6. Righteousness by Faith

“For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.) But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach” Romans 10:5-8.

Rather than rejecting the Law, Paul here upholds the very words spoken by Moses in Deuteronomy 30:11-12. The difference is simply that the Mosaic Covenant was based upon laws, but Christ’s Covenant is of grace. Obedience to the law meant that a person had to work to please God. Grace, on the other hand, is God’s free, unmerited gift. To this day the Jews remain under the law and are ignorant of God’s righteousness … “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:1-3).

The law says, “Do this, and live,” but grace says, “Believe, and live.” But how many Christians are still trying to be accepted by God through works? They will not submit themselves to the righteousness of God. In this sermon will are going to investigate the difference between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of faith.

The righteousness of the law (Romans 10:5)
The law demands obedience down to the smallest detail. Without this no man can be accepted by God. It demands that he must be holy in every possible way, and all man’s duties must be performed to perfection. This means that not the slightest failure was tolerated. This failure (sin) automatically makes him the enemy of God, and there was no way of recovery. Thus it is impossible to live a sinless and perfect life. No human being would ever be able to seamlessly keep the whole law. The law itself is righteous, but it cannot offer salvation to anyone.

The righteousness of faith (Romans 10:6-8)
This is the New Covenant established with sinful man through Jesus Christ. It is not a matter of doing but believing. This is the message of the Gospel of salvation. If righteousness came through obedience to the law, then none of the benefits of Christ avail for us. Observance of the law mocks human weakness. The grace of God does not require us to do anything but simply believe … “And he [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6) … “Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on Him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:23-25). Thus salvation is offered through one means only … “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).

God imputes righteousness upon the one who simply exercises faith in Christ Jesus. Upon believing he is delivered from the curse and the requirements of the law. This also means that the believer is freed from condemnation and guilt. The law could never make a man right with God, but grace and faith can. This grace is available to all who hear and believe in the word of God … “And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). 

The foolishness of trusting in the law for righteousness
Living according to the law is going in the wrong spiritual direction. It is to remain in sin without any chance of forgiveness and salvation. It is to remain the enemy of God, and to live under the curse of the law.

Those who even try to live according to the law are determined to establish their own righteousness. This is in fact what the law requires, that is, to prove oneself to be holy. Attempting to be righteous through the law reveals the desire to commend oneself before God by pointing to good deeds and acts of obedience. Such a one can never be proclaimed righteous before the Judgement Seat of the Holy God … “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Romans 3:20). The result of trying to redeem or cleanse ourselves is eternal damnation.

The wisdom of accepting righteousness by faith
True believers acknowledge that they are unworthy and sinful without Christ. There is the realisation that we deserve nothing but Hell, for none of us are righteous of ourselves. We understand that no act of the flesh can ever merit God’s favour, even less salvation. We know that we have been reconciled to God simply because we exercised faith in Jesus Christ. This righteousness comes by God’s free, unmerited love for those believe in Christ’s sacrificial death upon the cross. Such a free gift ought to be accepted without any argument or doubt on our part. It should be received with joy and thanksgiving, for it is the only means that God uses to save sinners.

Do you desire to be right with God?
If your answer is ‘yes’, then do not go about trying to conquer your sin. Do not attempt to cleanse yourself before approaching the Holy God. Try and you will fail miserably. Do not try to please God by good deeds, church-going, and prayers. Instead, seek His righteousness by faith, in other words, simply believe what the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished on your behalf on the cross. Remember, you will never be good enough because you are incapable of doing anything truly good for God. Only the precious blood of Christ washes away sin and makes the soul righteous before God. Ask Him and He will make you whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7). Along with Paul we should declare, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Righteous is not the product of ‘doing’ but ‘believing’ [faith]. The righteousness that comes by faith is instantly yours the moment you believe … “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12; 10:17).

Preached by John Wesley 12 June 1742