Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
-- Feeding Jesus' sheep
-- Equipping His servants
-- Proclaiming His Gospel

 

Righteousness

At the Heart of the Gospel

Gift of Righteousness

by Dennis Pollock

Understanding the precise nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ is of paramount importance. Without at least a fundamental knowledge of the gospel you cannot be saved. Once you've been born again it will take a clear and accurate view of the gospel in order to lead others to Jesus and help them receive the gift of eternal life. In this devotional study we shall consider the foremost issue which lies at the heart of the gospel of Jesus, which is righteousness. The gospel is not primarily about fixing our self-esteem, healing our diseases, improving our emotional state, making us more well-adjusted, increasing our social skills, calming our fears, boosting our careers, or restoring our families, although these may be byproducts of walking with Jesus. It is about righteousness – our terrible lack and God's abundant provision through Jesus Christ. Any attempt to convert others to Christ which ignores this is counterfeit and doomed to fail. It is not the gospel.

Seeking God's Righteousness

The New Testament Scriptures are replete with references to righteousness. Our Lord Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all material needs will be supplied us. The pursuit of the righteousness of God is man's greatest and noblest quest, and its discovery his greatest achievement. When Jesus tells us to seek God's righteousness He is essentially telling us to come to Him, for it is in Jesus, and only in Jesus, that we discover that righteousness. The apostle Paul informs us that the gospel of Jesus Christ centers around the issue of righteousness, writing, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith…" (Romans 1:16,17).

When Paul, as a prisoner, was attempting to share Christ with Felix, the governor, the Bible tells us that "he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come" (Acts 24:25). Reasoning about righteousness (our lack of it and Christ's abundant provision) is an indispensable component of sharing the gospel. Without this, the cross of Jesus becomes merely the inspirational act of a martyr, rather than what it actually is: the substitutionary and atoning death of the Savior of the world. It is one of the major roles of the Holy Spirit as He works in the world to convict men and women of these truths related to righteousness. Jesus told His disciples: "And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment" (John 16:8).

Abraham's Faith

The idea of receiving God's righteousness through faith is not exclusively a New Testament concept. We see it as far back as Abraham. When God revealed to the ancient patriarch of Israel that his descendants would be as the stars of the sky in number, the Bible tells us: "And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6). What an amazing thought! In the economy of God, faith translates to righteousness. In both Romans and Galatians Paul refers back to this event, and applies it to the experience of salvation through faith in Jesus. In Romans Paul goes on to say, "Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead" (Romans 4:23,24).

This idea of being justified and made acceptable before God through faith in Jesus' death and resurrection is at the heart of the gospel. Jesus clearly announced this concept in His declaration that has become the most famous verse in the Bible: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). This is the theme that saturates the writings of Paul. When we believe on Jesus we receive eternal life, and the reason we receive eternal life is that we receive the gift of righteousness. Again Paul writes, "For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:17). The gift of righteousness is the greatest gift you will ever receive. Without it you perish in everlasting darkness; with it you enjoy the bliss of heaven and joyous fellowship with your Creator that will never end.

A Problem of Emphasis

CrossThese truths are hardly revolutionary to evangelicals. They are so intricately woven into the fabric of the Scriptures that the only way you could miss them would be to either never read the Bible, or else to read it with such enormous theological bias and baggage that you refuse to accept its plain sense meaning. And yet in sermons, in Christian books, and in individual cases of sharing the gospel we sometimes see these truths entirely absent.

At times Jesus is presented as a great Friend to the hurting. A strong case is made that Jesus will soothe that bruised soul with His healing ointment, if only people will ask Him to come into their lives. He will heal their hurts, remove their emotional scars, and be their Friend. There is truth in this, for sure, but it is not the truth that saves. A simple litmus test for any gospel presentation is this: "Have the issues of sin and righteousness been presented? Has the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus been somewhere enunciated?" If not, you may end up with someone trying to receive Jesus Christ as a Friend, but not as a Savior. The angel told Joseph, "You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Not from their loneliness or from their depression or their emotional scars, but from their sins. Yes, He will start working on all these other problems and issues, but first things first. Forgiveness and the gift of righteousness must lead the way, and then other blessings will surely follow.

Some present Jesus as the great giver and fullfiller of dreams. "Come to Jesus, ask Him into your heart, and He will help you fulfill your destiny. You were born to greatness; your potential is unlimited. Just receive Jesus and watch Him make your wildest dreams come true." First, such an approach is far too appealing to the ego and to the flesh. Jesus is not Lord in such a scenario – He is merely our "Life Coach" to help us unlock the greatness that resides within us. Secondly it is entirely void of all the key components that make up the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no, "Come to Jesus and be saved." Rather it is, "Come to Jesus and be fulfilled." To those who would protest that Jesus does give us dreams and fulfills them in our lives, I would agree. But usually it is a lengthy, painful process that tends to burn out much of our ego and ambition before the dreams are realized. By the time the process is finished we are far more interested in seeing God glorified than having our ambitions satisfied.

The Danger

The danger of attempting to persuade men and women to come to Christ, while ignoring the issues of sin and righteousness, is that it makes it impossible to trust Jesus as Savior. It is like trying to bake a cake without using flour or creating a deluxe hamburger but forgetting the meat. A hamburger can still be considered a hamburger without the cheese or minus the tomato, but without the beef you have no hamburger at all. Likewise without addressing the issues of sin and righteousness, and forgiveness and faith in Jesus, and the cross and the resurrection, you have no gospel. No matter how lovingly you mention the name of Jesus, no matter how persuasively you urge your listener to give their heart to Jesus, no matter how articulately you portray Jesus as a loving Friend, you have not begun to share the gospel.

When we overemphasize the temporal benefits of knowing Christ and neglect the eternal benefits we create "converts" with a high rate of failure. If we present a Jesus who will never allow us to suffer, who will make us rich beyond our wildest imaginations, and who will work day and night to make all our dreams come true in the shortest possible time, we set folks up for spiritual collapse. After a season of unexpected hardships, disappointment and disillusionment inevitably follow. Church attendance wanes, Bible reading stops, and prayer grinds to a halt. People backslide who have never truly "frontslid."

Road Rally

tankcorvette

Imagine a road rally with thousands of participants, all driving down a long stretch of highway. At the beginning you are given the choice of two different vehicles. One is a red Corvette convertible and the other is an M1 Abrams army tank. Your friend, who is in charge of assigning vehicles to the drivers convinces you to go with the tank. You quickly see that this is not the vehicle of choice for most of the participants. As you lumber down the highway in your armored tank, Corvettes are passing you on the right and on the left. Your top speed is a mere thirty miles per hour, while the sports cars whiz by you at seventy and eighty. What's more the people in the Corvettes appear far more comfortable than you, and seem to be having the time of their lives. In your tank it is crowded and stuffy, and not the least bit glamorous. As you make your way slowly down the highway, you begin regretting your decision to listen to your friend and go with the tank. The Corvettes seem to be superior to your tank in every possible way. After many miles of frustration and regret you turn a corner and suddenly find yourself in a war zone. Terrorists have taken positions on both sides of the road, and are picking off the cars at will with their heavy machine guns. There are overturned and burning Corvettes as far as the eye can see. But as the terrorists fire at you, their bullets bounce harmlessly off the strong armor, unable to budge or even slow down the massive tank that has now become your best friend. You swing your turret toward your attackers and give them a taste of your tank's 120 mm cannon. An entire group of terrorists is blown to bits. Swinging the cannon in the other direction you send a blast to a large group of your attackers on the other side, making short work of them. Within minutes you have blasted your way through the ambush, routed your enemies, and are safely on your way toward your destination.

Then it dawns on you. You had the superior vehicle all along. Sure, you couldn't drive as fast or sit as comfortably as those in the convertibles, but you were protected while they lost their lives. Your friend had not urged that tank on you to spoil your fun or retard your progress, but because he cared for you. So it is for those who "put on the Lord Jesus Christ." We do not need to pretend that our lives will be a constant party, or that the sinners who refuse Christ's robe of righteousness never have fun and go through life constantly miserable and depressed. In fact some sinners are having a great time as they revel in their filthiness and immorality. And there are times when living morally and responsibly can be difficult, even painful. The Bible tells us that Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God rather than "enjoy the passing pleasures of sin" (Hebrews 11:25).

Like Paul we who have put on Christ can say, "I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ…" (Philippians 3:8). There are, of course, many blessings we receive from the Lord in this life. But we know that the greatest blessings are reserved for us in heaven, and will be revealed on that special Day when Christ returns. Having received the greatest gift of all, the gift of righteousness which Jesus offers to all who trust in Him, we walk through this life "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, and continuing steadfastly in prayer" (Romans 12:12).

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