By John Fulton
Can man be righteous before God?
From so many pulpits across the globe the answer to that is a clear and resounding NO! One sin, it is said, permanently separates you from God. They say we are all rotten to our core, incapable of doing good and walking in righteousness. We are just sinners possessed of a sin nature. Sunday after Sunday, sermon after sermon, is dedicated to reminding those who attend of just how bad they are before God and even though everything they do is not better than a used tampon or bloody menstrual pad, what are they doing for the kingdom of God to make the world better.
But is this really the image scripture leaves us? Is this really what God has to say about us? Does he truly loath our existence to such an extent? Can no man walk with him and be considered righteous?
Well, first let’s look at some examples of a few odd things scripture says about certain men.
- “Then Enoch walked with God 300 years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters…Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:22,24, NASB95)
- “These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9, NASB95. Emphasis added.)
- “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.’” (Job 1:8, NASB95. See also Job 2:3. Emphasis added.)
- “For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as Righteousness.’” (Romans 4:3, NASB95. See also Genesis 15:6, Galatians 3:6 and James 2:23.)
- “As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.” (2 Kings 2:11, NASB95)
- In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. (Luke 1:5-6, NASB 95. Emphasis added.)
One could go on with other examples, but the Bible, unless it actually has errors in it (may it never be), does not appear to support the idea that man is just a sinner, incapable of righteousness. Noah, Zacharias, and Elizabeth are called righteous and blameless, walking with the Lord. Note how in both passages those three things; righteousness, blamelessness, and walking with the Lord; are connected to each other. This is how we know that Job, whom the Lord God himself directly calls blameless and upright, walks with the Lord and is righteous in his sight. This is how we know Enoch, who walked with the Lord, was also righteous and blameless in the sight of God. Indeed, both he and Elijah were so much so that God didn’t even allow for them to taste death, a gift not even His only begotten Son would be allowed to enjoy.
Here we have seven individuals, a complete biblical set, who were called by God himself; blameless, upright, righteous, walking with him. Here they are, six men, one woman; all referred to by God as righteous in his eyes. All of them declared so before Jesus touched foot on the earth.
But we have a problem now with so many messages preached from the pulpit around the world. Either God is a liar, the Bible is flawed, or men can be righteous before God, they can walk with him. They are not simply sinners with a sin nature, rotten to the core.
But what about the teaching that just one sin separates us from the love of God?
Surely, just one sin makes us unrighteous, which by implication from these scriptures above means these individuals were without sin. Yet as John teaches, “If we say we are without sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8, NASB95). And by complement, if we say these individuals are without sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. So clearly, these men sinned, yet they were not separated from God but declared righteous, upright, they walked with him. How can this be, for Jesus had not yet come?
Well, let’s first look to the garden. Adam and Eve clearly sinned—probably, maybe, the greatest sin that would ever be sinned. By the doctrines of today, the doctrines of man’s inescapable unrighteousness, this one sin permanently separated them from God so they could never again be in his presence without sacrifice and blood being shed. Yet, in the response to sin, who separated from who?
In the story of the garden, God is seeking out the presence of Adam and Eve.
Oh, well, because he didn’t yet know they had sinned, they say. If he knew then he would not have sought them out.
Of course not, clearly God knew they had sinned and yet, without the shedding of blood, without nary a sacrifice, he sought them out. Sin didn’t separate them from God, they separated themselves from God. Their doctrine, their philosophy, their own teaching was that sin separated them from God and they needed to hide from him. God didn’t devise that teaching, man did.
Their response was to come up with their own covering and way of dealing with the sin, the fig leaves. Their response was to hide from God.
His response was to seek them out and when they persisted in wanting to hide from him, at least give them the proper covering.
But this is the garden.
Things changed later with the Law and the Sacrificial system, didn’t they?
Yet, we have Moses sin greatly against God with pride in his heart at Meribah.
So, God had to separate himself from Moses and could not be in his presence until a sacrifice was made and blood was shed?
Well, no. Moses struck the rock in Numbers 20:11, and in 12, one verse later, God is in the presence of Moses talking to him about his sin. The sin caused no separation, no sacrifice was required to restore relationship, no blood was shed. And Moses would find himself on the mountain of transfiguration with righteous Elijah, and clearly righteous Jesus, one of three who were holy, righteous, blameless, walkers with God.
Sin separates you from God only if you choose for it to separate you. God will not separate or hide from you on his own accord if you seek him with your heart and desire to do his will, no matter how often you may not succeed in the doing. This is not to say there will not be consequences. Moses didn’t get to enter the promised land, but sin does not separate you from God. You can indeed be righteous before him. It starts with doing as Abraham did, believing in God, even believing that even though you may have sinned, maybe even a lot, he is willing to be in relationship with you. As in the garden, don’t let a philosophy of man cause you to cover yourself; seek him as he seeks you, and he will cover you effectively.
But surely righteousness and sin cannot coexist.
If you have sinned, you cannot be righteous. This must be so for it’s taught so universally, from so many pulpits, in so many churches. Sin makes you unworthy to be in God’s presence; you are terrible, unrighteous, a corruption upon His creation.
Yet, we then have to deal with Ecclesiastes 7:21, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (NASB 95). The passage is not saying there are no righteous men, that they simply do not exist. It is saying they do exist, but they do not always do good, they also sin occasionally. Yes, according to the Bible, righteous men sin. Sinning does not remove their righteousness; it does not make them evil, dirty, filthy, in need of blood to wash them clean.
One last point needs then to be made.
Where do these ideas come from? What is the origin of this idea that man cannot be righteous? What is the origin of the idea that one sin separates you from God and he cannot stand to be in your presence?
In the book of Job, Satan is a key player in the opening two chapters. He is pivotal to the story and what is going on, and then suddenly he just disappears and is never mentioned again. The question is worthy of asking, what happened to Satan, where did he go? Why did he disappear from the story? Or did he?
In chapter 4 of Job, in verses 12-19 one reads this, “Now a word was brought to me stealthily, and my ear received a whisper of it. Amid disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, dread came upon me, and trembling, and made all my bones shake. Then a spirit passed by my face; the hair of my flesh bristled up. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance; a form was before my eyes; There was silence, then I heard a voice: ‘Can mankind be just before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker? He puts no trust even in His servants; and against His angels He charges error. How much more those who dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed before the moth!’” (NASB95)
And there he is, Satan, speaking to Job’s friend Eliphaz, putting words in his mouth to speak to Job. Eliphaz describes the creepy feelings that came upon him in the presence of a dark spirit and he describes the words that dark spirit has to say about mankind. “Can man be just before God. Can a man be pure before his maker.” In other words, can a man be righteous before God, can he be blameless, can he walk with God? Clearly the answer Satan wants us to respond with is no. But he also clearly knows this is a lie for God himself pointed to Job and called him blameless. The idea that man cannot be righteous, cannot be good, is just a sinner with a sin nature is straight from the mind of Satan, God’s adversary who is out spreading lies about his creation.
Men sin, to be sure, they all do. That does not make them sinners. Just like having the occasional beer or glass of wine doesn’t make you a drunkard. Sinners sin, yes they do, but righteous men sin also, as scripture tells us. Something else for which there is not space in the article to describe makes the difference.
When God created you, he called you good. When he filled you with His Holy Spirit, he filled you with something good. You can be righteous and walk with God. Having a sin or two doesn’t prevent you from being blameless, walking with God, and being righteous; nor does it prevent him from having relationship with you. Anything contrary to this is from the mind of his adversary who prowls about as a lion, looking for prey to devour by putting lies into their minds and trying to convince them they are unworthy of God, making them think they cannot be just or pure before their maker when in truth, they can. And now that Jesus has come and the new covenant has been established this is not less true, but more. We are more equipped through Jesus to walk with God and be blameless as the endless cloud of witnesses that proceed us were. You can be righteous. Do not accept the lie, do not accept the mind of Satan to the contrary. Your sin does not separate you from God unless you let it.
So can man be righteous before God?
Yes, yes he can.
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