The Gift of Righteousness
Based on Paul's letter to the Romans this collection of twenty-four thoughts looks at the gift of imputed righteousness, God's declaration of legal acquittal, which is granted equally to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ.
Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2004
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #1: SHEER GIFT
Righteousness. To many people the thought of righteousness is like the thought of moral perfection ' something that is unattainable, something that because it is unattainable is also threatening, because it is perceived to be something that is expected of us, yet something we can never accomplish.
It is also seen by some to have a repulsive overtone, because 'righteousness' is associated with hypocrites and with people who are 'self-righteous'.
Because of these negative connotations many people, including many Christians, pass over the Bible's references to 'righteousness', and in that fearful passing over have disregarded one of the most powerful antidotes to the fear of judgment and failure that the Bible offers us.
The Bible teaches that 'righteousness' is a 'gift', and that this gift is 'God's abundant provision.' It is something that he gives to us, not something that he requires of us. It is required, yes. It is essential, yes. But it is not provided by us, it is given to us by God himself.
We will be looking at this gift of righteousness for several weeks. We will see what it means. We will see how God gives us this incredible gift.
For the moment, because it is a 'gift' we can understand this much: that it is not something we do, it is not something we earn, it is not something we merit or deserve. It is sheer gift.
[Scripture: Romans 5:17]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #2: LEGAL ACQUITTAL
What is 'righteousness'? Our automatic unspoken answer is that it is a standard of behaviour that we must attain, and our minds automatically think in terms of 'self-righteousness' - of people who think that they are good enough to gain God's approval.
In one way, such a perception is correct. But at another level it is grossly incorrect. 'Righteous' is a legal term: it means to be guilt free. So 'righteousness' is the state of being guilt free. Not free from the feeling of guilt, but acquitted of real legal guilt. It is to be declared 'not guilty.'
But here we encounter a problem: the Bible teaches clearly that 'no one is good', 'no one is righteous' because 'all have sinned' and continue to sin. On the basis of our own thoughts, attitudes and actions, not one of us can attain this state of 'righteousness', this declaration of acquittal. We are all guilty in the presence of God.
We saw last week that the 'righteousness' of which the Gospel speaks is a gift. That it is unearned, unmerited, undeserved.
This gift of 'righteousness' is God's declaration that we are legally acquitted ' declared 'not guilty' even though we are guilty. This 'not guilty' declaration is given by God to those who believe.
Thus Paul states: 'I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes ' For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last'?
It has been called an 'alien righteousness' ' a not guilty declaration, an acquittal that has nothing to do with me, that comes from outside of me, that is granted to me because the righteousness of another is credited to me.
That 'other' is Christ. Having understood this Gospel offer of the gift of 'righteousness' Paul cast aside all that he saw as his own personal 'righteousness' and embraced and trusted in the righteousness of Christ alone.
Even so may we.
[Scriptures: Romans 3:9-24; 1:16-17; Philippians 3:1-11]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #3: BY FAITH
When the gospel of Jesus Christ speaks of the 'gift of righteousness' it is referring to God's declaration of legal acquittal. This 'not guilty' declaration is given 'to all who believe'; it is 'by faith from first to last'.
It is easy to wrongly infer from this that believing, or faith, on our part, is actually what earns, merits or deserves this 'not guilty' declaration; it is easy to wrongly infer that the command to believe has become another law which must be obeyed, and that obeying it earns us this declaration of 'righteousness' in the presence of God.
Such a perception is totally contrary to the mindset of the gospel: the gospel is good news ' a message of peace, joy and salvation, not a message promoting an alternative set of legal criteria by which a person can find reunion with God.
The legal criteria for acceptance with God remain the same: that the law of God must be fully kept, and that any infringement of that law incurs the penalty of separation from God, which the Bible calls 'death'. God's law, rather than qualifying us for acceptance in the presence of God actually exposes our disqualification.
But there is One who fully kept the law of God on our behalf ' One who was actually 'not guilty'. He also stood in our place and, having no guilt of his own, incurring no penalty of his own, bore our guilt, taking the penalty legally due to us. On our behalf he fully kept the law in his living; on our behalf he fully met the just demands of the law in his dying.
Because of this life, because of this death, the righteousness of which the gospel speaks is made available to us.
But to whom is it credited? To whom is it given? Who receives this amazing and unexpected gift? The gospel says 'those who believe'.
Believing, in itself, has no significance. A person can believe in this, that or the other thing, and still not have this gift of righteousness. It is the focus or object of faith that gives significance to the faith.
The object or focus of Gospel faith is Jesus Christ. This faith, this believing in Jesus Christ, is essentially a reversal of the Genesis 3 rejection of God. This faith is not the means by which a person is reunited with God, it is reunion with God.
[Scriptures: Romans 1:16,17; 3:19-20; Luke 2:10-14; Romans 4:3; John 12:44; 8:24]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #4: NOT BY LAW
In his letter to the Roman Christians Paul explained that there is no one in the whole world who can stand in the presence of God and be declared 'not guilty' on the basis of their own performance.
- No one, he says, lives up to the knowledge of God available and evident to all in the wonders of God's creation.
- No one, he says, who has the written word of God has lived according to its standards.
God's law, he says, makes it clear that both those who have this law and those who don't, are all silenced by this law in the presence of God, the just Judge. All are answerable. All are accountable. For all have rejected God's self-revelation in creation, and those who have his written revelation have rejected it or failed to obey it.
No one, Paul says, will be declared righteous in God's sight by keeping the law. If fact, he says, the law was never intended to be a means of justification or vindication. Rather, the law is the very thing that exposes us as sinners. It identifies not our goodness, but our sinfulness.
Our inability to keep God's law, and the law's intention to expose our wretchedness rather than identify our goodness, highlights our need for a 'righteousness' ' a 'not guilty declaration' ' that has nothing to do with our keeping the law.
And that is Paul's point: now, in the Gospel, 'a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known'.
[Scriptures: Romans 1:18-3:21]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #5: FROM GOD
The righteousness of which the Gospel speaks is 'from God'. It does not have its source or origin in our ability or perceived ability to keep God's law: it is 'apart from law'. It comes from God.
Nor does it have its origin in our minds, we humans did not think it up, we did not devise this Gospel righteousness: it is from God ' he has made it known, he has revealed it.
The religions of men put before us a range of ideas about how we might find union with 'god', or find 'salvation', or enter into eternal bliss. Invariably the way of salvation or life identified in the religious of men, including minimalised 'Christianity', is the way of human endeavour, in which the desired goal or end is dependent on our individual ability to fulfil stated conditions
This tit-for-tat relationship with God is the way our human minds think. We are set in a performance paradigm, and we conceive our relationship with God in performance terms: If I do this, then God will do that. We conceive only a 'righteousness' which we ourselves must supply.
But the Gospel of Jesus Christ cuts right across this performance mindset; it comes with a message of the gift of righteousness, reducing our perceptions of moral achievement and spiritual self-sufficiency to nothing, cutting out all reason for both pride and despair. It pulls down the apparently 'righteous'; it lifts up the obviously 'sinful'. It first calls us all 'guilty' then offers to us all the alien righteousness of Jesus Christ.
This righteousness, this gift from God, is something that he has revealed, something that he has made known. Under the inspiration of God, the Law and the prophets of the Old Testament spoke of it in anticipation, and the disciples and apostles recorded and explained its ultimate revelation in Jesus Christ.
When some of the early Christians stood on the brink of discarding their confidence in this gift of righteousness in Christ, and reverting to the legalistic and ritualistic 'righteousness' of their traditions, the apostles warned them of both the seriousness and the foolishness of such an about face. Indeed much of the New Testament centres on this very issue.
Who would be so foolish as to choose the ideas of man rather than the revelation of God? Who would be so idiotic as to choose a heavy burden of unattainable prerequisites rather than a free, unlimited, incomparable gift? Who would be so unseeing as to depend on one's own righteousness rather than on the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ?
Sadly, it seems the answer is 'many'. God's gracious gift of the righteousness of Christ is left to the side while many, even within the church, labour to store up their own 'righteousness'.
[Scriptures: Romans 1:17; 3:21; Galatians 1:6-9; 3:1; Philippians 3:1-9; Colossians 2:6-3:3; Hebrews 2:1-4]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #6: TO ALL WHO BELIEVE
The Bible tells us that the gift of righteousness, which is 'apart from law' and which is 'from God' 'comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe'.
What is this 'faith in Jesus Christ' through which this gift of righteousness is given? The testimony of the Scripture is that it is genuine Biblical faith in Jesus Christ ' a faith that believes that Jesus is who he claimed to be, a faith that includes recognition of and submission to his authority as Lord and God: that not only knows that he is God, that not only says that he is God, but also acknowledges him as God in whole orientation of one's life of thought, attitude, word and action.
This faith in Jesus Christ, which is enabled only by the sovereign hand of God the Father, is the reversal of the Genesis 3 rejection of God. In believing in Christ, in receiving him as our Lord and God, we are repenting of that sin of rejecting God which is the foundation of all sins. In acknowledging Christ we are acknowledging God. In receiving Christ we are receiving God. In submitting to Christ we are submitting to God.
It is this returning to God by turning to Christ that is the 'faith' through which Gospel 'righteousness' is given to us. This 'faith' is not a righteous act on our part; rather, it also is the gift of God to us. He reveals the truth about Jesus to us, he liberates our spirit to believe, he takes away the dark blindness of our minds and enables us to see and to believe the truth.
We in our time-bound lives and thinking, like to place all these aspects of salvation in a time-sequenced 'process'. We want to say this happens first, then this, then this. But God is not so bound and limited. While the various components of salvation have a theological order of necessity, with one component necessary for the implementation of another, in God's eternal perspective, they occur simultaneously.
Just as the Bible speaks of instantaneous creation rather than evolution, so it speaks of instantaneous salvation, not an extended process.
In one gracious, eternal, instantaneous act he saves us ' in one gracious action he effects in us and applies to us all of the necessary components of our salvation.
'Faith' ('believing') is one of those gracious God-given components.
[Scriptures: Romans 3:21-22; John 1;12; 5:24; 8:31; 20:31; Romans 10:9; James 2:14-26;1 John 5:1,10-12; Matthew 11:27; 16:17; John 6:44; 2 Corinthians 4:6; John 12:44-46; 14:6-9; Ephesians 2:8]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #7: IDENTICAL FOR ALL WHO BELIEVE
God's gift of Gospel righteousness ' his declaration of legal acquittal - is identical for everyone who believes in Jesus Christ.
Standing on our own two feet in the presence of God the just Judge, we are all guilty: we have all sinned in the past, and we are all still sinners who sin in the present. None of us could be acquitted. None of us could be declared 'not guilty'. We all incur God's just judgment and condemnation.
But in his gift of 'righteousness', in his gift of legal acquittal, our legal standing in the presence of God does not depend on us. It depends on Another. Our acquittal is unrelated to our personal efforts, it is unrelated to our personal legal rightness. It is entirely unrelated to us, and is therefore the same for all.
All who believe in Christ are equally sinners. And all who believe in Christ are equally justified.
As the Bible says, there is no difference on two counts:
- because we are all sinners, and
- because we are justified freely by his grace
'Justification' and 'righteousness' translate the same Greek word. When Paul teaches that we are justified freely by God's grace he is teaching that God's gift of righteousness is given as a free ' unearned, unmerited, undeserved ' gift. There is no such thing as degrees of righteousness among Christian believers ' every person who believes in Jesus Christ is declared not guilty by God as a free gift. There is no such thing as a Christian who is more acquitted than another; there is no such thing as a Christian who is more righteous than another.
Christians stand in the presence of God, not depending on their own pitiful handful of 'righteousness', but trusting in the free gift of God ' the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ ' which is credited to all who believe.
[Scripture: Romans 3:22-24]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #8: VIA REDEMPTION
The gift of righteousness that is freely and equally given to all who believe in Jesus Christ is 'through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus'.
This statement from Romans 3 outlaws any perception that God's declaration of acquittal is based on our lack of personal guilt or related to our personal merit. This justification, [this righteousness], that God gives is grounded and mediated only in and through God's liberating activity in Christ.
'Redemption' means 'freedom or liberation obtained by the payment of a price'.
The Bible teaches that since Genesis 3 every human being is in bondage ' to sin, to condemnation and judgment, to death and to Satan. We are trapped, we are enslaved ' unable to live without sinning, unable to escape God's condemnation and judgment, unable to rescue ourselves from the separation from God that the Bible calls 'death', and unable to remove ourselves from Satan's deceptive control and accusations.Just as God liberated the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt, so God liberates us from the multi-faceted bondage in which our sin held us captive. Just as he sent Moses as his agent of freedom, so he sent Jesus as the great Redeemer.
The freedom, the liberation, the redemption, is in Christ: in all that he is, in all that he did in his life, death, resurrection and ascension ' but most of all in his death.That death, that pouring out of life, that shedding of blood, is the price paid. It is the ransom ' the payment necessary to redeem us from accusation, condemnation, judgment and death, and to rescue us from the authority of Satan and bring us out safe into the kingdom of God.
[Scriptures: Romans 3:24; Titus 3:5-7; John 8:34; Hebrews 2:14-15; Exodus Chs 1-14; Mark 10:45; Galatians 3:13; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 Peter 1:18; Revelation 5:9]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #9: LEGALLY JUST
A significant question about God's free 'gift of righteousness' is: How can God, who is just, announce his acquittal of a person who is actually guilty? How can he treat such a person as innocent and still remain true to his own character and to the system of legal justice which he himself defined and determined?
The Bible's answer to this important question is spelled out in Romans 3: that God presented Jesus Christ as a sacrifice of atonement.
In the Old Testament practice of substitutionary sacrifice an animal bore the death penalty in the place of the sinner. These sacrifices, however, had to be offered day after day, year after year, and were effective only at a ritual level.
By contrast, the death of Jesus Christ as the perfect substitute is a permanent, once-for-all sacrifice which effects the removal of legal guilt and the cleansing of the conscience.
Christ, the perfect and sinless human, bore in himself, in his body, the total condemnation and judgment due to the sinner.
In submission to and concurrence with his Father's will, he took our place under the judgment of God: he died for us. There is no more condemnation hanging over the person who has acknowledged Jesus Christ, for in embracing Jesus Christ that person also embraces all that Jesus Christ, the ultimate substitute, has done on his or her behalf.
Jesus Christ himself is our declaration of acquittal; he himself is the source and essence of God's 'not guilty' pronouncement.
The one whom we know as our 'Saviour' is also our 'salvation'. Thus Jeremiah, anticipating the life and death of Christ hundreds of years previously, referred to him as 'The LORD our Righteousness'.
He took our place under God's judgment. In this, God's justice is demonstrated. In this God is both just, and the One who justifies. Sin's penalty is paid by our Saviour and we are acquitted.
[Scriptures: Romans 3:25-26; Leviticus 1-7; 16; Hebrews 9:11-10:18; Romans 8:1; Hebrews 10:7; Jeremiah 23:6.]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS # 10: EXCLUDES BOASTING
Paul has explained that Gospel righteousness is a gift, totally unmerited, granted by sheer grace equally to every person who believes in Christ, on the basis of the sin-bearing death of Christ which sets us free from sin's penalty.
Now he asks the question: 'Where, then is boasting'?
If we are all sinners who sin '
If we are all credited with the righteousness of Christ as sheer gift '
Then all human boasting is excluded.
No one can claim that God has declared them not guilty on the basis of personal absence of guilt.
No one can claim that the acquittal they have received is because they merited it, earned it or deserved it.
No one can claim that they are more righteous than another, for all have received the same perfect righteousness of Christ credited to them by God's act of grace.
This Gospel, this grace, this Christ, brings a great equality, a great unity, in which both spiritual pride and spiritual despair are both outlawed.
There is no room for pride here ' no room for superiority, no room for looking down on another Christian believer, no room for perceived acceptance by God because of personal achievements.
There is no room for despair here ' no room for feelings of inferiority, no room for thinking another believer more acceptable to God than oneself, no room for perceived rejection by God because of personal failures.
This Gospel, this grace, this Christ, makes us all one.
[Scriptures: Romans 3:21-31; Galatians 3:26-29]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #11: JUSTIFICATION
Romans 3 contains Paul's central teaching on the gift of righteousness, or as he sometimes calls it, justification.
In this chapter we are told:
- No one is righteous ' 3:10
- No one will be declared righteous in God's sight by keeping the law ' 3:20
- God has made known a righteousness that is apart from law ' 3:21, 28
- This righteousness is from God ' 3:21
- This righteousness was proclaimed by the Old Testament ' 3:21
- This righteousness from God comes by faith in Jesus Christ ' 3:22
- It is given equally to all who believe ' 3:22
- It is given freely ' 3:24,
- It is given by God's grace ' 3:24
- It is given through the liberation from sin's just penalty that is achieved by the substitutionary death of Christ ' 3:24-25
- This righteousness/justification satisfies God's justice ' 3:25-26
- This righteousness/justification upholds God's law ' 3:31
- In addition, this righteousness, this justification, rules out all human boasting ' 3:27
- This righteousness, this justification, rules out all religious superiority ' 3:29-30
This is the 'justification by faith' which was the catch-cry of the Reformation of the sixteenth century. It is this same justification by faith, this same gift of righteousness, that needs to be rediscovered, reclaimed and reaffirmed by contemporary Christianity ' to over-ride and eradicate the impoverished, performance-based spirituality that holds far too many Christians in continuing bondage to guilt, to condemnation and to despair.
God has declared us 'not guilty' because of Christ. Let us not receive this grace in vain.
[Scriptures: Romans 3:10,20-31; 2 Corinthians 6:1]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #12: GOD'S WAY OF SALVATION
The gift of righteousness, in which sinners are acquitted, has always been God's way of salvation.
Genesis records: 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness'. David wrote: 'Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.'
These are amazing statements of the sheer grace of God to those who trust him:
Righteousness ' the declaration 'not guilty' ' credited to them.
- Their transgressions forgiven.
- Their sins covered.
- Their sin never held against them by God.
Abraham was a sinner. David was a sinner. Yet both of these men were assured of their permanent welcome and acceptance in the presence of God. Not because of any works that they had done; not because they had submitted to the right religious rituals; not because they kept the law of God.
Acceptance on the basis of any of these reasons can only be conditional; acceptance on the basis of any of these reasons can only be uncertain; acceptance on the basis of any of these reasons can never be guaranteed ' because our performance and our motivation are always variable and incomplete.
But people who have received Gospel righteousness trust God, not themselves. People who have received Gospel righteousness believe in God's grace, not their own performance. People who have received Gospel righteousness, have received it as God's promise, not as a reward for obedience.
Because of this, because it is by faith, grace and promise, this Gospel righteousness, this justification by faith, is guaranteed to all who believe.
Guaranteed. A strong word. A sure word. A word to generate great peace and assurance.
Let us grasp this word, and allow it to impact every thought of our minds and hearts, so that it floods us with the peace and joy that Jesus came to give to us.
[Scriptures: Romans 4:1-16; Genesis 15:6,22; Psalm 32:1,2; Luke 2:10-14]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #13: THROUGH JESUS CHRIST
There is an intimate and essential connection between the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of righteousness.
Without the resurrection the concept that Jesus Christ died in our place to pay for our sins, and so obtain the forgiveness of sins, is invalid. Without the resurrection, Christ's death is just another human death, the end result and the just judgment of God upon the individual's personal sin.
Christ's resurrection validates all of his claims about himself and confirms the validity of his offering himself as our substitute before the judgment seat of God. Having no sin of his own he could bear the punishment for our sins, and come through death into resurrection life.
This is the power of the resurrection of which Paul speaks: it is the power of the removal of judgment and condemnation. Death is left behind. Judgment is left behind. Condemnation is left behind. As Paul states: Christ 'was delivered to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification', that is, for our 'righteousness' ' our acquittal before the judgment seat of God.
This is the power of the resurrection: that those who believe in Christ are at this very moment living and accepted in the very presence of God; that those who believe in Christ are at this very moment, in a permanent present state of reconciliation with God; that those who believe in Christ are credited with his righteousness, and are thereby liberated from ever again having to depend on their own righteousness.
The person who believes in Christ is in touch with this amazing power: that he stands free and uncondemned in the presence of God, because of the gift of righteousness; that he is now free from ever again having to justify himself in the presence of God; and that he is now free from the perceived necessity of condemning others.
This resurrection power, by which we are declared righteous, is the power that will enable us to live as Christ commands us to live: loving as he loves, forgiving as he forgives, showing mercy as he shows mercy, crediting to our fellow-believers the same free declaration of acquittal that God has credited to us.
Let us live in the power of this resurrection. Let us live as those whose debit balance has been cancelled, and to whose credit all the righteousness of Christ has been recorded.
S[criptures: Romans 4:20-25; Ephesians 2:4-7; Romans 5:10-11; Colossians 3:1-3; Philippians 3:4-11]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #14: PEACE WITH GOD
The Word of God states: 'Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.'
'Justification' translates the same Greek word as 'righteousness'. To be 'justified' is to be 'declared righteous', that is, to be acquitted.
This verse teaches us that because we have been declared righteous, because we have been acquitted through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul is not speaking here about a feeling of peace. He is talking about a fact: we have peace with God. A state of peace now exists where once there was the fear of judgment. A state of peace exists where once there was guilt and blame. A state of peace exists where once there was condemnation.
Not because we have personally ceased to be guilty. Not because we have achieved perfection by our keeping of God's law. Not because we are no longer worthy of condemnation. But through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Letter to the Hebrews points out that the once-for-all substitutionary sacrifice of Christ has the power to rid our consciences of guilt.
The Letter to the Colossians teaches us that God presents us to himself 'holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation', reconciling us to himself through the body of Christ.
Romans 8 affirms that no one can ever again bring an accusation against those who are in Christ, and by that accusation cut us off from the love of God.
We have peace with God ' through our Lord Jesus Christ. Right now. At this very moment. As a present, permanent, personal possession.
Let us praise his amazing grace.
[Scripture: Romans 5:1; Hebrews 9 and 10; Colossians 1:22; Romans 8:31-39]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #15: FULL ASSURANCE
The result of being justified by faith ' of being credited with righteousness through faith in Christ ' is that we have peace with God.
This peace with God is an incredible assurance: not only assurance of the removal of guilt and condemnation that we have already seen, but a certain hope and joy that encompasses all of this life and the next.
Because we have peace with God, Paul says, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. What does he mean? Certainly he means that, being justified by faith and having peace with God we can be certain of seeing and being accepted by the Lord of glory when we die or when he returns, which ever comes first.
But he also means this: that even now, while we are still on this earth, we have this hope, and we see this hope being actualized: that Christ, by his indwelling Spirit, is gradually transforming us into the image of God for which we were originally created, but which we forfeited in Genesis 3: that we should reflect, or image, his glory.
And this is not all. Paul states that 'we also rejoice in our sufferings'. This amazing concept stands in the context of a worldview which then, as now, is determined to make a punitive link between sin and suffering. This worldview adds to every instance of suffering a sense of guilt and of judgment, and adds to the whole of life an unease and a despair, because we know that in ourselves we are sinners who sin, worthy of judgment.
But Paul says, being justified by faith, and having peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, we rejoice in sufferings. They are no longer the evidence of our guilt. They are no longer to be understood as God's hand of judgment heavy upon us. They are no longer permitted to send us into a despairing spiral of morbid, self-flagellating introspection.
We can rejoice, even in our sufferings, for they are not the evidence of God's anger, God's punishment or God's rejection. They can never bring accusation against us; they can never cut us off from his love. Rather, in his great and sovereign love, he takes them, and uses them for his grand and glorious purposes for us.
[Scriptures: Romans 5:1-5; 2 Corinthians 3:16-18; Genesis 1:26,27; Romans 8: 28-39]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS # 16: JOY
When the angels announced the birth of Jesus Christ to the shepherds they described their message as 'good new of great joy'.
Because we are justified ' declared 'not guilty' ' we can rejoice firstly in the certain hope of salvation because our salvation depends not on us but on the substitutionary death of Christ. Secondly, we can rejoice in our sufferings because suffering can never again be understood as God's judgment because Jesus Christ bore all of God's judgment on their behalf.
There is a third level at which this free gift of righteousness, this justification by faith, brings joy: we rejoice in God.
Apart from this free gift of righteousness in Christ we are dependent on our own performance: we live each moment with the need to ensure our own acceptance in the presence of God. There is no joy in it ' only the constant need to perform; only the terrible dread that we are not good enough. God, in this legalistic mindset, is someone to fear, not someone who generates joy.
But God calls his gospel 'good news of great joy'. It dispels the fear of judgment; it displaces the focus on us and our ability to keep God's laws and to satisfy God's justice. It takes the spotlight off us and our inability and impotence, and puts it on the love and mercy of God. It reveals to us a God who loves us so much that he sent his Son into the world to become one of us so that he could take the full judgment and punishment of our sins and set us free to live with joy in the presence of God.
We rejoice in God. Without fear of his judgment. Without guilt in his presence. Without any prospect of his rejection of us. We rejoice in God ' we see his immeasurable love, we see his limitless mercy, we see his infinite compassion, we see his unsurpassable wisdom and power, all of which were and are active for us - and we rejoice in him.
The fear is gone. The dread is gone. The uncertainty is gone.
Because of his free gift of righteousness in Christ only peace and joy in his presence remain.
[Scriptures: Luke 2:8-14; Romans 5:1-3; Romans 5:11; 1 John 4:18]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #17: ESCAPE FROM THE REIGN OF SIN AND DEATH
The gift of righteousness or justification is the opposite of condemnation and judgment.
In Romans 5:12-21 Paul identifies a list of contrasts between what is true of us left to ourselves, and what it true for those who are united to Christ by faith.
Left to ourselves we are the descendants of Adam, in whose sin we were involved, and by whose sin we are all under the reign or domination of sin, law and death. This death is the just condemnation and judgment on us as sinners who sin.
In union with Christ, the righteous one, we receive the gift of righteousness (justification), and are under the reign or authority of grace and life.
Through the sin and disobedience of the one man, Adam, death and condemnation came to all men. By the righteousness and obedience of the one man, Jesus Christ, justification and life come to all who believe in him.
Apart from Christ all men must relate to God under the principle of law and personal merit. United with Christ we relate to God always, ever and only under the principle of grace.
In the kingdom of Christ, of which every genuine believer is a member, the Bible tells us:
- Grace reigns.
- The gift of righteousness reigns.
- We reign in life.
Because grace and God's gift of acquittal reign, we are no longer under the law of sin and death which brings only condemnation. So great and impactive is the liberation and joy of this amazing gift of God that he tells us that we also reign.
No longer the abject prisoners of sin, law and death: but children of the King, already raised together with Christ to eternal life in the presence of God.
[Scriptures: Romans 5:12-21; Ephesians 2:6]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #18: UPHOLDS GOD'S LAW
This gift of righteousness ' God's declaration of acquittal made possible and effective by the life and death of Jesus Christ ' produces two opposite responses, one wrong, one right.
Some people say: 'Well then, if Christ has fully kept the law on our behalf, and if he fully paid the penalty for our sins, then it doesn't matter what we do, we can sin all we please!'
Such a response looks only at the gift, and it does so from a self-focused perspective. It does not look at the Giver ' it does not see his utter holiness and purity; it does not see his immeasurable love; it does not see in the cross of Christ the extreme offensiveness and wrongness of sin; it does not see in the cross of Christ the horrific and intense just judgment of God that all sin invokes. It does not see the deep hurt of God, nor understand the origin, the meaning or the cost of the gift.
Such a response also fails to understand that in receiving this gift of righteousness a person acknowledges that God's judgment that fell on Christ should rightly have fallen on them because sin is totally wrong, totally offensive to God, totally opposed to God and his purpose for us.
Such a response, the Bible says, it totally out of order, totally at cross-purposes with the gift of righteousness.
The gift of righteousness is not intended to set us free to sin, and to thereby continue to dishonour God, but to liberate us to pursue personal righteousness and so bring glory to our God.
Paul put it this way: the right response to the gift of righteousness is to offer ourselves and all that we are to God as instruments and slaves of righteousness which will lead to holiness.
Freedom from sin's just penalty and condemnation does not mean freedom to sin God has rescued us from sin's penalty and condemnation, not so that we can continue to be slaves to sin, but so that we can serve him in practical, personal righteousness and holiness.
[Scripture: Romans 6]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS # 19: LIFE
God's gift of righteousness permanently alters our relationship to 'death'.
Before we receive this gift we are in a state of separation from God which the Bible calls 'death'. Paul teaches in Romans that:
- Death entered through sin (5:12)
- Death passed upon all men (5:12)
- Death reigned (5:14,17)
- We are dead [5:15)
- The result of sin's reign is death (5:21)
- The end result or wages of sin is death (6:21,23).
At the point at which we receive God's gift of righteousness we are identified with the death of Jesus Christ who took the death penalty for sin as our substitute:
- We are dead to sin (6:2,11)
- We were baptized into his death (6:3)
- We were buried with him (6:4)
- We have been united with him in his death (6:5)
- We were crucified with him (6:6)
- We have died with Christ (6:7,8)
God's gift of 'righteousness' in Christ both enables and contains the gift of 'eternal life':
- We live by faith (1:17)
- We reign in life (5:17, 21)
- We will be united with him in his resurrection (6:5)
- We will live with Christ (6:8)
- We have been brought from death to life (6:13)
- The result of God's gift is eternal life (6:22)
- The gift of God is eternal life (6:23)
- The law of the Spirit of life has set us free from the law of sin and death (8:2)
In this gift of righteousness, our separation from God is undone and reversed; the legal penalty justly imposed on our sin is fully paid and satisfied, and physical death is robbed of its fear and its permanence.
[Scriptures: Romans 1 - 8 - selected texts]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #20: GIVEN TO SINNERS
This gift of 'righteousness' which we have been studying, this legal declaration 'not guilty', is credited to people who are in actual fact 'guilty'. It is given by God to people who are 'sinners'.
This is affirmed in Paul's words 'while we were still sinners Christ died for us'. It is this 'while we were still sinners' aspect of justification by faith that moved Martin Luther to teach that a Christian person is simul justus et peccator - at the same time justified and a sinner.
This gift of acquittal by God allows those who trust in Jesus Christ to be honest about their sin and their sinfulness. There is no pressure, or should be no pressure, to pretend to be without sin. Indeed, to claim to be without sin is to deceive oneself and make God a liar. It is also to put oneself outside the realm of Christ's forgiveness and mediation. Only those who admit to sin need a Saviour; only those who acknowledge imperfection need a Mediator.
There is never even a moment in which we do not need the gift of this alien righteousness; there is never a moment when we do not need Christ as our Mediator in the presence of God ' never even a nano-second when we can stand in the presence of God and be accepted as guiltless on the basis of our own merit.
At every point, at every moment our acquittal and acceptance in the presence of God depends on the gift of Christ, our Righteousness.
For this reason, Paul in Romans 7:13-25 freely expresses his imperfections. He has no illusions about sin, he has no need to cover it up or call it something else. Because his confidence is in Christ, not in himself, he is not threatened by his sin. He hates it, he strives against it, but its presence can no longer destroy his peace with God or his relationship with God.
He trusts not in himself, but in Christ. Only those who claim no righteousness of their own can do that. Only those who acknowledge they are sinners who sin, can do that.
[Scriptures: Romans 5:8; 7:13-25; 1 John 1:8-2:2]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #21: NO CONDEMNATION
The law of sin and death is clearly stated in the Bible: 'when you eat of it you will surely die', 'the soul that sins shall die', 'the wages of sin is death'.
Because God is there, because we are his creatures, because he is holy and just, there is such a thing as morality and justice ' in an absolute sense that is far removed from the relativism and subjectivism of the contemporary era.
As humans we express this innate awareness of the rightness and existence of morality and justice when we question God's morality and justice in circumstances in which it seems that 'innocent' people are suffering. In our questioning of God's justice and morality in these situations we are expressing the belief that morality ought to be seen, that justice ought to be done.
We also express this innate awareness of morality and justice when we automatically want to pay people back, or to see people punished, for things they have done that we believe are wrong. A sense of justice and just retribution seems to be built into us.
Thus both the Scripture and our own human conscience testify to the rightness of justice: to the appropriateness of sin being punished, and the guilty party condemned.
But the Bible states: 'there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus'. No condemnation ' even when it is deserved.
How can this be? The Bible teaches that the person who believes in Jesus Christ has been liberated from the 'law of sin and death' by the law of the Spirit, the law of life in Christ Jesus. How? Because in his life and death Jesus Christ fulfilled all of the moral requirements and the justice of the law on our behalf: he lived a perfect human life according to the law, and in his death he bore sin's condemnation.
If we were to approach God as we are in ourselves, we would most certainly be condemned. But if we approach God always, only and ever 'in Christ', trusting in his righteousness, not our own, there is no condemnation. This is the freedom, the joy and the peace of the believer.
[Scriptures: Genesis 2:17; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23; 8:1-4]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #22: NOTHING TO DO WITH ME
Romans 8:1-17 has caused stress and anxiety for many Christians. Yet Paul intended this passage to encourage believers, not to unsettle them. What he teaches in verses 18 to 39 is clear evidence of this purpose.
The difficulty centres in our perception of his meaning in a word used frequently in this passage: the Greek word sarx ' which simply means 'flesh'.
The word is translated in various ways: 'flesh' [KJV, NASV], 'sinful nature' [NIV] and 'human nature' [GNB]. The Living Bible uses a number of different phrases, containing words like 'evil' 'sinful' and 'lower'.
Interestingly and importantly, the Greek does not contain any adjective; it simply uses the word 'flesh', and consistently this 'flesh' is contrasted to 'Spirit'. Whatever 'flesh' is, it is the opposite of 'Spirit'.
The Message expresses Paul's meaning more clearly. Peterson uses a range of phrases - 'the human condition', 'the disordered mess of struggling humanity', 'fractured human nature', 'do it on their own', 'measuring their own moral muscle', 'obsession with self', 'focusing on self', 'completely absorbed in self', 'this old do-it-yourself life' ' to bring out the meaning of the one word sarx - 'flesh'.
So what is Paul saying here in Romans 8:1-17? He is contrasting the unbelieving mindset which stands in the presence of God depending on its own performance with the believing mindset that stands in the presence of God depending on Jesus Christ. He is contrasting the person who thinks he/she has to gain acceptance with God on the basis of his/her own righteousness with the person who knows they have already gained acceptance with God on the basis of God's gift of righteousness in Christ. He is contrasting the person who trusts in him/herself with the person who trusts in Christ.
This contrast is depicted by Jesus in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. The Pharisee related to God according to 'flesh', according to what he himself was; the tax-collector related to God according to God's mercy. And it was the tax-collector, Jesus said, who went home 'justified' ' acquitted, declared righteous. That is the flesh/Spirit contrast.
To trust in ourselves and our own performance will never result in the gift of righteousness ' this is the way of the flesh. To trust in the mercy of God, ultimately revealed and provided in Jesus Christ, is to receive the gift of righteousness ' this is the way of the Spirit.
[Scriptures: Romans 8:1-17; Luke 18:9-14]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #23: THE GROUND OF CONFIDENCE
God's gift of righteousness is the foundation of the well-loved passage in Romans 8 that assures Christians that nothing can be against them and that nothing can separate them from the love of God that is in Christ.
Because the person who believes in Jesus Christ is declared 'righteous' ' that is, justified, acquitted, declared not guilty because of the righteous life and sin-bearing death of Christ ' because of this no charge or accusation or condemnation against them can stand. Such charges and accusations may in fact be true, but they can never again be held against the believer because Christ has taken and paid for them all on the believer's behalf.
God has justified ' no one can condemn. He gave his Son to achieve and implement this, this was his will, his purpose and his pleasure ' no one can now turn his grace away from the believer.
In addition, all of those circumstances of life that are assumed by many to be the signs and implementation of God's wrath and retribution ' suffering, poverty, sickness, indeed misfortune of any kind ' can never again be seen to be so. Never again for the believer are the calamities of live to be interpreted as the removal of God's love and good-pleasure.
Nothing, not anything, can separate the genuine believer from the love of God in Christ.
Are you sick? It is not God's condemnation.
Are you poor? It is not God turning his face away from you.
He no longer relates to you as you are in yourself ' sinful, failing, incomplete. He relates to you always, ever and only in Christ ' from whom he will never again turn away his love.
This is the assurance and the peace of those who have received from God his gift of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
[Scriptures: Romans 8:28-39]
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS #24: GROUNDED IN JESUS CHRIST
God's gift of righteousness is an incredible gift ' something that we would never have imagined. It cuts right across our performance-oriented mindset and our ego-centric pride, and tells us that 'righteousness' ' God's declaration of legal acquittal ' is a gift. It is not something that we earn, deserve or merit.
Rather, this gift of righteousness from God is grounded solely in the substitutionary, sin-bearing death of Jesus Christ. In his death he took the legal penalty imposed by God on sin, and bore our guilt and condemnation for us.
Not only does he bear our guilt and condemnation; in addition, his perfect righteousness, his total absence of guilt is credited to us.
But the question arises: how does all of this become ours? If the Bible teaches that God gives us this amazing gift, that God declares us 'not guilty' because of Christ, at what point, and by what means, does it become ours? Does it apply to everyone indiscriminately? Or is there some criteria that must be fulfilled for this incredible and total salvation to be received?
In Romans 9:30 to 10:21 Paul teaches how this gift of righteousness can be obtained and how it can not be obtained: it is obtained 'by faith' not by works.
But this raises another question: what is this 'faith' by which this incredible 'not guilty' declaration is obtained? Is it 'faith' in anything at all, or is there a specific object or focus of this saving, liberating faith?
The focus or object of this faith is Jesus Christ ' the Lord. Paul states: 'If you confess with your mouth 'Jesus is Lord', and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved', and 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'
Earlier Paul identified Jesus as 'God over all'. This belief, this confession that Jesus is God is the faith upon which the gift of righteousness is obtained. As Jesus himself clearly stated: 'Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son? and 'If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.'
[Scriptures: Romans 9:30; 10:31; 9:5; John 3:18; 8:24]