On Sunday morning at Capitol City, as we considered what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6), I pointed out the distinction between two different dimensions of righteousness in the Bible. The first I called legal righteousness – the righteous standing in God’s eyes all Christians receive by faith in Christ. The second I called moral righteousness – the righteous character and conduct God demands of all who belong to his kingdom.
For time’s sake, I didn’t mention on Sunday a third dimension of righteousness that we see in the Bible, the dimension I call social righteousness. Social righteousness is the pursuit of justice and human flourishing in our fallen world, it is the commitment to the virtues and ideals to which God himself is committed. Just as he expects us to pursue moral righteousness, God expects his people to pursue social righteousness. The prophets regularly beat that drum; for example: “…what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Christians should be committed to social righteousness, because social righteousness is one of the great commitments of God as he restores all that is broken in the world. The culmination of God’s saving work in history is the advent of a new heaven and new earth, where he will wipe every tear from every eye, where there will be no more mourning or crying or pain (see Rev 21:1-5).
One final thought: Like moral righteousness, we will only crave social righteousness when we have received legal righteousness through the gospel. We have to experience gospel-transformation before we will ever pursue gospel-virtues, and both moral and social righteousness are virtues that the gospel produces in us. Paul gets at that at the end of Romans 5. In Romans 5:18-19, he says:
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
That’s the foundation of our legal righteousness through the gospel – the many made righteous by the obedience unto death of one man, Jesus Christ. Then Paul adds, in 5:20-21:
The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Notice the beautiful, profound role that legal righteousness then plays in the life of every Christian. Just as sin reigned formerly in our lives, now grace reigns – it is our king. And how does it reign? Through righteousness. Our legal righteousness becomes our ruler, leading us to moral and social righteousness – and ultimately to eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Hungering and thirsting for righteousness – of any kind – boils down to the gospel.