Righteousness, or Righteousness?
…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. Philippians 3:9 NIV
In 2017 we are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, beginning with Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral. In many ways, that whole movement has centered around the question of righteousness. Is our acceptance by God dependent upon our righteous behavior, or not? Luther, as so many others before and since, was in despair over his inability to find peace with God although he did everything he knew to live according to every standard of righteousness the Church set forth. Then he came to grips with verses like the one quoted above: righteousness is not the result of our efforts, but the result of faith!
What a relief! He could stop struggling to be good enough for God, and simply trust God through Christ for his righteousness. This is good news. When our behavior not only falls short of what others expect of us, but more than that, of what we expect of ourselves, we can rest in the sufficiency of God’s grace. Ahh!
But is our “righteousness” simply a matter of judicial record? Does God simply account us as righteous because of Christ so that our actual behavior is of little or no importance? This is where a good deal of Protestant thinking has gone in recent years. Surely the truth, as is the case in so many instances, is between the two extremes. Does our acceptance by God depend on how righteous we are? No. But are people in whom the Holy Spirit dwells expected to live righteous lives? Yes!
The issue is: how do I live a Christlike (righteous) life? Do I do it through my own effort? That can only produce pride and bitterness. Or is it the result of dependence on (faith in) Jesus? In that case the result is humility and gratitude. The whole issue is the one of relationship. Righteousness is not the goal – intimacy with Jesus is – and righteous behavior is the happy, and maybe even inevitable, byproduct.