Summary: Standing in the Freedom of the Gospel: Works Righteousness vs. Gift Righteou
Standing in the Freedom of the Gospel:
Works Righteousness vs. Gift Righteousness
This section is Paul’s response to Peter when he feared men from James and separated himself from Gentile Christians because they did not practice the Torah. As I have said there was a group within the early church, Judaizers, who did not think faith Christ was sufficient but you also had to practice what Paul labeled as works of the law – Sabbath keeping, Jewish calendar, and kosher food. Anyone who did not adhere to these was considered sinners even if they had trusted Christ. Paul picked up on this idea and it is why he mentions Gentile sinners and in v. 17, we (Jews) have also found to be sinners. Anyone who abandoned the Torah were sinners and unacceptable to God. But Paul says that both Jews and Gentiles are sinners before God and the only means of being justified or accepted by God is faith in Christ; any other way nullifies the cross (21)
1. Works Righteousness Does not Impress God (15-16)
The default button of the human heart is works righteousness. Works righteousness is our attempt to establish some scale of morality that makes us acceptable to God. It has its religious and non religious forms. In its religious forms we get involved in church and ministry, we give, we do lots of religious things in an attempt to impress God. This kind of person views themselves as a good person, better than most. In its not religious form we still do many good things, we follow the golden rule, get involved in causes, support the community, etc. This kind of person believes that they are also a good person, better than most and are acceptable to God in whatever form they understand him to be. A person depending on a form of works righteousness thinks they deserve to go to heaven because they are a good person, based upon their own standard of morality. Anytime we look at ourselves, our actions, to be acceptable to God it is a form of works righteousness. But God is not impressed with you or your works or your morality at all. Nothing you can do will make you acceptable or more acceptable to God. Three times Paul says that no one is justified by works of the law. The bad news is that none of us can do anything to earn Gods approval; the good news is that God provides a way for us.
2. Gift Righteousness is only Received by Faith (17-21)
After telling us three times we are not saved by works of the law Paul describes how we can be accepted, made righteous. Paul uses this word justified three times; it means to be made righteous. It means that one is pardoned and made right standing with God, what I am calling gift righteousness. It is a gift of grace, freely imparted to us when we trust the work of Christ. Theologians call it the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Jesus lived a perfectly righteous life for us, died as our substitute to pay for the penalty of our sin and rose that we might walk alive to God. Jesus was the only man who could and did keep the law perfectly for you and me. That made him a perfect sacrifice and substitute for us (20b). The result is that we are no longer under condemnation and Gods wrath for our sin (Rom 5:9; Rom 8:33-34).
We are made righteous by faith not any form of works. Faith is turning away from our own efforts to gain a righteousness before God and turning to trust Christ for the gift of his righteousness. To believe in our normal every day vernacular means to believe something as true or accurate but faith goes beyond that to trust in that fact. Even our coming to faith is the work of God. "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent (Jn 6:29)." When you grasp this concept– that there is nothing you can do to earn Gods favor or approval except trust in the gospel, it is freeing, motivating, and life giving. That is why Paul is so strong with Peter. In essence Peter was going back to works righteousness, rebuilding what had been torn down. This truth never gets old; we must remind ourselves of it daily.
Paul then goes on to say that it was through the law that I died to the law that I might live to God. That is, the law showed him his sinfulness and his need for Jesus and faith is dying to its power over me (condemnation) and I become alive to God (see Rom 8:1-4). Then he tells us what alive to God is, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who lives but Christ lives in me.’ Our relationship with Christ is so intimate that what happened to Christ happened to us. Christ dwells in us by his Spirit and is working in and through us. This life I now live, I live by faith in Jesus Christ because he is in me by his Spirit working in and through me. Not only does faith save us but faith sustains our daily walk with Jesus – turning away from works righteousness to gift righteousness daily. Paul in the midst of this theological argument breaks out in personal adoration of the Son ‘who loved me and gave his life for me.’ Jesus died because he loved me and gave himself for me. When we plum the depths of biblical truth, think deeply about it, it not only leads to a deeper knowledge of him but deeper love and adoration of God.