Three Lenses for Life, Pt. 4
Study Guide, March 10, 2019
Pastor Clay Olsen
In our study of three key things in which God delights, we come to the third one, which is…well, let’s read it again: Jer 9:24- “…I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord.” NASU How wonderful to know exactly what God delights in…for then we know exactly what we should also delight in. Think about it: Since our primary goal in life is to become more and more transformed into the image and character of God, that necessarily means that we are to seek to think more about life and see more of life just as our God thinks about it and sees it. Our God delights in showing mercy…so should we. Our God delights in justice and doing justice…so should we. And our God delights in righteousness…in both the essence of righteousness and the exercising of righteousness…and therefore, so should we.
But first, this reveals a need, and that is, the need to understand what Biblical righteousness is all about. And that brings us to first understand that the Bible reveals that there are two distinct kinds of righteousness: One is God’s ‘perfect righteousness’, and the second is our practice of righteousness, or ‘practical righteousness’, which is imperfect, but, still, we are called to practice it; meaning – we are to seek to do righteous works better and better. Thankfully, God’s not looking for perfection from us, but He is looking for improvement. But, in theological terms, this difference between these two distinct types of righteous is known as ‘Salvation righteousness’ and ‘Sanctification righteousness’. And that first brings us back to the gift; or this gift of ‘Salvation righteousness!
Remember, last week we pointed out what the Apostle Paul said about two things in Romans 6:23. He said that the reason for death, or separation from God both physically and spiritually, was the due to the wages of sin. But in contrast to that he then he said that eternal life was not the result of any wages or merit on our part, but was in fact a gift from God. As we pointed out before: Hell is earned, but Heaven is a gift. Look again: Rom 6:23- “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” NASU
So eternal life is a gift, and the source of this eternal life is the Person of Jesus Christ Himself. That’s why in order to have eternal life a person needs to not just intellectually believe a set of facts about Christ, but needs to receive the Person of Jesus Christ into their life. It’s a commitment of joining your life to Christ and Him joining His life to you. The term ‘Christian’ literally means: One who is ‘in Christ’. And, thus, also the picture of a person opening the door of their life and asking Jesus to come into their home, or their heart and life. When you invite Christ into your life you are inviting Jesus, who is Himself ‘Eternal life’, into your life. Eternal life doesn’t exist apart from Jesus Christ. The only thing that exists eternally apart from Jesus Christ is eternal death, which is eternal separation from God. But that’s also why eternal life is a present possession for whoever has Jesus Christ in their life as their Lord and Savior.
And included in this gift of Salvation, where you now share in Christ’s own eternal life, is this gift that is identified as, well, let’s read this: Rom 5:17- “If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” ESV
There it is! This ‘ gift of righteousness’ is included in the gift of Salvation. And, again, this gift of righteousness is a distinct kind of righteousness. And since it is a ‘gift’ that is given in connection with the gift of eternal life, when we become united to the life of Christ when we are born again, that means that this is a kind of righteousness that is not of our own making. And this is a very important point to understand, one that world religions continually stumble over in their rejection and neglect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are trying to make up a salvation righteousness of their own, but that is impossible to do because the human spirit is already dead in trespasses and sin. The point again: Salvation righteousness is Christ’s righteousness, not ours. No one can ever create or make up their own salvation righteousness. Salvation righteousness is unique, because it was created by Jesus and belongs to Jesus alone. But praise God, He gives it to us by His grace through our faith. Do you remember the exchange that takes place at salvation? 2 Cor 5:21- “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” NASU This is why we call the ‘Gospel’; the ‘Great Exchange’. Jesus, the sinless One, takes our spiritual death penalty upon Himself, and then He gives to us this gift of His own ‘righteousness’.
In theological terms this is known as the ‘Imputation of Christ’s righteousness’. And ‘imputation’ essentially means – ‘to credit to our account’. And this is what we see through another word that is used in Romans 5 to describe our ‘position in Christ’. Rom 5:1-2- “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.” NASU Here Paul is revealing the doctrine of ‘Justification’.
Martin Luther called ‘Justification’ the ‘Standing up or Falling Down’ doctrine of the Bible. Why did he call it that? Well, because ‘being declared righteous’ by God’s grace alone through our faith alone is the only way anyone can stand, as one declared righteous, before a Holy and Just and Righteous God. And that reminds us of that other attribute or thing in which God said He delights: Justice. Justification is a legal word. It refers to ‘being declared righteous’ even though, in and of ourselves, we are not righteous. We are actually guilty and not righteous. But since Christ paid the debt or wages of our sin and also then credited us with His own righteousness, we can now ‘be declared righteous’ because of our union with Him. We are therefore ‘Justified’ because of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness!
But let’s now let the Apostle Paul put this in terms of our standing with God. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he was clarifying to them this very truth about the fact that he was not right with God because of his own doing. In fact, he makes it very clear that when he stood before God the only way he could be right with God is if he possessed a ‘righteousness’ that was not his own. Look at what he says: Phil 3:9- “…and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…” NASU If Paul didn’t have a righteousness of his own in which he could stand before God as a saved man, then whose ‘righteousness’ did he have? Right! Christ’s righteousness that was imputed to him or credited to him as a ‘free gift’ when he trusted in Jesus as His Messiah and committed his life to Him.
And the point being is this: Neither you nor I have been declared righteous and stand before God as right with God because of any righteousness of our own, but because we have a righteousness that is not our own. This ‘Salvation righteousness’ was created by Christ’s perfect obedience to the Law and then credited to us when we received Jesus as our Savior and committed our life to Him. Remember that is why Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it! Why? Because no one on earth had ever fulfilled it or would ever fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law, since all have sinned, and therefore there are none righteous.
That is the one of the greatest puzzles in life: The Scriptures say that only the righteous will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. But then they also reveal that there are none that are righteous, rather, all have sinned and fall short of the righteous standard of God. (Mt. 25:46; Rom. 3:10,23) That is the key problem of the Universe. So if no one is righteous, how then can anyone ever qualify to go to Heaven? Because there is one; one Person who never sinned and who also obeyed every requirement of God’s Law perfectly. And that is Jesus Christ alone. And Jesus is willing to share His righteousness with all who are willing to receive Him into their life.
And that brings up another question for the unsaved people of the world: “Whose righteousness are you depending upon in order to go to Heaven?” If you only have your own, then you have a problem, because the Prophet Isaiah long ago made it clear: Isa 64:6- “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” NASU Why are our righteous deeds like a filthy garment? Because they are stained from the presence of sin in our lives. And even after we are saved and are then commanded to live righteous lives and practice righteous works, we are to remember that our salvation removed the penalty of sin from our lives, but not the presence of sin from our lives. And it is this presence of sin that needs daily washing through our humble confession of our sins to God so that our attempts at obedience and our practice of righteous works can then be acceptable to our Holy God. That’s why the Apostle John called for us saved people to both seek to do good works, or righteous deeds, but to also daily ask God for forgiveness or for the cleansing of this presence of sin so that our offerings of worship and service will be acceptable to God. Though saved from the penalty of sin, we still need daily cleansing from this presence of sin.
There is a remarkable statement in light of this from the Heidelberg Catechism, which was a Protestant document written in Germany in 1563 AD for the purpose of applying Bible doctrines. And it has this great ‘reality check’ about our need to obey God and to practice righteous deeds as well as we possibly can, but to also remember that we still need forgiveness and cleansing. Listen to this: “Against all perfectionism we are warned: Even the best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin; rendering all obedience imperfect at best.”
So remember, the perfect righteousness that Paul was talking about, in which he stood and in which we stand saved and secure before God, is that righteousness that Christ created through His perfect obedience to the Law. This ‘perfect righteousness’ is the gift in which we stand as ones who are ‘declared righteous’ in Christ. And now, as saved children of God, we are commanded from here on out to practice this righteousness or practice these righteous works that Jesus performed perfectly as we seek to obey and please our God. And it is this ‘practicing righteous works’ throughout our lives that is known as ‘Sanctification righteousness’. We are sanctifying ourselves or ‘setting ourselves apart’ more and more for God’s will and service. And we know that this is what God is going to evaluate as He meets with each of us to determine how much we sought to obey Him, and then determine our rewards, privileges, and service assignments in the Kingdom of Heaven based upon our ‘practice of righteous’. But again, He’s not looking for perfection in our attempts at righteousness, but for perseverance in seeking to do them the best we can for our great Lord and Savior.
Remember, our relationship with God is based upon Christ’s perfect righteousness that He gave us as His gift to us. And now our ‘fellowship’ with God, our ‘communion with God, is based upon our practice of righteousness as our gift to Him. But remember – they are two different sets of righteousness. And the reason this is very important to understand is because whenever conscientious Christians begin having doubts about their relationship with God, or their standing with God, it’s usually due to them looking at their own set of righteousness, or this ‘fellowship righteousness’ or this ‘Sanctification righteousness’ of their own making, which again, is ‘imperfect at best’. And therefore, they then start feeling insecure before God and perhaps even unsure of their salvation. But that is because they are looking at the wrong set of righteousness to give them their assurance. Remember, their imperfect righteousness of their own is not what their salvation is based upon. Paul told us that our right standing before God is not because of any righteousness of our own, but it’s because we now have this other perfect righteousness that is not our own. It is not of our own making…Jesus made it. It’s Jesus own sinless righteousness, but we were given this gift of Christ’s own perfect righteousness when we were born again and united to Christ. God credited Jesus’ righteousness to us and even clothed us with it. And that is what gives us our assurance that we belong to God and we are secure in our standing with God…all because we are covered with this ‘Righteousness of Christ’.
Isn’t is just like our loving God to assure and secure and to comfort His children by reminding them that their saved relationship with Him is not based upon what they do, but upon what they wear? Now we are expected to do all we can do in serving God after we are saved. And God is going to meet with us and review what we did for Him after He saved us. So be very sure about that: You will want to have done all you could for your Lord and Savior in obedience and service to Him. And now is the time to do it, of course. But He wants us to know that we are saved and we are His because we are wearing something very special that He made just for us. We are wearing His robe of salvation that He made and that He gives to each one who asks Him to be their Lord and Savior. Notice that this is exactly what Isaiah the Prophet was rejoicing about: Isa 61:10- “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness…” NASU This very robe of righteousness that Isaiah was rejoicing in is the same gift of righteousness that Paul was talking about as the righteousness that was not his own. Neither Isaiah nor Paul nor you or me made this ‘Robe’…No Jesus Christ made this robe through His sinless life in performing every command of the Law perfectly. And then He takes this ‘Righteous robe’ and places it upon every person who surrenders to God in repentance and trusts in Jesus as their Savior. And although we will know for eternity that this robe of righteousness was made by Jesus, we will get to wear it for eternity because it’s part of God’s gift to us. And the gifts and the callings of God are irrevocable. He has promised to never remove His robe from us once He clothes us with it. And that’s why we stand before God assured and secured in our Salvation!
We need to unpack this study a little further, so we’ll continue it next time. But if you’re not sure you have this robe, this would be a wonderful time to simply tell Jesus that you want to give your life to Him and ask Him to come into your life and receive His forgiveness and His gift of righteousness…this robe of righteousness….It’s the garment of salvation.