In James 5:16, we read, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
Are you a righteous person able to pray powerful and effective prayers? As a righteous person, do you see your prayers answered?
We Christians tend to believe we are righteous persons, well able to pray powerful and effective prayers because we believe in Jesus. We have been told; if we believe in His righteousness (as in His perfect, sinless life), it will be credited to us, and Yehovah will see us as righteous. It is essential to believe in His sinless life because only if He was sinless could He atone for us. But as we are going to see, we still need to have a righteousness of our own. So we need both, we need to believe in His obedience to the Torah life imitate His obedience so we can have a righteousness of our own. (James 2, 1. John 2, Matt 7:21-23, Matt 23:2-3, Luke 6:46)
This Christian doctrine of imputed righteousness comes from 2.Cor 5:21, where it says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.” The Greek word used for righteousness is dikaiosyne, which means “justice, justness, righteousness, the righteousness of which God is the source or author, but practically divine righteousness.”
In the Bible, there are three types of righteousness: self-righteousness, God’s righteousness, and our own righteousness. Self-righteousness is a sin and the same thing as legalism and religion. God’s righteousness and our righteousness are two essential components we need to live the Christian life.
We need our righteousness and God’s righteousness to get to heaven when we die and stay saved while still alive. So what is the difference between the two?
When our forefathers were saved out of Egypt, God’s righteousness was imputed to them because of Abraham’s promise. Their own righteousness did not save them and could not save them. Because of Yehovah’s promise to Abraham, and their acceptance of it, Yehovah declared them in right standing with Him. So they were righteous because they accepted the offer of salvation. But as we remember, from the Exodus, everyone (except for Joshua and Caleb) lost their righteous position and salvation because they failed at having a righteousness of their own.
When we accept Yeshua as our Savior and Lord by repenting from lawlessness, believing in the cross, Yehovah declares us right with Him on account of what Yeshua did at the cross. We become righteous and in right standing with Yehovah because of our faith acceptance of salvation. When we are in right standing with Yehovah, this can be lost if we fail at having a righteousness of our own.
When our forefathers reached Mount Sinai, they were given the Torah. The Torah is God’s instruction manual on how to live righteously and how we are to live in right standing with Him. The Torah tells us how to have a righteousness of our own. The Torah did not save them; it did not give them right standing with Yehovah. But if they rejected it, they would never know how to maintain what they had been given.
When you accepted Yeshua, by faith and repentance, Yehovah declared you in right standing with Him. Yeshua is His gift to you, but just as with our forefathers, you need instructions on how to maintain that gift. You need to know how to live righteously. The guidelines you need are found in the Torah. If you reject the instruction manuals (the Torah) for the gift God gave you on the cross, you reject the gift He gave you.
Our forefathers rejected the Torah and never saw the promised land. If you reject the Torah, you will never see heaven when you die.
So what is the difference between God’s righteousness and your righteousness? And how are we to understand 2.Cor 5:21?
2. Cor 5:21 says, when you believe He became sin for you, your faith in the cross makes you right with God.
God’s righteousness is given to you as a gift the moment you accept Yeshua. When you believe Yeshua died for your sins, and you decide to repent, you are right with God forgiven and saved. Just as with our forefathers, you now need your righteousness to maintain your salvation. This is given to you when you believe in the Torah and obey it. If you reject the Torah, you do what our forefathers did in the desert, and you will never see heaven when you die (Matt 7:21-23)
Another way to say this would be this: Yehovah gives you a gift in the cross and makes you righteous. But you are responsible for knowing how to use that gift, so you need to learn how by reading the instruction manual that comes with the gift. This manual is the Torah. If you reject the Torah, you will not know how to use your gift. Then you will end up using your gift wrong. If you use righteousness wrong, you will lose your righteousness.
The Torah is our instruction manual on how to use God’s gift given to us on the cross. It is also our instruction manual on how to pray as a righteous person.
So how do you pray effective prayers, as a righteous person?
The first important thing is to make sure you are righteous and in right standing with Yehovah. We have just learned this; you can only achieve if you believe Yeshua died for your sins and obey the Torah. Being in right standing with Yehovah and following the Torah, you also need to have faith and trust Yehovah will give you what you ask of Him.
James 1:6, Mark 11.24, says we have to believe He will give us what we ask of Him before seeing it. So you need to expect Yehovah to answer your prayers and give you what you ask of Him. If we do not expect Yehovah to provide us with what we ask, James 1:6 says we will not get anything from Him even if we are righteous.
How can you be sure He is going to give you what you ask of Him?
The Bible says your Torah obedience guarantees answered prayer (James 5:16.) So the Torah is your guarantee for answered prayer.
Now I have given you the theological foundation for James 5:16, but how does this look like in real life? How can you apply this to your life on good days and those terrible days when everything is chaotic, and you are so worried, so stressed out you can’t even get yourself to open a Bible or remember more than one Torah commandment?
Coming from a mainstream Christian background, it wasn’t easy for me to get used to the idea I could expect Yehovah to answer my prayers on account of something I did.
The first thing I needed to do was get used to this idea, that grace is not unmerited favor in the Bible. Instead, grace is merited favor given to us if and only if we obey the Torah. When I follow the Torah, out of love for Yehovah, I earn and have the right to have my prayers heard and answered.
When I pray, I always start by reminding myself of the Shema (Deut 6) and the blessings of keeping the Torah (Deut 28:1-13.) I make an effort to instruct myself and remind myself Yehovah will hear my prayers because I keep Torah, and He will bless me in return because I keep Torah.
This is easy to do on a good day when everything is normal in your life. But it is not that easy to do when life is challenging, and you are facing uncertainty. It is especially challenging when you do not know if the season you are going through will have a happy ending.
In 2. Cor 5:7 the Bible tells us to walk by faith and not by sight. What this means is that no matter what happens in our lives, we have to choose faith. How do we choose faith? By constantly reminding ourselves of the Shema and the blessings of obeying the Torah. Sometimes, in those very tough seasons of life, you really have to fight fear with faith and continuously remind yourself that even though this looks bad, I know, I am blessed because I keep Torah. I know I deserve Yehovahs help because I keep Torah, and I am in right standing with Yehovah.
So this is how we pray effective prayers as a righteous person. We make sure we are in right standing with Yehovah by faith in the cross. We read, understand, and know how to apply the Torah to our lives to live with our own righteousness. And we choose to believe, no matter what happens, our righteousness and right standing earns us and guarantees us answered prayer.
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