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“The Beginning of Righteousness by Faith”

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The Beginning of Righteousness by Faith

Bill Hall

Righteousness by faith: the character or quality of being right—in God’s sight—and that, not on the basis of our own merit or goodness, but, by faith.

A search for the beginning of such righteousness takes us back to the book of beginnings, the book of Genesis. Consider the following:

Abel. “By faith Abel … obtained witness that he was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4). Abel, righteous? Had not Abel sinned? How could Abel be viewed as righteous, even by the Lord Himself? The answer lies in the fact that Abel’s righteousness was not based on his own sinlessness or merit; his was a righteousness by faith.

Noah. “By faith … became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).

Abraham. “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). So significant is the fact that Abraham was accounted righteous by faith rather than by any merit of his own, that the statement is repeated in the book of James (2:23), in the book of Galatians (3:6), and several times in the book of Romans (4:3, 9, 22).

Righteousness by faith: a theme beginning in Genesis, but continuing throughout scripture. The theme reaches its climax in the book of Romans, where the “faith” by which one is proclaimed “righteous” is defined as faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22). This righteousness had been “witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (Romans 3:21); was manifested in the death of Jesus whose blood became the propitiation (Romans 3:25); and is now “revealed” in the gospel (Romans 1:16, 17). The Holy Spirit in Romans reveals clearly that this righteousness is not the result of perfect law keeping, but of Cod’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4:7, 8). Accountable beings have lived in different dispensations and under different laws, but all who are saved eternally will have been (1) saved by the blood of Jesus and (2) proclaimed righteous on the basis of faith.

Not One’s Own Righteousness

One cannot be saved on the basis of his own righteousness. The reason is stated clearly in Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All the righteous deeds one may practice cannot erase one sin. One is therefore dependent on Gods grace. He must come to a righteousness which is of God: “But when the kindness and the love of Cod our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4, 5). The Pharisees “trusted in themselves that they were righteous,” and in their self-righteousness, they “despised others” (Luke 18:9). Arrogance and contempt for others are inevitable outgrowths of self-righteousness. But when one comes in faith to be proclaimed righteous through God’s forgiveness he can only “glory … in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).

By Faith

What kind of faith is under consideration in the expression “righteousness by faith”? Clearly, it is an active, obedient faith.

Consider Abel’s faith: “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous” (Hebrews 11:4).

Consider Noah’s faith: “By faith Noah … prepared an ark … and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:7).

Consider Abraham’s faith: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son on the altar … And the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’ ” (James 2:21–23). Abraham demonstrated a faith that not only could believe anything God said, but would do anything God told him to do. This is the faith that results in righteousness—the righteousness which is of God.

When one places his faith in Jesus Christ rather than in his own righteousness, and submits to His command to “repent and he baptized” (Acts 2:38), he finds in Him “remission of sins;” he has become righteous on the basis of faith. As he continues a life of submission and obedience to the Lord, humbly asking forgiveness for his failures, he still rejoices in righteousness by faith. Then when he reaches the end of life, he can rejoice with Paul in being “found in Him, not having my own righteousness … but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God be faith” (Philippians 3:9). This is “rejoicing in the Lord.” Herein lies man’s hope!