Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
The concept of righteousness is quite similar to holiness; both terms refer to a state of being morally upright and emotionally attuned to God’s will. It comprises all that we term justice, honesty, morality, and affections of the heart; in a nutshell, it is true religion. And while there is this type of righteousness to emulate, there are other types of righteousness to avoid.
The first type of righteousness we need to avoid is that which originates in a person’s mind, which is distinct from the righteousness that originates in God. We identify this type of righteousness as “self-righteousness.” Self-righteousness, often born out of pride, is when a person relies on his or her sense of morality to judge right and wrong.
Another example of false righteousness is John Calvin’s teaching on imputed righteousness. By imputed, Calvin meant that God credited the elect sinner with Christ’s righteousness. As a result, God shifted His attention away from the sinner and toward Jesus, whom He acknowledges to be sinless. Consequently, Calvin believed that a person God has chosen for salvation does not need to worry about living a good life. When God looks at him, he can only see Christ. (As a side note, it is expected that the one chosen by God will seek a life of righteousness. But the truth is that according to the doctrine, it’s possible to be a willful sinner and still have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them.)
There are seven occurrences of the word “impute” in the KJV. None of these verses suggests that a person can appropriate Christ’s righteousness as their own. The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ allows for the transformation of sinners into saints through forgiveness. Entrance to the heavenly kingdom is granted only to those who do God’s will (Matthew 7.21–23). Thus, while imputation suggests that God finds one without guilt and blame, it does not mean that a person can take on the righteousness of Jesus Christ and expect to gain entrance into heaven.
A sinful man becomes righteous through faith in God, not through any meritorious works he can perform. But faith does not exclude human participation. Man must do something. James 2 and Hebrews 11 remind us that faith works the works of God (Ephesians 2.10). A sinner becomes righteous, sanctified, and justified by God’s grace. God gave him his righteousness, and God counts it as his righteousness, not on account of the goodness of Christ or anyone else, living or dead.
Abraham is a great role model for how to achieve righteousness. First, Paul says that Abraham believed in God, which God credited him as righteousness (Romans 4.3–9, 17–22). Second, it is also important to note that Abraham’s righteous status was independent of his being circumcised (Romans 4.10–12). Third, Abraham’s faith was active, working by grace (Galatians 3.6–9; James 2.21–23).
So, it was Abraham’s faith in God rather than Jesus’ own sinless life and obedience that God credited as righteousness. Even though Abraham’s efforts would have been futile without Jesus’ perfect life and obedience, he could not leave everything to be accomplished by God. This truth meant that God gave Abraham the tools he needed, but Abraham was the one who had to use them.
We must do as Abraham did. And just as God will not credit us with Christ’s righteousness, neither will He credit us with the righteousness of anyone else (e.g., a parent or spouse). Our evaluation before God is personal (2 Corinthians 5.10). We must avoid doing as Paul did before his conversion, seeking righteousness contingent on anything other than Christ (Philippians 3.9).