Meditations in 1 John : 28 : Righteous God, Righteous People
1 John 2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him
In John’s writings, a number of times he shows that he is not only concerned for the Christians that they will know and live in the truth, but also that they will be discerning towards one another and towards others. Because the Christian life is not a life of isolation but a life all about relationships, it is important that we understand the truth that John has been speaking about, not only in relation to ourselves, but also in relation to others. The present verse is one of those that provides a generalisation that applies to others and enables us to assess them in relation to God, Jesus and the Church.
He starts out by considering God Himself: “If you know that he is righteous.” Because this is a meditation we can reflect on this in a wider way. Do we know that God is righteous? There are many who have doubts about God when things go badly in life. Is this the work of a capricious, spiteful God, is what we would like to ask if we were able to be honest?
Now ‘righteous’ simply means right acting or right behaving, and of course before that come right thinking and right speaking. If God is righteous then everything He thinks, says or does is right. Now this is a massive theological and philosophical pond to be swimming around in. If some action is right, what does that actually mean? Well the only way to make sense of it is to see it in a Biblical context and suggest that ‘right’ behaviour is behaviour that conforms to the way the Designer-Creator has designed us to ‘work’ so that we work best, so that we don’t breakdown, self-harm or harm others.
Now we can only come to that conclusion when we also observe the Bible teaches that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and love always looks for the best for another. God’s design for us before the Fall, must surely be that He has made us to enjoy being, to live in peace and harmony and to be safe and secure and free from self-harm and harm of others. Of course the Fall has changed that and sin-led humanity now acts in a self-centred and godless manner with little thought for the consequences. But that was not how God designed us to live.
So if God is righteous, we know that everything He thinks, says, and does will be right. I genuinely believe that, if when we get to heaven, God allows us full access to all knowledge so that we can fully see and understand everything that has gone on, we will never be able to criticise Him for anything that has happened in existence.
So let’s check out what the Bible says about this. Before he died, Moses prophesied about Gad, “he carried out the LORD’s righteous will,” (Deut 33:21). So God’s will or intent is always right. Deborah and Barak sang of those who sang, saying, “They recite the righteous acts of the LORD.” (Judg 5:11) i.e. God’s deeds are right. Samuel challenged the people, “I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your fathers.” (1 Sam 12:7) He was saying that they could never blame God for anything in their history because everything that God had done was right. Even after the Exile, Ezra the scribe declared, “O LORD, God of Israel, you are righteous!” (Ezra 9:15) Likewise other leaders after the Exile, also looking back in their history, declared of the Lord, “You have kept your promise because you are righteous.” (Neh 9:8) Thus again and again, the testimony ofIsrael, in light of their history, was that God did all thing right.
Now all that is really just the preliminary part of what John is saying. God is the arbiter of what is right and anyone who (genuinely) does what is right, must be someone born of God. The key is the phrase, “what is right”. We said earlier that ‘righteous’ refers to living according to the Design of God, the Creator. We also said that humans lost that ability with the Fall, and so anyone who has been restored to living according to the Design of the Designer, has to be someone who has encountered God and who has been born again of His Holy Spirit. It is, in fact, only by living according to God’s commands (that John spoke of earlier) and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, will anyone live in any way that could possibly be called ‘righteous’.
So, if you look around you and see people who are clearly living according to God’s word and are clearly being led by God’s Spirit, i.e. righteously, these people are obviously ‘born again’, born of God. Remember John picked up this concept of being ‘born of God’ in his Gospel: “children of God– children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God,” (Jn 1:12,13) and “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again…. no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (Jn 3:3,5). Thus, to conclude, you see people living out the will of God? They are the Christians, made new by God! Conversely you want to know who are genuine Christians? They are the ones living out the will of God by obeying His commands and responding to His Spirit. Simple, isn’t it!