Fruit of a Spirit-Filled Life: Righteousness

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Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. — Matthew 7:20, NLT

Plan English translation: You can know someone based on how he/she acts.

So why does the Church in the West look so much like the rest of the world? We should be different.

The proof that we believe something isn’t that we agree with it: it’s that we act on it.

The Church doesn’t realize—or doesn’t fully believe in—our full potential in Christ, so we don’t act on it.

There has been a renewal in recent years about teaching and preaching the grace of God, and it’s good and true and necessary. But it also makes it too easy to ignore the concept of righteousness, which is also good and true and necessary. When we ignore the call to righteousness, we allow ourselves to be weakened and to fall short of what is possible in our lives through Christ.

Three Types of Righteousness

We first need to understand that not all “righteousness” is the same.

  1. Self-righteousness is a feeling or display of (usually smug) moral superiority derived from a sense that one’s beliefs, actions, or affiliations are of greater virtue than those of the average person.There is no room for self-righteousness in the life of a believer.
  2. Imputed righteousness is that which God imputes (places on) to us when he declares us righteous through faith, even when we are guilty sinners.However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. — Romans 4:5, NIV
  3. Practical righteousness is that which God, on the basis of our right standing, begins to work in us through his empowering grace. It’s holy living.Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. — Romans 6:19-20, NLT

People who do not claim to be Christians, are not obligated to live righteously. If you are a Christian, there is no excuse for sin:

Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. — 1 Corinthians 15:34, NKJV

Falling Into Sin vs. Giving In To Sin

In Christ, the blood of Jesus washing our sin: past, present, and future. Sin robs us of God’s best for us, but there are two different ways people interact with sin:

  1. Falling into sin is an accident, it’s momentary, and it’s immediately followed by repentance. When you lose your cool at someone and say things you shouldn’t, but immediately (or almost immediately) hear the voice of God, repent, seek forgiveness, and move on, you have fallen into sin (and been pulled out.)
  2. Giving in to sin is when we elevate our desires above God’s will. This happens when we disregard what God has clearly revealed in his word in order to fulfill our own desires.

The Door to Sin

Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master. — Genesis 4:7, NLT

The door that lets sin into a person’s life is desire.

Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death — James 1:15, ESV

What do you do when your desire clashes with God’s desire? Desiring something contrary to the word of God is not sin: meditating, feeding, and acting on that desire is sin.

Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living — Romans 6:16, NLT

For you are a slave to whatever controls you. — 2 Peter 2:19

Intentional sin eventually becomes practiced sin.

How Sin Destroys Righteousness

No believer wakes up on morning and decides to throw off righteousness for sin. It’s a slow, subtle process:

  1. Disobey once — Holy Spirit speaks to us and it’s a very uncomfortable feeling. Something inside is screaming that we’ve missed it, that we need to course correct and repent.
  2. Disobey again — A veil begins to cover our hearts. That uncomfortable feeling is not as strong. We’ve grown less sensitive to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
  3. Continue — The veil grows darker with every repetition and our ability to hear God’s voice gets weaker. We’re not uncomfortable in sin anymore. Now we are practicing sin.

We can always, at any point, ask for forgiveness and be restored.

God may send someone to reach us. God will use hardship or difficult circumstances to reach us if we continue to push him away.

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. — Hebrews 12:10-11, NLT

I used to wander off until you disciplined me; but now I closely follow your word. — Psalm 119:67, NLT

God loves you so much, he will attempt to reach you in any way possible. He will always prioritize your ultimate good above your present comfort (like any good parent).

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. — Hebrews 12:1, NLT

How to Return to Righteousness

There is a weapon formed against you, specifically. What trips up one person is not an issue for another. The enemy has a weapon designed just for you.

God hates sin, because he loves people.

  1. Recognize where you are in the process. Have you surrendered to Jesus? Are you a believer, but the voice of God is getting dimmer in a certain area? Has God sent someone to call you back? Are you suffering in the hardship of chasing your own desire instead of God’s desire?
  2. Confess before God and ask for forgiveness. He is faithful to forgive and restore you.
  3. Join with other believers. Confide in someone you can trust. Get involved in your local church. Surround yourself with people who will help and support you.
  4. Read your bible and start to get a vision for what is possible in Christ, so you can walk in righteousness.


Photo credit: Nathan Hulsey

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