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By Tom Brown

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16).

            This scripture almost killed Kenneth Hagin. He laid in bed at the age of sixteen hoping to find answers in the Bible concerning his fatal illnesses. He was first encouraged when he read several passages about the power of prayer, and so naturally his study took him to James five, the definitive chapter on the prayer of faith for healing. Instead of this passage encouraging him, it disheartened him, because he thought to himself, “My prayer will not be answered because I am not a righteous man.”

            Many feel the same when it comes to the subject of righteousness. If you were to ask the average believer if they are a righteous person, many will say, “Oh, no, there is no one righteous.” Well, if that is the case, how will our prayers become powerful and effective?

            Thankfully Brother Hagin continued reading: Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops (James 5:17-18). There it was! Elijah was a man just like us. James uses Elijah as an example of a righteous man and he says he was just like us.

            Hagin knew then that righteousness was not perfection. Elijah was not perfect. He was prone to depression, he fled for his life in fear, and he had an ego problem; yet he is considered a righteous man.

Right Standing or Right Living

            Most people think righteousness is right living. But this is not correct. Righteousness is right standing. Right standing is to be right in God’s sight. It is to look clean in God’s eyes. Right standing gives you confidence to fellowship with God. It is impossible to fellowship with anyone if there is some offense between the both of you. The same is true with God, to have fellowship with God means there cannot be any sin separating you from God.

            You might say, “But that is the problem, I am a sinner, and so there is sin between God and me.” Well, then, get saved!

            “Oh, but I am saved.”

            This is the problem; many believers do not understand their complete righteousness in God.  They confuse righteousness with holiness. Holiness is right living, and it is important for without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). There must be some element of right living to show you are truly saved, however, holiness is not the same as righteousness.

            Holiness is in degrees. You can act more holy at one time than another. Sometimes you are really holy and other times, just barely holy. Your level of holiness does not change your right standing with God. It can only affect your feelings of right standing.

            It is like a marriage. You and your spouse may have gotten into a fight, and your feelings for each other may not be so excellent, however, your legal standing is unchanged—you are still married! Holiness is the walk of the believer but if his walk is not circumspectly, it will affect his feelings of righteousness, but not really the legal standing of righteousness. He is still righteous in God’s sight.

Two Types of Righteousness

            The apostle Paul introduces another kind of righteousness unknown to humankind: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom 3:21-22). There are two types of righteousness known to the human race: one is based on works and the other is based on faith.

            In making his argument he explains, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God” (Rom 4:1-2). People will always boasts on the righteousness based on works. Men applaud and reward each other based on the things people do. They do not reward based on what someone believes. However, even though people boast of their good works, they will not be able to boast before God. God will not hand out trophies and medals for people’s works.

            What is the point of having righteousness between each other if God does not accept this kind of righteousness? Paul shows that Christ introduced a new kind of righteousness, which was unknown to the world. None of the religions have ever understood it. It is a righteousness based solely on faith.

            Islam is a religion based on the righteousness of works. A Muslim must pray five times a day, give 2 percent of his money to the poor, visit Mecca as least once in his lifetime, attend Mosque every Friday, and do all the required things which a good Muslim should do. In the end, does a Muslim know he is right before God? The answer is no. He never knows if he has done enough to please Allah. Only Judgment day will tell him.

This kind of righteousness does not give confidence. But the true righteousness which the prophets testified to confirms that the fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever (Isa 32:17).

            Not only is Islam based on the righteousness of works, but every religion except Christianity is based on the same terms. Judaism teaches the same thing about trying to do enough good deeds to be consider right in God’s sight.

            Paul goes on to explain that even Abraham—a prophet to both Muslims and Jews—received the righteousness of faith, not of works: “What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness’” (Rom 4:3). Paul appeals to the scriptures as proof of a righteousness of faith. He quotes Genesis 15:6 which prove conclusively that Abraham was considered right in God’s sight based on his trust in God, not his works.

            Paul continues by making clearer the distinction between these two kinds of righteousness: “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” (Rom 4:4-5). The boss does not hand you a paycheck after work and says, “Here is my gift to you.” No, it is no gift; it is an obligation to pay you a wage.

Paul in essence is saying that righteousness is not something you work for and in the end God hands you the paycheck of righteousness because you have been so good. Paul shows from the scriptures that there is no one righteous, not even one (Rom 3:10). In the natural self you cannot be righteous in God’s sight. Yes, you may be righteous in man’s sight, but not in God’s sight.

Righteousness is a Gift

            “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:17). If righteousness is not a wage it must be a gift, and it is! Paul calls righteousness a gift, and we all know you cannot earn a gift; you may only receive a gift. Righteousness is a gift that God gives to the person who does not try to earn God’s favor but simply believes in Jesus Christ.

            The gift of righteousness enables a believer to “reign in life.” Too many believers are letting life rain on them, instead of them reigning in life. Righteousness makes you a king. It gives you authority in a way that no gift could give.

            People question the power of their prayers, because they wonder whether or not they are worthy for God to hear them. However, whenever you know you are righteousness in God’s sight, you have boldness in prayer. You are confident that your prayers are heard. Without the sense of righteousness inside your heart, you will become a coward in the face of demons and circumstances. On the other hand, when you know you are right before God, your heart swells with faith and you receive answers to your prayers; mountains move; situations change. Righteousness gives you supremacy over your circumstances.

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