We have a new question from Anonymous:
We know from Romans and Galatians that believers,by the blood of Jesus,are already righteous (justified) in front of God,in this current life,before they step into eternity.
But how can we explain verses seemingly implying that righteousness is yet a hope to be obtained not a possessed reality ?
Galatians 5:5 “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope”.
Romans 6:16 “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
The Bible clearly teaches that our only hope for righteousness is in Christ alone. We have nothing in us that deserves from God a declaration of righteousness. As we have seen in the very important article How to be justified before God?, a man is said to be justified in the sight of God when in the Judgment of God he is regarded as righteous, and is accepted on account of his righteousness. In other terms, you are justified before God when, after examining you, God can say that you are righteous, totally without sin and totally good. It is not enough to be without sin and that you don’t ever commit any sin in your life, but you also must always and without interruption do all the good works that God commands you to do and that you are able to do, or else you are not justified, as not doing all the good that you can do is a sin.
Now, obviously no one of us can live such a perfect life in which he never sins and he always and without interruption does all the good that he can do. Therefore we all stand before God as sinners and not as righteous people. As fallen sinners, we all are separated from the Glory of God:
“for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
And we have seen in the above mentioned article which is about justification that the only way to have the hope of God’s Glory, i.e. to be justified before Him, is by the blood of Jesus Christ. This is indeed the only way to be justified before God and to be accepted by Him, as God hates sin and His wrath is on all sinners. He cannot accept an imperfect righteousness. Only the perfect Righteousness of Christ is accepted by Him. And we have this Righteousness by faith, i.e. by putting our confidence on what Jesus did on the cross and on nothing in ourselves, and by putting ourselves under His authority as our personal Lord and Savior. And now a man will be justified by Grace when, excluded from the righteousness of works, he comes to God by Jesus Christ and, unworthy, lays hold of the Righteousness of Christ and, clothed in it, appears in the sight of God not as a sinner, but as righteous! Thus, God, without contradicting His Justice and Righteousness, declares as righteous those who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior! For in Jesus Christ the debt of our sins is paid and the Grace of God is given to us! God who knows the hearts already knows who has really received Jesus Christ in his life by faith, and so He accepts such a repentant sinner as righteous before Him, as this sinner comes to Him clothed with the Righteousness of Jesus Christ.
It is in this way that we already are in Christ and we already have His Righteousness. God looks to us as if we were Jesus Christ, i.e. totally righteous, although we are not righteous in ourselves, just as He looked to Jesus on the cross as being a sinner, although He was never a sinner by Himself. This is the principle of Substitution in the Bible:
“Him who knew not sin he has made sin for us, that we might become God’s righteousness in him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Justification is the Righteousness of Christ FOR us. It is that side of righteousness that is counted or reckoned for us, although we don’t really have it by ourselves: “but to him who does not work, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)
And thus we are already justified before God by faith in Christ, and we have peace with God after we were in war against Him because of our sins:
“Therefore having been justified on the principle of faith, we have peace towards God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1)
The tense of “having been justified” shows that it is an already accomplished fact. We are already justified before God by faith and we already have peace with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ. We already are clothed with the Righteousness of Christ before God. It is in this way that many people are already called “righteous” in this life, as they have God’s Righteousness by faith: Joseph the husband of the virgin Mary (cf. Matthew 1:19), Abel (cf. Matthew 23:35), John the Baptist (cf. Mark 6:20), Zacharias and Elizabeth (cf. Luke 1:6), Simeon (cf. Luke 2:25), and many others like the ones mentioned in Matthew 5:45, Matthew 10:41, Matthew 13:17, Matthew 23:29, Matthew 25:37, Psalm 33:1, etc… All these are called righteous by faith, and not for any merit in themselves.
Now, this faith by which these people are called righteous is not a dead faith. It is not a head-belief or a head-knowledge that doesn’t produce the fruit of life and practical righteousness. It is not a past decision that doesn’t change anything in the life of the sinner. Paul makes this point clear when he describes the righteous man with the following quote from the Old Testament Book:
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”” (Romans 1:17)
This is a righteousness that is revealed from faith TO FAITH. The whole life of the one who is already justified by faith is a life of faith and obedience to the Lordship of Christ. As the verse says, the righteous man shall live by faith and not die by faith. This faith produces a real life of sanctification and obedience to God. This faith does not accept of Christ only a part that supposedly makes the sinner accepted by God and yet produces a resulting life of disobedience and unrighteousness. This faith receives the WHOLE Christ, i.e. it submits to the authority of Christ over our lives! As we have seen in the article How to be justified before God?, the only true kind of faith is the one that puts the sinner under the authority of the Redeemer Jesus Christ. Thus a whole life of righteousness results from this righteousness that we already have by faith:
“having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:11)
If we didn’t already have the Righteousness of Christ, we would not have this resulting fruit of righteousness. Just as you can’t have apples without an apple tree, in the same way you can’t have the fruit of righteousness without righteousness.
Therefore Paul makes it clear that Justification is not all what there is in Salvation. God’s purpose in Salvation was not only to make a list of those who “made a decision” for Christ, as many false teachers say today. The purpose of Salvation is to produce lives of righteousness and obedience to God. The ultimate purpose of our Salvation is that we become like Jesus!
“Because whom he has foreknown, he has also predestinated [to be] conformed to the image of his Son, so that he should be [the] firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29)
Those who are truly righteous before God are predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son! They are predestined to that! There is no way of escape. And who wants a way of escape from righteousness after tasting how Good is the Lord?! We really want to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. We already have been satisfied of the Righteousness of Christ (justified to the full!) in a way that we will never hunger or thirst again for Righteousness and life eternal (cf. John 6:35). But we were not satisfied in a way that would make us detest this Righteousness and thus throw it away and live a life of unrighteousness! We will hunger and thirst for righteousness, and God will always make us satisfied of Christ’s Righteousness (this means sanctification in the case of those who have been justified by faith): “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6) No satisfaction is promised for those who still love sin although they profess faith in Christ!
And as the righteous man is predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son, i.e. he is predestined to that Glory of God from which he was previously separated because of his sin as we have seen in Romans 3:23, so he has a sure hope of that Glory. Immediately after saying in Romans 5:1 that we are already justified before God and have peace with Him, Paul adds:
“by whom [i.e. by Christ] we have also access by faith into this favour in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2)
This is a sure hope, as we are predestined by God to that Glory, i.e. to be conformed to the image of Christ. “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil” (Hebrews 6:19) This hope is like an anchor for a ship! It is the safety of the ship! It’s not a shallow wish to be safe. It’s the certitude of having what we hope for. As we know for sure that in Christ we are predestined to be like Him, then this hope is a sure hope. We already have Christ, so we already have this hope of Glory: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)
So by faith the sinner is not saved from the judgment and wrath of God to be free to sin freely! The sinner is saved from sin to obedience and righteousness and Christlikeness.
It is with this subject that the topic of Romans 6 begins. This is the passage from which Anonymous quoted Romans 6:16, so let’s see what is the context:
“What then shall we say? Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? Far be the thought. We who have died to sin, how shall we still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)
So, as you can see, the topic of Romans 6 is the question whether we are now free to sin or free from sin to serve God. Paul clearly says that even the thought of continuing in sin is unacceptable now that we are in Christ. And in his arguments he reaches the verse 16 quoted by Anonymous, where he says:
“Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves bondmen for obedience, ye are bondmen to him whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?“ (Romans 6:16)
Paul makes it clear that the faith by which a sinner is truly righteous before God is the obedient faith. If you didn’t really put yourself under the authority of Christ to obey Him as Lord, you can’t have the hope of righteousness (including conformity to Christ, and not only justification), and you will be just deceiving yourself. The true faith by which we are righteous before God is the faith that obeys and produces the fruit of righteousness. By faith the righteous man lives and does not die, as we have seen above. In other words, Paul talks in Romans 6 about the whole Righteousness of Christ which is not only justification. It’s not only the Righteousness of Christ FOR us (i.e. Justification); it’s also the Righteousness of Christ IN us (i.e. Sanctification) as we become conformed to the image of the Son, as we have seen above. We have all of this Righteousness only by obedient faith, and not by a dead faith. A dead faith will only produce sin unto death.
So this is not a future righteousness as you said, Anonymous. It’s a righteousness that we already have, the Righteousness of Christ, but by a living faith and not a dead faith. Practically this means that we already have the Righteousness of Christ FOR us (i.e. we already are justified), and we are surely having the Righteousness of Christ IN us (i.e. we are being practically sanctified day after day in Christ), and we wait for the sure hope of glorification (i.e. to be conformed to the image of the Son). It is only by the Spirit, on the principle of faith, that we wait for this sure hope of righteousness which includes all what I described above (Justification before the Throne of God, sanctification by the Spirit, and Glorification).
Thus we reach the context of Galatians 5:5 where it is said that it is on the principle of faith that we wait for this sure hope of righteousness.
The context of Galatians 5 (from which Anonymous quoted Galatians 5:5) is similar to Romans 6 that we studied above. Let’s read the first verse in that chapter:
“Christ has set us free in freedom; stand fast therefore, and be not held again in a yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)
So the context of Galatians 5 is about remaining or persevering in the freedom that we have in Christ. In other terms, just as he did in Romans 6, Paul is telling the Galatians that a faith that doesn’t produce the fruits of freedom from sin is not a genuine faith. Jesus didn’t save us to sin, but from sin to serve the living God (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9 and Hebrews 9:14). The Galatians were in danger of receiving a false “gospel” (cf. Galatians 1:6-9) that says that they could be conformed to the image of Christ (i.e. be sanctified or made perfect) by the works of the Law, i.e. by the flesh (cf. Galatians 3:3). So Paul explains to them that they can’t be perfected by the flesh after they had begun by the Spirit:
“Are ye so senseless? having begun in Spirit, are ye going to be made perfect in flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)
So the Galatians had a very wrong understanding of what Sanctification or conformity to Christ’s image means and how they should reach that goal, as they had a very wrong understanding of Justification. A clear understanding of Justification by Grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is very essential for a true understanding of Sanctification, as Justification contains in it the whole of the principle of Sanctification. As we have seen above, if we are not justified before God by faith and thus have peace with Him, we can’t have the sure hope of God’s Glory and the predestination to be conformed to the image of the Son. This is why Paul tells them in the context of Galatians 5 that they have a wrong understanding of Justification:
“Ye are deprived of all profit from the Christ as separated [from him], as many as are justified by law; ye have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)
And then he explains how this wrong understanding of Justification disagrees with the true understanding of Righteousness which is not a mere justification in order to escape God’s wrath through faith and then to fall again under the slavery of sin, but also a daily conformity to the image of the Son by a living faith that produces the fruit of righteousness and reaches the final result which is to be declared blameless and acceptable before the Throne of God as righteous in Christ:
“For we, by [the] Spirit, on the principle of faith, await the hope of righteousness.” (Galatians 5:5)
It is on the principle of faith that the already righteous man lives! He has the sure hope that when he will stand before the judgment-seat of God, he will surely be declared righteous, as he already has that Righteousness of Christ as we have seen above.
Those who already are righteous in Christ are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. They know for sure that they will see God according to the following verse:
“holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14)
No one can be holy by himself in order to be able to see God. It is only by having the Righteousness of Christ by faith that we can have the sure hope of being found righteous before God and thus be able to see Him, as only the pure in heart shall see God: “Blessed the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) Once again, this is not a future event as you said, Anonymous, but it is something that we already have (i.e. we are already saints in Christ) and that we are having each day (i.e. we are being sanctified practically each day and we are being conformed to the image of the Son).
So the verses that you quoted practically mean: We have the sure hope of being declared righteous before the judgment-seat of God, as we already are righteous before God, having been clothed by the Righteousness of Christ which produces in us the fruit of righteousness. We live by faith which is the assurance in the hope of things not seen but promised by God:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
It is a living faith that has the sure hope of being declared righteous before the judgment-seat of God, and not a past shallow “decision for Christ” that cannot hope for any righteousness when the sinner stands before that judgment-seat.
Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ