The Basis of Righteousness
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to Psalm 119. We are going to read the paragraph which is introduced to us under the Hebrew word Tzaddi , beginning with verse 137 and continuing through verse 144:

Psalm 119:

137 Righteous art thou, O LORD, and upright are thy judgments.
138 Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful.
139 My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words.
140 Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.
141 I am small and despised: yet do not I forget thy precepts.
142 Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth.
143 Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights.
144 The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live.

Notice the emphasis upon righteousness in verse 137—the words righteous and the word upright . In verse 138, we have the word righteous . In verse 139, the word righteousness is twice repeated; and in verse 144, the word righteousness is emphasized again.

We have learned, as we studied Psalm 119, that it is the Psalm of the Word of God, and each paragraph within the Psalm presents some particular feature of the Word of God as it is practically applied in the believer's life. In view of my emphasis, I would like to suggest to you that the Word of God as the basis of righteousness is the theme of the paragraph which we are considering today. There is no way to escape the righteousness of God; and when one recognizes that, he cannot help but feel as the Psalmist felt in verse 141, when he said:

Psalm 119:

141 I am small and despised: yet do not I forget thy precepts.

That, too, is the emphasis that is placed in this particular paragraph as is indicated by the name of the Hebrew letter which you find at the top of the paragraph. We have told you that the Hebrew letter is presented at the top of the paragraph because each line in the original text began with that letter, but more important is that Ezra, who is the author of this Psalm, used this word to emphasize the theme of the paragraph. This word Tzaddi is not a beautiful word at all. It is a word that is translated by our English word dung , by our English word refuse , by our English word rubbish , by that which is the casting off all that is good. The Psalmist is emphasizing that when he views the righteousness of God, he himself recognizes that he and all that he has to offer is nothing but dung in God's sight.

Character of God is Righteous

I think this emphasis will become clearer if we examine the paragraph under a threefold suggestion. May we begin with the idea that the Psalmist begins the paragraph with a declaration of the character of God, what the Psalmist had learned about the character of God and the character of His Word. If you will look at verse 137 again, you will realize that the Psalmist recognizes the character of God to be righteous, for he says:

Psalm 119:

137 Righteous art thou, O LORD…

In order to emphasize the reality of what he meant, the Amplified version of the Scriptures adds a word to the word righteous , suggesting the translation in order to get the full meaning of the Hebrew word: “Ridgedly righteous art thou, O LORD.” Our God is unbending. We may try to fit Him into a picture which we develop, and we may try to rob Him of this characteristic which we suggest, but we re-emphasize that God is ridgedly righteous.

God's Righteousness Everlasting

Glance at verse 142, and you will find the Psalmist telling us something else that he learned about the righteous character of God, for there he said:

Psalm 119:

142 Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness…

God will never waver. God will always be righteous. He is from the beginning, and He will always be. Men may become unrighteous, the righteousness of men may become soiled, but the righteousness of God is an everlasting righteousness.

To capture the full meaning of the word, the Berkeley translation presents this verse with the Scriptures: “Thy righteousness is an absolute perfect righteousness.” There is no room for anything less than absolute righteousness when you talk about God.

I want you to keep that in mind, for if you don't keep it in mind you will fall into the error into which so many have fallen of trying to make yourself acceptable to God, and it is an absolute impossibility, for God is ridgedly righteous. His righteousness is absolute; it is perfect.

God's Word is Righteous

The Psalmist describes not only the character of God in this Psalm in relation to righteousness, but he describes the character of His Word as well. The same thing can be said about His Word as has been said about God. Look at verse 138:

Psalm 119:

138 Thy testimonies that thou hast commanded are righteous…

“Your testimonies, Lord, your decisions, your Word, the revelation of Thy will, is righteous,” in the same sense that God is righteous. Glance down at verse 144, where he says:

Psalm 119:

144 The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting…

Everything that I have said about God can be said about His Word, and I would like to encourage our hearts to remember that just as certainly as God is unbending, so is His Word unbending. You and I may try to twist His Word to suit our individual fancies and to justify our individual actions, but it is an impossibility. God's Word stands as God has delivered it, and we must not fall into the error of trying to bend the Word to fit our ideas. We must learn to yield our lives to fit the Word of God.

It might be wise for us to notice in this paragraph, that in addition to what the Psalmist said about the righteousness of the Word of God, he points out that the judgments of God are upright, for in verse 137, he said:

God's Judgments Are Fair

Psalm 119:

137 Righteous art thou, O LORD, and upright are thy judgments.

The suggestion is that God is fair in all the expressions of His will. As a matter of fact, the Amplified version takes this statement and says: “All the expressions of your will are fair.” The Berkeley translation says: “All of your judgments are fair.”

Because of the idea of punishment in this particular word, the Paraphrased approaches it from that standpoint and says: “All of your chastening, all of your punishments are fair, O God.”

God's Word is Pure

You will notice, in verse 140, he points out, in addition to the righteousness of the Word of God, that the Word of God is very pure. He said:

Psalm 119:

140 Thy word is very pure: therefore thy servant loveth it.

There is nothing wrong with translating the original word in this fashion because it does suggest a word that has been purified as the silver is refined in the fire of the finer, but it might be wise to emphasize another suggestion to this verse. It is not only that it is a pure word of which he speaks, but it is a tried word, and I like the personal application the Paraphrased translation puts on this particular verse, for there the editor of that particular version has the Psalmist saying, “I have thoroughly tested your promises and therefore I love them.” Have you thoroughly tested the promises of God? If you have, you have learned to rely upon them.

Glance down at verse 142, where the Psalmist points out again that the Word of God is truth. He says:

Psalm 119:

142 Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth.

This causes to ring in our ear the words of the Savior when He was praying the great high priestly prayer recorded in John, chapter 17: “Sanctify them with Thy truth. Thy Word is truth.” Anyone who ignores the Word of God is not living in truth,nor is he living by truth. The only real truth there is, is in the Word of God, and that which falls in line with it is true. That which does not is false. This Bible that I hold in my hands today is the plumb line. It is that which you can measure whether anything is leaning too far this way or too far that way. Don't measure things by your own opinions or your own ideology. Use the Word of God. This is the straight line, and anything that leans too far this way is wrong. If it bends too far that way, it is wrong. It must coincide with the Word of Truth because, remember, the righteousness of God and His Word is absolute and unbending.

The Sad Condition of Men

The Psalmist has declared it, and he could not have declared it without realizing it; so after speaking of the absolute righteousness of God, He speaks of the sad condition of men. Dear One, if you catch the vision of the righteousness of God which is portrayed in the Word of God, you cannot speak of the natural condition of men in other terms than the word sad , or the equivalence of that word, because man is indeed in a sad condition when the righteousness of God is the background. Look at verse 139, where the Psalmist said:

Psalm 119:

139 My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words.

Oblivious to the Word

As we look at the sad condition of men, in the light of the righteousness of God, we can say that some men forget the Word of God. This word forget is not a word that suggests that the individual had committed it to memory and it had slipped his mind. This word forget is a word that suggests the idea of the individual's being oblivious to the Word of God, ignoring the Word of God, paying absolutely no attention to it whatsoever. The Psalmist said there are some men like that.

We could agree with him today because we know that there are men who are ignoring the Word of God, who seem to be absolutely oblivious to it, who are making their decisions not in the light of it.

This concerned the Psalmist. It concerned him in the light of the righteousness of God about which he had been speaking because if God is absolute righteousness and His Word is unbending, then certainly God is not going to pat people on the head and say, “It really doesn't matter what you believe about this. It doesn't really matter what you think about it.” God is not going to say that the end justifies the means. God is going to say, “This is My Word. Heed ye it,” and when the Psalmist recognized that men were oblivious to the Word and were ignoring it, he said in verse 139:

Psalm 119:

139 My zeal hath consumed me, because mine enemies have forgotten thy words.

He was saying, “My zeal hath consumed me because of this. I am all torn up about it. I am just so consumed with the thought that these men are treading on dangerous ground that I hardly know what to do. I am concerned about this fact that men are oblivious to the Word of God in the light of the righteousness of God.”

By way of contrast, he speaks of himself and says that he does not ignore the Word of God. He does not forget it when he views the righteousness of God in verse 141, where he says:

Psalm 119:

141 I am small and despised: yet do not I forget thy precepts.

He said, “I am about as low as it is possible for a person to be when I look at my own life in the light of the righteousness of God.” Glance down at verse 143 and you will notice that it was a deep sense of unworthiness that he had because there he said:

Psalm 119:

143 Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights.

“I am small and despised in the sight of God when I view my life in the light of His righteousness, and trouble and anguish have laid hold on me.”

Isaiah's Testimony

I do not believe that I can overemphasize this because this is the typical experience of the individual who has a vision of the righteousness of God. It might be wise for us to look at one or two examples. Turn with me to the book of Isaiah and notice the words which are familiar to many of you as we remind you that those words grew out of a vision which Isaiah had concerning the righteousness and the holiness of God. In Isaiah, chapter 6, after Isaiah had the vision of God high and lifted up, surrounded by all of his glory in the radiance of His righteousness, in verse 5, he said:

Isaiah 6:

5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

I want to emphasize, Beloved, that if you recognize God as He dwells in absolute righteousness and have the courage to say other than what Isaiah said, there is something wrong with your eyesight. If a puny little individual like you would dare to say that anything you think or anything that you do could make you acceptable to a God who is unbending in His righteousness, something is wrong with your thinking,something is wrong with your understanding.

Isaiah said this at the very beginning of his life and he said it at the very beginning of his ministry. Turn with me to Isaiah, chapter 64. After he had had time to think a great many years, after he had had time to preach a great many years, after he had had time to observe the people whom he referred to as being a people of unclean lips, he gave a testimony.

You would think, would you not, that after a lifetime of preaching, he could say, “You know, when I think about the righteousness of God, I feel so good. I am so righteous.” You would think that after a lifetime of preaching that he would be able to say, “Way back there in the beginning, I caught a vision of the righteousness of God and I felt so unworthy, but I have lived for Him a whole lifetime. I have done a lot of preaching, and He has said a lot of nice things about me, and I feel so good.”

Wouldn't you think that that would be the approach? Ordinarily it would be, but notice what is recorded here in Isaiah, chapter 64, verse 6. After a lifetime of preaching, Isaiah said:

Isaiah 64:

6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

After a lifetime of Christian living, he said, “I am an unclean thing.” After a lifetime of Christian living, he said, “Everything that I have done that has been good has been like an old dirty rag in the sight of God.”

Job's Testimony

He wasn't the only one. Turn back to the book of Job and notice in the early part of Job's life how he lived, how he felt, when God began to deal with him as it is recorded in Job, chapter 9, verse 30:

Job 9:

30 If I wash myself with snow water, and make my hands never so clean;
31 Yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me.

“If I get as clean as I can get, I still feel like I have been wallowing in the ditch with the hogs.” He said, “Why do I feel that way?” In verse 32, we see:

Job 9:

32 For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him, and we should come together in judgment.
33 Neither is there any daysman betwixt us, that might lay his hand upon us both.

He is speaking of the natural state of man. “God is way up here in all of His cleanliness, and I am way down here.” “Why don't you clean yourself up, Job?” “I did,” he said. “I washed in snow water [the purest water known to men at that time], but before I got through, I felt like I was a hog, wallowing in the ditch.”

Why do you feel like that? Because God is way up there, and we are way down here. We are not on a level. We can't talk to each other and we can't reason things out.

Turn to Job, chapter 40, recognizing that days have gone by now and the testing of God has gone through his life. You would think surely by this time he would be a little more bold. Surely by this time, he would be willing to say, “You know, there was a day when I felt like I was pretty rotten, but I don't feel that way now,” but over here in Job, chapter 40, verse 4, he said:

Job 40:

4 Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.

“I am so vile that I won't even try to talk to God. I will just put my hand over my mouth and keep quiet because I don't have any argument at all. There is nothing that I can say. I am so vile in the sight of God.”

Look with me, please, at Job, chapter 42. Surely, by this time, things would be different wouldn't you say? Why, God had even come down out of Heaven and talked to him face to face. Surely he could say, “You know I was vile and unlovely one time, but God must think that I am pretty good. He came and talked to me.”

But what did he say? Look at verse 5, where he said:

Job 42:

5 I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.
6 Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

He is saying, “I can't even stand myself. When I catch a vision of the righteousness of God, I can't even stand myself.” Job said, “Don't talk to me about how good I am. I can't even stand the sight of myself in the light of the righteousness of God.”

Paul's Testimony

Turn to the New Testament, to Paul's letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, and find a statement which the Apostle Paul, in all probability, made with this particular paragraph in mind. Certainly that is this paragraph in Psalm 119. Certainly he could have had it so, because in the first part of chapter 3, he talks about everything that could be considered self-righteous, everything that could be considered good, everything that could be considered perfect. He was the cleanest, most religious, most moral man that anybody could possibly imagine, but he caught a vision of God one day. He caught a vision of God's righteousness one day, and if you will look at verse 8, you will see the conclusion to which he came. He said:

Philippians 3:

8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

This is the Greek equivalent of the word tzaddi in Hebrew. He is saying, “Everything in the preceding paragraph that men thought was righteous is nothing but refuse as far as I am concerned. It is nothing but dung as I stand in the presence of a righteous Christ.”

I haven't made it very pleasant, have I? I've made it rather hopeless, haven't I? I don't want to send you away that way, so I want you notice what the Apostle Paul said before we go back to Psalm 119. In verse 9, he said, “All of that is dung, but I tell you what I do want. This is my desire. I want to be found in Christ, not having my own righteousness which is by law by self-effort, but that which is through the faith of Christ the righteousness which is of God by faith.”

You see, he understood, but a lot of people don't, and if you will go back to Psalm 119, I want to suggest to you that the Psalmist realized that he didn't understand everything that needed to be understood, so he closes the paragraph at which we are looking today with a simple cry. Nothing could be any simpler than that. Notice verse 144, where he said:

Psalm 119:

144 The righteousness of thy testimonies is everlasting: give me understanding, and I shall live.

He wasn't talking about human life. He was talking about spiritual life. The word understanding comes from the Hebrew word bon , which means “to help me to distinguish.” He said, “Lord, help me to distinguish the difference between the foolish undertaking of men and the absolute righteousness of God. Lord, help me to be able to distinguish between my efforts at self-righteousness and the righteousness which is provided by God.” The Psalmist was crying, “Help me to see myself and all others in the human race as God sees them.”

Do you know how God sees you? Look back at Psalm 14, and you will see how God sees you. The Apostle Paul took Psalm 114 and quoted it in his letter to the Romans, chapter 3, but in Psalm 14, verse 2, you read:

Psalm 14:

2 The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.

This is what God said. He looked down over the earth to see if anybody was really interested, and He said, “They have all gone aside. They are altogether become filthy. There is none that doeth good, no not one;” and the Apostle commenting on it said in Romans, chapter 3, verse 10:

Romans 3:

10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

In the light of the righteousness of God, there are none who are righteous. Well, what are you going to do? If God is absolutely righteous and you are unrighteous, if He is up here and you are down there, what are you going to do?

Let me suggest to you that you don't make a mistake that is commonly made. It is best described in Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 9, verse 31, where we read:

Romans 9:

31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.

To Be Made Acceptable in Christ

Here is a great nation which followed the rules for righteous living more than any other nation. They were made clearer to them than they were to any other nation, but they didn't obtain the righteousness of God thereby, and so in verse 32, he asks the question, why. He said:

Romans 9:

32 Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. [Here is the mistake that I don't want you to make.] For they stumbled at that stumblingstone;
33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.

Beloved, not only the Jews stumble at the stumblingstone; the Gentiles do, too. It is very, very rare to find somebody who believes that all they need to do to be made acceptable in the sight of God is to accept the finished work of Christ upon the Cross. That is a rare thing.

Notice what I am saying. Multitudes of people are willing to accept what Christ has done on the Cross, but from that point on, they feel like it rests upon them. Multitudes of people are miserable today, condemning themselves, filled with trouble and anguish because they haven't learned that the Lord Jesus Christ has been made unto us Wisdom, Righteousness and Redemption. Long, long ago if I ever started—and I am not sure that I ever did—I gave up any idea of ever making myself acceptable to God; but I rest in the fact that I am made accepted in the Beloved.

Conclusion

This Psalm should emphasize to your hearts today that there is only one way to be accepted by God, who stands rigid and unbending, and that is to receive His Son the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. There is no other way. May I say to you that there is no other way, and you don't need any other way. That is enough in itself.


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