The Work of Righteousness CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
This is a study on the work of righteousness. It helps us to understand that Old Testament salvation wasn’t really by works and that it wasn’t really by looking forward to the cross. It was by the Lord’s mercy in conjunction with the law and faith.
In the Old Testament a man could work righteousness [Ps 15:1-5] and thus dwell in the Lord’s holy hill [on earth – see the sermon on “Converging Kingdoms”]. Cornelius was a man who worked righteousness [Acts 10:35] – but for Cornelius, his salvation was not by works of righteousness which he had done but according to the Lord’s mercy [Tit 3:5].
In the Old Testament a man had the law to define righteousness for him – though no one besides Jesus ever kept the law totally, the man that did the law had his righteousness in it [Rom 10:5, Ezek 18:5-9].
The trouble with the Pharisees is that they only did the part of the law that they wanted to do and left the other undone [Matt 23:23] – the part they did was tithe – sometimes they sacrificed – they fasted also [Lk 18:11-12] – and then the rest they either neglected or did according to their tradition [Mk 7:1-13] – they left off the weightier matters of the law: judgment, mercy and faith.
Compare Mic 6:6-8 with Matt 23:23 – “to do justly” matches “judgment;” “to love mercy” matches “mercy;” and “to walk humbly with thy God” matches “faith.” A man looking into the law would see that he had to do that law to be just [judgment] – and he would also see that he needed mercy no matter how much of it he had kept [Gal 3:10; Jas 2:10].
Consider Lk 18:13, Matt 9:13, Matt 12:7 and notice that the Lord will have mercy. A man by faith would appropriate that mercy from the Lord in whom he believed and with whom he walked [see Hab 2:4 and compare 1 Ki 8:23]. You see, the Pharisees looked at themselves in the light of the law and were “lifted up” by their righteousness and thus missed their need of mercy.
Faith would cause a man to be humbled before the law and to trust that the Lord would grant mercy. Look at Deut 6:24-25, they were to fear the Lord [walk humbly, faith] that the Lord might preserve them alive [mercy] if they observed to do all the commandments [do justly].
So, a man’s works wouldn’t save him; the mercy of God would [Ex 20:6]. The law would direct him to that mercy [the ark containing the law was covered by a MERCY seat (Ex 25:17)] and his works would keep him in that mercy [Deut 5:10, contrast 2 Sam 7:15].
The Lord extends mercy where he chooses [see Rom 9:15-16; Ex 33:19] based upon faith [Rom 9:30-33] and not just based upon what a man had done or not done [Ezek 18:21-22]. Think of the expectation that the Pharisee had who was not as the publican – he trusted in himself that he was righteous and didn’t need mercy and so the Lord withheld it [he hardened him, Rom 9:18]. Instead, the Lord gave mercy to the man who didn’t seem to deserve it because that man knew he needed mercy and humbled himself by faith before God to get it.
When Jesus showed up in the New Testament, those under the law should have judged that he was righteous, and they should have believed on him by faith that he was the Lord [Gal 3:24]. They should have sought mercy from him [Matt 15:22, 17:15, 20:30]. One of the most remarkable things about the Syrophonecian woman is that she believed Jesus was the son of David [Messiah] and she believed he was the Lord [Son of God]!! And she got mercy!!
It is truly remarkable that the scribe in Mk 12:28-37 missed the Kingdom of God, as close as he came to it by the law and that the thief got it [Lk 23:40-42] as undeserving as he was according to the judgment of the law. He needed mercy and he got it by faith.