“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 (NKJV)
Jesus says that we are to seek or, aim at, strive for or pursue the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. When we talk about righteousness we need to understand that there are two kinds of righteousness described in the Bible. The first is positional righteousness. Positional righteousness is the righteousness that we receive when we trust in Jesus as our Savior. This is where our unrighteousness is taken away and replaced with Jesus’ righteousness. The second kind of righteousness that the Bible talks about is practical righteousness. Practical righteousness is the way that we live our lives. Not only are we supposed to be righteous but we are also supposed to do righteous.
While both are implied here the main thrust seems to be on practical righteousness because practical righteousness shows Jesus’ rule in my life. Very little shows the change that Jesus has made in our lives or that He is ruling in our lives better than our righteous conduct.
If we are not carful we can narrowly and wrongly limit what this means. I was pretty much raised to believe that holy or righteous living was made up of a list of things you just didn’t do. You don’t smoke, cuss, drink or chew and you don’t date girls who do. As long as you were careful not to do these things you were living a holy or a righteous life. The problem with this is that pursuing righteousness as a result of Jesus’ rule in my life is much more than avoiding certain outward actions.
Pursue Righteousness In Your Conduct.
The Bible often uses hands to represent the way we live our lives (Psalm 24:4, James 4:8). When the Bible says our hands our dirty, that means there is sin in our lives. When the Bible says our hands are clean or pure, that means our lives are clean and pure. Righteousness in our day-to-day lives means that we do not take part in sinful activities. Our conduct should be morally, ethically, spiritually and Biblically pure.
We must realize that the standard for whether something is right or not isn’t legality, public morality, or social acceptability. It is the Word of God. God sets the standard for what true righteousness is, not society. Public morality changes from year to year. There are things that are legal, publicly and socially acceptable today that weren’t 10 years ago. While public morality changes, God’s morality doesn’t. So to pursue righteousness we must ensure that we are doing the things that the Bible says are right and we aren’t doing the things that the Bible says are wrong.
Pursue Righteousness In Your Devotion.
Instead of dividing our devotion between Jesus and something else we are to have a pure and total devotion to Jesus. Not only does Jesus want us to be righteous in our actions He expects us to be righteous in our devotion to Him. Anytime something other than Jesus has the place of preeminence in our hearts we have lifted up our souls to an idol. It is critically important for us to recognize that an idol can be anything we give greater devotion to than we do to Jesus. Idolatry is one sin that God always judged most quickly and one that God’s people have been most susceptible to.
Making and bowing down to images isn’t much of a problem in our day. However this doesn’t mean that idolatry isn’t a problem in our day. Since an idol can be anything that takes first place in our lives or anything that consumes more of our focus and devotion than Jesus then an idol could be…
Family (spouse or children),
What kills me about the fact that these things can become idols is that none of these things are inherently evil. In fact as we look at this list most of them are good things. It’s not that this is a list of evil things that we need to put out of our lives. Instead it’s a list of good things that we can make evil things by making them ultimate things. So to pursue righteousness, we must ensure that Jesus stays the focus and priority in our lives.
Pursue Righteousness In Your Heart.
I put this one last but really it is the key element to pursuing righteousness altogether. When we are righteous in our hearts, our conduct, and devotion will reflect this righteousness. We may change ourselves on the outside all we want, but if our hearts are not pure we are not pure. What is important for us to understand is that pure actions with an impure heart is not good enough, our hearts must be pure. In my mind this is where most of the teaching on righteousness I grew up with fell short. It seemed to focus exclusively on the outward actions and not the root problem which is the heart.
“…What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” (Mark 7:20-23 NKJV)
Looking at this list we see that the actions on this list will keep us from being righteous. This covers the full range of sin that defiles us. However we also see that the actions themselves are only a symptom of a greater problem, and impure heart. We don’t want to focus exclusively on the symptoms, the sinful actions. We want to get to the root problem, an impure heart. Since our hearts control our desires and our actions we want to be righteous in our hearts so that we will hunger and thirst to be righteous and to do righteous. So to pursue righteousness we must ensure that our hearts our righteous.
One way to pursue righteousness is to spend time praying for God to give you a pure heart.