“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans outlines the gospel that he has been proclaiming throughout the world. In verses 16-18 of the first chapter Paul presents the theme statement that he will be working out in the rest of the letter. At its heart this gospel proclamation is a choice between two competing types of righteousness one of which redeems us and the other which puts us under the wrath of God. To put it simply do we trust in ourselves or in Christ? This choice was the one which confronted Martin Luther on the eve of the Reformation. He was preparing to conduct a series of lectures on Paul’s letter to the Romans when he was confronted by the gospel proclamation which Paul makes here. Listen to how Lloyd-Jones describes the crisis which resulted.
“He came up against this verse, and because of his misinterpretation of the meaning of ‘the righteousness of God’ he passed through an agony of soul. Listen to his own words: ‘I laboured diligently and anxiously as to how to understand Paul’s words in Romans 1:17, where he says that “the righteousness of God is revealed” in the gospel. I sought long and knocked anxiously, for the expression “the righteousness of God” blocked the way.’ You see, he thought it was just a description of God’s character and of God’s being, and as he stood before this revelation of God who is light and ‘in whom there is no darkness at all’, a God who is so just that He cannot even look upon sin – as he saw this righteousness of God, he just felt it was impossible; he says that this expression, ‘the righteousness of God’ blocked the way to salvation for him.” (Lloyd-Jones, “The Gospel of God: Exposition of Romans 1, Banner of Truth, 1985, pp.298-299)
Luther eventually came to understand that what Paul was referring to here was the imputed righteousness of Christ given to those who believe in Christ. It was this faith that lit the lamp of the Reformation. It is however, the issue that confronts each person who seeks to be redeemed from sin. If God’s holy character requires perfect holiness, and we are far from ever meeting this standard, who then can be saved? Anyone who comes to Christ in faith can be saved because the standard is not to be met by us, but by the Lord Jesus Christ who bore God’s wrath against sin in His own body, and who gives us the imputed gift of his own perfect obedience to the Father’ will.
Lloyd-Jones illustrates this with the following quotation from his book Spiritual Depression.
“To make it quite practical I have a very simple test. After I have explained the way of Christ to somebody I say “Now, are you ready to say that you are a Christian?” And they hesitate. And then I say, “What’s the matter? Why are you hesitating?” And so often people say, “I don’t feel like I am good enough yet. I don’t think I am ready to say I’m a Christian now.” And at once I know that I have been wasting my breath. They are still thinking in terms of themselves. They have to do it. I sounds very modest to say, “Well, I don’t think I am good enough,” but it is a very denial of the faith. The very essence of the Christian faith is to say that He is good enough and I am in Him. As long as you go about thinking about yourself like that and saying, “I’m not good enough; Oh, I’m not good enough,” you are denying God – you are denying the gospel – you are denying the very essence of the faith and you will never be happy. You think you are better at times and then again you will find that you are not as good at other times as you thought you were. You will be up and down forever. How can I put it plainly? It doesn’t matter if you have almost entered into the depths of hell. It doesn’t matter if you are guilty of murder as well as every other vile sin. It does not matter from the standpoint of being justified before God at all. You are no more hopeless than the most moral and respectable person in the world.” (Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, Pickering & Inglis Ltd., 1965, pp. 33-34)
Which righteousness do you trust in, yours or Christ’s?