Tag Archives: righteousness

Imputed Righteousness

 

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“How righteous are you?”

That’s a question I ask from time to time. The answers I receive are predictable. “Well, I try. Hopefully I have some righteousness. I know I’ve done a lot of wrong things, but I’ve done some good things, too.” It’s a question that makes believers squirm. We have been trained to think of ourselves as unrighteous. In many churches, believers are told how their sins separate them from God and they have to repent in order to be forgiven. Then they are led in a prayer, asking God for forgiveness. But they know it will never hold. Next week they will have to do it again.

So, how righteous are you?

Do you get a little squirt of righteousness each Sunday and try to live on that for a week? Are you trying to do good things so that the righteousness in you will outweigh the unrighteousness? Are you hoping that no one will see the wickedness in your life and you can just somehow slip into Heaven unnoticed? Or are you expecting a good scolding and some temporary punishment when you get to those pearly gates? Christians have all kinds of strange ideas, and almost all of those ideas come from bad teaching.

Ready for an answer?

“How righteous are you?”

“I am as righteous as Jesus!”

WHOA! How can you say that? Jesus was perfectly righteous. He never did anything wrong. He never sinned. He always did right. Everything Jesus did pleased the Father. How could anyone say that he or she is as righteous as Jesus?

Then out come the verses:

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God…”
“There is none righteous, no not one…”
“All we like sheep have gone astray…”
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves…”

And all of these verses are true, and I believe all of them. But that’s what we were, not what we are. Yes, we have all sinned and fallen short. No debate. It is true that no one, save Jesus, is without sin and righteous on his or her own. No argument on that. If we say that we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves. That’s true also. Those statements are about what used to be and what would still be true if we were apart from Christ.

But we are not apart from Christ. We have been washed and sanctified and justified (1 Cor 6:11). We have been cleansed of all sin (1 John 1:7). We have been forgiven (1 John 2:12). In Jesus, all these things are true of us.

In the Bible, the concept of righteousness is portrayed as an account sheet. Sins are listed as negative, I presume; while good works are listed as positives. We have a couple of problems. There are so many sins that our good works will never catch up. Then, even our good works are so often compromised by our sins. We do things we want to do and in the way we want and for the people we want. So few good works are truly pure, without the stain of sin in themselves. And more, even those few good things we do that are actually close to selfless are not truly our work, but the work of Jesus in us and through us. All of that means that our moral account is in pretty bad shape. Not even close to righteous.

The theological word connected to all of this is “imputed.” To impute something is to give it to another. In the Bible, this particularly refers to moral or spiritual accountability.  And righteousness is imputed, given to us from outside of us.  The only righteousness we have is imputed righteousness.

So the gospel teaches us that Jesus, who was perfectly righteous in Himself, washed away our unrighteousness by His sacrifice for us on the cross and granted to us His own righteousness. So Paul says:

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21

We become the “righteousness of God.” Even about himself, Paul says that his only goal in life is to be found in Christ:

…not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith Philippians 3:9

In other words, if you were to ask Paul how righteous he was, he would tell you about the righteousness of Christ in him. Why? Because there was no other righteousness in him.

So here you go. Apart from Christ, no one is righteous. But those who have come to Him for salvation by faith are not apart from Him. In Him, you have His righteousness. Because He is in you and you are in Him, His righteousness is your righteousness.

How righteous are you? If you belong to Jesus, you are as righteous as He is. That’s the message of grace!

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Filed under grace, Grace 101, Theology and mystery

The Inconsistent Life

 

So you must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48 (NCV)

 How are you doing?  Working on that perfection?  Absolute consistency, steadfast faith, unending love.  No mistakes, no compromises, no slips.  How are you doing with all that?

Well, most of us aren’t doing very well, are we?  In fact, most of us are struggling.  We want to do right, but we still do wrong.  We try to stay away from certain things, end certain bad habits, but they continue to draw us in.  We aspire to goodness, but still don’t measure up.  And, honestly, that makes us feel bad.

But the inconsistent life is normal and we should feel good about ourselves.  Think about that for a moment.  When, in the church, were you taught to say, “I feel good about myself”?  Oh my, that would be a prideful and arrogant statement, wouldn’t it?  No one could say that, right?  Wrong!  I can say it.  And so can you.

Now, before I explain what I mean, let me say what I don’t mean.  I don’t mean that we should pat ourselves on the back because we are making progress.  There is no call for progress in the Christian life.  Progress earns us nothing.  Just because we are better than we were last year, according to some measurement, does not make us good.  That may sound discouraging, but we all know this to be true.  We climb up one rung of the ladder and there is always another for us to climb.  Always.  If we base our motivation on progress we will become discouraged very soon as we realize that our progress will never be enough.

Nor should we feel good about comparisons.  We look at others and think we are at least better than they are.  While the church has taught progress openly, it has taught comparison secretly.  But comparison also earns us nothing.  In fact, comparison only brings us further down.  It robs us of our brothers and sisters and it causes us either to live in pride or shame.  If we can find people who are somehow worse than we are, we can also find people who are somehow better than we are.

And let me take away one more common motivation for believers—future hope.  I believe in Heaven and glory and the promise of a wonderful future; but I do not believe that I will be more perfect someday.  We were taught that we would have to excuse bad behavior here, that the battle in us between the old nature and the new nature will only end upon our death.  But then we will finally be free and clean and perfect.  Today we are doomed to live in defeat and discouragement; but then we will be victorious and happy.  No, that’s not much encouragement for today.

The real encouragement comes from knowing who you are.  Those who belong to Jesus have died and are alive today as new creations who live in Him.  He is our life.  Our sins, past-present-future, are washed away forever.  We are as clean and righteous and holy as He is, because He is our life.  This is who we are.

Sin, even something I do today, belongs to who I was.  My flesh continues to struggle to be in control of my thoughts and actions, but when it is, that’s not me.  I am not brought down by my flesh.  I am nothing less because my flesh gets its way once in a while.

Yes, this life looks inconsistent.  That’s normal.  Every Christian has walked this walk.  But we feel good about ourselves because we are already complete in Christ.  He is enough in us.

I can hear two objections already.  First, what about the call to be perfect?  I will answer that and deal with the verse next week.  Second, so sinning is okay?  No—and I will write about that in two weeks.  So hold on.

If the work of Christ is finished (and it is) and the Christian is complete in Him (and we are), then we should feel good about ourselves—even if we see an inconsistent life along the way.

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Righteousness

Grace 101

 

Imagine attending a funeral of a friend where the preacher and friends and family members all have a chance to say something good about the person.  Each one gets up and says that they can’t think of anything bad the person did.  He didn’t drink or smoke or lust or swear or steal or cheat or lie or anything else.  In fact, each person can tell a story of how this deceased friend avoided doing something bad even though tempted.  Then the funeral is over.

Now, wouldn’t you find that just a little disturbing?  Doesn’t a good life consist of something positive, rather than just a lack of negative?

So often we think of a righteous life as one without sin.  To be righteous, according to most people, is to avoid the negative.  Righteousness is an empty account before God.  I think this is in the minds of many believers because all they have learned of righteousness is that it is the avoidance of unrighteousness.

But is it a joyful thing to stand before God with an empty account?  To have nothing?

Even grace teachers communicate this.  We often teach that the righteousness we have worked for in our lives is as nothing before God.  We have done nothing to earn His love or acceptance.  This is a true teaching, in fact an important teaching.  Otherwise, we allow people to think they have earned their way into God’s favor.

But when you and I stand before God, we stand in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, our Lord.  That is much more than the lack of bad things.  That righteousness is everything good.  Our account before God is full of good!

If you look into the gift box that came with your salvation, you will find, lying close to the top, the righteousness of Jesus.  It’s yours.  It’s part of the gift.  And it isn’t just an empty thing.  It is something full and alive and good.

We do have an account with God, a moral account, I suppose.  Before Christ came into us, every sin was in that account.  The Scripture says that whoever is guilty of one sin is guilty of them all.  Many preachers have made that clear to us.  There is no hope of trying to live a life good enough to deserve salvation.   The accounts of the lost are filled with debt.

But that isn’t true for believers.  Not only are our debts wiped away, but our accounts are filled with the generous goodness of Jesus.  Paul says that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us, placed in our accounts.  He says, in 1 Corinthians, that Christ is our righteousness.  So our accounts went from as negative as they could be to as positive as they could be.  We went from being destitute before God to being rich in His goodness.

The righteousness of Jesus is something!  And it is yours because of Him.

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Do you deserve condemnation?

 

Yep, trick question.  Almost all of us were taught to say yes to that one.  I just read a blog where a pastor writes to his congregation: “We truly deserve eternal destruction every day!”  His point, of course, was that the judgment of God is hanging over each of us and the only thing stopping us from sliding straight to hell is the choice of God.  If God changed His mind about us, we’d be in trouble.  So… be afraid!

But is this true for believers?  Do we deserve condemnation?  Is the axe hanging over our heads about to strike?  And what would be the deciding factor?  Some teachers say that we have to be worthy of God’s forgiveness.  Some say that we have to be in the right church.  Others just tell us to be good—very, very good.  If we fail, is the danger real?

So, let’s be sure that we get this right.  First, we used to deserve condemnation.  There is no doubt about that.  We all deserved to be cut off from God forever.  But that was past tense.  That’s what we were.  Then Jesus came into us and saved us.  He reached down to us in the midst of our condemnation and shame and brought us out.  We did deserve hell before Jesus saved us.

But now there is no more condemnation (Romans 8:1) for us.  The punishment for our sin was laid on Jesus and He took it away from us.  There is no axe hanging over our heads.  The penalty has been paid.  Our sin is as far from us as the east is from the west.  (Psalm 103:12)  This is what Jesus did for us.

No, you and I no longer deserve condemnation.  We did, but Jesus saved us.

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Filed under Freedom, grace, Grace definition, Legalism

Jehovah Tsidkenu

The Lord is our Righteousness.  Does that make sense?  If that’s true, what about all the commands for us to live righteous lives?  What about the sense of failure that we feel all the time?  Why don’t I feel righteous?

Could it be that the Lord simply asks us throughout His Word to live according to the righteousness that is already ours?  Yes!  We can’t earn it by working hard or create it by any amount of good works.  We can’t be righteous on our own.  Only when He enters us, when He is our life, do we become righteous.  And then He is our righteousness.

And could it be that the evil one is afraid of people who walk and live in righteousness?  Yes!  He does all he can to promote that sense of failure.  He even uses churches and preachers when he can.

And could it be that I have lived so long under condemnation that I find this truth hard to believe, especially when applied to daily living?  Yes!  I have been taught to judge myself and accept myself on the basis of my actions and thoughts.  In Christ I must learn to judge myself and accept myself by His actions and His thoughts toward me.  In other words, I am righteous and acceptable and loved.

No wonder they call this the good news!

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