“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).
Many Christians have been taught that they can only achieve righteousness by serving God. The unfortunate thing is that many Christians cannot even accept that they are righteous based on this definition. They know their service is not perfect hence they can’t that they are righteous.
We are made righteous through our faith in Jesus Christ, not our works. Righteous in the New testament is not attained through our efforts in pleasing God. That is why the author of the book of Hebrews said “without faith it is impossible to please God”. The Jews had their entire life and devotion based on the law of Moses which demanded good works from them before please God in order for them to enjoy His blessing. The New covenant offers something different where righteousness is a gift apart from works.
While our good deeds don’t make us righteous, righteous people do good deeds. For example, righteous people attend church, pray, and serve God, knowing that they are only righteous because of Jesus, not by what they do.
One of the essential nuggets that the scripture above offers us is this: It is in the gospel that the righteousness of God is revealed. The gospel doesn’t reveal the righteousness of man. Man’s righteousness at its best is just a filthy rag.
The gospel is the power of God in making sinful men righteous. Our righteousness is not revealed from good deed to good deed, but from faith to faith. The faith of the son of God in us revealed the nature that we have received of the Father.
The gospel is a progressive revelation into this divine nature and gift that we have received. The more this revelation dawns on us, it impacts our mind and perception about life. This consequently leads to true transformation which is a product of our faith in the grace of God towards us.
Anything other than this is not the gospel that the early church preached. Christianity is not Christianity because we put on perculiar clothes, maintain low haircuts and don’t dance to secular music. That is not Christianity that is someone’s personal preference. This gospel doesn’t rank with what religion offers which is a divine approval granted based on human efforts in passing the tests and meeting the standards.
From the time of Adam all men failed in their attempt to please God based on their human resources. Since mankind was not able to, the road to destruction was wide open. So this gospel offers us the power of God in turning around the tide. Jesus the last Adam appeared to undo the works of the first Adam and eventually achieved something that was not on record in human history: Please God.
He did this grand style by pleasing Him before he even started ministry and before he died. The Father declared “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) Finally a man pleased God without works.
The gospel is denied the opportunity for transformation when self is enthroned. When we exalt ourselves because of our deeds and look down upon others because of our good deeds, we are self righteous. This is simply called “Pride”. This gospel truly is an offence to someone who trusts in his good works to be in the good books of God.
This is why Paul wrote extensively on this topic to ensure that his Jewish brethren knew that God was done with that old system for justification. Look at this passage wonderfully put together by Eugene H. Peterson in the Message translation of Romans 9:20-33
20-33 Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn’t talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, “Why did you shape me like this?” Isn’t it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans? If God needs one style of pottery especially designed to show his angry displeasure and another style carefully crafted to show his glorious goodness, isn’t that all right? Either or both happens to Jews, but it also happens to the other people. Hosea put it well:
I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies;
I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved.
In the place where they yelled out, “You’re nobody!”
they’re calling you “God’s living children.”
Isaiah maintained this same emphasis:
If each grain of sand on the seashore were numbered
and the sum labeled “chosen of God,”
They’d be numbers still, not names;
salvation comes by personal selection.
God doesn’t count us; he calls us by name.
Arithmetic is not his focus.
Isaiah had looked ahead and spoken the truth:
If our powerful God
had not provided us a legacy of living children,
We would have ended up like ghost towns,
like Sodom and Gomorrah.
How can we sum this up? All those people who didn’t seem interested in what God was doing actually embraced what God was doing as he straightened out their lives. And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. And so they stumbled into him and went sprawling. Isaiah (again!) gives us the metaphor for pulling this together:
Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion,
a stone you can’t get around.
But the stone is me! If you’re looking for me,
you’ll find me on the way, not in the way.
Many Christians still stumble at the stone because they have embraced the spirit of the law in defining Christianity. That is why they are easily offended when they see others declare God’s grace so radically. They want to balance it because they are afraid that grace alone is deadly. They introduce good and labourous works in order to keep themselves busy for God. Clearly something that Jesus offered to everyone laboring under the weight of the law.
The truth is that new Believers will more than likely miss the mark more often because they are just beginning their walk of faith. It is progressive. The scriptures say that the sons of God are led of the Spirit. This same spirit takes on them on a journey which begins at the new birth and continues for a lifetime. He reveals the righteousness of God in us by revealing the loveliness of Jesus and his grace. Without this revelation no believer can experience the power of God unto completeness, wholeness, deliverance, prosperity and freedom; what is simply known as salvation.