There is the righteousness that I we saw that comes by obedience to the law. It’s how God is going to judge us. It’s not how we judge ourselves. So thinking that we haven’t done anything wrong may make us feel better, but it has no legal bearing. God will look at our entire life and judge us according to His law.
That being said, there is another righteousness, that we can be judged on. Paul brought it up: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law,” (Rom 3.21a, ESV). There is this other way of being judged in the right. It isn’t about doing this and not doing that. It is not a matter of obedience to the Ten Commandments or any other moral law. “although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it,” (Rom 3.21b, ESV). So while this new way of being declared righteous, in the right, is not actually utilizing the law as its guide, it is alluded to in the Old Testament. In other words, Paul isn’t just making this stuff up. It was talked about and written about long before Paul ever got on the scene.
So what is this new-fangled, old-fangled way of getting right with God? “The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe,” (Rom 3.22a, ESV). No longer is it a righteousness of obedience to the law, but rather it is a righteousness of faith.
What Paul said about it being in the Law and Prophets, in essence the Old Testament, can be seen in Habakkuk 2.4, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by faith,” (ESV). Here Habakkuk is telling us of two types of people. There are those who think they’ve got this thing figured out and can do it on their own. They don’t need God; they don’t need His laws; they don’t need anything that has to do with him. These people are puffed up; they’re arrogant; they’re prideful. There is another group of people. These people are those who live by faith. These people are called right. They are in the right with God. They are not in the right with God because they are obeying God’s laws. They are in the right with God because they have faith.
This is the very verse that Paul keeps repeating in Romans and elsewhere. He said in Romans 1.16-17,
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith,” (ESV).
Notice that faith is mentioned multiple times in these two verses. “Everyone who believes.” “From faith for faith.” “The righteous shall live by faith.”
So there are two ways to see God’s righteousness: the Law which includes the Ten Commandments, and the gospel. Everyone that can read or hear can go back to the law and see what being in the right looks like to God. It is never putting anything ahead of God. It is never trying to put God into something we can manage. It is never blaspheming God. It is always honoring the Sabbath. It is always honoring our parents. It is never getting angry with someone or murdering them. It is never lusting after someone or committing adultery. It is never taking anything that doesn’t belong to us. It is never telling a lie. It is never wanting what we do not have, or wishing others didn’t have something because we don’t have it. That’s easy enough.
However, the second way, the gospel way, reveals God’s righteousness from faith. Without faith the gospel makes no sense. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For the word of the cross (the gospel) is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Cor 1.18, ESV). Until you believe, you cannot even begin to see God’s righteousness in the gospel.
But let me say this: The righteousness of the law is an impossible righteousness. We’ve already seen that. We can’t always do what we are always commanded to do, nor can we never do what the law commands we never do. We break the law constantly. So we must have the righteousness that the gospel reveals, the righteousness that is apart from the law: the righteousness of faith. We all must have it to be “in the right” with God. “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom 3.22b-23, ESV).
There is no one who hasn’t sinned, in a real and tangible way. Every single one of us has sinned. Like Seneca once said, “All vices are in all men, though all vices do not stand out prominently in all men.” We may like to point out that we aren’t as bad as someone else, but we only do that because we are not comparing ourselves fairly. We aren’t comparing vice to vice, but rather a vice that stands out prominently in them, versus one that doesn’t stick out in us. So we may see a co-worker who has an affair and say we are better than they are, but in reality, we are lusting after a woman or a man. The vice is present in us, but just not as glaring. We are all in the same sinful boat. We are all in need of a righteousness apart from the law.
To be continued…