Romans on Righteousness

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Once a man becomes aware of the truth, he can never become unaware of it. He can choose not to retain God in his knowledge (1:28), calling himself an atheist, but verbally rejecting the truth will never blot out the responsibility awakened by knowledge of that truth. Man can change the rightful image of God, which he holds, into an image of an idol (fall down and sacrifice to that idol), but it will never render him ignorant of the truth of God. He will always be held responsible for the truth he has willfully pushed back into the recesses of his mind.

Paul, like all devout Jews, was jealous on behalf of the righteousness of God. Other religions lowered their standards for fellowship with God. They did not satisfy the legal demands of a justly offended Deity. The very suggestion that a sinner could be admitted into fellowship with God on any basis other than righteousness was unthinkable to a religious Jew. It would degrade God’s holiness to suggest that He would accept less.

In light of the Jew’s concern to guard the righteousness of God, Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, for it is even more effective than Mt. Sinai in revealing the righteousness of God. The gospel Paul is about to declare in the book of Romans does not lower the Law’s standards, rather it raises the standards so high that only one man can meet them. The gospel demonstrates how God was able to remain righteous while remitting the sins of the old covenant believer. See Romans 3:25-26.

The gospel is the declaration that the righteousness God requires has been provided as a gift to the believer.

The gospel further manifests righteousness by enabling the one who has had righteousness imputed to him to actually do the righteousness that was heretofore unattainable under the Law. See Romans 8:3-4.

In the preaching of the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith—old covenant faith to new covenant faith, Jewish faith to gentile faith, imparting faith to imputing faith. “Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith (Romans 3:30).” The righteousness of God is manifested in the salvation of old covenant Jews, as well as in the salvation of church-age gentiles. Under the old covenant, faith was only a small bud not yet fully opened. In Christ, faith blossoms into a full flower. Though it is the same flower planted in a Jewish garden, it is now visible to the whole world.

Paul is about to show that the same righteousness of faith remains an essential part of salvation. He is assuring the Jew that he is not inventing some new form of salvation that is alien to Scripture. It was by faith then; it is by faith now. He is going to add a new dimension to faith and righteousness, but the elements remain the same. The difference is that the old covenant Jew was justified as his faith worked to produce the righteousness of God, whereas under the new covenant, the sinner is justified as his faith becomes the channel through which God imputes righteousness. The believing Jew was given grace to experience a measure of righteousness. The new covenant believer has righteousness imputed to his account. This one righteousness of God is revealed from the appropriating faith of the old covenant believer to the imputing faith of the new covenant believer.

Though works of righteousness were necessary to their salvation, it had to be more than a mere external obedience to the Law. “For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise (Psalms 51:16-17).” They were to enter into and abide in a humble life of faith and worship. Out of that faith would flow obedience to the righteousness of God in daily experience. God could look at their heart of faith and life of obedience and graciously count them as righteous, though legally they must still be viewed as sinners. Though they did not understand it, their salvation was conditioned on future atonement based on something more worthy than animal blood. More will be said of this under Romans 3:25-26.

Under the old covenant, their faith would issue in a righteousness that was beyond that produced by unaided mortals. It was truly the righteousness of God being revealed through their faith and obedience. The just were living by their faith. Their faith was a working faith, an appropriating faith, an obedient faith. It was a living faith that allowed God to work through them to obey the Law of Moses.

Certainly the old covenant believer never produced perfect obedience to the Law of God, but God chose to be gracious and forgiving, accounting those obedient believers acceptable in His sight. No one was saved by his works. That is, no one attained to a level of righteousness that rendered him acceptable by his own goodness. Yet God required that the faith of the sinner should issue in obedience to the Law of Moses. If one was not obedient, he was damned. This is most vividly seen in Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Ezekiel 3:20, and Ezekiel 33:12-18. Today this old covenant salvation is still taught as gospel by the majority of Christianity.

𝗠𝗶𝗰𝗵𝗮𝗲𝗹 𝗣𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗹

Commentary on the Book of Romans

Bible teaching with Michael Pearl.
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