Two Kinds of Righteousness

How Do We Live a Holy Life?

"But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them [the Gentile believers], and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.' And the apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter." (Acts 15:5 - 6)

The New Testament teaches us about two kinds of righteousness. These two kinds of righteousness are contrasted in many New Testament passages. The most obvious type of righteousness comes by obeying God's commandments. Once a person becomes a Christians, almost all of his efforts may be directed at trying to obey commandments and the subsequent production of this righteousness. It is often referred to as holy living. A common belief among Christians is that, if our lives are going to be Godly, we must obey the Ten Commandments.

Today, few Christians ask, "Should we try to keep the Ten Commandments?" But, as we read in Acts 15, this question was considered by the New Testament church in the days of the apostles. It was a divisive issue and its answer was a major theme in the New Testament Epistles.

When Gentiles (non-Jews) first became Christians, Pharisaical Jews (a faction within the Jerusalem Church) frustrated Paul's ministry. They followed him around teaching the new converts from the Gentiles that they must be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses. This teaching was clearly at odds with the "Good News" that Paul taught. Such strife resulted from the clash of the two teachings, that a council was called with the apostles in Jerusalem to resolve the issue. Many Christians see circumcision as the focus of this council, but that was only the beginning. Read the passage again:

"But certain ones of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, stood up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them, and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.'" (Acts 15:5 - 6)

As circumcision is the crucial first step to observing the Law, a lifetime of obedience must also follow. Those of the sect of the Pharisees, who opposed Paul, had no less in mind when they made their decree. Righteousness based on obedience to Law was all they knew. How could a follower of Christ not enter into the covenant of the Law, with all its requirements for righteousness?

The real question is this, "Are Christians supposed to keep the Law of Moses?" If the answer to that question is, "Yes," then circumcision is the first step for all male Christians. Sabbath keeping, the worship of God on Saturday with a complete secession of physical work for all believers, is next. Then obediance to every word of the Law is required, as Paul said on the same issue when writing the Galatian Christians:

"For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.'" (Galatians 3:10)

Paul argued that the Law itself required complete obedience, if we are going to enter into obedience to the Law.

What if you ask Christians today, "Should we try to keep the Law of Moses?" Many say, "Unquestionably, yes!" Others say, "We should keep parts of it." A few say, "No, not at all!" To those who say yes, just voicing the question is like asking, "Should we live Godly lives, or just give up and live in sin?"

To those who say, "No we are under no obligation to live by the Old Covenant law, the question is rather, "Shall we present our fleshly works of wood, hay and stubble to God, or walk in His Spirit, producing gold, silver and precious gems?" (c.f. I Corinthians 3:10-15)

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Updated 5/21/2010