Romans 5, Part 6
Oct 30, 2010
Two Kinds of Righteousness
What did Paul mean when he spoke of "righteousness"?
The Hebrews and Greeks thought in two different ways. The Hebrews thought of righteousness in terms of justice--that is, in terms of being considered legally righteous by divine ruling in a court of law. The Greeks thought in terms of personal integrity or moral perfection.
The divine Law sets forth both concepts in the rituals performed each Day of Atonement. The first goat was killed and its blood sprinkled on the mercy seat in order to COVER sin. This established legal righteousness, which is only a legal decree declaring men to be in right standing with God. It is justice, because the Law has been satisfied.
Covering sin does not make anyone morally righteous so as to satisfy the desire of a Greek. True moral righteousness is accomplished only through the work of the second goat, whereby sin is removed.
Hence, the Law is not content with just covering sin, but it also removes sin. God is indeed interested in our moral character. There was a tendency for both the Hebrews and Greeks to be unbalanced, because each focused upon its own side. But the divine Law presents both revelations to us and prophesies how Christ's two works would be administered to us.
When Paul uses the term "righteousness," he usually speaks from a judicial standpoint, since the first few chapters are primarily a discussion with a hypothetical rabbi. Hence, when read in Rom. 4:22 that Abraham's faith was reckoned to him as "righteousness," we understand that God was not pronouncing him morally perfect, but having right standing before the Law. The Law was satisfied because his faith allowed the righteousness of Christ to be imputed to him. On those grounds, he was "justified" (pronounced just) and given grace (favor of the court).
Adam to Moses, Round Two
In Romans 5:13, 14 we read Paul's illustration of the time from Adam to Moses, when "sin was in the world," but "not imputed when there is no law." Although the Law of Moses had not yet been given to condemn men for their personal sins, even so, they still died as mortals as the result of Adam's sin.
There is a direct parallel here to what the Last Adam has done for us on the Cross and the time frame between the two works of Christ. The first Adam sinned, bringing mortality to all men; the last Adam paid the penalty of the Law, satisfying it to give life to all men. It is as if that same time frame from Adam to Moses was re-established at the Cross and will continue to the second coming of Christ.
Look at the parallel. From Adam to Moses, God did not impute sin. So also, Paul says in Rom. 5:18,
(18) So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.
We all continue to die, of course, just as they did from Adam to Moses. But on some level sin is not imputed to men since the Cross. We read this in 2 Cor. 5:18, 19, where we are entrusted with the word of conciliation that should be the foundation of our message to the world:
(18) Now all these things are from God, who conciliated us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of conciliation, (19) namely, that God was in Christ, conciliating the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of conciliation.
In other words, our evangelistic efforts should be based upon this foundational message that God has conciliated the world and is "not counting their trespasses against them." Instead, we have substituted an ultimatum--turn or burn, submit or die. An ultimatum is not a conciliation, but a threat. Our job as ambassadors is to present the Love of God and to beg them to be at peace with the Prince of Peace.
The Church was called to be fishers of men, but it has been fishing on the left (judgment) side of the boat throughout the long night (John 21:3). Finally, Jesus appeared in verse 6 and told them to cast their nets on the RIGHT side of the boat (the mercy side). That is when they caught the multitude of fish.
This prophesies of a different type of message. When the Church learns to fulfill its true ambassadorial role by presenting the true character of Christ and what He actually accomplished on the cross, they will then catch a multitude of fish. But it is imperative that they understand the word of conciliation in order to do this. They must stop issuing ultimatums in the name of Jesus. They must stop preaching the fear of God and start preaching His Love.
The Fact and the Timing of Salvation
The first work of Christ was to cover sin and to impute all men righteous. This did not actually remove sin from anyone, nor did it make anyone inwardly, morally righteous. God still recognizes that sin is in the world, just as He recognized this from Adam to Moses (5:13). In fact, imputation itself means that God calls what is NOT as though it were. We have to recognize what is NOT in order to call it something else.
What Jesus accomplished at the Cross was the FACT of universal salvation. There the sin of the whole world was paid as a matter of fact. His blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat in heaven (Heb. 9:12) on behalf of the entire group that had been affected by the sin of Adam. 1 John 2:2 says,
(2) and He Himself is the expiation for our sin; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
For this reason, Paul could boldly write in 1 Tim. 4:9-11,
(9) It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. (10) For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. (11) Prescribe and teach these things.
Paul did not say ONLY believers, but "especially." Those who believe have established the TIMING of their salvation. They will inherit a better resurrection (Heb. 11:35), but in the end God is "the Savior of all men," for Christ's blood has purchased and redeemed all that was lost in Adam.
Nevertheless, death has continued to reign since the Cross, because, while the FACT of universal salvation has been accomplished, the TIMING of our salvation was yet to be determined. Obviously, we are all born at different times, so even our opportunity to conciliate God in return is extended over thousands of years. But more than that, Paul says clearly that men are reconciled to God only after they conciliate God in return.
Yet in the end, after the so-called "lake of fire" (symbol of the divine law--see Deut. 33:2) has had its corrective effect upon the ungodly, all of creation will be reconciled to Him. We read this in Col. 1:16-20,
(16) For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and the earth, visible and invisible...all things have been created by Him and for Him ... (20) and through Him [Christ]to reconcile [apokatallaso] all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
Paul was speaking of the overall FACT of reconciliation, not its process through TIME. All have now been conciliated, Paul says, but only believers are now reconciled and will be given Life in an earlier resurrection.
This is the sixth part of a series titled "Romans 5." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones