing here with those who fall away from the faith.  These are not those in the world who do not profess faith, but just the opposite.  The passage lists what these people experienced – they were enlightened, they tasted the heavenly gift, they shared in the Holy Spirit, they tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age.  Do non-believers share in the Holy Spirit?  No!  This describes Christians!

Once again, this is a grave warning, one dealing with salvation!  People who are described in this paragraph who fall away from the faith cannot come back to repentance.  It is impossible according to the passage.  Why?  Because they are crucifying the Son of God all over again.  What do these people do, who had it all but threw it away?  They subject the Lord Jesus to public disgrace, just as the passage says.

The Requirement of Perseverance

The Apostle Paul twice defined the need for perseverance in the faith IF one is to be saved.  He warned the Corinthians:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).

Note how clear and unambiguous this passage is.  Paul said these people, by receiving and taking their stand on the Gospel he preached to them, are saved.  BUT, then he qualifies his statement by saying they are saved IF they hold firmly to that Gospel – if they persevere in their faith.  What if they don't?  They have believed in VAIN.  What could it mean to believe in vain?  It can only mean that whatever they believed was for naught – it no longer counted.  There would be no salvation. 

Was Paul speaking to the world at large with this admonition?  Not at all.  He was speaking to fellow believers he addressed as brothers.  Further, he told them they had received the Gospel he preached to them and had taken their stand on it.  He even told them they are (present tense) saved, IF they persevere – hold firmly to that Gospel.  There is no question that this is a warning to believers that they must persevere in the faith – hold firmly to the word – if they would be saved.

Paul also warned the Colossians:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation — if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the Gospel. This is the Gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant (Colossians 1:21-23). 

We have a parallel situation here.  Paul tells the Gospel in this passage, beginning with our past condition before coming to a saving faith – alienated from God and enemies of God because of our evil behavior.  He goes on to remind them how God reconciled them by Christ's physical body through death and their spiritual status as a result – holy in God's sight, without blemish and free from accusation.  Surely that is the desire of every Christian!  BUT Paul then qualifies the statement.  Those foregoing statements are only true for those persons who continue in their faith.  How must they continue?  Established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the Gospel.  What if you do not continue?  You are no longer reconciled or holy in his sight or without blemish or free from accusation.  Indeed, you are guilty of great accusation because you did not persevere!  Remember the warning of Hebrews 6:4-6!

The Need to Obey Jesus

Still another letter by Paul clearly shows the need for obedience to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus as a condition of salvation.  Those who fail or refuse to obey that Gospel will not be saved:

 All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you  (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

This awesome passage shows both the need to obey the Gospel of Jesus and the punishment for failure to obey.  Paul reveals when this punishment will occur (v. 7).  Then he tells who will be punished – those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus (v. 8).  Is this punishment simply not feeling good about themselves or not having the abundant life or not laying up sufficient treasure in heaven?  NO!  Paul says these people will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power (v. 9).  Did Paul write this warning to unbelievers?  No!  He wrote to those in Thessalonica who believed Paul's testimony to them (v. 10).  Those who obeyed the Gospel of the Lord Jesus will be saved.

Hebrews 5:9 confirms the need to obey Jesus and resulting salvation for those who do: “He (Jesus) became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”   That verse shows salvation for the obedient.  Jesus reversed that statement when he said:  “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).  Everything Jesus said and did was the will of his Father.  Is it any wonder we are to teach new disciples “to obey all that I have commanded you”? (Matthew 28:20).  Let's always remember that when we do the will of God our Father we are doing what is right – we are righteous!

Those scriptures do not make an exception for those who made a one-time commitment to Jesus.  They refer to anyone and everyone.  The wrath of God is stored up for those who do not persevere in knowing God and obeying our Lord Jesus.

Peter Warns

Peter was also forceful in warning believers so they would not fall away:

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them (2 Peter 2:20-21). 

In this remarkable passage, Peter takes away any possible argument that might be mustered against the truth of his statement.  He assures us that he is speaking about those who escaped the corruption of the world by knowing Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  Those are people who are true Christians.  But then he says, IF, in spite of knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior they are again entangled in the corruption of the world and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.  What were they at the beginning?  They were unregenerate people who were destined for eternal punishment.  Peter says that because they once knew Jesus as Lord and Savior, they will be punished more severely.  It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness.  Note how Peter equates knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior with knowing the way of righteousness.  We have seen that salvation is for those who obey the Gospel of Jesus.  When they obey they do what is right – and they are righteous!

An Old Testament Lesson

The falsity of the doctrine of unconditional eternal security is shown with unusual clarity in this passage in Ezekiel.  In it, God himself is speaking through Ezekiel.  This is particularly useful to this study because God contrasts those who sin and do evil with those who are righteous. 

“Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.  21 But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself” (Ezekiel 3:20-21).

The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him (Ezekiel 18:20).

But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die (Ezekiel 18:24).

If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die (Ezekiel 18:26).

Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, “The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness.”  13 If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done (Ezekiel 33:12-13).

I have always been amazed at the clarity of this passage.  It clearly destroys the argument of the unconditional eternal security advocates.  You can see this passage is consistent with the New Testament passages that also proved false that doctrine.

Note specially the underlined words “trusts in his righteousness” in v. 13 of the prior scripture passage.  I'm very concerned that this describes many in the church who have subscribed to these false doctrines.  They falsely believe they are righteous because, they believe, they are clothed with the righteousness of Jesus, when all along they continue in their sinful, ungodly behavior.  According to the prior passage, if these professing Christians had once been righteous but now have reverted to a worldly, sinful lifestyle (much as Barna said was true of many in the church), they will die for the evil they have done (v. 13).

While the preceding emphasized the righteous person, in the following God speaks about the wicked person:

But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live (Ezekiel 18:21-22).

But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life (Ezekiel 18:27).

And if I say to the wicked man, “You will surely die,” but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right – if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die.  None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live (Ezekiel 33:14-16).

In the first part, dealing with the righteous man who turns from his righteousness and is condemned, God shows that one who had been righteous before God can become wicked and be condemned.  In the second part, God shows his mercy to the wicked.  The wicked man was condemned, but when he turned from his wicked ways, he was forgiven by God and granted salvation.  This also is consistent with the New Testament scriptures.

In an attempt to keep this article a reasonable length, it is not appropriate to include all scriptures that prove that the falsity of the doctrine of unconditional eternal security.  I hope you have found the proofs presented here more than adequate.  For a more complete discussion and many more proofs go to | False Doctrines | “Is the Believer Eternally Secure” and “Proofs of Conditional Salvation.”

As we will see next, the false doctrine of unconditional eternal security bears ungodly step-children.  It is these step-children that deny the need for righteous lives that we have seen are God's requirement for those who will be saved.

False: Antinomianism

In his book, Paths to Power, A.W. Tozer stated:  

“Fundamental Christianity in our times is deeply influenced by that ancient enemy of righteousness, Antinomianism.  The creed of the Antinomian is easily stated:

“We are saved by faith alone; works have no place in salvation; conduct is works, and is therefore of no importance.  What we do cannot matter as long as we believe rightly.  The divorce between creed and conduct is absolute and final.  The question of sin is settled by the cross; conduct is outside the circle of faith and cannot come between the believer and God.  

“Such in brief, is the teaching of the Antinomian.  And so fully has it permeated the Fundamental element in modern Christianity that it is accepted by the religious masses as the very truth of God.  Antinomianism is the doctrine of grace carried by uncorrected logic to the point of absurdity.  It takes the teaching of justification by faith and twists it into deformity.”

Antinomianism is the natural theological stepchild of the doctrine of unconditional eternal security.  If the doctrine of unconditional eternal security were true, once a person has said or done whatever a church claims is required to have salvation, that person cannot lose his salvation.  If that be true, then nothing that person does in the future can have any bearing on salvation.  Consistent with that understanding, these churches make clear that upon confession of faith when first converted (and presumably upon repentance at that time), all future sins are forgiven as well as past sins.  Naturally that is contrary to Peter's reminder that the person has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins (2 Peter 1:9).  All Scripture bears witness that we must repent when we have sinned, and that it is our past sins that are forgiven upon repentance.

Those pastors/teachers (those who hold to this false doctrine) who try to base their sermons and teaching on the scriptures seem to have difficulty with the commands and admonitions for righteous living.  Why are they in Scripture if actions have no bearing on salvation?  How are they to be related to the life of the believer?  Some have attempted to solve the apparent dilemma (they often call it tension between doctrines) by saying that the commands for righteous living are included so that the Christian will have an abundant life.  They are careful to make sure that their audience understands that this has no reference to their salvation, but only to the amount of joy and peace and love they will experience in their daily lives. 

Consider how opposite to Antinomianism is the teaching of Paul to the Romans:

God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”  7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.  8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.  9 There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile(Romans 2:6-10).

In the above passage, there are four references to action – “doing” or “done” or “does” (twice).  How opposite the teaching of the Antinomians that denies the need to do anything or to refrain from doing anything.  According to them, to do anything is to attempt to be saved by works. 

We'll examine two sides of the coin regarding “doing”.  The first will be those who do wrong, who act wickedly.  Are their wicked actions irrelevant if they have believed correctly?  Or will wicked actions (doing wrong) deny people – even professing Christians – salvation?

Warnings About Not Inheriting the Kingdom of God

As we did in the prior section, let's examine some New Testament warnings that speak about salvation and see who they are directed to.  Salvation warnings say that a person who is guilty of certain actions will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.  The critical questions for our consideration are, “Are such teachings directed only to the non-believing?  If a non-believer becomes a believer, are such teachings then negated and have no meaning?  Do these warnings apply to Christians?”  Let's look at some scriptures that answer all these questions:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church – to Christians.  He wrote of those who are wicked and then defines the wickedness.  He makes it clear that he is writing to Christians, some of whom previously had been the wicked people he described (v. 11).  He tells them they are now different as Christians – washed, sanctified, and justified. 

Is Paul saying, however, that though (or because) they are different now as Christians, they are incapable of once again becoming wicked, sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers, or swindlers?  No, he didn't say that.  What if they do go back to their wicked lifestyle?  Are they exempt from his warning that such persons will not inherit the kingdom of God just because they were once believers?  No!  He is warning them that if they once again do such things, they will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

Paul also warned the Galatians:

19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). 

Again the warning is given to the Galatian churches – to Christians.  The list is somewhat different than before and the warning is slightly different.  He warns that those who live like this will not be saved.  Let's see that again.  Those who live in sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Are Christians exempt from this warning if they should lapse back into this kind of behavior or continue such behavior after professing faith?  Of course not.  Why would Paul be warning them if there was no possibility that they were subject to the warning?  Note that all these forbidden, wicked actions are things people do, just what the Antinomians say do not matter.  These warnings are the exact opposite of the claims of Antinomians.

Paul warned the Ephesians about the need for purity and righteousness, “to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).  But then Paul continued with an even stronger warning:

3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.   6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7 Therefore do not be partners with them (Ephesians 5:3-7).

Again Paul is speaking to Christians – to the Ephesian church.  He makes it crystal clear that it is their behavior he is speaking of when he says, “But among you”.  Note that the sins that he catalogues are less gross and more subtle, but nevertheless are all what they do – their conduct.  He includes coarse joking and foolish talk.  He says the result is the same.  No such person has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Note the subtle addition – the kingdom of Christ.  Do you suppose someone argued with Paul, saying, “I'm not looking to be in the kingdom of God.  I'm going to be in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  If that happened, Paul made sure there was no misunderstanding.  Such people will not be in the kingdom of the Lord Jesus or of God – which is really one and the same kingdom.

Why the warning if it is impossible for Christian who have once confessed faith to later be guilty of such sins?  Why the warning specifically to Christians if it wasn't intended to apply to them?  The obvious answer is that it was a warning for them to guard themselves that they not fall back into depravity and lose their salvation.  It may also been a warning to the new believers about the areas of their lives they must purify as followers of the Lord Jesus.

Note the additional warning to the Ephesians (and to us).  Paul said, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”  Isn't that exactly what is happening in much of the Christian church today?  We are assured by pastors and teachers that we have unconditional eternal security (once-saved, always saved) if we fulfilled their requirement of a certain prayer or action.  As we have seen over and over again from the clear warnings of Scripture, those claims are FALSE!  They are attempts to deceive us with empty words.  Rather than unconditional eternal security, for persons who engage in such things there is the certainty of God's wrath on those who are disobedient.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus taught two concepts that should truly put the fear of God into everyone who claims his actions don't matter to his salvation:

”Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

 “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:21-23).

In v. 21, Jesus spoke to those around him.  He warned about false faith, the false claim that because some call him Lord they will enter the kingdom of heaven.  He said not all those who call him Lord will enter the Kingdom of heaven but only those who do the will of his Father in heaven.  Once again, the warning has to do with doing the will of God, exactly the opposite of the Antinomian claim that doing anything at all is attempting to secure salvation through works.

In vs. 22-23 Jesus speaks about people appearing before him at his judgment seat at the last day.  They plainly expect to be awarded eternal life.  During their lives they accomplished extraordinary feats that appeared to be gifts of the Holy Spirit – they prophesied in Jesus' name, and they cast out demons and performed many miracles in Jesus' name.  Surely these were super-saints!  They did all these things in Jesus' name!  Surely they had eternal life.  But, no!  Amazingly Jesus said they were evildoers (workers of lawlessness – Antinomians).  He said he never knew them.  Jesus' claim to not know these “super-saints” followed his warning that only those who will enter heaven are those who do the will of his Father in heaven.  Because the statements follow each other, it is apparent the “super-saints” disregarded obedience to the will of the Father.  They were Antinomians who apparently concluded that their deeds (including obedience to the will of God) did not affect their salvation – exactly the false teaching we are warning about here.  Were they super-saints?  They couldn't be; Jesus said he never knew them.  These people listened to Satan's lies.  They were empowered by Satan to do those things that looked like gifts of the Holy Spirit, likely all part of Satan's deception to convince these people they had a saving relationship with Jesus and were bound for heaven.

At the end of The Revelation, the Lord Jesus himself gave the following warning:

7 He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:7-8).

The book of Revelation was for the servants of the Lord Jesus – Christians (see Rev. 1:1).  In the passage above, Jesus describes those who will be in hell.  The list Jesus gives is more of a summary than the lists of Paul.  But Jesus also adds two categories – cowards and liars.  Liars include gossips.  Cowards may include those who deny him in the face of persecution or death or even peer pressure.  Do you see anywhere in this passage that if a person had once made a confession of faith and believed that they were exempt from this warning?  Does it say anywhere that the person engaging in these sins will simply not have as many rewards or have as abundant a life as Jesus intends them to have?  NO!  The warning is about salvation vs. hell.  Jesus (see vs. 7) makes the point that it is the person who perseveres (who overcomes) that will inherit the kingdom of God.  For that person, Jesus will be his God and he will be his son.  Hallelujah!

False:  Actions Don't Matter

As we have seen, Antinomians teach that actions don't matter.  They claim what they believe is the only thing that is important.  If they claim/profess a faith in Jesus, that's all that matters.  Sometimes they claim one need only believe that Jesus died on the cross so their sins may be forgiven in order to have salvation. 

Just two Sundays ago I heard a sermon that virtually said exactly that.  I could hardly believe my ears.  The Pastor spoke of Christian homosexuals and Christian adulterers.  He took pains to tell the congregation that these warnings did not apply to the person's salvation.  He assured everyone that these adulterers and homosexuals were saved – that was determined forever when they made their confession of faith.  These warnings were only about the kind of life the Christian would live here on earth, whether it would be filled with love, peace and joy or insecurity, anger, and frustration, or whether they might suffer the discipline of God as his sons. 

Scripture says otherwise.  We have examined lists of actions that are prohibited to the Christian.  Repeatedly the warning is sounded to Christians that if a person lives like that he will not have salvation.

Doing What Is Right

If we do what is right and if we do good works, is this contrary to Scripture as the Antinomians would have us believe?  Of course not.  We are to prove to God (give evidence of) our faith by what we do – our deeds.  James said this same thing and used Abraham as an example:

You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did (James 2:20-22).

When Abraham raised his knife to kill his son Isaac, God knew Abraham's faith was real.  And when he did what God commanded, God considered him righteous (v. 21). 

Deeds are used to prove repentance is real.  Paul, in his defense to King Agrippa, summarized his ministry by telling what he preached:

First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds (Acts 26:20).

Paul's teaching to King Agrippa warned that repentance is not real if the person continues to do that from which he repented.  God insists on evidence (through what we do) that our faith and repentance is real. 

Revisiting Jesus' warning, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21), we see this also requires positive action – doing the will of God.  It says nothing whatsoever about what is believed, only about doing. 

Paul's well-known passage assuring that we are saved by grace, through faith, adds this note:  “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).  Again we see the need to do!

The core teaching of John 15:1-8 is that Jesus insists we must bear fruit or we will be cut off from him and thrown into the fire (see vs. 2,6).  That is also the thrust of the parable of the fig tree wherein God checks for fruit, finds none and orders the tree be cut down.  Jesus intercedes and asks for one more year to give the tree special attention, but agrees it should be cut down if it does not bear fruit.  (See Luke 13:6-9).  Bearing fruit is doing what God wants us to do – the will of God.  We must bear fruit or we will be thrown into the fire – condemned.  Again, the message is the opposite of the Antinomians.

As we look at all these passages, we find many of these requirements to do (actions) are salvation passages, meaning that if we do not do what is required we will be condemned.  Yet the Antinomians are advocating the very thing that will condemn us.  Who do you think is the author of this doctrine?  Surely it is Satan himself who seeks to deceive everyone he can through false doctrines so they will be condemned by God.

Judged According To Our Deeds

Exactly opposite the teachings of the Antinomians are the teachings of Scripture.  Scripture emphasizes over and over again that we (each of us) will be judged according to our deeds.  I didn't realize that these clear passages could be so misinterpreted or so wrongly taught.  The sermon I referred to clearly said that this judgment according to our deeds was to determine our rewards and nothing else.  The salvation issue had long ago been determined.  Let's see how that squares with Scripture:

The following describes what will happen at the great white throne judgment:

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done (Revelation 20:12-15).

Contrary to the Antinomian's teachings, our deeds do matter.  Each of us will be judged, not by what we claimed to believe but according to what we have done.  But, the Antinomian may object, saying that refers to the great white throne judgment and that no believers will be there – only non-believers will be at that judgment seat.  My great concern is that there will be untold millions at the white throne judgment who were certain they were saved – unconditionally, eternally saved (they believed), but they also believed their deeds didn't matter.  But their deeds did matter.  Instead of being saved and rewarded by the Lord, they face an eternity of punishment because they believed a lie – the false Antinomian doctrine.

When true believers are judged, their reward will also be based on their conduct and actions.  Jesus taught:  For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27).  Later Jesus revealed to John, “Behold, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12).  Paul taught:  “The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:8).

The Sheep and the Goats

Jesus told the parable of the sheep and the goats in which both those destined for heaven and those destined for hell were judged at the same judgment:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46).

This parable is a view of the judgment at which the Lord Jesus Christ will preside as judge.  Here we see the separation of the sheep from the goats by the Lord.  The sheep are on his right; the goats are on his left.

What the Lord Jesus says is surprising.  He does not say to the sheep, “You are the ones who professed faith in me” and to the goats, “You did not profess faith in me.”  No, he says nothing at all about anyone's profession of faith.  Rather he speaks about deeds – what the people have done!  He commends those on his right for feeding him when he was hungry, visiting him in prison, clothing him when he was naked, giving him drink when he was thirsty, and looking after him when he was sick. 

Amazingly, the righteous ones objected, asking “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The Lord Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  What was their reward?  The righteous were given eternal life.

The Lord Jesus told the ones on his left they had not done for him the things the group on his right had done.  They also objected, asking when they had seen him in need. 

Jesus told them, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Do actions matter?  According to all we've seen so far, our eternal future depends on what we do, not because our deeds can earn our salvation, but because our deeds are reliable evidence of what we truly believe and the real condition of our hearts and of our faith.

Obedience To Jesus' Commands and Gospel

As you remember, anti-nomian means against law.  The Antinomians argue that obedience to the law of Scripture is unnecessary.  It is only necessary to have the right faith, they claim.  We have seen that deeds are incredibly important.  We will be judged according to what we have done.  That includes our obedience. 

We must again caution against misinterpretation.  Yes, we have seen our deeds will determine our fate, but NOT because our deeds have earned us salvation.  On the contrary, God will determine our faith based on our deeds.  We give evidence of what we believe by what we do.  It is not uncommon for a person to say one thing and do another.  It is far more likely that what he believes is based on what he does rather than what he says.  Our deeds are the standard God uses to determine whether we have a saving faith.

Everything Jesus said and did was the will of God.  Let's look again at what Jesus said,  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).  Even obedience is a deed – something we must do.  Note once again, contrary to Antinomian teaching, what we do can/will determine our eternal outcome, whether we spend eternity in heaven or in hell. 

Once again, let's look at Paul's warning at 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9:  He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord.  

The same preacher told the congregation that though the Lord may discipline us as sons when we disobey, our disobedience will not affect our salvation.  He said that was settled when we made our confession of faith.  Is that what we've learned?  Haven't we learned that a one-time confession of faith means little.  What means something to God is the evidence that results from a confession of faith.  Do we bear fruit from our relationship to Jesus?  Do we do those works God prepared in advance for us to do?  Do we show that Jesus is our Lord by obeying his teachings and commands?  Or are we among those who will be terror-stricken when we find ourselves before the throne of the Lord Jesus and learn that our adherence to false doctrines have condemned us to everlasting destruction.

False:  We Can't Be Righteous

One of the false doctrines of today is that we cannot be righteous.  This false doctrine may have originated in Augustine in the third century of the church when error began to be introduced into the early church.  It was taken up in Calvinism centuries later and promoted in their doctrine of Total Depravity.  This doctrine claims mankind is so totally depraved they have a total inability to be righteous.

But, as we always ask, what does Scripture say?  Is there any reference to righteous people in the Scripture, particularly in the New Testament?  Let's look.

One of the first examples is regarding Joseph, husband of Mary.  Scripture calls him a righteous man (Matthew 1:19).  Then John the Baptist came on the scene, announcing the coming Messiah.  Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man (Mark 6:20).  When Jesus was first taken as a baby by his parents to the temple in Jerusalem, they were met by a man named Simeon.  Scripture says of him:  “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout” (Luke 2:25).  These are examples of Jews that God regarded as righteous before knowing the forgiveness of sins and salvation that would be provided by the Lord Jesus.

After the Gospel of our Lord Jesus became known and was preached by Paul to the Gentiles, Paul said about himself:  “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed” (1 Thessalonians 2:10).  The writer to the Hebrews, who may have been Paul, said about himself and his co-workers, “We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way” (Hebrews 13:18).  We all can testify that we can only have a clear conscience when we do what is right.

Then a non-Jew who did not know the Gospel of our Lord Jesus was declared by Scripture to be a righteous man:  “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people (Acts 10:22). 

Righteousness, we have learned, is simply doing that which is right.  AFTER receiving Jesus as our Lord, what is right will be different than what we thought was right before.  After knowing the Lord Jesus, we do what is right by obeying the teachings and commands of our Lord.  That is why it is so essential that the church obey Jesus' command to “teach them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).  If the people are not taught what is right and as a result they do not obey it, they will be unrighteous in God's eyes and condemned. 

False Gospel: Wrong Jesus

Usually my wife and I agree with the beginning presentation of the Gospel as we hear it presented in most churches.  There is no question that that initially we were all sinners, alienated from God, and that by ourselves we are unable to bridge the huge chasm between ourselves and God.  No matter what our works, we cannot gain salvation from them.  No matter what the apparent purity of our lives, we have still sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.

But here is where the Gospel message of many churches begins to go wrong.  It is at this point that many speak of Jesus as the Savior in whom we are to believe for salvation, assuring us that if we believe in Jesus as our Savior, we will have eternal life.  Or, and I've heard this a lot lately, if you believe that Jesus died on the cross and shed his blood so that your sins can be forgiven, you are justified and have eternal life.  Neither of the above alternatives are the biblical answer for gaining salvation.

Hopefully when I quoted a portion of Romans 6:23 above, you immediately noted that I didn't finish the verse.  I didn't finish it, because these days much of Christendom does not finish it.  But the finish gives the true Gospel.  Let's look at the full statement of Romans 6:23: 

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our LORD! 

It is through Jesus as LORD that we are saved.  Romans 10:9-10 states, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is LORD, and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Greek scholars tell me that the verbs are in the continuing sense, i.e., if you continue to confess, if you continue to believe.  It does not refer to a one-time action.  At Acts 16:31, Paul told the Philippian jailer how to be saved:  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” 

The New Testament Scripture overwhelmingly emphasizes Jesus as Lord.  Jesus is called Savior 15 times, but 624 times he is referred to as Lord.  Paul said to the Colossians, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord . . .,” showing that was how Jesus was taught and received by the churches.  Peter taught “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:15).  He preached to Cornelius' household that “Jesus Christ is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36).  Paul clearly stated what the early church taught about Jesus:  For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).  The easy and accurate statement of salvation is:  Jesus is Savior of all for whom he is Lord.  And, in the alternative, Jesus is Lord of all who will be saved.  Consider the amazing scripture at Romans 14:9:  “For this very reason Jesus died and rose from the dead, that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” 

Jesus told the Jews:  “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:24).  Who did Jesus claim to be?  He told his disciples, “You call me ‘Teacher' and ‘Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am” (John 13:13).  We too will die in our sins if we do not believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be – Lord!  In the Revelation, speaking of the time when Jesus will come in power and great glory, we read of Jesus, “On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:16).

Is the Lordship of Jesus important to you?  It is another facet of a saving faith – Jesus must be our Lord if we would have salvation.  It is the most important single relationship you will ever deal with in your life.  It will determine your future eternal destiny, whether it be heaven or hell, because from that relationship comes the choice and conviction about what we are to do and how we are to act. 

What is amazing to me is how accurately Scripture is being fulfilled before my eyes.  When we returned to the U.S. from New Zealand, I was at first cheered to hear Jesus referred to as Lord in more and more churches in America.  More and more churches include in their altar call the phrase, “believe in Jesus as your Savior and Lord” (or “as your Lord and Savior”).  But we were most disappointed to find that most of these same churches fail or refuse to teach their people to obey the teachings and commands of Jesus.  You can understand why Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). 

Why should we do what Jesus said?   If we really claim Jesus as Lord, obedience to his commands should be natural and expected.  How can we say that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords – the highest authority in heaven and on earth (as Scripture tells us he surely is) – and not willingly and diligently obey him? 

There is another reason that we should obey each and everything Jesus commanded us to do.  It is because Jesus spoke the will of God.  Jesus specifically stated that what he taught and commanded came from God. “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me” (John 8:28).  “I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. . . . So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (John 12:49-50).  “Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?  The words I say to you are not just my own.  Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:10).  “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:24).  “The world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me” (John 14:31).   Because God instructed Jesus what to do and say, and because Jesus obeyed perfectly, whatever Jesus said and did was God's will.  Every teaching, every command, every miracle, all were done by Jesus because God the Father instructed him to do it and Jesus did exactly as he was told. 

Everything Jesus said and did was the will of God.  Those facts become very important when we again read Jesus' warning at Matthew 7:21:   “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Doesn't that mean that if we would enter the kingdom of heaven, we must obey the teachings and commands of Jesus that are the expressed will of God the Father?

What could be more natural, then, that our Lord Jesus would command us to teach others to obey his teachings and commands?  It would follow naturally, both because he is Lord and because his teachings and commands are the will of God that must be obeyed by all who would be saved.  Indeed, Jesus did exactly that in his great commission to his church.  He commanded us to go into all the world and make disciples (not converts) of all nations.  He commanded us to do two things with these people to make them disciples:  (1) baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and (2) to “teach them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).

We see the effect of Antinomianism as the church (for the most part) ignores Jesus' command to teach new believers to obey his teachings and commands.  How are new believers to know the will of God that they are to obey if they are not taught?  Yes, they could go directly to God's word and find out for themselves.  Very few do.  The great preponderance likely fail to obey because they have not been taught either the commands themselves or the need to obey them.  Instead, almost unbelievably in light of the explicit teachings of Scripture we have already seen, new believers are often taught that it is not necessary to obey Jesus' commands and/or that failure to obey will not affect their salvation that they are told is already assured and that failure to obey may affect only the abundant life God intends them to have here on earth.  At worst, they are told, God might discipline them.  How utterly contrary to God's word!  Is it any wonder Jesus warned that only a few would be saved?

False Concept of Which Law Must Be Obeyed

For those who do not subscribe to the Antinomian view that salvation is all of faith and not of works (including obedience to any law), there is often a serious error in what is to be obeyed.  This is seen most often in sects and cults that have reverted to Old Testament law and emphasize some aspect of it.  The most frequent error seems to be with respect to worship on the Sabbath.  The Seventh Day Adventists are an example of a group that insists the day of worship must be the Sabbath.

What does Scripture say?  Let's go again to the great commission in which the Lord and Master of those who will be saved told us what we are to obey and what we are to teach new disciples to obey.  He said we are to obey all that he commanded us.  These commands are found mostly in the four Gospels and in the first three chapters of The Revelation.  The great Sermon on the Mount contains many, many commands that Jesus commanded his followers to obey.  Some are well known – turn the other cheek, for example.  Some are not.  Some people do not know that Jesus redefined some of the Ten Commandments.  For example, he expanded the definition of adultery by saying that if a man looks lustfully at a woman, he has committed adultery in his heart.  Jesus also reversed Old Testament teachings – he said we are not to swear (as in an oath), though that was commonly done in the Old Testament.  He changed the permissible reason for divorce, saying his followers could only divorce in the event of infidelity.

What about Sabbath worship?  Did Jesus command Sabbath worship?  Is that the will of God for all of Jesus' disciples?  No, just the contrary is true.  Jesus said that he was Lord of the Sabbath.  He proceeded to break the Sabbath laws, rules, and regulations in what appeared to be a calculated effort to enrage the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Because of these repeated violations of the Sabbath they plotted to kill Jesus (Matthew 12:14).

Why would Jesus have omitted the Sabbath from the commands he taught us to obey?  This answer cannot be stated with certainty.  One reason may be that the Sabbath, as stated in Scripture, was part of a covenant between God and the Jews.  Another reason may be that the Gospel was about to go to the Gentiles.  As the Gospel went out to the Gentiles, many converts would be slaves who would not be able to obey the Old Testament rules of observing the Sabbath; their owners would not permit them to.  God, in his foreknowledge, knew precisely what would happen so he didn't put new Gentile believers in the position of having to violate his Sabbath laws.

Though the Roman Catholic Church claims it established Sunday as the day of worship (as a substitute for Sabbath worship) in the third century, there is evidence that much of the early church of the first three centuries worshipped on Sunday.  They did so to honor the day of resurrection of their Lord that occurred on the first day of the week and to disassociate themselves from the Jews who claimed worship must be on the Sabbath.

For a full discussion of “Which Law Must the Christian Obey?” please go the website at | Important Issues | Which Law Must the Christian Obey?  There is a companion article there titled, “Sunday, Sabbath, Or . . .”

Because I have been unable to find a Bible study that teaches the teachings and commands of Jesus, the very thing he commanded us to teach to new disciples, I wrote a study on the Teachings and Commands of Jesus myself and taught it over several years in New Zealand.  That study is divided into small portions to make it easy to download from the internet and distribute to members of a Bible study.  It can be found at | Bible Studies | Teachings and Commands of Jesus.  As we might expect from something Jesus commanded us to do, the study has repeatedly had the effect of transforming the lives of those who have taken it. 


Because there is so much in Scripture on the subject of righteousness, God's promises to the righteous, the special place in God's heart for the righteous, as well as that salvation is for the righteous, there is far too much to include here.  I recommend you keep the word righteous and righteousness in mind as you daily read Scripture.  I suspect you'll be amazed at the many times you find references to these words and the importance that is attached to righteousness throughout the Scriptures.

Let's close with one more example of the importance of “doing what is right” – the definition of righteous.

Jesus said, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 4:13-14).

When will you be repaid?  Jesus said “at the resurrection of the righteous!”  Jesus did not say at the resurrection of those who believe.  Once again it has to do with action – doing what is right.  There seems no doubt from the overwhelming flood of scriptures on the subject that those who will be saved are those who are righteous. 

As this last example shows, as do many others we've shown throughout this article, the issue here is what we do, not what we say, and not what we claim or profess we believe.  When we do what is right we are righteous.  When we do what is wrong, what is evil, what is sinful, we are wicked.  Scripture speaks of the righteous and the wicked as opposites.  The righteous are loved and specially blessed by God.  The wicked await his awful judgment and punishment in fire.

Notwithstanding all the false doctrines now firmly entrenched in the church, the Bible stands firm in its demand that the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ be righteous as he is righteous.  

Paul anticipated his coming death as he wrote to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

May we also fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith so that we also may receive the crown of righteousness from the Lord, our righteous judge.


[1]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1984 . Zondervan: Grand Rapids

[2] Go to | Important Issues | May Christians Divorce (and Remarry)

[3] See | Important Issues | Which Law Does the Christian Obey?

 a Or I am he; also in verse 28

Leave a Reply