What’s the difference between being righteous and self-righteous?


Joseph . . . was a righteous man – read the full story in the Bible in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 1, verses 18-25

In Scripture, a righteous person is someone who is faithful to God, someone devoted to the Lord and committed to following his commandments. In other words, someone who lives a morally upright life out of love for God. And that’s who Joseph was: a man who lived humbly before his God and who strove to walk in his ways every day. Indeed, this is why God set him apart and called him to become the earthly father of Jesus.

When Joseph learned that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant, the implication would have been clear: she must have had sexual relations with another man. And as a righteous man, he knew what the letter of the law demanded: that he denounce her and that she be punished severely.

But Joseph clearly loved Mary because he saw beyond the letter of the law. He also saw beyond his broken heart and bruised pride. Righteous man that he was, he saw a vulnerable young woman and chose the way of mercy – he decided to divorce quietly. Even before the revelation that Mary had not, in fact, been adulterous, Joseph had already decided that her dignity, her life itself, was worth protecting.

Many years later, Jesus taught that “the whole law” hinged on the command to love God and one another (Matthew 22:40). His teachings would have made his adoptive father – the righteous man, Joseph – proud!

Jesus is the righteous man foreshadowed by Joseph. He sees your sins and shortcomings, but he also sees the person he created in love, the person he still loves deeply. He fulfills the law by offering you forgiveness instead condemnation, pardon instead of punishment. He has chosen to take you into his home and make you part of his family. What a gracious – and righteous – Savior we have!

Joseph and – even more so – Jesus are models of true righteousness, which trains us in loving from the heart. I can only grow in this kind of righteousness, by allowing Jesus to give me experiences of his loving mercy, in spite of my unrighteousness. It’s in those encounters with his mercy, that my heart is transformed and that I am also empowered to also love from the heart and be truly righteous.

Below is a suggested prayer for you, if it sounds true to what’s in your heart:

“Jesus, Son of God and son of Joseph, thank you for seeing beyond my sins and loving me from the heart! Thank you for showing me mercy and inviting me into your family. I want to say ‘yes’ to your invitation. Show me how you are loving me in this moment, in my brokenness.”

Content credit: Word Among Us – India edition

Image credit: freebibleimages.org

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