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THOUGHTS FROM ROMANS

THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD - 2

Paul teaches that Gospel righteousness is by faith from first to last (Romans 1:17).

Both at its inception and in its continuance our right standing with God has nothing to do with our performance or ability or achievement.

It is initiated by faith, and it finishes by faith.

It becomes ours by faith, and it is brought to its ultimate goal by faith.

It comes from faith and it generates faith. The Greek is literally 'out of faith, into faith'.

The result of possessing this gospel righteousness generates in believers complete confidence (= trust = faith) that they will never be rejected by God, because they trust not in themselves, but in Christ whose righteousness is perpetually credited to them. Faith is the operating principle in the believer's relationship with God from beginning to end, and all points in between. Not at any point does God ever again relate to believers on the basis of their own personal righteousness.

Paul adds: Just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith. 'The righteous' means those who are in the right with God, those who have received his declaration of legal acquittal. How can anyone live in the presence of God? No one can, as Paul affirms in Romans 1:18 – 3:20. Except 'by faith'.

As Paul makes very clear later in Romans:

Sin and death hold us all captive and enslaved.

Death is the penalty or wages of sin.

No one is qualified to live with God.

We are all condemned.

But here Paul, quoting from Habakkuk 2:4, says that there are some who do live, who do stand in the presence of the holy God, and survive his just judgment. They are those who relate to him with true faith, and out of that true faith, because of that true faith, God calls them 'the righteous.'

But what is this ‘faith’ that Paul speaks of?

Paul teaches that the righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ (3:22). Here we are confronted with a critical truth, the one thing without which none of what Paul teaches would apply.

Although gospel righteousness is apart from law, there is one pre-requisite: faith in Jesus Christ. Paul here identifies, for the first time in this letter, what or who the object or focus of faith is: it is Jesus Christ. We must not make the mistake here, as many do, of redefining 'faith in Jesus Christ' as 'faith in what Jesus Christ did on the cross', which is just another way of saying that you get salvation by believing in salvation. No. We get salvation when we believe that Jesus Christ is the One he claimed to be (John 1:12; 8:24; Romans 10:9).

Another error commonly made, and it is very difficult not to make this error when using words to describe salvation, is that we understand salvation as something additional to and distinct from Jesus Christ, and we find that people are reported to have received salvation without even knowing who Jesus Christ is, let alone believing in him. We say things like 'Jesus gives us eternal life' or 'Jesus gives us salvation', and it is impossible to avoid saying these things, in fact they are true Biblical statements. The deep reality, however, as the Bible also expresses, is that Jesus Christ is our salvation. He is the eternal life which he gives (1 John 5:20). To have him is to have life (1 John 5:11,12). When we receive him we receive at the same time everything God has for us. But if we do not believe in him, in his name, then we do not have this gospel righteousness of which Paul is speaking (John 1:10-12; 3:16-18, 36).

This righteousness of God is given to all who believe. There is no difference (Romans 3:22). It would be easy here to accuse Paul of repeating himself. He has told us that this righteousness of God comes 'through faith in Jesus Christ', so why does he then add 'to all who believe’? By saying 'to all who believe' Paul is outlawing any distinctions within any group of believers. Gospel righteousness comes 'to all who believe' - without distinction, without discrimination, without difference. Every genuine believer in Jesus Christ possesses, in Christ, identical righteousness – the ‘righteousness’, that is, the not-guilty declaration, the acquittal, given by God.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2019