Understanding Righteousness

Over the past few days I have spent gobs of hours poring over Romans, with notepad, pen & highlighter in hand, and I found it very fascinating. It took having to take notes to get through some of the language, but boy, was it worth it.

I’m a visual person, I guess. I like charts and pictures to help tell a story. And when I started to map out Romans, things became much clearer.

UNDERSTANDING RIGHTEOUSNESS

A few weeks ago when I was reading through Romans, specifically chapter 3 verses 21-22a, something jumped out at me.

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

This little word “this” made me think that it was referring to a particular type of righteousness as opposed to another one. And the one it was referring to was a righteousness:

  • from God,
  • apart from law,
  • that comes through faith
  • in Jesus Christ.

Well, what other righteousness is there?

Chapter 6 verse 15 says,

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey — whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

Then in verse 19 it says,

“…Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

Verse 22 says,

“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”

So this tells me there are either TWO types of righteousness or better yet TWO parts to righteousness. This other righteousness:

  • comes from obedience (on our part)
  • leads to holiness
  • results in eternal life.

How are each of these played out in the life of a believer?

RIGHTEOUSNESS (Part 1)

Romans 5:12-21 says:

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—  To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

“But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

“The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Here’s an illustration I came up with from my notes:

RIGHTEOUSNESS (Part 1)

>> God gave One Commandment

1. Through ADAM

…came One Sin ->     Judgment ->     Condemnation ->    Death for all mankind

>> More Commandments Were GivenMore Sin Abounds..….MUCH Grace required

2. Through YESHUA/JESUS

…came One Act of Righteousness/Gift ->    Justification ->    Life for all who believe

But that’s not the end of the story.

Let’s continue with the text. Romans 6:1-14

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[or be rendered powerless] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

“Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”

This presents us with a choice. Of course, if we come to believe in Jesus it is usually because we recognize we are a sinner and we don’t want to be one anymore. So, the natural choice would be to “not sin anymore”. But it’s not a matter of just not doing something, but it’s a matter of doing something else. We are called to “offer yourselves to God” and “offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” And this brings me to the other part of the equation…

RIGHTEOUSNESS (Part 2)

Continuing with our text, Romans 6:15-23 says,

“What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

“I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[or through] Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Here’s an illustration I came up with from my notes:

RIGHTEOUSNESS (Part 2)

We are no longer Slaves to:

Sin ->   Death

We are now Slaves to:

Obedience ->    Righteousness     ->    Holiness    ->    Eternal Life

I’m going to fill out this illustration a little bit more after we read more text. Romans 7:1-6 says,

“Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law that binds her to him. So then, if she has sexual relations with another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress if she marries another man.

“So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”

The illustration given in the first paragraph of the Romans passage talks about a woman being “released from the law that binds her to him” [or the law of marriage]. She was not released from all law, but rather a particular law.

The illustration given in the second paragraph talks about us being “released from the law”. This is often used to explain that we are released from the law at large, but given the context of the chapters before and after this and given the illustration immediately preceding this, this verse is talking about a particular law: the law of sin and death. How do I know that? Let’s keep reading…

Romans 7:7-25 says,

“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”[Exodus 20:17, Deut. 5:21] But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.

“Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[or my flesh] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

“So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

“So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[or in the flesh] a slave to the law of sin.”

This passage used to confuse me like crazy, but the very last verse sums it up. Our body chooses to sin, but our mind (after receiving the gift of righteousness from God that justifies us through faith in Yeshua/Jesus) chooses to obey God’s law.

One more passage that I’d like to cover today is the next 17 verses in chapter 8. It says,

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[or me] free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[flesh, for sin] And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life[or you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive] because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[bodies through] his Spirit who lives in you.

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Here’s my illustration with added explanation from this text.

RIGHTEOUSNESS (Part 2)

We are no longer Slaves to:

Sin ->   Death

  • Called “Law of Sin & Death” [Rom 8:2]
  • When we “live according to the sinful nature (or flesh)” -> mind set on what the sinful nature desires -> Death
    • Hostile to God
    • Does not submit to God’s Law
    • Cannot please God

We are now Slaves to:

Obedience ->   Righteousness    ->    Holiness     ->    Eternal Life

  • Called “Law of the Spirit of Life” [Rom 8:2]
  • When we “live according to the Spirit” -> mind set on what the Spirit desires -> Life + Peace
    • Not hostile to God
    • Submits to God’s Law
    • Pleases God

So now, lets put it all together, Parts 1 & 2 of Righteousness:

1. Through ADAM (“Law of Sin & Death”)

…came One Sin ->     Judgment ->     Condemnation ->    Death for all mankind

-or-

Sin —>    Death


2. Through YESHUA/JESUS (“Law of the Spirit of Life”)

…came One Act of Righteousness/Gift ->    Justification ->    Life for all who believe

-or-

Gift —>   Justification    —>    Obedience —>    Righteousness —>    Holiness —>    Eternal Life

PROBLEMS  FROM MY POINT OF VIEW

THE EARLY CHURCH

I hope you’re still hanging in here with me. What I’m about to demonstrate explains the crux of the problem faced by the early church that I see throughout Paul’s letters.

Paul goes on to explain the difference he was seeing between the Jews (at large) and the Gentiles at that time in Romans 9:30-33:

“What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. As it is written:

‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.’”

The Gentiles did not pursue righteousness (part 2 only), yet they have attained a “righteousness that is by faith” (part 1 & 2).

The Jews pursued a law of righteousness by works (starting with obedience, Part 2) instead of by faith (starting with the gift, Part 1). They stumbled over the “stumbling stone” (He then quotes Isaiah 28:16). They did not “believe in him”.

Paul goes on to say in Romans 10:2-3:

“For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”

They were zealous for God, but they didn’t know the righteousness that comes from God (the Gift through Yeshua/Jesus). They didn’t recognize him!

They sought to establish their own righteousness solely based on obedience to the law of God. They didn’t submit to God’s righteousness based on the Gift through Yeshua/Jesus that leads us into obedience to the law of God. They skipped part 1…and without part 1, there is no justification…without justification, there is no salvation.

THE PRESENT-DAY CHURCH

Somewhere along the line a doctrine was introduced that throws out the law of God. As I stated earlier, I believe the passage in Romans 7:1-6 is taken out of context and has been used to support the notion that believers in Yeshua/Jesus are now dead to the law of God.

I hope I have demonstrated by presenting all of this in context, that the “law” believers are dead to is the “law of sin and death”. And the “law of sin and death” does not equate to the “law of God”.

But I thought Jesus fulfilled the law of God. I thought he gave us a new law,” you might say. Well, I’ll cover that on another day. But for now, I pray that you read back through Romans 5:12 – 9:33 (you can read more, of course), and pray that the Holy Spirit will guide you into the truth concerning this.

I know it seems crazy to suggest we’ve thought wrong about this in the past, especially since it’s such a pervasive doctrine. But if we really want to follow God, we need to know what God says…not what man says God says.

NOTE: Please understand this post describes my understanding of the Scripture at the time of this writing. If you see there is something I am missing in my understanding, please feel free to share it with me in love. I will be glad to hear other perspectives as I seek to remain teachable.

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