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God's Definition of Righteousness
by Raymond C. Treat

Nephi, in his famous psalm (2 Nephi 3:56 [4:33]) exclaimed: "0 Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness?" We learn from this verse that righteousness comes from the Lord and that it is viewed as a robe.

It is important to realize that Nephi is referring to the ancient Hebrew custom of making a covenant. The first step in making this covenant involved the exchange of robes. The physical steps for making a covenant were given by the Lord as types to help us understand what happens spiritually when we make our covenant with him. The exchange of robes symbolized that each party made everything they had available to the other. In making our covenant we give our "robe," our total self, to the Lord. Isaiah calls our robe filthy rags in Isaiah 64:6. King Lamoni's father said it well in his prayer, "I will give away all my sins to know thee..." (Alma 13:53 [22:18]). Isaiah, in referring to the Lord's robe, said "he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness . . ." (Isaiah 61:10).

One of the original meanings from the Greek of the word righteousness is "right relationship." To be righteous therefore means that we are in right relationship or right standing with the Lord. From the above we can see that this right relationship is a covenant relationship. When we make a covenant with the Lord, he covers us with his robe, his righteousness, so that he views us as righteous.

We know that a covenant relationship with God requires total commitment on our part. When we break our covenant through the sin of commission or omission, he provides a way to restore us into a right relationship with him again:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful
    and just to forgive us our sins and
    to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.     1 John 1:9

God's definition of righteousness is clearly demonstrated in the parable of the prodigal son. The prodigal son rebelled against his father, took his inheritance and left home. After squandering his inheritance he ended up feeding the swine. The prodigal son finally came to himself, repented and returned to his father. His father was watching for him. He ran to the prodigal son and commanded that the best robe be put on him. That was symbolic of the robe of righteousness. The prodigal son was restored to a right relationship with his father. When we, like the prodigal son, repent, we too are restored to a right relationship with our Heavenly Father.

The key to our righteousness, after we have made our covenant with the Lord, is to be in constant repentance before him. This is exemplified in the scripture by the life of King David, an adulterer and murderer. God could view him as "a man after his own heart" because he was quick to repent when his sins were pointed out.

We do not have to wait, as some suppose, until the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper to become clean before the Lord. We can call upon him at any moment of the day or night and he will hear and forgive.

One of Satan's great deceptions is to convince us that we must earn our righteousness or right standing with God. Many people think we become righteous only as a result of our good works. Under this false definition of righteousness none of us could ever say that we are righteous. This places a barrier between us and the Lord. We feel guilty for never measuring up. This in turn can lead to discouragement and depression.

The truth is, we become righteous by exercising faith in Jesus Christ:

For he [God] hath made him [Jesus Christ]
    to be sin for us, who knew
    no sin,
That we might be made the righteousness
    of God in him.     2 Corinthians 5:21

We need to realize, however, that in order to exercise faith we must take action. To exercise faith is to believe (Alma 16:151 [32:27]), "and if you believe ... you will repent of all your sins" (Helaman 5:67 [14:13]). This includes not only turning from sin but turning toward Jesus Christ and the word of God. By turning to Jesus Christ you "enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments" (Alma 5:27 [7:15], see also 3 Nephi 12:32-34 [27:19-21]). If you do this you will receive all the direction you need (2 Nephi 14:4 [32:3]). You will also receive all the resources you need to carry out those directions (1 Nephi 1:65 [3:7]). We are not excused from doing good works, but they come after we are declared righteous or in right standing through our faith in Jesus Christ, not before.

If we start viewing righteousness according to God's definition we will be free to accomplish more of what God wants us to do, not as a chore that can never be done properly, but as a joy and a privilege to serve the living God.

This article taken from the Zarahemla Record, issue 67 May/June 1993