Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 46. How Faith makes Righteous
Rom 3:23 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
In the previous study we considered such terms as “a sacrifice of atonement”, and ‘justice’ and ‘justify’, and we concluded thinking about how it was important to hold a ‘good conscience’. Now at the beginning of Romans Paul says, “In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Rom 1:17) and so following through on these ‘religious terms’ or terms that appear in the Bible but rarely elsewhere, we would do well to pick up on this word ‘righteous’.
We find it first of all in respect of Abram: “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6) So believing AND obeying God, because obedience was part of that incident, is a basic definition of righteousness. As Paul later expressed it, referring to Abram, “being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:21,22) That produced in Abram the intent to try for a baby. That was faith but it started from the moment he heard the words and believed them.
Moses later put that obedience in the context of the Law: “if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” (Deut 6:25) God had given them His Law and so obeying that Law would be righteousness.
Now we need to look more deeply at this for the Bible tells us that, “the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness.” (Isa 5:16) i.e. God’s righteousness is one of the things that makes Him holy – utterly different. So how can God obey Himself? God instinctively does what He knows is right. Everything God has designed – this world as it was originally before Sin entered it – is perfect because it is instinctively right. It is instinctively right because God knows everything – He is all-knowing and all-wise, He knows how everything works best and that is how He designed this world, including us.
But then we find this same thing being referred to in the ‘Coming One’, the Messiah, as the psalmist speaks of him prophetically: “You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” (Psa 45:7) Jesus loves what is right, because it comes from his Father and everything the Father thinks, says or does is right. Because we live in a sinful world, the acts of the Father are sometimes acts of judgement – but they are always right! “When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness. Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the LORD.” (Isa 26:9,10) Judgements, I suggest, are either disciplinary (to bring about change) or terminal (to bring an end to wrong that will not happen otherwise). Isaiah has this insight that when discipline comes, people learn, but where there is a set, sinful heart, people will not be moved, even by God’s grace.
To summarize, therefore, righteousness is the right way of doing something, right in God’s eyes, conforming to His perfect will. We’ve seen it above as obeying God’s revelation. For Jesus, even maintaining a right appearance was important: “Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” (Mt 3:15) i.e. let’s ensure we maintain every appearance of what is right before the Father, doing His will.
Now there are dangers in talking about righteous behaviour because some people will think that it is righteous behaviour, what they see as acts of good, that will win God’s approval. The trouble is that no human being is every truly righteous if we equate it with good acts. Even Moses had to say this to Israel: “Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Deut 9:26) In the New Testament the apostle Paul taught, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Rom 3:22) The righteousness that God is looking for is founded in faith, in responding to what God has said, not in what you think is right and when that comes to Jesus, that means ‘believing in him’ as we have seen before.
That is the basic faith we are called to. When we come to Christ, believing in him, we are justified AND declared righteous. It is a righteousness that comes first through belief and then that belief leads to action. Both are different dimensions of faith. God declares us righteous because we believe in Jesus, and then we act on that belief. Actions FOLLOW belief, but we were declared righteous before we started doing anything. You ARE righteous because you believe in Jesus. Let your actions come out of that belief. That is faith and then faith!