Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | September 23, 2012

The Grace of Righteousness

I still remember the day that I first heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead of being separated from God due to my sin, I realized I could have a personal relationship with God through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. That was the day I passed from death to life, being forgiven of all my sins and receiving God’s gift of eternal life.

As believers in Christ, I think it’s important to remember that Jesus not only died a substitute death in our place (receiving the punishment we deserved for our sins so we wouldn’t have to receive it), but He also lived a substitute life. He was the only man who never sinned, fulfilling all the righteous requirements of God’s law, including the weightier aspects of the law in that he walked in justice, mercy and the love of God. And this perfect righteousness has been freely credited to us who have turned to God in repentance, putting our faith in Christ and Christ alone as our Lord & Savior.

As a young believer, I was fortunate enough to have found a community of faith that established me in the grace of God and my identity in Christ. Little did I know at the time how invaluable this would be in my faith journey, especially in regards to our righteousness in Christ. Over time, it became obvious to me that the grace of righteousness secured for us through the finished work of Christ was not as uniformly embraced or celebrated in church circles as I would have expected it to be.

A particular occurrence comes to mind. I was still a relatively new believer, attending a non-denominational Christian church outside of Albany, NY in 1993. It was the first church I attended since moving from Middletown NY where I was part of a vibrant community of faith called Christian Faith Fellowship. It was there that I was grounded in the realities of God’s grace and my identity in Christ.

One Sunday morning I’m sitting on the second row of this church near Albany, NY when the pastor gets up and says from the pulpit, “How many of you this morning think that you’re righteous?” Naturally, my hand shot up like a bottle rocket on the 4th of July! After all, Jesus, through his redemptive work, took upon himself my sin, and in exchange robed me in his righteousness. I was indeed the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. There was nothing I could do to become more righteous, nor was there anything I could do to become less righteous, for as my previous Pastor so eloquently said, “Righteousness is a spiritual state of being.” It’s a gift of God’s grace and part of our inheritance in Christ, received by faith. Hallelujah!

So as I sat in the second row with my hand raised high, I looked behind me to see the enthusiastic response of the rest of the congregation….

There wasn’t a single hand raised. Not one! In fact, I remember a single gal sitting next to me who, after realizing I had unexpectedly become the center of attention, grabbed my arm and pulled it down, saying, “Put your hand down! What do you think you’re doing?”

Honestly, I was confused! Couldn’t understand why no one else had their hand raised, and definitely couldn’t understand why the whole congregation was looking at me as if I was crazy, or perhaps infected with a large dose of self righteousness.

After that incident on the second row, the pastor continued with his message. I’m sure you’ve heard similar ones; they typically revolve around Romans 3:23 (For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God) and go on to convince us how sinful we are and that only God is righteous, that we need to make sure our lives measure up to God’s holy standard in an effort to please God, that we need to be introspective in regards to the issue of sin in our lives so we can stay humble, even keeping tabs on our sin so that we can confess them all to God to be forgiven, etc…

Such messages are actually a plague within the Body of Christ, as the focus on sin and performance usurps what the main focus ought to be, namely, God’s grace and the preeminence of the person & work of Jesus Christ.

And speaking of Romans 3:23, it’s always dangerous to rely on a “proof text” as the basis of one’s teaching. Because when considering context, scripture may actually be saying something entirely different than the proof text! The overall theme of Romans 3 is a perfect example:

“But now the righteousness of God apart from law is revealed, being witnessed by the law and the prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being declared righteous freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-24, emphasis mine)

Wow! The focus of this portion of scripture is not on man, his sin, or his performance, but on Christ and His righteousness, and that we have been declared righteous freely by God’s grace through our faith in Christ.

Lets take a look at another portion of scripture which gives such a clear picture of this righteousness:

 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-6:2).

If righteousness is a gift of God’s grace received through faith, one may ask how “right behavior” fits into the mix. Does it matter? Is “holy living” important to God? Absolutely. God has always been after obedience, but how this obedience is accomplished makes all the difference in the world as to whether someone is in bondage to the oppression of performance based religion, or if they are being empowered by the grace of God. My point is simply this: The obedience that God is looking for is not according to my pre-determined self effort to please God. The obedience God is looking for is accomplished through His grace:

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)

It is the grace of God that teaches us to obey, empowers us to obey, and gives us the desire to obey. The Apostle Paul continues on this theme when He says that “through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name..” (Romans 1:5). Grace for obedience. When believers embrace, by faith, the fact that they are complete in Him, more than conquerors in Him, the righteousness of God in Him…, it has a profound impact on how they live their lives. Or at least it should! Furthermore, when they hear the voice of the Holy Spirit that lives within them and do what He says, their obedience is not a product of their own initiative, but a product of God’s initiative. The grace of the Holy Spirit guides and directs. How amazing it is that even our obedience is rooted in and accomplished through the grace of God, not our own self-effort.

* we don’t obey God to be blessed. We’re blessed; therefore, we obey.

* Obedience is not the means to a right relationship with God, but the fruit of a right relationship with God

* Right conduct does not produce righteousness; rather, righteousness produces right conduct

His grace is indeed amazing! His righteousness is ours in Christ. And it is God’s will that we take our stand in the grace of righteousness all the days of our lives:

“Therefore, being  justified (declared righteous) by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)

If you’re standing in grace, what can the devil do? For in Christ Jesus, we are no longer under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14)! This has been made possible through the cross of Christ, for when Jesus was crucified, there was something else nailed to the cross that day:

“And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven all your trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” (Colossians 2:13-15)

How did He disarm principalities and powers? By taking the law out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. In the law is not only the power of sin, but the power to accuse & condemn. Without the law, principalities and powers have been left powerless against us to condemn. For we are no longer under law, but under grace. What is grace? It’s undeserved, unmerited favor. This is what we’re called to stand in, by faith.

No wonder Paul so emphatically stated in Romans 8:33, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies (who declares someone as righteous).” To paraphrase, what Paul is essentially saying, within context, is “Who can use the law to bring a charge against God’s elect when it has been taken out of the way, having been nailed to the cross? God has declared them righteous through their faith in Christ; they are no longer under law, but under grace!”

My friends, this revelation can have a profound impact on our everyday living when we remember that the devil and his minions have no legal right to accuse or condemn us., for we are no longer under law, but under grace. This is why Paul states in Romans 8:1-2, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death.” Some translations have in italics, “who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit” within this portion of scripture. But when you see something in italics, it means that it was added at the privilege of the translator; it is not in the original text. For those Bible translations that have this add-on, I believe it does a great disservice to the point Paul is trying to make….. that our enemy, Satan, cannot use the law to condemn him whom God has declared righteous. The new covenant order is one of relating to God and receiving from God by grace, through faith. As far as the condemnation that the law demanded against us because of our sins, Jesus bore all that condemnation for us on the cross. It is finished. Therefore, nothing should be added to the original text in Romans 8:1-2, for indeed there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. Period. End of discussion.

It’s so important to stand in God’s grace, by faith; to always be looking to Him and His grace, rather than to ourselves and our performance. By my own experience I will show you why.

Many years into my journey of faith, I moved to Raleigh, NC and began attending a local church. There were a lot of good things being taught, a lot of ministries designed to impact both Christians and non-Christians alike. Plenty of reaching out into the community. But one thing I noticed to be different was that there was a fairly strong focus on sin. I’m not talking about messages of fire & brimstone, but rather an inclination by the leadership to move people toward a sin consciousness through a strong focus on 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and clease us from all unrighteousness.” I heard this often. And every Sunday morning after the worship, people were invited down to the altar for prayer, many of whom were making the trip to confess their sins to God. It seemed very spiritual and biblical to me, so much to the point that after a while, I began to join the throngs at the altar. My new “introspection” beckoned me to do so.

As time went on, I continued my habitual trips to the altar. After all, I loved God, and didn’t want any of my sin to stand in the way of my relationship to Him. But as time went on, I realized that my new found spirituality in regards to confession of sin was not without a cost. Instead of feeling better, I was feeling worse…and worse. My spiritual vitality became drained. And I was feeling discouraged, depressed, and indeed oppressed.

There was a particular day that I did something and I was feeling quite condemned about it. But before I could “confess it to God,” He stopped me in my tracks and encouraged me to simply declare my righteousness in Christ, apart from any confession on my part. After fighting it for awhile, I did, and I could sense my spirit rejoicing as in times past. It was then that God showed me that I was standing in His grace according to Romans 5:1-2. This, my friends, is the amazing grace of God; that even in the midst of our fears, flaws and failures, we can declare that we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, because our righteousness is not dependant upon our performance (and that would include our confession). Righteousness is a spiritual state of being. We have been made righteous through the work of another. His name is Jesus!

It was after this that God led me to take a closer look at 1 John 1:9, and what I found has changed my life forever, and for the better. I want to dig into this portion of scripture from two angles: context & definition.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched, this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared, we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us;…” (1st John 1: 1-3, emphasis mine)

Do you notice how much emphasis John is putting on the physicality of Jesus? Back in that day, there was Gnostic heresy that was prevalent and even creeping into the church, and the heresy was that Jesus was “only spirit;” that He didn’t take on human flesh. So this is why John is focusing on the physicality of Jesus so strongly, and even says later on that anyone who does not believe that Jesus came in human flesh is not from God.

Now another Gnostic heresy of that day was the denial of the reality of sin, and John addresses that in verses 8-10. If we read verses 8-10 with this in mind, and also have a proper understanding of what the word “confess” in the Greek actually means, we can accurately interpret this portion of scripture, and what we get is a far cry from what is typically taught.

The word “confess” in the Greek does not mean “to repeat or reiterate something out loud” as it does in the English language. In the Greek, it simply means, “to agree.” Many Christians are led astray by a faulty understanding of 1 John 1:9. The poor translation has led to some very poor teaching. So lets look at a paraphrase of 1 John 1:8-10, within context, with a proper understanding of the meaning of the word “confess,” while keeping in mind that John is combating the Gnostic heresy of the denial of the reality of sin….

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we agree with God that we do sin (or agree with God that we are sinners), He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and the truth is not in us.”

1 John 1:9 does not mean “to repeat or reiterate” your sins to God, according to the English definition of the word “confess.” It’s not a call to be introspective, to keep short accounts of every sin you commit so you can confess them to God so that you can be forgiven, or have your relationship restored, or have your fellowship restored, or to somehow “activate” His forgiveness. Rather, 1 John 1:9 is a confirmation that “all is well” with the soul that gets in agreement with God in regards to the reality of one’s sin and need for a savior. Our forgiveness and cleansing is not based on our confession. It’s based on the finished work of Christ. By faith, we have received grace, and it is finished..once and for all.

When we sin, we don’t deny it’s reality or pretend it doesn’t exist. By the grace of God (the Holy Spirit within), God points it out to us so we can learn from it, turn from it, and move on in the grace of God. We shouldn’t dwell there. If one insists that we must do something at that point to be made right with God or to have fellowship restored, it is nothing more than works; I must now DO something to earn my right standing with God. If that’s the case, then “grace” (undeserved, unmerited favor) is no longer grace. Friends, it’s time to live by a New Covenant paradigm where we relate to God and receive from God by grace through faith, rather than through an Old Covenant, performance based paradigm. If we think that God will not bless us, or has in some way withdrawn his presence from us because we haven’t performed the right spiritual calisthenics in order to be restored to him, then we might as well just throw the new covenant to the side of the road and live by the old, for that’s essentially what we’re doing anyway.

But what about David? David was a man after God’s own heart. And He confessed his sin. I think it’s important to understand that David’s confession didn’t actually forgive sin. Without the shedding of blood, there was no forgiveness of sin. That’s why once a year, the Jews would gather for the Day of Atonement, and through animal sacrifice the blood would cover the sins of the people for that year. So understand that when Jews sinned, their sin would be hanging over their head like a dark cloud until the Day of Atonement, when the blood would cover their sin for that year. And each year they had to do it all over again. I believe David certainly found some relief in his confession, but Israel’s sin, including his, was not covered until that once a year Day of Atonement.

The Jews would have welcomed the day for there to be one sacrifice for sins forever, for as Paul says in the book of Hebrews, “for the worshippers, once purged, would have no more consciousness of sins.” (Hebrews 10:1-4)

This is who Jesus is…the “one sacrifice for sins forever; past, present and future sins remitted…who sat down at the right hand of God, waiting until his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering He  has PERFECTED FOREVER them that are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14, emphasis mine)

One sacrifice for sins…past, present and future. Then Jesus sat down. He sat down because there was nothing left for him to do in the matter. It was finished. And anything in our soul’s perspective that falls short of once for all forgiveness of sins can only serve as an impediment to living in the complete and total freedom for which Christ has set us free….a freedom that enables us to love others and serve God with joy, boldness and without fear, because we know we have been made right with God once for all by the work of another.

Yet on Sunday morning in churches all across the world, believers are lured into introspection, and into the “confessing in order to be forgiven” cycle, making their trips to the altar week after week, a picture that looks quite similar to the Jews of old who had to go back year after year for a continual cleansing from sin. I think it’s important to note that Paul, in Hebrews 10:3-4, shares how the old covenant sacrificial system not only didn’t make those who approached perfect, but it also served as a reminder of the people’s sins year after year. And the same can be said of our present day religious exercise of incessant confession; it does not make us perfect (Jesus has already done that), and it serves to remind us of our sins on a continual basis, an effect that is completely contrary and opposed to the purposes of God intended through the finished work of Christ.

My friends, it’s time to stop ordering our lives according to an Old Covenant perspective in this matter. The New Covenant is a better covenant, established on better promises, because 1) our sins aren’t just covered temporarily year by year, but our sin is remitted, past, present & future, through the one sacrifice for sins forever, Jesus Christ, and 2) This covenant is not based on our ability to fulfill law or any other religious exercise, but on God’s grace and faithfulness to keep covenant forever.

What is the conclusion of the matter? To take our stand in the grace of God, and live. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for all who believe (Romans 10:4).

Grace to all!

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Responses

  1. My thoughts…Living in a state of rightousness frees you up to focus on higher level priorities such as loving one another or turning the other cheek. It frees you up to take your focus off of your sin and others and onto becoming a whole, healthy individual. Some will say that God doesn’t want us to live this way because it gives permission to do whatever we want (sin), but that kind of attitude wouldn’t be living in rightousness either. True living in the state of rightousness is not expecting perfection of ourselves or others, but acceptance and knowing that mistakes will be made. The church has it all backwards, which is why I can no longer go. We (me & the church) no longer believe the same things and when something as basic and simple as this equates living in judgment of others for their mistakes all for God – a lot of harm ensues to everyone – individually and collectively.

    As i write this….I have to wonder – is it really that Jesus never sinned and was a perfect man? Or did he simply live in his rightousness?

    Once you start to reflect on some of these things…it’s hard not to question some other “truths” the church insists on….because the Bible says so (according to who/whose interpretation of it)? Not leaving room for how warped the transition of much of the Bible has become. Not considering how many other absolute “truths” in history the church has insisted upon only to reverse it because they ended up being wrong (earth is flat vs. round, etc)

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    • Hi Leslie,
      What you wrote in your first paragraph speaks volumes. The grace of righteousness isn’t just about positional righteousness (being in right-standing with God through faith in Christ) but about practical righteousness also; that is, being empowered by the grace of God to live the life God calls us to; a life that is first and foremost characterized by love.

      In regards to Jesus, if he isn’t sinless…if he isn’t the perfect man….then the perfect, unblemished sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin is imperfect and it is therefore powerless to forgive sin. If this is indeed the case, then the Christian faith is the greatest of lies; we should toss the Bible and faith to the side of the road and live for today, for tomorrow we die.

      As much as people have tried to discredit the Bible’s accuracy, the truth of the matter is that, overall, it is remarkably consistent in its message and translation. I’m not saying it is 100% textually pure (although it is very close to it) in regards to translation, but what you’ll typically find is someone taking a small portion of scripture that may pose challenges from an interpretive perspective, and then blowing it out of proportion in an attempt to discredit the whole. This type of caricature is totally unreasonable and unfair, but unfortunately quite common among those who have an agenda to somehow “disprove the Bible.”

      The Old Covenant consistently points to a coming Savior. When I read Isaiah chapter 53, a prophecy written 400 or so years before the birth of Jesus about the coming Messiah, along with other prophecies, and then consider the life of Christ….how he fulfilled those prophecies…. and then consider the reality of the existence of God and the reality of my human condition, I came to the conclussion a long time ago that I was a sinner in need of a savior. That Savior is Jesus. God giving His Son as a sacrifice for the reconciling of man to Himself is the greatest expression of love the world will ever know. But we must respond in faith.

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  2. Did you ever find any churches in the Raleigh area that teach righteousness in Jesus and the fullness of God’s unconditional grace? If so, please give me the names.

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    • Hi Debi,
      Thank you for visiting my blog. Sadly, I cannot say I have found an institutional church that firmly embraces and teaches New Covenant reality. I’ve been to some that claim they are Christ-centered and grace-based, but after being there for awhile, it’s the same old story; a strange mix of law and grace that leads to confusion and, inevitably, a “works oriented,” performance centered culture.

      Plus, to claim to be a New Covenant, grace based, Christ-centered church, apart from authentic relational connection within the Body, is nonsense.

      For me, simple churches (also known as Organic churches or Home churches) are a better bet for those who are looking to grow in grace and the knowledge of God in an environment that is not only conducive to cultivating relationships, but also an environment that is open and participatory… where people are free to operate in their gifting for the edification of His body.

      I’m sure you can find information on such churches online, and you are always welcome to stop by our fellowship. For more info on our weekly gathering, you can contact my friend Randy at randywjordan@gmail.com

      Kind Regards,
      Harry

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      • I’m glad you found a group of like-minded believers–at least that’s a start. Thanks so much.

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  3. Thank you for ALL this Harry! may He help us to learn to STAND in His unmerited FAVOR. Thanks for the reminder that we have been perfected forever (For by one offering He has PERFECTED FOREVER them that are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14).) Sometimes I wonder why it’s so much easier to ‘get’ the ‘law of sin and death’ than to ‘get’ ‘living dependent on Jesus and His righteousness’. i.e. ‘trying’ seems easier than ‘receiving’ and ‘resting’ in what Jesus HAS DONE. . . Maybe not easier, but more familiar? thanks again. and am thankful for His patience with me, and that even as I struggle, I can still SIT and REST with Him at the right hand of the most High God. . . . learning . .

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    • Hi Lois,
      You are right; in our culture, receiving revolves so strongly around our performance. Actually learning to abide and rest in the blessings that someone else has secured for us through His work rather than our own….well, that’s different; it does takes time and process to learn to walk by faith in these realities. Thank you for your comments; it’s always an encouragement to receive feedback.

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