Romans 1:17 The Gospel reveals God's Righteousness

In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed , a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

My friend, Steve's story is a frequently heard one. Talking about his years as a pastor he describes an approach to work and life which, though rich and fulfilling, was underpinned by a drive to perform, do well, get results. I asked him, "Why? What made you think that your work and life had to be successful?" "Because I wanted to show I was worth something, that I could justify my place".

Many of us live like this but when things go poorly, it results in the pain of a failure which questions our very identity and worth.

Have you ever felt ... If only ... I would be worthy of this relationship, I justified this salary, this position, could run 100 metres in under 10 seconds, play for England, write a book. Nothing else in my life is working out, thank goodness I have got kids - they give me a reason to live. I am not good enough, nice enough, successful enough ... To be accepted by God.

martin-lutherMartin Luther (the 16th Century Roman Catholic priest, monk and theologian) wrestled with the phrase "the righteousness of God".

"although I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction(religious works) … Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience …"

"Then … I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith … here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me."

This morning I want you to leave with a burden lifted off your shoulders, with a troubled conscience stilled. I want you to not just understand in your mind but experience in your heart a fundamental truth of Christianity. A core, distinguishing, unique doctrine.

You don't have to be a good person to be accepted by God.

Some of you are thinking:
"I know that, surely you must have something more interesting to say."
But I want to be sure that you don't just know it but that you live it. For you there is a challenge in my message.

"I think I know what you mean but surely I have to try and be good?"
For you there is a surprising message that, no, it's no good trying to be good.

"That's crazy, of course I have got to be good. Aren't you always going on about sin and repentance?"
For you my message is that this is about status not morality.

"Thank goodness - I've got no chance otherwise."
For you my message is, none of us has a chance - except for the gospel.

This is a strange but liberating truth. Last week I spoke about how the gospel conquers shame because our identity changes. In this verse that is explained a bit more through the concept of God's righteousness.

In the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed , a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."

In these few short words Paul summarises the core gospel message which the rest of Romans goes on to expand. Nothing like this had ever been said before and no one has ever said anything like this again. This Christian doctrine is both unique and even offensive to other faiths and philosophies.

And Christians often don't get it either. Many of you come here week in week out. I teach you about how to repent and receive God's grace and forgiveness and you deal with some stuff and then you head out the door and find yourself drifting straight back into a life which hasn't grasped this core truth.

Romans 1:17 says that the gospel (the message of salvation in Jesus reveals God's righteousness.


Later on in the letter Paul will use several words: righteous, right, justice, just, justify. These words all come from the same root word in Greek which is Dikae. Our English words don’t really grasp the meaning inherent in this word.

Let me try and explain what is being expressed when Paul uses these words:
It starts with what a judge does - restores justice, put things right, re-balances injustice.
In Greek and Jewish thought it related to keeping on the right track, conforming to the norm, to what was good custom, a fulfilment of obligations.
Plato designated it as one of the cardinal virtues: the perpetual and constant will of rendering to each one his right.

We tend to think of it as a moral term (and it does carry those connotations) - it's about being good. But more correctly it is a legal term. It is about your status in society or before God - not your moral condition. It's not just someone who is quite nice.

When Paul talks about being made dikae/right/just - he is using this ancient meaning.
He doesn't mean: once you were bad, now you are good.
He does mean: once you were guilty, now you are acquitted. 
It links with last week's talk about shame - it is a change of status not of feeling.
Let's look at an application of righteousness which might help this land.
Think of righteousness as gaining a certain standing before people.
·         When someone wants to become a UK citizen they have to tick various boxes, validate their application in various ways until they can say to the UKBA - here I am, these are my credentials, I am worthy of being a UK citizen, accept me.
·         When you apply for a job you present a CV which shows your qualifications, experience and successes and you say, here I am, these are my credentials, I can do your job, I am worthy, accept me. References.
·         When you apply to Uni to study you present your personal statement and exams qualifications and you say, here I am, these are my credentials, I am worthy of a place on your course, accept me.

I am here. I want to be there. To get there I need to be able to tick these boxes, show a performance record of x, y, z.
·         Here it is, therefore I can stand over there.
·         Or, no, I can't validate myself so I can't go over there.

That's what righteousness means - it is a validating performance record, a proof of reaching a certain standard. It is a legal status that says that you have ticked the boxes and can put yourself forward for this role or that position.

A righteousness from God is revealed
But Paul applies the definition, "righteous" to God.
Rather than talk about people being righteous, he says that God is righteous.
1)      God opens himself up to us so that we can see what he is like. Not that he is nice or necessarily good (although he is) but that he is just, right, puts things in their correct balance, restores things to the way they should be. Through Jesus' life, death and resurrection our eyes are opened so that we can see what true righteousness is - it is like a God who is first and last, alpha and omega, the creator and sustainer of all things. He is the judge of all who ensures that justice will be done.
2)      The gospel reveals not just what God is like but what he does - God's activity. His plan for salvation, His big mission for the world over the centuries and through history. He brings justice. God takes cosmic disorder and re-orders it. This is His salvation plan for redeeming you, me and the whole of creation. The gospel is the way that he is going about being righteous - rescuing the world.
3)      And the gospel reveals God's righteousness as a gift of salvation, the offer to us of righteousness, bought and paid for by Jesus on the cross. This status, this standing, this performance record is given to us.

Stott: The righteousness of God is His justification of the unjust, his righteous way of pronouncing the unrighteous righteous, in which he both demonstrates his righteousness and gives righteousness to us. He has done it through Christ, the righteous one, who died for the unrighteous. And he does it by faith when we put our trust in him and cry to him for mercy.

How does this compare with other religions?
Other religions & philosophies operate in the opposite way. If you can do thus and so, if you can produce a validated performance record you will be acceptable to a god or to society or to yourself. You will justify yourself:
1.       The Jewish Halakha consisting of 613 mitzvot or commandments.
2.       The long, diverse and complicated Sharia law of the Islam.
3.       Hindus have a code of life called the dharma.
4.       Sikhs don't have a code as such but aim to avoid the Five Evils (ego, anger, greed, attachment, lust). Otherwise they are separated from God, remedied only after intensive and relentless devotion.
5.       Or, the power is within you. With a better diet, some time management and personal discipline. It's cool to tell our children, you can be anything you want. Believe in yourself, you can do it. You only have to watch one episode of X factor or Educating Yorkshire to see that philosophy smashed to pieces. 

Maybe you are a secular person. I don't need all this righteousness & justifying. I just do my best and that's OK.
Then presumably you think the way you live your life is fine - you don't need to live any better. And in fact, everyone should live like you do.

(One preacher used to say that we should hand a recording device around our neck all of our lives which simply recorded what we said about the way other people should live. The comments we made about other people's behaviour. And then we get to the judgement seat, hand the recording over to God who sets down between us and hits play. We know we won't even live up to what we think others should do.)

chariotsabrahamChariots of fire scene - justifying our existence
Harold Abrahams, "And now in one hour's time I will be out there again. I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor; 4 feet wide, with 10 lonely seconds to justify my whole existence. But WILL I?"
How do we justify our existence? Make ourselves righteous?
Gold medals and completed projects. Rockefeller, just another £1m.

Some people justify their existence through their children. You may not have done much to feel you have justified your place on earth except that you have a child. And that child becomes your focus, your reason for existence. Provided they are healthy and successful, you have validated yourself.

That's a really dangerous place to be - apart from not being true, it leaves you hugely vulnerable when they do something that lets you down. Not only do they have their own problems - they have then caused you to lose the justification for your life.

Beauty, career, charitable works
Or maybe you try to build a performance that validates you through your beauty or career, or intelligence, or gifting, or wealth or charitable work. But it can't be done. It's not humanly possible.

Romans 1:17

Paul goes on to quote from the OT prophet Habakkuk saying, "The righteous will live by faith."

Three great words.
By faith in God
we are made righteous and as a result
we can live.

Not through building a performance record, by being good, by being successful. But by faith.

When you hear this truth, when the gospel reveals God's righteousness to you, with it comes faith. Faith from God for you, faith for you to believe in him. Faith results in transformed lives. Have you been trying so hard to change your life, to become worthy?

Transformed lives don't result in faith; it's the other way around. Faith in Jesus transforms your life. You receive his righteousness and are empowered to live in a new way.

As I say these words, faith is growing in your hearts - you want to believe in this wonderful loving God who reveals his righteousness, has a righteous plan to save you and offers you the gift of righteousness - so that you can live.

(God is righteous, he does righteousness and he through Jesus he gives us his righteousness. )

dock courtThink of it as standing in the dock

Being made righteous is more than forgiveness and pardon.
Forgiveness is a negative - I am not going to punish you. You are free to leave. You are out of jail. No one is going to come and get you. You can walk free from the dock.

Righteousness/justification is a positive - it is a new status, privileges. Not only are you forgiven but you may come to me. You are welcome into all my love and presence. Come to the palace for your knighthood. An accolade is given to you. You can walk in new places, access the corridors of power. Be honoured wherever you go because you have been given the righteousness of God.

I started by saying that I wanted you to leave different this morning.

I want you to leave with a burden lifted off your shoulders. I want you to understand that the gospel reveals God's righteousness which means that:
You don't have to be a good person to be accepted by God.
You don't have to build a performance record.
You don't have to tick all the boxes.

As the gospel reveals the righteousness of God to you, he gives you faith to receive His righteousness and be made righteous before him.
By the gospel you are worthy, you are accepted, you are loved and welcomed into His kingdom.

I invite you to surrender your life to his love and righteousness.
David Flowers, 05/11/2013