"He's a straight arrow." That's high praise but what does it mean? Is it possible for a believer to have personal righteousness in this day and age? Listen to this lesson to learn about God's perfect, unshakeable character. Find out about the loss of absolutes in today's culture and how most live in a morass of subjectivity, basing their behavior on how they feel. See why those who hold to the morality taught in God's Word should be prepared to be hated by those who hold to relative standards.

Righteous vs Wicked: The Meaning of Righteousness.

Proverbs 21:3; Deuteronomy 31:30



Proverbs 21:3 To do righteousness and justice Is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice.


We continue our study in Proverbs but we are not going to be in any particular passage. But we will look at Proverbs 11:7-11 briefly as we begin.


One of the issues that come up continuously in our thinking about the Christian life is the matter of personal righteousness. Some of us have come from a background where to speak of personal or experiential righteousness has sometimes been thought to be legalistic— "Oh, you are just emphasizing all those things that you have to do; that is just legalism." That is a distortion of the understanding of Scripture. There is a common misconception, i.e. if I am filled with the Spirit then somehow the Spirit takes over my volition and I will just somehow by some sort of mystical power want to do and do the right thing. And I don't really have to engage my volition to make hard choices—difficult ethical and moral choices—to implement the Word of God in my life. If I just take in the Word of God under the power of God the Holy Spirit then the Holy Spirit is going to automatically produce fruit in my life and automatically I will obey.


That distortion has been taught by many different Christian organizations over time and it has led to a lot of frustration for a lot of Christians because they have sort of fallen into this trap of thinking that if I just let go and let God He will just take over, and when I get into a difficult temptation environment I won't really have to say no, that if I am really filled with the Spirit He will say no for me.  And somehow that really never happens and that leads to a certain amount of frustration and failure in the Christian life.


It is important to understand that the Holy Spirit strengthens us but He is not going to make the decision for us. He is not going to take over our volition, He is simply going to give you a reminder of what the Word of God teaches, and strengthen us so that if we are willing to make the hard decision it won't be quite as hard as if we didn't have the Holy Spirit like folks in the Old Testament. We still have to make those decisions. There are multiple volition points in our study of the Word of God. There is the decision to be in fellowship and to confess our sins. There is the decision to come to Bible class or to turn on the Internet, or whatever, to study the Word on a regular basis. There is a decision to believe that what the Bible teaches is true. And when we do that under the power of God the Holy Spirit then the Scripture says that becomes a "full knowledge" in our soul—the Greek word epignosis. But then we have to apply it in real life situations. That involves making a decision to do what the Word of God says to do even when we don't want to do it. Even when we are attracted to sinful options we have to make a decision not to do that—whether it is to commit some emotional sin like anger or bitterness, a sin of the tongue such as gossip or slander, or whether it is to commit some overt sin. We have to choose to not do what the Scripture says not to do. That is not legalism; that is living the Christian life. It is what is called experiential righteousness, if we are going to use a theological term.


All through the book of Proverbs we have this contrast between the righteous and the wicked. It is easy for some people to think that what is meant here by the righteous and the wicked are those who are positionally righteous and those who are positionally wicked. The trouble with that is it leads to that kind of pseudo spirituality, that mystical idea mentioned above that somehow if I am in fellowship it is just going to automatically happen. No, we have to make those tough decisions.


We see that this contrast between righteousness and wickedness is seen in Proverbs chapter eleven. It goes throughout the entire book of Proverbs but we will look at this one section because it emphasizes it.   


Proverbs 11:7 NASB "When a wicked man dies, {his} expectation will perish, And the hope of strong men perishes." That word "unjust" is the negative form of righteous. Then in contrast, [8] "The righteous is delivered from trouble …" This we will see directly affects how we approach adversity. If we are living on the basis of experiential righteousness (as we do what the Word of God says) it changes our options down the road. If we live on the basis of God's Word then what we discover is not that our life is free from trouble or heartache or difficulty but the self-induced misery that comes from our own bad decisions becomes very restricted. As we go through life, though we may experience adversity that comes from other quarters we don't experience as much of the self-induced garbage that we bring upon ourselves. And so life becomes a lot better and a lot more enjoyable.  "… But the wicked takes his place." That is, it comes to the wicked instead. They heap misery upon themselves.

Proverbs 11:9 NASB "With {his} mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor …" That is an example of the wicked using slander to assault his neighbor. "… But through knowledge [of the Word of God] the righteous will be delivered. [10] When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices …" In other words, when the righteous, because he is living in obedience to God's Word, experiences the temporal blessing that comes as a result of obedience. This has various consequences that come with it. So in association with the believer who is walking on the basis of wisdom and living a righteous life, those around that believer are blessed by that association. "… And when the wicked perish, there is joyful shouting." That is, when the wicked disappears, when they die there is jubilation because they have brought misery into everybody's life around them.

Proverbs 11:11 NASB "By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, But by the mouth of the wicked it is torn down."


As we look at these verses we see that there is this contrast between the righteous and the wicked, and the righteous is the person in the context of Proverbs is the person who is living on the basis of wisdom. He is learning the Word of God, he is living his life in the fear of the Lord, and as a result of that his life is blessed by God—not because of his personal righteousness but because of his spiritual growth and the capacity that has been developed.


This concept of righteousness is one that we have to understand, so we are we are going to get into an introduction—the first two points about righteousness, looking at the meaning of righteousness, and then we will look at the experiential aspect in detail. 


1.  Defining the concept of righteousness. The basic idea in the Hebrew word tzedeq is to be straight, and it indicates a norm or a standard. It indicates activity that conforms to a specific norm or standard. In many cases this is an ethical or moral standard and in the Scripture it refers to a spiritual standard that has its ultimate reference point in terms of the character of God. Psalm 145:17 NASB "The LORD is righteous in all His ways And kind [Holy] in all His deeds." Notice the parallelism there. The first line says the Lord is righteous in all His ways. Parallel to that He is holy in all His works--holy is parallel to righteous. Holy is a term that includes righteousness and here it is used as a synonym. Righteous means God is perfectly just, perfectly right or correct in all that He does. This is embedded in His character.


We live in a world today where we have lost sight of any sort of external absolute standard for right and wrong. Right and wrong is often portrayed as being culturally determined. If you are from an African culture then you have one set of values. From an Asian culture you have another set of values. If you are from a pagan, witchcraft background you have another set of values. If you are from a secular humanistic background you have another set of values. And every value is equal, it doesn't matter who you are. Unless, of course, you violate some social norm—and those change from generation to generation.


The problem with the discussion is that nobody understands the sin nature. Modern culture in America starts from accepting the idea that everybody is basically good, and that if we can just reform everybody we can have a perfect society and perfect culture. This is completely false. Scripture teaches that all of us have sinned and come short of the essence of God. We are all failures. That doesn't mean we justify our failure, rationalize our failure, or in some sort of licentious mentality say, well Jesus paid for our sins, so what the … we are just going to do whatever we want to do. Why go through the struggle of obeying Scripture? This is not a testimony to some sort of justification for any of these social sins but we have to recognize the mentality that produces this whole politically correct social sin framework, and that is this idealism that we can have a utopic environment and can produce perfection. It can't happen; it won't happen, and the purveyors of social utopianism today are leading us down a path of destruction because this is the height of human arrogance. And it is so pervasive today in politics and in higher education that it is impossible for any of us to escape it.


Once you get away from the objective framework for understanding righteousness then you are left in just a morass of subjectivity. What do we mean by subjectivity? Subjectivity is the idea that there is no objective external standard of right or wrong but that the standard for right or wrong is what I feel, what I think, what I come up with from my own experience. So you then sub-divide or balkanize the culture into all of these different minorities, each one of which has their own value. But even though we have done that we still come along with some sort of externally acceptable standard that one group tries to impose upon another. This, in America, is a violation of the First Amendment which guarantees freedom from any kind of government interference.


The Bible teaches that righteousness refers to an external absolute standard that man is to conform with. The word tzedeq refers to this concept of God's righteousness, His absolute perfection in all things.


  1. There are four categories of righteousness. That is difficult for us to distinguish sometimes as we read the Word of God. We have different meaning to the same word. There are many different words that we use in English that have multiple meanings. For example, the word "trunk." It can describe the nose of an elephant, a large box where people put their clothing and belongings, or a trunk line which is the base line of telephone or electricity that divides up later on. It can also refer to the compartment on the rear of an automobile. So we can read a paragraph where somebody uses the word trunk several different ways, and because of our knowledge of the English language our brain automatically sifts those different meanings and we recognize that in one sentence trunk means one thing, the next it means something else, and the next something else. We do that automatically. Righteousness is no different. If we study the Word of God we can discover four different types of righteousness.

a.   The first is the category of absolute righteousness. It describes the character of God. Deuteronomy 32:4 NASB "The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He." The word "righteous" is tzedeq, and the word "upright" is the word yashar which means straight, in line, or conforming to an external standard. Something is straight because it aligns with an external standard of what straight or righteous is.


2 Chronicle 12:6 NASB "So the princes of Israel and the king humbled themselves and said, "The LORD is righteous." This refers to an incidence of disobedience in the life of Israel. The context is a time right after the breakup of Israel into the ten tribes in the north, Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah. This was a time when God was announcing a judgment upon Rehoboam because of his sin and failure to follow the law [Torah] of the Lord. The law was to instruct Israel on how to live as God's people. He had abandoned the instruction of the Lord through the Torah, the law given to Moses. As a result he was coming under assault from foreign powers (as per Leviticus 26). Verse 5, "Then Shemaiah the prophet came to Rehoboam and the princes of Judah who had gathered at Jerusalem because of Shishak, and he said to them, 'Thus says the LORD, 'You have forsaken Me, so I also have forsaken you to Shishak.'" The result was that the leaders responded correctly (v. 6). So the Lord minimizes the punishment in v. 7. The point is that in humbling themselves they recognized the righteousness, the character of God. 


Psalm 11:7 NASB "For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; The upright will behold His face." Righteousness is part of His essence, His character. He defines that standard of righteousness. Without an external standard of right and wrong we can't even talk about right and wrong. A problem with relativism is that when you deny an external reference point you can't even use the terms right and wrong. [3] "If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do?" In the foundation of the Word of God is destroyed then there is not much that the righteous can do. We live in the midst of the collapse of a culture or the collapse of a civilization, which is our situation today, and the foundations of truth, the foundations of the Word of God, have been destroyed through the last 150 years of the influence of secularism, atheism, humanism, evolutionism, sociology, psychology, all forms of relativistic thought. And so once the foundations have been destroyed it becomes extremely difficult for the righteous to live and to apply the Word of God because we become marginalized, ostracized and rejected, and we become defined as the enemy of the nation. People who are holding to absolutes will always be hated by people who hold to relative values because they stand as a source of conviction to their conscience.


But we must be reminded of the absolute circumstances of God. Psalm 11:4 NASB "The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD'S throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men." The 'eyes of God' is always a reference to His knowledge. He is not unaware of what is going on and He is testing mankind. This is a test for humanity, whether they will obey or disobey God. [5] "The LORD tests the righteous …" He tests the righteous to see if they will be obedient in the midst of adversity. "… and the wicked And the one who loves violence His soul hates." God rejects them. [6] "Upon the wicked He will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup." Ultimately there will be justice and God will bring judgment upon the wicked. Why can we say this? Because Yahweh is righteous, v. 7.

So as we look at just the beginning of our study on righteousness we have to understand this first category (as far as we could get this time): that God's character is the absolute standard of what is right and what is wrong. When we get through this study we see from Proverbs that the righteous is the one who lives his life in conformity and obedience to the character of God. Ultimately that mean in conformity to His instruction from His Word.

The result of this is what the writer of Proverbs will emphasize. If we want a rich, full life. If we want to have the blessing of God. If we want to experience all that God has for us then it is based upon living our life on the basis of God's Word—which presupposes that we know God's Word. Which calls upon each of us to make sure that study of God's Word is a high priority in our life.