We love to preach grace, talk about grace, help new people understand grace. How astonishing that God declares us righteous in Christ and we need do nothing to earn it. What joy to know that our lavish God pours out grace upon grace on us, so much so that it will take the coming ages to reveal his kindness to us in Jesus.
But God’s grace should lead us to holiness. Imputed righteousness should lead to PRACTICAL righteousness. We should walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. We must PRACTICE our righteousness.
Jesus told his followers to practice righteousness. But unlike the religious leaders of the day, they should practice righteousness in all of life–especially in private.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)
The Pharisees practiced righteousness–in public. But not in private. They did it for show. They taught others to be holy but they weren’t in private. They practiced righteousness to gain the praise of men.
Jesus commands us to practice righteousness. Both in public and in private. To hunger and thirst for true righteousness. To be holy whether anyone is watching or not. To flee temptation when we’re all alone in an airport 15 states from home. To be pure and holy on Thursdays at 2 a.m. as well as Sunday mornings when we’re singing in church. To be pure in our thoughts as well as when sharing in Care Group.
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1)
to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4:22-24)
Holiness is not an option! God is holy and he saved us to make us like himself. Impurity and every form of unholiness belongs to our former life. Now we are to put on our new self created after God’s likeness in righteousness and holiness. God has called us in holiness. He gives us his Holy Spirit to make us holy.
Holiness isn’t limited to sexual purity. We should hunger and thirst for righteousness–or acting rightly–in all our relationships. We want to do what is right with our our spouses and children. Do what is right with our neighbors. It isn’t righteousness to lie or steal or cheat on our taxes. It isn’t righteousness to grumble and complain. We want to PRACTICE RIGHTEOUSNESS. We don’t simply want to talk about it.
Hospitals encourage the practice of hygiene. They put signs and reminders all over the place–wash your hands. Don’t spread disease; wash your hands. They have containers of antibacterial gel all over the place. Boxes of latex gloves in patients’ rooms, specially marked trash cans. Every needle is individually wrapped and they don’t use a needle more than once. Before they draw blood they swab your arm with something to kill any germs in the area. Hospitals PRACTICE hygiene. Why? Because if they don’t there are consequences. People can get sick and die.
Can you imagine a hospital that said they believed in hygiene but didn’t practice it? Oh, yes, we believe in sanitation. Do we wash our hands? Naahh. Do we reuse needles? What’s wrong with that? Here, stick this in your mouth so I can take your temperature. It’s only been used a few times; you’ll be ok. I don’t want to go to any hospital that merely talks about being clean; I want them to be passionate about hygene.
How much more should we have a passion for holiness?
We are to be holy and righteous in every area of our lives. Holy in our thoughts. In our speech. Cursing and dirty jokes and gossip and slander should be far from our lips. We should be holy with our eyes and turn away from all impurity. We must seek to be holy in our actions.
Ongoing hunger and thirst
Jesus didn’t say “Blessed are those who at one time hungered and thirsted for righteousness…” He said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”–Present tense. All the time. Every moment. Like the sons of Korah who wrote Psalm 42:
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? Ps 42:1-2
To thirst for righteousness is to thirst for the living God. To thirst for relationship. For intimacy and communion with the Holy One.
So let’s not just talk about righteousness. Let’s hunger and thirst for it. Let’s not simply talk about holiness. Let’s practice it.
Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.