Judaism and Christianity have a lot of beliefs in common. The ethics of these religions are so similar that the modern west is said to have been founded on a Judeo-Christian ethic. However, there are some major differences between these two religions. One of these is the understanding of what makes a person “righteous.”
When David wrote Psalm 34, he was still under the Old Covenant, and tried to honor God by the way that he lived his life. He had the typical Jewish understanding of righteousness: if he kept God’s Law, then he was righteous.
However, a deeper understanding of God’s Law reveals that “no one living is righteous before You” (Psalm 143:2), “they have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:3). God told His chosen people: “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). Even within God's chosen people, there is no one who is righteous.
Like Israel, every one of us has been separated from God by our wickedness. There is no one who is righteous, not a single one. But, the good news of Christianity is that there was One Righteous Man who walked this earth 2,000 years ago. Jesus Christ lived a perfect life—the only righteous life to ever be lived! Then, he died on the cross, the perfect for the imperfect, so that “by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The only righteous people on this earth are those who have been made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). This verse makes it clear that we are not rightoues because we keep God's Law--none of us can do that! Rather, we are unrighteous, but Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, died in our place, and has made us righteous through faith in Him.
For an unrighteous person like me to be made righteous by Christ is the greatest blessing of all! Yet, as someone who has been made righteous, there are even more blessings ahead.
David describes some of these blessings in Psalm 34:15-19. Please read those verses now.
When I read “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,” I must remember that this verse is talking about me. I was the one who was doing evil: going my own way, thinking my own thoughts, and rebelling against God. But Jesus Christ saved me from myself! He made me righteous!
Now, I don’t have to fear the Lord’s face; I can instead rejoice that “the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.” The face of the Lord is not a fearful sight for the righteous; it is a welcome one. Because Jesus has forgiven me of my sin, I now have the Lord of the Universe looking out for my well-being! If I need help, the Lord hears. If I am brokenhearted, the Lord comforts. If I am in trouble, the Lord delivers me.
This does not mean that God will save Christians from every difficulty this world has to offer. David makes it clear: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” We will face trials and tribulations, even as children of God. But there is also a blessed promise that comes with this warning: “but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
One day, we will stand before the Lord. We will be clothed in white and declared righteous in His sight. We will be called saints, holy ones, and we will rejoice with our brothers and sisters in Christ. On that day, there will be no more sin, sorrow, or pain; we will have a perfect peace that lasts for all of eternity.
When we are in the darkest trial, we must remember this coming day. God may allow me to endure this trial and suffer for a time, just like Jesus had to endure the cross and its agony for a night. But the Lord will deliver the righteous! And through Christ, I am made righteous. Praise the Lord!
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