Righteousness By Faith Alone, What Am I Supposed To Do Now?

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Devotional Word for Friday, February 12, 2021

As I have grown in age (and wisdom and understanding I pray), I have noticed the tendency to move toward logical extremes.  I see this not only with the youth I minister to but also the wider culture.  This is not my attempt to suggest that life was better and more civil when I was a kid.  In fact, I think humanity has always moved to logical extremes down through the ages.  My apprehension of this fact is largely due to my growing awareness and not any real change in the culture.  Let me give you an example of this sort of behavior from the Heidelberg Catechism.

As we have been going through the catechism, we have just spoken of the righteousness that we have before God which comes by true faith.  Question 61 asks the next logical idea.  It says, “Why do you say that you are righteous by faith alone?”  The answer says, “Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God, and I can only accept it and make it mine in no other way than by faith alone.”  The answer makes plain that the means by which I can be righteous is faith alone.  The reason for that is that the righteousness comes only by the work of the Lord Jesus.  By faith, we are united to the Lord Jesus, He takes our sin upon Himself, and gives us His wonderful righteousness.  This is why faith alone is able to make us righteous.

Just to be clear that it is faith alone, question 62 asks, “But why cannot our good works be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of it?”  There are actually two questions here.  The first is why our own works are not good enough.  The second concedes that our own works might not be sufficient for the whole but may be applied for a part.  The answer responds, “Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment of God, must be absolutely perfect, and wholly in conformity with the divine Law.  But even our best works in this life, are all imperfect and defiled with sin.”  In short, even in Christ our good works cannot stand against God’s standard of perfection.  Only the work of Christ saves us.

Question 63 then anticipates the logical extreme to which people are prone to push such good news.  It asks, “Will our good works merit nothing, even when it is God’s purpose to reward them in this life, and in the future life as well?” Here is the logical “extreme.”  Well, if our good works do not really grant us righteousness, then they must not merit us anything.  Paul anticipates the same sort of logical “extreme” in Romans 5 and 6. There he is speaking to the Romans about the salvation which is by grace.  In Romans 6:1-2 He asks and answers the extreme question about works posed in a negative manner.  “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Though answer 63 responds with less fervor, it, like Paul, locates the benefits of righteousness not in the works of people but in grace of the Lord saying, “This reward is not given because of merit, but out of grace.”

In another example of taking ideas to their extreme, question 64 asks, “But does not this teaching make people careless and sinful?”  Again, this question has in view the idea that if I am made righteous by faith alone then I am just not going to try to do anything.  The answer is instructive for Christians.  It says, “No, for it is impossible for those who are ingrafted into Christ by true faith not to bring forth the fruit of gratitude.”  As I reflect upon the person and work of the Lord Jesus, I marvel at the grace which is extended to me through faith.  That causes, by God’s Spirit working within me, a deep and abiding desire to follow the Lord and obey His word.  This is not done so that I may prove my righteousness or place a seal upon righteousness given to me.  This is done out of gratitude for the work of the Lord Jesus who has made me righteous forever.  Amen.