Righteousness Based on Faith

Written on: March 1, 2024

Article by: Dave Knutson

Passages: Deut 30:11-14, Romans 10:5-15,

Pretty much every society has it’s heroes. We honour greatness or at least our idea of what that is. So we award the Stanley Cup and the Gray Cup. We admire Olympic Gold, the Order of Canada, the Victoria Cross and other marks of achievement. We admire human greatness and when we see it, a part of us wants to be just like that.

On the other hand, there are some things which just seem to be, too good to be true, too simple to be right and too easy, to be proud of.

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In the passages above, there is just that kind of contrast. On the one hand, a group of dedicated people, straining with all their might to truly be righteous. To flawlessly do all that the law commands. And then there’s a second group, who just believe in God and trust him. They trust God to make them righteous. It is a contrast between those who are all about establishing their own righteousness, and other believers who trust God to do the heavy lifting.

Legalists fail every time for a very good reason. We have all have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God. This is true of everyone that who has ever lived with the lone except of the Son of God. All of this goes back to Moses and the law. God gave it. Moses delivered it, but no one kept it perfectly. What then was God thinking? Surely he knew in advance that there would be a 100% failure rate. And knowing that, why give the law in the first place?

It is clear from Deuteronomy 30:11-14, that Moses intended for Israel to keep God’s law. It was in his words, a choice between life and death. And God would not accept the excuse that it was too hard to keep.

Moses writes:

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. Deut 30:11-14

In other words, there are some things that only God can do, and then there are other things that God expect his people to do. So for example, revelation is a divine enterprise. Only God can inspire prophets like Moses and ensure the preservation of his word for generations to come. And ultimately, it is God who pronounces men and women righteous on the basis of faith, as he did with Abraham. For that reason, there is a problem…when you and I try to do what only God can. Revelation, inspiration and salvation are all the work of God.

Consider what the apostle Paul concluded when he quoted or at least referenced this passage in Romans 10:6-8

For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down),

or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).”

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching

Paul explained what Moses meant.

A person can be righteous by never sinning or if you will, by keeping the law perfectly. But, having sinned, the only remedy is to trust God to return you to a state of righteousness. And this is accomplished by trusting that what God has done to bring this to pass – is good, right and sufficient.

Like what he did in the incarnation. It was God’s decision. God’s plan for our salvation was formed in eternity and put into action when Jesus came to earth of his own free will. He emptied himself of divine prerogatives and added our humanity to his deity. He lived a life of positive righteousness – rejecting sin and dying to forgive ours.

To do that, Jesus went to the cross, and once again, did so voluntarily. In his own words, no one took his life from him. He did not die because Judas betrayed him or because the high priests condemned him. His life was his own as he stood before Pilate and even when men who drove nails, fastening him to the cross.

This is what Jesus said on his way to the cross:

  • For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” (John 10:17-18)

We did nothing to bring any of this to pass. It was not our idea and not our doing. And then, having gone to the grave, God the father showed that he accepted the sacrifice of Jesus by raising him from the dead. God raised his son to rule from heaven from which he now offers salvation in his name.

But let’s be very clear: the incarnation, the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus are all the work of God. So Paul says stop trying to do – or pretending that you can do, what only God can and has done. For sinners, there’s only one way to become righteous. It is by accepting what God has done for us in Christ. And doing that in the way that God commands us to do it.

The big obstacle for some people, is that that calls for humility. It turns out that we are not the heroes in this story. We are not the righteous one, but sinners. We are not the rescuer but those in need of rescue. We were not the friends of God but his enemies

The positive aspects of the story is not about us at all, but there is something positive that we can do.

Notice how Paul led into this quote from Moses – he said, that ‘this is what the righteousness based on faith says’. Moses spoke about 1500 hundred years before Paul penned his letter. Which means, that Moses never intended for the law to be kept for the purpose of establishing one’s own righteousness. Legalism in all of its forms has always missed the point.

Sinners cannot undo a single sin. Once I am a sinner, I can become righteous again only if God makes it so. I cannot save myself and neither can you. The only sense in which I can, is by allowing God to save me.

In Acts 2:40-41, Peter followed up on his sermon by urging his hearers to allow God to save them:

And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received (believed) his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls

The command – be saved…is passive. Peter urged them, to present themselves to God for his salvation. That didn’t mean that they did absolutely nothing. What it meant was that only God could save them.

So when those present on Pentecost asked Peter what they must do in order to be saved, Peter replied.

…“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (2:38)

Those asking the question had been cut to the heart. They believed what Peter had told them about Jesus. Thus, they had come to faith in Jesus as the son of God. They believed that Jesus had risen from the grave and ascended into heaven. They believed that Jesus had sent the Holy Spirit upon his disciples and that the miracles they were seeing was His work

So Peter’s instruction is given to men who understand that they are sinners with no prospect of salvation apart from Jesus.

This is the same purpose that the Apostle Paul brings us to…in Romans 10:9-10 where he says:

…that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

That is why God sent men like to Paul to tell the story of Jesus. The one who purchased our salvation, turned right around and sent messengers to spread the word. All of this is the work of God. And all that he is asking of those who hear it is to accept it by faith.

We do that by believing that Jesus of Nazareth is the son of God, by putting our trust in Jesus. Yet the kind of belief that saves us is not private. It is a confessed faith in the hearing of others.

Putting this passage together with Romans 6, we understand that we must be united with Jesus in his death, in order to rise with him spiritually from the grave. This spirtual union takes place when we are immersed by his authority for the forgiveness of our sins. And we complete that act by starting a new life – joined to Jesus when we are being indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

You have to admit, that on the face of it, it really does sound – too good to be true, too simple to be right and too easy to be proud of.

Yet it is both good and true, for in his goodness God is both gracious and forgiving. It really is that simple. Therefore, those who heard the gospel were able to obey it the very same day. They understood the message and that time was of the essence. So they accepted the salvation extended to them by Jesus.

The easy part of this (easy for us) is the nature of God’s gift. And though salvation is a gift, there is still room for pride, just not pride in ourselves. Our boast is in Jesus Christ and in what God has done through him.

In this way, God calls us to be righteous. He calls us and makes us righteous in his son. He wants us to stop loving sin, by loving him instead. And when we do what God calls us to do, we love Him – with an imperfect love.

God does not require us to love him sinlessly. We can’t do that. But he does insist that we love him genuinely. That is something that we can do and actually must do. Thus it is that in Romans 10:13 it is those who believe in the Lord and who call upon His name who will be saved. Paul is not teaching the doctrine of faith alone. There is no such doctrine in the New Testament

We need to be clear about what the bible teaches:

  • When we are immersed in the name of Jesus, we are appealing to His authority to forgive our sins. When we are immersed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (as Mt 28:19) we are united spiritually with every member of the godhead. Our baptism into Christ and into the godhead is how we call upon the name of the Lord and when we call upon the name of the Lord

This is what Ananias said to Saul after he’d spent 3 days praying to God. Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’

To believe in his name is to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Son. To call upon his name – is to appeal for forgiveness and we do that by obeying his commands to believe, repent and be baptized

For all of that to happen, Paul says…God has sent preachers. He has no other arrangement for saving the world. People can’t believe something that they have never heard. Faith has to have content, and the only content that can save you is the good news about Jesus. But people are never going to hear, unless someone brings the message. And no one has the authority to go…unless they are sent by God.

No one simply has a dream or a vision and wakes up – saved. God does not arbitrarily choose them and save them without their knowledge. Nor does He act directly to transform sinners against their will

Salvation is offered by proclamation and encouraged by an earnest appeal. But it’s received only by those who want to be saved.

Faith is preceded and made possible. by hearing the word of God. Faith is a personal decision which God leaves up to you. And the thing is, that God has no other plan of salvation.

Historically speaking, what happened then to Israel, was tragic. It was so unnecessary. There wasn’t a reason in the world for them to stay lost.

After all, Jesus was a Jew. He spend his time teaching them, blessing andhealing them. They saw and heard things up close and personal, that we never will. Their leaders knew why his tomb was empty.

The gospel was first heard in Jerusalem before going to the rest of the world. It arrived with miracles, signs and wonders. So it was not for lack of opportunity. But they hardened their hearts and closed their ears. As Isaiah wrote: “All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.”

I don’t think that there’s ever been a time when the Bible has been more available than it is today. It is available, but ignored, Often read for the purpose of discrediting it. It is banished from our schools and publicly mocked with the result that tThere is no shortage of disobedient and obstinate people.

Yet the will of God is that we go on sharing the good news. Indeed, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

The good news of salvation in Christ is yours – if you’ll have it. Our Lord has been found already by those who were not even looking for him, while rejected by those who were good enough already.

The question is – which one are you?