16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” – Romans 1:16-17 NASB
At Bread and Wine Fellowship in our Wednesday services, we are going through Romans. I must say, it is entirely wonderful and it is great to see precious people who have never really heard this stuff light up at the message!
I was taken with R.C. Sproul’s account of Luther’s awakening to the gospel as he grappled with Romans 1:16-17:
The thing that dawned on me is that justification is all about God’s regard for us. We are all wrapped up in ourselves so we think what we present to God is our regard for ourselves. We think that God’s righteousness is a standard against which we are measured. But the righteousness of God Paul talks about is the righteousness of God imputed or granted to us. Justification is all about God’s wrath being gone toward us. We have peace with God through Christ. Our transformation is this: God’s regard for us has won over our own regard for ourselves.
Now here is the point of belief: it says God’s opinion trumps our own. God’s opinion trumps the devil’s. God’s opinion trumps everything. In other words, no matter what anyone else thinks, God’s thoughts are not opinions – they are the unassailable truth. And of all things, God has definitively declared you eternally forgiven and completely righteous. As Jesus said, it is finished.
This means that I am now regarded as righteous by God, which happens to mean that I actually AM righteous. Before faith, I was defined by the law and found wanting, and that was my identity. Any righteousness was considered an anomaly. Now in Christ, any sin is considered an anomaly. My walk consists of “considering” God’s regard for me as righteous in Christ to be the truth. My own regard has died. I have died to the law. There is therefore now no condemnation in Christ.
A lot of theological discussion around these issues misses this, I think. Most dialog seems to be toying around with the question of whether or not our faith in Christ ends up causing us to measure up to the law better. This assumes that our justification is a theological theory, but that real righteousness consists of our actual behavior and deeds. The problem is, your conscience is going to end up telling you that it isn’t working, and so your guilt is going to come around again to define you instead of your justification. When you focus your identity on your “sanctification” (a badly misused word), meaning the extent of your progress in fulfilling the law, you are living from the flesh, and the only thing left to say for yourself is “wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24).
Let’s put this another way. Suppose someone says, “it’s great that God regards us as righteous. But it matters what we actually do. The important thing is not only what God thinks of us, but how we live. You can’t say that it is enough to think that God loves us and then live in sin.” Well, I say, that is exactly what you’re doing anyway. You’re living in sin, but then you are functionally rejecting God’s salvation. Secretly, deep down, and in a most identity-forming way, this objection to grace is a position of unbelief. It still worships the self. It says, who cares about all this theological hoo-hah about God’s regard for us. This fleshly lack of faith says that God’s regard for us in Christ doesn’t really enter into the picture! It also downplays the fact that while we are yet sinners, even today, Christ has died for the ungodly. And so when people functionally strip out the power of God’s kind regard towards us as being righteous through faith in Christ, they land right away in a world of Christless crossless bloodless powerless fleshly moralistic religion (Hebrews 2:3).
This is the message he is trying to convey in Romans 6 and 7! You really have died with Christ! Your own regard for yourself as a sinner is no longer in play! You have been raised to newness of life! You may still feel the pull of sin, but consider it to be an anomaly. It isn’t true of you because what is true of you is God’s regard for you as righteous. That’s why in Romans 7 he says, when you fail, and you will, it no longer defines you. It is no longer you, but sin which indwells you. God’s kindness over you has overwhelmingly triumphed.