The Righteousness of Believers

THE Apostle Paul testified that “without faith it is impossible to please him [God]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that that diligently seek him.” (Heb. 11:6) According to the 11th chapter of Hebrews, the faith life of the people of God began with righteous Abel, who “offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous.”—vs. 4

Among the outstanding examples of faith in the old Testament galaxy of faithful ones is Abraham. Concerning him James wrote, “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” (Jas. 2:23) This is a very simple way of stating a fundamental fact, which is that in order to be considered the friend of another one must believe and have confidence in him. How could two people be friends if they did not believe each other? Although the human race was comparatively young in Abraham’s day, already the quality of faith in God was possessed by very few, and how pleasing it must have been to God to have Abraham believe him!

But how did God know that Abraham believed him? This knowledge was based on the fact that Abraham obeyed God. Paul testifies, “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whether he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” (Heb. 11:8-10) James testifies also concerning Abraham’s faith and how it was demonstrated. We quote: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?”—James 2:19-22

Some of the other faithful ones of Old Testament times mentioned by Paul were: Noah, who “being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” (Heb. 11:7) “Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.” (vs. 11) “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.” (vs. 20) “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.” (vs. 21) “By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones.”—vs. 22

Then it was Moses who by faith, “when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment. By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.”—vss. 23-27

“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace. And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.” (vss. 30-33) We read of these that they “quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.”

And then the apostle presents his final list, and comments, saying, “And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”

Faith in the New Testament

These Old Testament worthies all enjoyed the status of friendship with God. They could pray to him, and he guided and strengthened them in their service to him. They enjoyed also the hope of a better resurrection, or as Paul puts it, the “resurrection of the … just.” (Acts 24:15) But Paul says that God has provided some better thing for us; that is, for the people of God, beginning with the coming of Jesus as the world’s Redeemer and Savior.

Redeemer and Savior

This “better thing” is described in John 1:11,12, where we read concerning Jesus that “he came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on him name.” Here the New Testament pattern is set concerning the reward of faith during the present age—those who believe in Jesus, who have faith in him, become, not the friend of God, but the sons of God. A mere glance at a concordance to ascertain what God says about his sons of the present age is sufficient to enhance our appreciation of the fact that there is indeed a “better thing” for us. These sons of God are promised nothing short of glory, and honor, and immortality, and the privilege of living and reigning with Christ a thousand years. This high reward is not given because of their faith in the fact that Noah built an ark, or that Abraham offered up his son in sacrifice, or in any of the Old Testament works which were pleasing to God, but to those who believe on our Lord Jesus Christ, those who have faith in him—a faith which is demonstrated by works.

John explains that those who “receive” Christ are given power to become the sons of God because they believe on his name. As sons of God they are also given life upon the basis of their faith. Jesus said, “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” (John 6:47) In explaining this point further, Jesus indicates that this belief must be a whole-hearted appropriation of the very life and teachings of Jesus, which he describes as partaking of his flesh and blood; “I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”—John 6:48-51

When Jesus observed that not only the public but his own disciples were somewhat disturbed by this statement, he explained further. We quote: “When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.’ (John 6:61-63) Jesus knew, even as we would know today, that partaking literally of human flesh and blood would be of no value, even though it should be the flesh and blood of Jesus. So he explained, “It is the spirit that quickeneth [or gives life]; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” In other words, we get life through Jesus by obeying his words, his teachings, which were the teachings of his Father, and by following him. Just as Abraham obeyed God by offering up his son Isaac, and enjoyed being a friend of God, so we, through faith, obey Jesus, and as sons of God enjoy by faith everlasting life. The quality of faith is the same, but the reward of faith is different, in keeping with the dispensational outworkings of the divine plan.

The Apostle Paul had a clear idea of what faith in Christ meant to him. “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.” To this Paul adds, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Gal. 2:20,21) How could a great truth be more plainly stated! Paul was crucified with Christ as a result of his obedience to God; that is, he was dying with Christ. “Nevertheless,” he explains, “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.” He was not dying as a sinner, but as a co-sacrificer with Christ. The righteousness which he had attained to make this possible was due to the death of Jesus. Otherwise, he said, “Christ is dead in vain.”

Paul gives us a similar thought in Romans 12:1, which reads, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” We could not present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, because of our own righteousness, because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. This is possible only because of the redemptive work of Christ on our behalf, and our acceptance of the benefits of that work, and our obedience to the terms of that acceptance—those terms being a faithful following in the sacrificial footsteps of Jesus.

A Serious Matter

When Jesus said that those who believe on him have everlasting life, he meant it in a very literal way. Near the beginning of his ministry, when sending his disciples out into the ministry, he warned them of the persecution they would encounter. Then he encouraged them to faithfulness under this attack from the enemies of God and of righteousness, saying, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [gehenna].” (Matt. 10:28) Here, as is usually the case in the scriptures, the word “soul” signifies the being. The Christian enemies might destroy his body, but his being they cannot destroy without God’s permission, because even when that being falls asleep in death, from God’s standpoint it has not perished.

The implication of this is clearly indicated by Paul when he wrote, “For if the dead rise not, then is Christ not raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” (I Cor. 15:16-18) So long as there is hope for a resurrection of the dead, no one has perished; and God’s promise is that those who are faithful in following in the footsteps of Jesus even unto death will be raised from the dead in the first resurrection to live and reign with Christ a thousand years. The enemies of many of these may have destroyed their bodies, but they could not destroy their beings, for they were sleeping in the hope of the provision made for them through the death of Jesus.

However, Jesus explained that it would not be possible for the enemies of his followers to accomplish this; but if their unfaithfulness through fear of the consequences of faithfulness led them to hold back and to deny him, their souls, or beings, would perish. Jesus also indicated that in this case he would not confess them in the presence of his Father. Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 10:32,33) Confirming this, the Apostle Paul wrote, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us.”—II Tim. 2:11,12

Realities of Our Justification

In the Greek text the word “justification” has the general meaning of being made right or righteous. It describes a righteousness that is acceptable to God, and the Bible clearly shows that such a righteousness or justification during the present age comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Rom 5:1,2) Yes, the justifying faith of the present age is based upon belief in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. This does not mean that the believer is actually made righteous. In the preceding chapter Paul speaks of the justification of Abraham which resulted in his being a friend of God, and explains that righteousness was imputed to him. He then explains further that this is also true with us. The righteousness of Christ is imputed, or reckoned as belonging to us, “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.”

Paul says that our justification by faith results in our having “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Mankind in general is alienated from God through wicked works and, as aliens, are under condemnation to death; but through our obedient faith in Jesus Christ, his imputed righteousness lifts us up from the status of being aliens to that of being sons of God. And Paul explains, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Roan. 8:16-18) What Paul describes in the foregoing text as “the glory which shall be revealed in us” is what he refers to in chapter 5 where, after explaining that we are justified by faith and have peace with God in our Lord Jesus Christ, through him also by faith we have access into “this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” This is high glory, indeed, and is not available simply upon ones assertion that be believes in Christ. Sometimes we hear it said, “Only believe.” But this is not the end of what it means to be a true Christian! Paul wrote, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” Paul added, “Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” (Phil. 1:29,30) Paul realized that a mere affirmation of faith in Jesus was not enough. He saw his calling clearly to be a life of sacrificial service, involving weariness, hardship, persecution, and all sorts of hazardous situations, and finally death, in order to partake of the glory of God.

This is true to a greater or lesser extent, depending upon the providences of God, with respect to every professed follower of the Master. With some—perhaps with all, at one time or another—there is a tendency to feel that one is not worthy of such a high calling. But this is where the assurance of the merit of Christ gives us comfort and strength to press on. We can each present our body a living sacrifice with the assurance that such a sacrifice will be counted holy, and will be acceptable to God. We can count our trials and persecutions as being crucified with Christ, because his merit has been imputed to us. This is one of the blessed realities of the great doctrine of justification as it is taught in the Word of God. We can all say, as Paul did, “I live, yet not I, but Christ which liveth in me.” James says: “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?”—James 2:18-20

Dawn Bible Students Association
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