This article, Part 3, continues where Part 2 ended.
Another passage where the apostle Paul spoke of Christians keeping the requirements of God's Law through the Holy Spirit is Rom. 2:26-29. I won't discuss these important verses here, but Rom. 2:26, 27 are discussed on page 74 of my book and Rom. 2:26-29 are discussed in my paper titled, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism." That 61 page paper demonstrates that Christians are required to keep God's moral law, but it also guards against a misuse and overuse of God's Law. We desperately need the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches! So often Christians have their special verses, but fail to seek for the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches. And quite often they don't even understand their special verses very well.
We must understand that the Mosaic Law cannot save us. We are saved 100 percent by the grace of God in Christ. We must put the emphasis on God's gospel (including His promises), Christ, the Spirit, grace, faith, and make sure all the glory goes to God. We are not Law oriented (but we must walk in line with God's moral law), and we must avoid trying to earn God's salvation (in any of its aspects) by doing works of the flesh, or trying, one way or another, to get the glory for ourselves, which man in the flesh (which includes Christians when they are walking in the flesh) often tries to do. We must do all things by God's grace (which includes all the work of His Spirit) and for His glory.
First Corinthians 7:19 is another verse where the apostle Paul shows that Christians are required to keep God's commandments (the commandments of His moral law) by His grace. This isn't an optional matter. "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God." It is very clear that the apostle was not including the commandments that deal with the ceremonial law of the old covenant. "Circumcision" was at the top of the list of ceremonial laws that the Judaizers were requiring Gentile Christians to keep.
Now back to Joseph's chapter 2. On page 13 he has a heading, "Jesus Fulfilled the Law." I'll quote the first sentence he has here and comment extensively on the meaning of the word righteousness. "The moment you place the law of Moses between you and God again, you are negating the finished work of Jesus, for if righteousness could come through the law, 'then Christ died in vain.' "
Joseph was referring to Gal. 2:21 here. I'll quote Gal. 2:20, 21. "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh [Here the apostle meant the life he was living in this world in his physical body. He did not walk in the flesh; he walked in the Holy Spirit] I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (21) I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly."
Joseph wrongly understands "righteousness" here (in a positional sense) to mean only that we have been forgiven and have a righteous standing with God through Jesus' fulfilling the Law and His atoning death. ((I had a footnote, On page 12 in chapter 2, for example, Joseph mentioned our being "made holy and righteous by His blood once for all," and he meant the same thing when he spoke of our being perfected in Heb. 10:14, which we discussed above. Many Christians agree with Joseph. As far as I am concerned, limiting these words (and similar words) to a positional meaning is one of the most serious errors we have in the evangelical church of our day.)) It is reasonable (from a scriptural point of view) to include positional righteousness here, but the emphasis here, as it so often is, is on the fact that God actually makes us righteous ((I had a footnote, Note that Gal. 2:20 [also see Gal. 5:24; 6:14] demonstrates that Paul was speaking of God's saving grace in Christ that enabled him to be crucified with Christ [which included his being dead to the old man and to sinning, as in Romans chapter 6, for example] and that Christ was living in Him now by the indwelling Holy Spirit, which enabled the apostle to actually be righteous and live in the righteousness and holiness of God.)) through setting us free from spiritual death and bondage to sin and demons and imparting His righteousness and holiness to us through the blood of Christ and by the power of the infinitely powerful Righteous Holy Spirit of God, who dwells in every true Christian, as we walk by the Spirit through faith, in accordance with the terms of the new covenant.
As Paul frequently says, righteousness did not (and could not) come through the Mosaic Law (the old covenant) because man in the flesh (man in spiritual death; man without the indwelling Spirit of God) doesn't have the ability to fully keep the Law, so we cannot be saved by the Law (see, for example, Acts 13:39; Rom. 3:9-20, 23; Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:19; Gal. 4:5, 24, 25). Paul is using the word "righteousness" here (in Gal. 2:21) as he typically does (along with the rest of writers of the New Testament) in the sense that righteousness is something we do. We must continually emphasize, however, that we are able to be righteous and do righteousness because of the saving grace of God in Christ, which includes all the work of the Spirit of God. Another way to say it is that God pours out His righteousness upon us and imparts His righteousness to us, even as He prophesied that He would do in the Old Testament (see, for example, Isa. 32:15-18; 45:8; 46:12, 13; 53:11 [I had a footnote, See pages 26-29 of my book on this super-important verse.]; 60:21; 61:1-3, 10, 11; and Jer. 23:5, 6). This is extremely important!
Since this point is of crucial significance, I'll quote several key verses from the New Testament where the context makes it easy to see that actual righteousness (not just a positional righteousness) is being spoken of. ((I had a footnote, It is also significant that the large number of the uses of the words righteous and righteousness in the Old Testament are typically used of an actual righteousness. The "righteous" person is the one who lives for God, doing "righteousness," according to His ways. We must realize, however, that the righteousness of a righteous person in the Old Testament [Noah, for example, who was called righteous in Gen. 6:9] was a relative righteousness: All of the "righteous" believers of Old Testament days will confess that their entrance to God's eternal kingdom comes by grace through His salvation in Christ, which includes His imputed AND HIS IMPARTED RIGHTEOUSNESS. They did not EARN/MERIT heaven by their faith or their relative righteousness. I should also point out that God's enabling grace was available to some extent to those who looked to Him in Old Testament days.)) What else would you expect when Christians are born again by the Spirit of life and enabled to walk in the righteousness of God by the Righteous Spirit of God, and we know that God hates sin and has paid an infinite price to set us free from bondage to sin. What else would you expect when the apostle Paul, in Rom. 6:1, 2 says, "What shall we say then: Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase [or, abound]? (2) How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" And in Rom. 6:11 he says, "Even so consider [or, reckon] yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." And there are very many similar passages.
And what else would you expect when the Bible is packed with serious powerful warnings that Christians cannot continue to live in sin and have a place in His Body, or inherit His eternal kingdom. See, for example, Matt. 7:21-23; Gal. 5:19-21; 6:8; Eph. 5:1-6; Heb. 10:26-31; and when you read what Christ said to a large number of the Christians in five of the seven churches that He spoke to in Revelation chapters 2, 3. He told those Christians (who clearly were still part of His church at that time) that if they did not repent, He would cast them out of His church. He loved them and wanted them to repent, but He required them to repent, or else; and there are very many more such warnings throughout the New Testament. I am totally sure that God requires us to take such warnings seriously. (We will discuss Luke chapter 15 and the parable of the prodigal son who came to himself and repented on page 33, 34 of this paper. One primary reason why I wanted to discuss this parable is because Joseph says that the prodigal son did not repent.)
Romans 5:19. "For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous." As Paul shows in Rom. 5:12-21, Adam's DISOBEDIENCE led to his descendants being born outside the Garden of Eden in spiritual death and in bondage to sin; they were made sinners (DISOBEDIENT). Even so the OBEDIENCE of the Lord Jesus, especially referring to His voluntary, obedient atoning death, overthrew spiritual death and sin and makes believers righteous (OBEDIENT).
Romans 6:16, "Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one who you obey [We are required, by covenant, to be obedient to God and His Word.], either of sin resulting in death [The apostle is writing to Christians. If they turn from God and go back to serve their old master of sin, by living in sin, the result will be spiritual death and ultimately the second death.], or of obedience [to God], resulting in righteousness." When we obey God and His word by His saving grace in Christ, the result is a life of righteousness (by God's imparted righteousness) and ultimately eternal glory. It clearly isn't correct to say that we are righteous just because of Christ's atoning death and the fact that He fulfilled the law of God for us. We, by His grace, must (we have the privilege to) obey God and His word.
Romans 6:18. "and having been freed from sin [having been freed from being slaves of sin; slaves of sin serve sin by sinning], you became slaves of righteousness." Slaves of righteousness serve righteousness (and the God of righteousness) by living righteous lives, by grace. (We are not slaves of positional righteousness. What would those words even mean?) Also see the use of the word righteousness in Rom. 6:13, 19, 20; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22, and 3:16. I could also list most of the other verses where the apostle Paul used the word righteousness (I had a footnote, Most of these verses have been discussed in by book and/or my papers.), but I'll just mention 2 Cor. 6:14, where Paul contrasted righteousness with lawlessness. To live in righteousness is to live in accordance with the will of God, which is spelled out in His moral law; to live in lawlessness is to live in rebellion against God and His law. Hebrews 1:9 speaks of God the Son's loving righteousness and hating lawlessness.
1 Peter 2:24. "and He Himself bore our sins [with the guilt and the penalties, including the major penalties of spiritual death and bondage to sin] in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed." To "die to sin" (as in Rom. 6:2, 11) is to stop sinning. To "live to righteousness" speaks of living in the (imparted) righteousness of God, which is a big part of what salvation in Christ is all about.
2 Peter 2:21, 22. "For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. (22) It has happened to them according to the true proverb, 'A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,' and, 'A sow, after washing, returns to its wallowing in the mire.' "
1 John 2:29. "If you know that He [God] is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness [or, who is doing righteousness] is born of Him." As God is righteous in all His ways, those who are born of Him are enabled, and required, to practice (or, to do) righteousness in all their ways, on a continuous basis, by His enabling grace, and for His glory. The way the words righteous and righteousness are used in this verse (certainly not of a positional righteousness) is the way these words are normally used throughout the Bible.
1 John 3:7. "Little children, make sure that on one deceives you [In this context, John means that they would deceive you into thinking that you can be righteous apart from keeping God's commandments (cf. 1 John 2:3-6) and doing righteousness.]; the one who practices righteousness [or, THE ONE WHO IS DOING RIGHTEOUSNESS] IS RIGHTEOUS, JUST AS HE [GOD] IS RIGHTEOUS." To be righteous as God is righteous certainly includes the victory over all sin, doesn't it? This verse, by itself, should suffice to show that we need something more than positional righteousness.
1 John 3:10. "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice [or, anyone who does not do] righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother."
The righteous ideal presented in the last three verses I quoted from the First Epistle of John is spoken of throughout this epistle. This is quite important; these verses, by themselves, should suffice to demonstrate that Christians are called, enabled, required, and privileged to actually live in the righteousness of God, by His sufficient grace. See, for example, 1 John 2:1-6, "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. [The Greek aorist tense would be better translated, "so that you may not commit an act of sin," or the equivalent.] And if anyone sins [aorist tense], we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous [We can be very thankful that forgiveness is provided if we should fall into sin, when we repent.]; (2) and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for those of the whole world. (3) By THIS WE KNOW WE ARE IN HIM, IF WE KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS. [Loving God and keeping His commandments (by His saving grace in Christ) is what righteousness is all about.] (4) THE ONE WHO SAYS, 'I HAVE COME TO KNOW HIM,' AND DOES NOT KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS, IS A LIAR, AND THE TRUTH IS NOT IN HIM; (5) but whoever keeps His word [which includes keeping His commandments], in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: (6) THE ONE WHO SAYS HE ABIDES IN HIM OUGHT TO WALK IN THE SAME MANNER AS HE WALKED [in righteousness and holiness, without any sin]." 1 John 3:3, "And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him [the hope of the glory to come, which was just mentioned in verse 2] PURIFIES HIMSELF [by the sufficient grace of God in Christ], JUST AS HE IS PURE." That purity certainly includes the victory over all sin. 1 John 3:9 "NO ONE WHO IS BORN OF GOD PRACTICES SIN ["Whoever is born of God does not sin" NKJV. In the ideal case there won't be any sin at all, but the apostle John has already informed us (in 1 John 2:1, 2) that Christians can commit acts of sin and be forgiven through the Lord Jesus and His atoning death.], because His seed abides in him; and He cannot sin, becaue he is born of God." In the light of what I just said, it would be better to translate "IS NOT ABLE TO CONTINUE IN SIN," or the equivalent. 1 John 5:2-4, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. (3) For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome."
In John 14:15 Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." In John 14:21 He said, "He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him." In John 14:23 He said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word [which includes keeping His commandments], and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make Our abode with him." And in John 15:10 He said, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love." These last few verses by themselves should suffice to show that Joseph was wrong to say (in chapter 2) that since Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law for us, we are not required to fulfill the commandments of God's moral law. We have the privilege, and the requirement, to fulfill them, and to live as He wants us to live, by His saving grace in Christ. This is a big part of what Christianity is all about. As 1 John 5:3, which we just read, says, "His commandments are not burdensome."
1 John 5:4. "For whatever is born of God [All true Christians are born of God.] overcomes the world [Overcoming the world includes overcoming sin.]; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith." We cooperate with, and appropriate, the sufficient saving grace of God in Christ by faith. 1 John 5:18, 19. "WE KNOW THAT NO ONE WHO IS BORN OF GOD SINS [In the ideal case there won't be any sin at all, and that is the emphasis in this epistle (and throughout the New Testament, in general), but as I mentioned, we know that John is not saying that it is impossible for a true Christian to commit acts of sin (see 1 John 2:1, 2). The fact that the Greek verb for sin here is in the present tense (not the aorist tense, as in 1 John 2:1) leaves room for an occasional act of sin, but really any sin (if it really is sin) is too much sin. The NIV translates, "does not continue to sin."]; but He who was born of God keeps him [I believe the translation of the NKJV gives the intended meaning here, "but he who has been born of God keeps himself." (I had a footnote, This epistle puts some emphasis on the fact that true Christians have been born of God. Some Greek manuscripts have readings for "him" and others for "himself" in 1 John 5:18.) Quite often the New Testament shows that we are responsible to keep ourselves from sin by the grace of God in Christ (see 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 John 3:3, for example).], and the evil one does not touch him. (19) We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one."
Revelation 22:11, 12. "Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and the one who is righteous, still practice [or, do] righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy. [These words emphasize the important point that Jesus was coming very soon, but it is clear that Jesus was not saying that no one could repent after that time. Many have repented since that time, and the book of Revelation calls people to repent.] (12) Behold I am coming quickly, and my reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done." A translation like "recompense" would be better than "reward." The Lord Jesus is speaking of positive and negative rewards (we often use the word "reward" only of positive rewards), based on whether the people did wrong and were filthy, or whether they practiced righteousness and kept themselves holy (by God's sanctifying grace). Quite a few verses in the New Testament speak of the fact that all people, including all Christians, will be judged according to their works. We Christians cannot earn salvation by our works - we are saved by grace through faith - but the righteousness and holiness of our lives will manifest that our faith was real. Again, it seems to me that these two verses, by themselves, should suffice to demonstrate that we are enabled, and required, to actually live in the righteousness and holiness of God, which is a whole lot more than a legal, positional righteousness. This is a great privilege! This is reality in God!
Before leaving this discussion dealing with the typical meaning of the word righteousness in the New Testament, we should consider Romans chapter 4. (I had a footnote, I discussed Romans chapter 4 on pages 85-89 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin.") Romans chapter 4 is different because it is based, in large part, on Abraham. (I had a footnote, It leads to considerable confusion if you go to a passage where the word you are studying is used in a way that is different than the way it is typically used in the New Testament to determine the meaning of the word. The meaning of words is very much influenced by the context in which the words are used. This is probably true to a significantly greater extent than most of my readers have realized.) Abraham was a perfect example for Paul to use to illustrate (especially to Jews, since he was the father of Israel/the Jews) the concept of righteousness being reckoned to Abraham because of his faith, not because of his works (see Rom. 4:2-5, 9-11; Gal. 3:6). ((I had a footnote, The apostle Paul had to wage considerable warfare against the idea of the Judaizers that Gentile Christians were required to submit to the Mosaic Law and keep the ceremonial works of the old covenant, like circumcision, in order to be saved. For one thing, Paul was strongly against the idea that Gentile Christians were required to do those "works" to be saved (see, for example, 1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:3, 4; 6:15). He was also against Christians doing "works" of the flesh for the glory of man (see, for example, Rom. 3:27, 28; 4:2; 1 Cor. 1:29-31; Eph. 2:8-10) and against Christians trying to earn, by their "works," what God had freely given them by His grace (Rom. 4:4; 11:6; Gal. 5:4; Eph. 2:8-10; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:4-7). Paul considered the "gospel" of the Judaizers to be a totally unacceptable modification of the gospel that he had received from the Lord Jesus Christ (see Gal. 1:6-10, for example).
Paul, but not only Paul, also had the assignment to help Israel see that they must set aside the old covenant with its "works" in order to saved through submitting in faith to God's promised new covenant plan of salvation. God set up the new covenant in a way that puts all the emphasis on promise, grace, faith, the Spirit, and making sure that God gets all the glory for His saving work. There is no room for man to try to earn salvation, or for man to boast in self [pride is at the root of sin].)) The apostle Paul applies this concept (of the righteousness of God being credited/reckoned to them) to Christians, to Gentile Christians in Rom. 4:11, and to Jewish Christians in Rom. 4:12, and he continues with this theme in the following verses. (I had a footnote, Romans 4:16-21 are discussed in my "Paper on Faith.) I'll quote Rom. 4:22-24. "Therefore IT [Abraham's faith] WAS ALSO CREDITED [or, reckoned] TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. (23) Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited [or, reckoned] to him, (24) but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited [or, reckoned], as those who believe in Him [God the Father] who raised our Lord from the dead."
It is unusual for the New Testament to speak of God's crediting (or, reckoning) righteousness to Christians, because (for one thing) He does so much more than that for Christians: He IMPARTS His righteousness to them; He makes them righteous with His righteousness, through the atoning death of the Lamb of God and by His outpoured Spirit. Abraham was a perfect illustration of a person's being accepted by God because of his faith in God (believing in God), but Abraham could not serve as an illustration of a person being made righteous through new-covenant salvation. The new covenant makes all the difference.
Abraham lived in the days before new-covenant salvation became available through the all-important atoning death of the Lamb of God, some two thousand years before new-covenant salvation became available. God couldn't impart His righteousness to Abraham when he lived on the earth, but He does impart His righteousness to every true Christian, as He promised He would in many prophecies in the Old Testament (as I documented on page 16). After the Lord Jesus had conquered spiritual death, sin, and Satan and his hosts in His atoning death, He was resurrected and exalted to the right hand of God the Father. He received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit; then He poured forth the life-giving sanctifying Spirit, starting on the Day of Pentecost (see Act 2:33, for example). The atoning death of Christ combined with the fact that the Infinite, Holy, Righteous Spirit of God dwells in every true Christian makes all the difference.
Now the Holy Spirit dwells in every true Christian, and as we walk by the Spirit by faith, which we are enabled, and required, to do by covenant, we will manifest the righteousness of God in our daily lives. That is a whole lot more than having Christ's righteousness (the righteousness He had because He fulfilled the law) imputed (or, reckoned) to us. "Imputed" is a legal, positional term. It is biblical to speak of Christ's righteousness being imputed (or, reckoned) to us. That's about ten percent of the glory of the gospel. The ninety percent is God's setting us free from spiritual death and bondage to sin and actually imparting His righteousness to us and making us righteous. As we have discussed, however, His righteousness will not be manifested in our lives to the extent we don't understand the gospel, and/or to the extent we don't walk by faith and walk by the Holy Spirit on a continuous basis, which we are enabled, and required, to do.
It is totally necessary for us to understand that when we walk in/by/after the Holy Spirit and manifest God's righteousness in our hearts and lives, this is accomplished 100 percent by the grace of God in Christ. This is not accomplished through the "self-effort" that Joseph frequently mentions. This is not us being righteous by our "works." But we are required to manifest "works of righteousness" in our daily lives. These works are wrought by the grace of God (which includes all the work of the Spirit of God) as we walk by faith, and faith isn't a work. Romans 4:16 starts out with the words, "For this reason [for the reason that the Law and the old covenant could not solve the sin problem] it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace." We receive by faith the things that God has made available by His grace. "For we are His workmanship, created [by God as new creations] in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." God, the Creator of us new creations in Christ, gets all the glory for what we are, and what we do, as His new creations, and by His grace. Also, He is robbed of glory (and worse) when Christians, for whatever reason, live to some extent in sin. The only proper place to live is in the center of God's will by His grace through faith. That's real righteousness!
We'll continue this study in Part 4.
© Copyright by Karl Kemp
http://www.karlkempteachingministries.com Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.
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