We are continuing our study on the Advent Movement and history of our denomination. This week, we return to the subject of righteousness by faith, as it relates to our personal experience; and we will be studying more on imputed righteousness. (To review the past surveys on Righteosness by Faith, click here)
–To Be Righteous–
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. – Romans 3:19
The law says that how many are guilty? All… The 23rd verse repeats it:
…for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; – verse 23
The law is up here, and men, even in their best efforts, fall short. Falling short, they are convicted by the law as transgressors. Because, as stated in James chapter 2,
Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. – James 2:10
Righteousness is not a piecemeal thing. To be righteous is to be like God, to fully obey His commandments. The opposite of righteousness is sin; sin is the transgression of the law. Paul says:
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law … – Romans 2:21
Here’s a righteousness that’s without the law (whatever that means; we’ll see shortly). But that righteousness, when it is given, when it is acquired, when a person has it, what does the law do to it, what does it do about it? It witnesses. It is witnessed by the law. The law says it’s alright. Any righteousness that you and I get that the law can’t witness to that it’s alright, we had better be skeptical of it.
It’s just like somebody coming along and saying, “Here’s some money I’d like to give you,” and it’s a $1,000 bill. And I say, “Oh my, that’s wonderful.” But I take it down to the Federal Reserve Bank to get bills of small denomination, and the clerk looks at it and says, “I’m sorry to tell you, but that’s a counterfeit.” How much is it worth? I’d rather have a genuine $10 bill than a counterfeit $1,000 bill. What do you say?
And I want a genuine experience in righteousness by faith. That’s worth more than a million-dollar bill. But notice, it is witnessed by the law… Now then, would it be a good idea to do away with the law? We need the law first of all to witness to us that we’re sinners. That’s what Paul says:
“by the law is the knowledge of sin…” – verse 20
And in Romans 7:7, he tells that he wouldn’t have known what sin is except for the law. And there are a good many people today who don’t realize they’re sinning on certain points, because they don’t study the law. They don’t examine their lives in the light of the law.
Somebody says, “Well, the law can’t make us righteous.” No, it can’t. That’s why we’ve got to get righteousness some other way. But the law can tell us we need righteousness and need it bad. And it can tell us what kind of righteousness we need – the righteousness of God, not what man thinks is right, but what God thinks is right. After all, shouldn’t God be the one to tell us what righteousness is? He’s the Judge; He made us; He’s the Creator, He’s the ruler of this universe, and He has set His standard of righteousness. And woe be to the man who persuades himself or persuades you with the assertion, “Oh, I think it’s alright to do this,” or “I think it’s alright to do that.” Anything that’s important enough to know whether it’s right or wrong is important enough to find out what God says about it.
So the law has two wonderful functions in our study. It tells us that we are sinners, and then after we get righteousness, it witnesses that that righteousness is the righteousness of God. I say let’s keep the law. Let’s be thankful for it. Let’s be thankful that it points out where we’re wrong, and let’s be thankful that it adds its wonderful testimony when we’re right that we are right.
And don’t ever think that you have righteousness unless the law witnesses that what you have is equal to the law, in harmony with the law, in exact agreement with the law… Going back to our text:
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight. – Romans 3:20
What is the thing that the “therefore” is talking about? Because all the world has become guilty before God. And a guilty man can’t present what he’s done as righteousness, can he? A man who’s been pronounced guilty by the court can’t go to the judge and say, “I want to show you my wonderful life and ask that, because of that, you’ll let me go.” But his “wonderful life” was not the reason for letting him go but for locking him up.
Because all have sinned, “no flesh shall be justified in His sight.” What does “justified” mean? It means accounted righteous, reckoned righteous. A man is justified if he is “okay.” If God can write “okay” on your standing, you’re justified; if He can’t, you’re not. “No flesh be justified in his sight.” Why? Because the law has found you guilty; you have already broken it. So, it’s impossible for a man, by his own efforts, to clear himself, because he’s already sinned and broken the law.
All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. – verse 23
But that’s only half the problem. We have not only sinned, we are sinners. It isn’t just our actions that make it impossible to satisfy the righteousness of the law; it’s our nature. Paul says:
As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one. – Romans 3:10
The reason we can’t do righteousness is because we’re not righteous. We tend to sin. Our nature is sinful. Having broken the law, and having a law-breaking nature, we stand before that law guilty. And the wages of sin is death. Is there any hope for us? Yes.
“The righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.” – verse 22
Who gets righteousness? All who believe. What about those who don’t believe? They don’t get it. Do you believe? Do you have it? Oh, friends, I pray that everyone [reading this study] may know in his heart the sweet simplicity and the simple sweetness of believing that God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you your sins and given you His righteousness. And if you ever get it, it’s a free gift.
You can earn wages, but if you don’t want your wages, it’s death. I don’t want my wages. I am willing to have the paymaster skip me. But if I get what I deserve, that’s it. If I get what I have earned, that’s it. But there is something offered – righteousness, to be counted righteous.
But somebody says, “How can I be counted righteous when I haven’t been righteous?” That’s the miracle and the mystery of divine love. God wants to count you righteous even though you haven’t been righteous. He wants to treat you as if you’d always been good, when you haven’t been good at all. I cannot explain it except to say it is because He loves us; that explains the whole thing.
Of course, that gives us a greater mystery – what love is, and why He should love us. It’s such a great mystery that it’s going to take all eternity to explore it, and we will never get to the end. But I’m so glad that we can have big things to enjoy even when we don’t understand them all.
So the love of God comes near and says, I love you, and I want to forgive you. I want to count you as righteous. Does God count you righteous? Somebody might answer, “I wish it could be. But I did something 10 years ago and maybe I did something 10 days ago, maybe 10 minutes ago, and so I’ve got to be on probation. And if I could only go a year without breaking God’s law, then I might feel that I was righteous.” Is that what Paul is talking about? No. That would be righteousness by works. You don’t get righteous that way.
Let me repeat and keep emphasizing two reasons why. In the first place, you have already broken the law, and no amount of obedience from now on would ever make up for that guilt. What would you think of a man who murdered another man a year ago, and then finally the law catches up with him, and his defense to the judge is, “Yes I know I murdered a man a year ago, but I haven’t murdered anybody since, so I should go free”? What would you think of that sort of thing? Would the judge listen to it?
No amount of obedience on our part will clear us of the guilt of the past. As I’ve said, that’s only half the trouble. We can’t obey with our sinful human natures. Can we? Haven’t we tried it again and again in human nature, in human weakness? Yes. Where then is righteousness?
Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. – Romans 3:24
Freely means without money; it means without limit; it means willingly and gladly. When I come to the cross, I see Jesus dying for me, and I see that that’s the gift of God’s love. He takes my place. As I see that, I accept that gift and say, “He died for me.”
Before Jesus died, what did He do in this world? He lived. What kind of life did He live? A righteous life.
I have kept My Father’s commandments. – John 15:10
His life in this world, in our human flesh, in our nature, was in harmony with God’s law. Now He says, That righteousness, which I worked out in a human body, I want to give to you. I want to put that to your credit on the books of heaven. What do I have to do about it? I have to believe it and accept it, and make the transaction. While I can’t buy that righteousness, if I ever get it, it’s a gift. There is something I must give in order to receive it. What is it? Myself. My sins. The righteousness of Christ is not a cloak to cover un-confessed sins. No. If I have stolen, lied, or broken any other commandment, my only hope of receiving the righteousness of Christ is to confess my sins and give them to Jesus that His blood may pay the debt for them.
How can you mix sin and righteousness? You can’t do it. To accept the righteousness of Christ is to want to be rid of sin. If I want to sin and choose to keep on sinning, no amount of coming to the altar and saying that I believe that Jesus died for me will save me. Will it? No. The angel told Joseph to call the One to be born Jesus, which means Saviour, for He shall save His people from their sins.
There are two parts, two applications, to righteousness. I have been studying one of them with you, and that is imputed righteousness – our title to heaven. The second is imparted righteousness – our fitness for heaven. Righteousness by faith to cover the past, we call justification. Righteousness by faith to keep us from sinning again, we call sanctification. (I say “we” call it, that’s what the Bible calls it.)
We are just part way in this study, but I want us to get the full impact of this wonderful fact that when Jesus saves a man in conversion, in justification, the righteousness that He gives him is Christ’s own righteousness. You can’t get any better than that. There’s nothing better in the whole universe than that. God wants us to get hold of that and rejoice in it, not after we have walked the way of obedience so many years or so many months or so many days; He wants us to have it right now.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, making that sacrifice, there was another man hanging on another cross. As he hung there and saw Jesus next to him, the Spirit of God worked on his heart. He came under conviction, and he recognized that he had broken the law and must meet judgment. He saw himself a sinner, and he said to his fellow thief, “We’re suffering justly, for we received the due reward of our deeds.”
He felt guilty; he was guilty. But as he looked at that cross, he said, “This Man hath done nothing amiss.” Was it true? Oh, yes friends. He saw the bleeding Lamb, and he knew the Lamb was innocent. As the Spirit of God worked on his heart, by faith he saw that Man dying on the cross in his place. He said, “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.”
Will he be there? Oh, yes. I want to ask you something. Did Jesus tell him that if he would go home and behave himself for six weeks, then he could be sure to have a place in heaven? Six weeks wouldn’t be very long to walk straight, would it? No. Enoch walked with God 300 years. But the thief didn’t walk with God 300 days even. Did he? I don’t know if he even got in 300 minutes. Maybe he did. But it wasn’t after he had
walked with God even three minutes that Jesus gave him the assurance.
That’s the thing I want you to see. Hanging there on the cross, knowing that his life was about to end and that there was nothing more he could do on earth or in heaven, he said, “Lord, remember me.” Jesus said, “You will be with Me in paradise.” He gave him the assurance of pardon, of justification, of salvation. Did that thief get it by the works of the law? No. Everyone can see that. But did he get it? Yes. Was he righteous when he died? Yes, thank God, he was. Jesus said he was. There’s nobody going in through the pearly gates unless they are righteous, and he’s going to be there.
What happened? Oh, that mysterious transaction took place at Calvary that day, and it can take place at Calvary today for every soul. By faith, even though those hands were spiked to the tree, he reached across and laid his sins on the Lamb of God. And that hand of Jesus that was nailed to the cross reached out and took the sins that the thief gave to Him, and took them upon Himself. He died for that thief. He took the thief’s sins and paid the penalty with His precious life.
But He did more than that. He reached across that gulf and gave the thief His righteousness – the righteousness of Christ, the righteousness of God. And that thief died with as good a title to heaven as Enoch or Elijah or Moses had who have been up in heaven all those hundreds of years. He had the title to heaven signed by the Saviour Himself, written in the precious blood of the Lamb of God. Is that the way you got righteousness? If you got it any other way, friends, it’s a counterfeit.
I wonder if there is some hesitating soul, wishing that you could be as sure as that thief was – that you’re accepted. I tell you, if you will do what that thief did, you can be just as sure as he was, because the Word of God says to you:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9
If you are cleansed from all unrighteousness, then you’re righteous. This bothers some people. They say, “Yes, but I have failed again and again.” Well, I want to tell you something: It doesn’t make any difference how many times I get thirsty, there is only one remedy, and that’s some water. It doesn’t make any difference how many times I get hungry, there’s only one answer, and that’s food. And however many times I may have failed to reach the mark, there’s only one answer, and that’s righteousness by faith.
Someone says, “I could believe that God would forgive me the first time, and maybe the second and the third, but you don’t know how many times I have failed.” No I don’t. I don’t know how many times you have failed, and you don’t either; there are more times than you remember. But I want to tell you something: There is no limit to the mercy of God; there is no limit to the grace of God.
You say, “It’s dangerous to preach that, because people will feel that they can sin over and over and over again, and still come back and get forgiveness.” I’d hate to think that the only way people could keep from falling was to be afraid that God wouldn’t forgive them. I don’t think that would keep anyone from falling very long. There is only one thing that can grip the heart, and that’s the love of God. What we need is not a narrower view of the grace of God, it’s a wider view.
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea. He says that He wants to take our sins and put them as far away from us as the east is from the west. When the disciples were talking the matter over with Jesus about how many times to forgive others, Jesus said, “I do not tell you to forgive seven times, but seventy times seven.” We know that it means to keep on forgiving and forgiving and forgiving. I want to ask you something: If God tells you to forgive your erring brother again and again and never stop, do you think He expects more from you than He intends to do Himself? No.
That wouldn’t be like Him. There’s something that helped me on that. He told Peter that if his brother turns to him even seven times in one day and says, I repent, he was to forgive him. That would be something, wouldn’t it? Suppose a Brother and I are working together, and I do something that isn’t nice. Maybe I say something unkind to him. Pretty soon, I come up to him and say, “You know, that was a very unkind thing I said. Will you forgive me?” What would he say? “Yes, I will forgive you.”
Suppose an hour later, as we were working, I get mean again, and I say something unkind. Pretty soon, I say, “I’m sorry I said that. Will you forgive me?” What will he say? What would you say? Well, if you do what Jesus said, what would you do? You would forgive. How many times are we supposed to do that even in one day? At least seven times.
My friends, we have a very small conception of the mercy of God. We need to see at Calvary how much God loves us, and be kept from sinning not by being scared of what will happen to us. It’s all right to be frightened by the results of sin, but we mustn’t associate that with God. We must not think that He will only forgive so many times, and as we look at our bank book think the balance is running pretty low. There is a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea. Being justified freely by His grace. Why am I saying this? Because I know the devil’s temptation. It’s sometimes harder on those who have tried again and again than it is for those who are coming to Jesus for the first time.
If you have tried a thousand times and failed, there is just one way back, and that’s the way the thief came that Friday evening at Calvary. If you have walked that road again and again, never mind; it’s the only way. There are going to be people in heaven who have had to come to the cross over and over and over again. But bless God, they’re going to be there, and you can be one of them.
Our Father in Heaven, we thank Thee for righteousness by faith just by believing God. Because we believe the Bible, we believe that we’re sinners and have broken Thy law. Because we believe the Bible, we believe there are no works of ours that can pay the debt and meet the claims of the law. And, because we believe Thy Word, we believe that Jesus has lived that beautiful life and has died to pay the debt for our sins, and to take them away. So, like the thief, we hand over our sins and accept the gift of Thy righteousness. We believe that God, for Christ’s sake, puts His righteousness to our account, and that we are counted just as if we had not sinned. Oh, grant that every heart, whether for the first time or the hundredth time, shall rejoice in the fullness of pardon, in the fullness of the perfect righteousness of Jesus. For His dear sake. Amen.
* This study has been adapted from classes taken by Elder W.D. Frazee.