How Can Man Be Righteous (1)?, By Femi Aribisala
Can a man born of woman be righteous? One of Job’s friends, Eliphaz, does not think so. He asks cynically: “What is man, that he could be pure, or one born of woman, that he could be righteous?” (Job 15:14).
Another friend, Bildad, is of the same opinion. He also asks: “How then can a man be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure? If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less man, who is but a maggot – a son of man, who is only a worm!” (Job 25:4-6). Therefore, in spite of Job’s protestations, both of them insist Job is not righteous.
However, God nullifies the opinion of these men concerning Job. He declares Job to be righteous. He says to Satan: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 2:3). God chides Eliphaz: “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7).
Nevertheless, most Christians persist in contradicting God by insisting that man that is born of woman cannot be righteous. They point to Isaiah who laments that: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags, we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6). And then there is Paul who says: “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one.’” (Romans 3:10).
Paul bases his position on what is written by David in the psalms: “They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one.” (Psalm 14:3). However, David only refers to a specific group of evil people: he does not say no man is righteous. While he begins his psalm by talking about the unrighteous, he then goes on to talk about the righteous; the very people Paul says do not exist: “God is with the generation of the righteous.” (Psalm 14:5).
Indeed, the righteous are referred to over 139 times in the Bible. John says: “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” (1 John 5:9). God considers some people to be righteous in the scriptures. Apart from Job, Enoch is an example. Noah is another example: “Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord. This is the account of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9).
We are also told that the parents of John the Baptist were righteous in the eyes of God: “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” (Luke 1:5-6).
Paradoxically, Paul himself, who insists no one is righteous, ascribes righteousness to himself under the law: “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:5-6).
If there is none righteous, how could Paul have been blameless?
Jesus, of course, is “the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2). He is the final authority in everything pertaining to God and righteousness. On the Mount of Transfiguration, God counseled that, henceforth, we should only listen to Jesus. He put this to dramatic effect by having Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, appear to speak to Jesus. A bright cloud overshadowed them and, when it cleared, only Jesus remained. Then a voice came from heaven, saying: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7).
Let me take the liberty to paraphrase what God declares in this live parable. He says: “Jesus is my Son: Moses and Elijah are not my sons. Listen to my Son. Don’t bother to listen to Moses and Elijah any more.” Do you get it? Jesus, the Son, is the only true and faithful witness. (Revelation 1:5). Listen to him.
Jesus confirms the existence of “many righteous men.” He says to his disciples: “Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:16-17).
Jesus also talks of righteous persons who need no repentance: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7). Indeed, Paul cannot insist “there is none righteous, no not one” because Jesus is one and he is righteous. Indeed, John refers to him as “Jesus Christ the righteous.” (1 John 2:1).
Paul presents in his epistles the doctrine of “original sin.” This regards Adam’s sin as a genotype automatically transferred to all his offspring; namely human-beings. Paul says: “In Adam all die.” (1 Corinthians 15:22). “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12).
However, sin is not a virus or a malignant disease. If it were, all men except Adam would be blameless. If original sin exists, Jesus too would have been a sinner since he was a man by his own admission. (John 8:40). Over ninety times in the scriptures, Jesus refers to himself as the “son of man.”
Sin is “the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4). Therefore, for a man to be guilty of sin, he has to think it. He cannot be declared guilty just by virtue of his birth. Even if he has an inborn-tendency to sin, he would still not be a sinner until he actually sins.
To those who have been paying attention, God refutes this doctrine of hereditary-sin repeatedly. He says through Jeremiah: “In those days they shall say no more: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone shall die for his own iniquity; every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.” (Jeremiah 31:29-30). This means only Adam is responsible for Adam’s sins.
Elsewhere, he says: “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).
In effect, sin is not transferable from father to son; or from Adam to us. TO BE CONTINUED.