God’s will #4: Righteousness
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Romans 3:21-26 NIVUK
For the past two weeks we’ve been looking at aspects of God’s will. Something that’s emerged is the fact that these aspects aren’t wholly separate from each other. The first aspect we looked at was salvation, then the Holy Spirit, then God’s holiness. But of course salvation is both the result and fulfilment of the work of the Holy Spirit and God’s holy character. Salvation enables the work of holiness through the Holy Spirit, and so on. I think this emphasises again what we looked at Wednesday, that God is complete unto himself. There are no contradictions in his character. He is who he will be, and that work continues until this day.
The fourth aspect of God’s will we’re looking at today is righteousness. As I said at the start of this series, I’m basing my work on Jen Wilkin’s teaching in the tenth week of her James study, and her equivalent for this was “suffering”. She explains it very well, but if you’re like me, you hear that and a whole lot of lies told to you about God by inconsiderate Sunday school teachers and thoughtless preachers over the years comes rushing back. When we hear that God wills “suffering” for our lives, I think we can very easily attach all kinds of things to that, most problematically legalism – you know, trying to “buy” God’s approval by following all the rules, regularly showing up at church and looking convincingly Christian, at least from the outside. But it’s exactly because of this reason that we do need to take a look at this aspect of God’s will.
So, does God will for us to suffer? I think that’s the most prominent question. I don’t believe he does, but if we understand the nature of righteousness then we will understand that we aren’t exempt from suffering, nor can we avoid it completely if we live good lives – rather the opposite, I fear. God’s will works to a purpose: righteousness. “Righteousness” as defined by the Merriam Webster means “acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin”. It means to be restored to right standing with God. As we saw in the reading above, this was done through Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ alone. It wasn’t something humankind could accomplish on its own.
As with salvation, we can also ask here, Why? Why do we need Christ’s righteousness? The answer again lies in God’s character. His goodness is inviolable. Anything less than righteousness on our part would mean being separated from God. It would mean the impossibility of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. But it also means that, when we are thus made righteous – not through our own efforts, but solely through the work of Christ and the will of God – we are instantly at odds with the world, because the world isn’t righteous, because “the world did not recognise him” (John 1:10). Part of our “suffering” is realising that we are not citizens of this world, and the process of living in this way.
As always, however, we are not only given the grace of undeservingly being made right with God – we are also given the grace to live rightly with God. But as with salvation, as with the Holy Spirit, as with God’s holiness, our choice plays the determining role here. Do we choose to be saved? Do we choose to listen and live in the Spirit? Do we choose to exist in God’s holy light? Do we choose to live righteously through God’s grace? For the past two weeks we’ve been praying St Francis’ prayer – a prayer about choosing salvation over self-centredness, the Spirit above animosity, holiness over sin, righteousness over apathy. But this is a prayer we will be praying for and with the rest of our lives.
With that in mind, let’s pray: