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The Gift of Righteousness

The following is the beginning of an article by Pastor Barry Henning from New City Fellowship, St. Louis.  Please Click Here for a PDF of the entire article.

The Gift of Righteousness through Christ:

God’s means for bringing the Justice

of the Kingdom of God in this world


When Jesus came to announce the salvation of God he used the phrase “the good news (gospel) of the kingdom and constantly referred to his coming as the presence of the “kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven” ” (Mt 4:17, 23; 5:3, 10, 19; 6:33; 7:21; 8:11; Mk 1:15; 4:11; 9:1, 47; 12:34; Lk 4:43, 7:28; 8:1, 10; 12:32).   Jesus talked about the nature of kingdom righteousness, demonstrated it by his actions (Mt 13; 18:1-9; 20:1-16; 21:28-22:14; 25:1-46; Lk 13:18-20; 14:15-24) and called his disciples to “seek first the kingdom and his righteousness” (Mt 6:33; 25:31ff.) When Paul talked about God’s salvation he frequently referred to it simply as “the gospel” (Rom 1:15,16; 1 Cor 1:17; 2 Cor 2:12), and he talked about “preaching Christ” (1 Cor 2:2; 2 Cor 1:19; Gal 3:1,14; Eph 3:8).  The righteousness Paul talks about is “the righteousness of Christ” (Rom 3:21ff; 2 Cor 5:21; Titus 3:4-7) and he urges us to receive and even pursue this gift of righteousness through faith alone (Rom 3:21ff; Gal 3:1ff; Phil 3:7ff.)

Are Jesus and Paul talking about the same thing?  While everyone who acknowledges the Bible as the Word of God would assume there must be a consistency in the message between Jesus and Paul, there is still a practical disconnect in the thinking of many evangelical believers. Traditionally, those who are critical skeptics of Christianity and the Bible will highlight this perceived difference as proof that there is not really a consistent message in Scripture.  But even among evangelical and reformed believers there is often a practical separation between the message of Jesus and the message of Paul.  As a result, some emphasize the demands for the righteousness of the kingdom in a way that tries to motivate God’s people out of a simple moral obligation to do good, and they leave out Paul’s emphasis on grace and righteousness as a gift through faith in Christ.  Others emphasize the righteousness of Christ as a gift that almost completely neglects the justice-kingdom focus of that righteousness.  This can give believers the impression they are completely in good standing with God regardless of how they live their lives and there is no serious responsibility to pursue justice.   When believers do pursue righteousness, they may also feel free to individually define what that righteousness looks like.

So how are the messages of Jesus and Paul the same and why do they talk about the nature of the “gospel” in what may appear to be different ways?  The simple answer is one of emphasis and timing.  There is a pattern to God’s revelation which flows all the way from Genesis through Revelation and it works something like this.  God tells us he is going to do something, carries it out, and then later explains the full implications of what he did and why he did it.  He speaks-acts, and then explains or interprets.  The pattern is set in Genesis 1 and 2 where God speaks-acts the world and the universe into existence (“And God said, ‘let there be light’, and there was light” Gen 1:3) and then explains to Adam and Eve that he has created them to live in his image, as vice-regents, who will carry out his goodness in the world by filling it with their offspring and subduing the earth for his glory (Gen 1:27ff, 2:15ff).  In the Exodus narrative, God told Moses he was going to deliver his people Israel from Egypt (Ex 3:7ff.), acted through Moses as the deliverer (Ex 6:1ff), and then had the people of Israel sit at Sinai for a whole year while he explained his purposes and their new role as the nation-kingdom of God, through the “prophet” Moses (cf Deut 34:10).  The same pattern can be seen on a larger scale with God’s plan of redemption for the world after Adam’s disastrous fall into sin. God “speaks-acts” the beginning of his redemption through Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, explains it through the Prophets, and then fulfills it all in Christ.


When we come to the ministry of Jesus, God does a tremendous amount of speaking and acting, which waits for the fuller explanation to come through the teaching ministry of the Apostles and the other New Testament writers.  For example, Jesus says to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven” (Mt 9:2). Later, as he hangs on the Cross he utters the words, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30).  We already had some idea of the connection between the two events from Isaiah 53, but the absolute clarity of how Jesus could forgive the paralytic  his sins and the connection to his pronouncement on the Cross, comes in Romans 3:23- 26 when Paul explains,

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (ESV)

Even though the paralytic could hardly have had Paul’s fully developed view of justification, nonetheless, what Paul explains in detail in Romans 3 is precisely what God was doing in his life.  Paul even says in Romans 4 that Abraham and David had a fundamental sense of this teaching, namely, that God freely justifies the wicked by faith as a gift (Rom 4:1-8). However, you and I might not see this connection with Abraham and David quite so clearly ourselves by reading the Old Testament narrative without Paul’s Spirit-inspired revelation.

This same dynamic applies to Jesus’ announcement of the “good news of the kingdom” and Paul’s proclamation of “the Gospel of Christ.”  Jesus calls for kingdom righteousness (Mt 5-7, Luke 6,11) and Paul states in Philippians 3:7-9,

“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-“(ESV).

Jesus calls us to kingdom righteousness.  Paul more fully explains this righteousness comes only as a gift in Christ.  Paul is explaining the details of the message Jesus preached, even if we can’t clearly see it in the Gospel narrative ourselves.  What we can be sure of is that Jesus never intended to give people the idea, nor did he ever teach men could attain the righteousness of the kingdom by relying on human effort and religious zeal.  What he did say was that men were to look in faith to him as the means of fulfilling this kingdom righteousness he was calling them to:

“Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?  Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’” (ESV) Jn 6:29, cf Jn 1:12