It is altogether fitting that the last word on righteousness comes from the last chapter of the last book of the Bible. The old apostle John, last of his tribe, writes what are probably his last words to a cowed and persecuted church.
As he wraps up the series of apocalyptic visions showing the grand victory of Christ and his followers, he makes what at first glance appears to be a strange statement.
Let those who do wrong keep doing what is wrong. Let the filthy still be filthy. Let those who are righteous keep doing what is right. Let those who are holy still be holy (Revelation 22:11 CEB).
Why would John not want the wrongdoers and morally filthy to be converted? Has the apostle of love gone sour in his old age? Has he lost his evangelistic spirit and hardened the lines between the lost and the saved, along with his arteries?
There is no pride in knowing who does wrong and who does right. Arrogance has no place in righteous perseverance. Righteousness and holiness are divine gifts which, of course, must be cherished and maintained, but continuing in these does not allow for self-congratulation, since God’s power keeps them intact. But we know whose we are, and what we are, and, like our wise Lord, where we are going (vv. 12-15). These things are open for anyone to observe; it is not hard to assign each to his place (v. 10).
John’s statement is an end-time truth. “The time is near” (v. 10). At the end of all things, truth becomes sharper and clearer. Old people have blurred vision and vague memories, but the aging of truth makes the lines between good and evil stand out. It grows in strength and rises in power.
At the coming of Jesus, there will be no shake-ups in the two sides. No last-minute conversions. What you have been in life is what you will be in eternity. Forget Purgatory. Forget second chances. Forget death-bed confessions. You are setting in concrete your destiny today.
At the same time, here is a last, rousing call to examine one’s decision. Jesus throws out a warning. We all are daily deciders as to what direction we choose. So he encourages the righteous and holy ones and sends up a flare to the wrongdoers.
And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say: “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge (v. 17).
As the revealing Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount, righteousness is about doing what is right. Holiness is about demonstrating the nature of God in our daily walk. They both may be state and process, but neither of these exists without the other. To give up on the process is to abandon the state.
Life is hard, and the daily grind doesn’t get easier. Someone said that the golden years are not so golden. Each phase of life has its challenges, each stage comes with its hardships. We can complain and find reason to back off from faith. We can whine about criticism and persecution. But let the righteous keep on in righteousness and the holy revel in holiness.
Let us be faithful to the point of dying for our faith, if need be (Revelation 2:10). Some have done that. Some today are in this position. Our turn might be next. But let us never fear the evil of this present world; rather, let us fear and tremble before him who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28).
Yesterday’s righteousness will not carry us through. Just as each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:34), and as God sent just enough manna from heaven for each day’s supply, so righteousness finds its sufficiency in the present. Whatever the Preacher meant by his admonition not to be too righteous (Ecclesiastes 7:16), we can never have enough today to last through tomorrow.
So let us as God’s righteous people continue to listen to his Word and eschew anger (James 1:19-21), to act in love and compassion (James 2:24), to pray unceasingly for the salvation of our fellow man (James 5:16). In these is our righteousness.