In our home there hangs a beautiful photograph of Avalanche Creek flowing through a narrow gorge in Glacier National Park. The Scripture that accompanies the scene is taken from the book of Amos: “Let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” That text provides me comfort when I grieve in my spirit over the flood of unrighteousness and humanism that covers our world today, causing a deepening moral darkness even in places where Christianity once had an enlightening effect upon society. The reason for my hope has nothing to do with man’s schemes or programs, nor has it primarily to do with the gospel of the grace of God, as powerful as those “glad tidings” are now in the salvation of individual souls from despair and judgment to come. The implication of this verse in Amos 5, and of many others like it, is that in spite of man’s blatant disregard for God’s claims on him throughout the ages, there is coming a time when “a King shall reign in righteousness”, and when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”¹
The scriptural concept of righteousness entails much more than a humanistic “no harm, no foul” attitude in which a sin or a transgression only occurs if another person suffers some harm or damage to his or her welfare. Joseph C. Sommer has described the belief system he is dedicated to in this way: “Humanism is a philosophy of life that considers the welfare of humankind – rather than the welfare of a supposed God or gods – to be of paramount importance.” In this statement we find the claims of a Creator, the living and true God, to be completely set aside. But the doctrine of the “righteousness of God” maintains that God must act consistently with His own holy character in judging man for lawlessness and disobedience toward his Creator. So, for example, if God forbids and condemns fornication (sexual immorality), as He does consistently throughout the Bible, then He must mete out punishment for that unrighteousness in order to maintain His own righteousness, regardless of whether another person seems to have suffered harm or not (Romans 1:16-32).
In order for there to be an appreciation for the expectation that “the sin of the world” is soon to be taken away by judgment, there must be a “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6), and it ought to be clear to us that God’s righteousness is the measure or standard here. The Lamb of God was once slain to provide the righteous basis for sin’s removal, which will begin to be accomplished when He comes to “judge the world in righteousness”, ruling the nations “with a rod of iron” for 1000 years.² For those who now believe on the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no more guilt or imputation of sin, for God in perfect righteousness dealt with Christ on the cross of Calvary, and “raised [Him] again for our justification.” Justification means God declares the believer righteous because He has accepted Christ’s perfect work on our behalf (Romans 3-5:11).
Do you look forward to that future period when the Lord Jesus will reign in righteousness, vindicating God’s righteous claims on the man He created? Even if you are doubtful about Christ’s reign in a literal millennium, are you not as a believer in Him looking forward to the time when righteousness will dwell in the new heavens and the new earth (II Peter 3:13)? Do not be deceived by the humanist deception that magnifies the importance of real or imagined social evils at the expense of the truth that all unrighteousness is preeminently an affront to a holy God who dwells in unapproachable light (I Timothy 6:14-16). The Law, the prophets, the Lord Jesus, and the apostles all gave first priority to the claims of God upon His creature man, and references could be multiplied as evidence for that assertion.³
Righteousness will yet vanquish evil in the world, like the waters of a flood (Isaiah 28:1-18), and what a blessed thing that will be for the earth, and for those who love Christ’s appearing. But most importantly, what a glorious vindication of the righteousness of our God, who in love sent His only Son, so that all who believe “might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).
¹ Isaiah 32:1; Isaiah 11:9 ² John 1:29; Acts 17:31; Psalm 2:8-9; Revelation 20:1-6 ³ Exodus 20:1-17; Psalm 51:4; Mark 12:30-31; Acts 9:4