One of the misconceptions of the Christian faith throughout the years has been that it proposes some sort of works-based righteousness. That is the idea that each person must work for a good enough reputation before God before being approved for entrance into some sort of paradise or heaven. The Christian faith, though, must claim something entirely different because Christian scripture constantly reminds us of how imperfect and undeserving we are. Even our good works, according to Isaiah, are filthy rags to God. We cannot gain righteousness by working to earn it. We must be righteous by God’s declaration and by God’s declaration alone.
“But now, apart from the law, Gods righteousness has been revealed — attested by the Law and the Prophets — that is, Gods righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By one of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith. For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God for Jews only? Is He not also for Gentiles? Yes, for Gentiles too, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then cancel the law through faith? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
God’s righteousness revealed in Christ (v. 21-22)
So long ago there was an event in human history that separated mankind from God. Mankind chose to rely on himself rather than in God and, in doing so, chose to be right according to his own standards instead of by the standards of God. Because of this, God described His standards for righteousness in the Law that was handed down to the Israelites. The Law described how a people bearing God’s image could stand separately from the world and represent God’s righteousness.
Now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed in Jesus Christ, and more specifically through faith in Jesus Christ. What exactly does it mean that God’s righteousness is revealed through faith in Jesus Christ?
I remember in college before my wife and I began dating. We had both come out of relationships that were not ideal and we were both skeptical about the motives of the other person. Then we got to know each other and began to trust one another. I did not have faith in the woman I would marry until I got to know her. Now I know that this post-modern American culture promotes a “love at first sight” type of philosophy. Let the truth be heard! Love at first sight is nothing more than lust, and we should all respect members of the opposite sex more than to lust after them. Furthermore, this “love at first sight” philosophy has destroyed the way that we view faith; particularly faith in Christ. If I did not have faith in my wife until after I got to know her, what makes me think that I can just have faith in a savior that I do not know? The truth is, we cannot. So, what does it mean that God’s righteousness is revealed through faith in Christ?
When we begin a relationship with Jesus Christ, we begin a journey of getting to know the only true God and as we know God more, we have more trust, or faith, in God. Our faith is not proof of our own spirituality. Our faith is proof of a God who reveals Himself to us and builds a relationship with us. Our faith is a measure of God’s faithfulness to us. Because God is the one on whom each of us depends, faith in Christ reveals God to those around us. Our faith in Christ literally reveals God’s righteousness because it is God whom we are completely and utterly dependant. The only way that we can ever be in right standing is if we accept the righteousness of God over the self-righteousness we tend to think we have. We must represent a picture of His faithfulness rather than promote some sort of self attained faith in God. It is God who saves us. We cannot save ourselves. We must be righteous by God’s declaration and by God’s declaration alone!
So, then we are met with this idea that no exercise of faith on our part impresses God since true faith and true righteousness come from God. The attending of Christian events at work or at school will not produce faith in us or build a better reputation for us with God. No amount of reading scripture or praying publically will make us better people. Attending church meetings and inviting friends or family to come will never make us look good before a pure and holy God. Only God can do that work in us and any right action that follows must be a result of God’s faithfulness producing righteousness within us. Our goal in life should not be concerned so much with religion or spirituality. We should be concerned only with showing the world around us the faithfulness that God first showed us.
All have sinned and are justified freely (v. 23-26)
Why does God show us this faithfulness? We are all dirty and wretched sinners. As Paul refers to sin here, he is referring to imperfect action or action apart from God. For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory! God would be perfectly justified in allowing every person to die and to spend eternity apart from Him, but He has chosen to justify us by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Still I ask, “Why?” Why would God choose to satisfy His own wrath for all the sins, past, present and future, of this world? Why are we so deserving?
The answer is simple. We do not deserve. Not only can we do nothing to provide faith for ourselves, but we do not deserve the faith that God chooses to give us. Read verse 26 along with me, “To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” The reason God chooses to save us and to reveal his righteousness through a faith that He gives to us is so that He might be just and so that He might be the justifier of those who believe in Jesus Christ. God’s just and righteous nature elects that God offers salvation to a humanity that He created. God gives His righteousness so that God might be just and the justifier of those who believe in Christ. He does it for His own glory, in the name of His own righteousness and according to His own just nature! We are not saved for our own benefit.
You might disagree. You might argue that this makes God sound like a selfish bully or that God’s salvation definitely benefits us. Please take a moment and consider the universe around us. Mankind is not at the center of the earth. The earth is not at the center of the solar system. The solar system is not at the center of the galaxy. This galaxy is not at the center of our local cluster. Our local cluster is not at the center of our supercluster, and our supercluster is not at the center of the known universe. In fact, contemporary science argues for a universe that does not specifically have a center and that originated at an event called the Big Bang. There was one point at which time began and one point at which a near infinite amount of energy was released creating space and forming matter.
In scripture, God calls Himself the Alpha and the Beginning. Furthermore, I do not believe that God ever referred to Himself as the center of all things. He simply said, “I am.” Now, a God who simply is and who is the origination of all things would not need to be selfish in order that every event naturally leads back to His glory and to a revelation of His righteousness. Even our attempts to disprove God, it seems, works to reveal God in a universe where He simply is. So, it makes no sense at all to accuse God of being selfish in a universe that naturally declares His glory simply because He created it. What a beautiful picture.
Secondly, the imputation of God’s righteousness onto us does benefit us. We receive eternal life. We get to inherit God’s very glory along with Christ. Still, this is not why God saves us or reveals His righteousness through our faith. He does so that He might be just and the justifier of those who believe. We do receive the most worthy of all benefits to be received, but this is not why we love God or have faith in God. That would be selfish. We have faith in God that God may be seen as just and the justifier of we who believe. We love God because He first loved us. Remember, we must be righteous by God’s declaration and by God’s declaration alone.
How then should we live? I hope that we rebel against this idea that God is okay with Christian selfishness and that we stop misrepresenting the Christian faith as such. God is just and He is the one who justifies. While we are showing God’s faithfulness as we life, His just nature will be revealed because it is by His just nature that He is faithful to His creation, especially those who believe in Jesus Christ. Think about this. Do you own your faith? My hope is that we would stop this and allow God to make us good stewards of a faith that He has provided for us by His just nature.
Boasting is worthless (v. 27-31)
Because it is God who provides faith for us and because it is God who imparts His righteousness onto us so that God may be seen, we have no right to boast! In fact, to have the faith that God provides is to deny self completely. This is what it means that our right to boast is excluded by the law of faith. Because the faith that God provides is not about us, it is about Him. The Alpha, the beginning and the I am. Our faith is God’s faithfulness through us. We are not justified by the Law or by what we have done. We are not justified, Christian, by having enough faith on our own! We are justified, or declared righteous, by a faith that God gives to us. God is the God of all; both Jews and Gentiles, both Christians and Heathens. Through the faith that God provides to us, we uphold the Law that God also gave to us! A faith provided by God, in essence, produces right action, right thought and right belief. We must be righteous by God’s declaration and by God’s declaration alone.
So, remember. This faith that we have been entrusted with is not ours. It has been provided by God. We should not withhold it from anyone and we most definitely should not boast in a faith that we have. We must always:
- recognize God’s righteousness within us
- recognize God’s just nature upon us
- recognize God’s faithfulness to us
We must be righteous by God’s declaration and by God’s declaration alone.