A STUDY BY
GARY RAY BRANSCOME
"Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: For by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is revealed bring witnessed by the law and the prophets." (Romans 3:20-21)
When the Bible says, "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified" it means just what it says! Because the law cannot remove sin, the law cannot make us righteous, no matter how many rules we keep or how hard we try to please God (Romans 3:10-23, Galatians 2:16). In fact, because we are sinners, any effort we expend trying to make ourselves righteous, is an attempt to deceive God. For that reason, no one can be saved apart from forgiveness, and the Bible makes it clear that there is no forgiveness apart from faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Joshua 24:19, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Hebrews 11:6, Isaiah 64:6, 1 John 1:7-9).
While the truth I have just stated is simple enough, our fleshly mind rebels at the idea of righteousness being imputed apart from the law (Romans 3:21, Proverbs 14:12). To the sin-defiled mind, the idea that sinners inherit eternal life, while those who seek righteousness by the law are shut out, is repulsive. Works righteousness seems so reasonable that all false religions teach it, yet it is totally wrong (Proverbs 16:25, Jeremiah 17:9, John 1:47, Romans 9:30-10:4). The world simply fails to understand one key fact, namely that Godís standard of righteousness is so high, and so holy, that "all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags," and "there is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10, Isaiah 64:6, 1 Timothy 1:15).
In contrast to the worldís way of thinking, Godís Word assures us that it is "the blood of Jesus Christ," rather than what we do, that "cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7, Revelation 5:9, and 7:14). Furthermore, we have Godís own promise that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Moreover, when He cleanses us of sin, His forgiveness is so complete, and so perfect, that it makes us totally righteous in His sight (Romans 5:19, 10:4). And that righteousness, is the "righteousness of faith" (Romans 4:13). As it is written, "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness" (Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6). As long as we walk in that righteousness God sees no sin in us, for unless we reject righteousness by willfully doing evil, no sin is imputed to us (Romans 8:1,33, Romans 4:1-8, Hebrews 10:26, 1 Kings 15:5).
FREE FROM THE LAW
Just as the death of a man frees his wife from the law forbidding her to marry another, so likewise, the death of Christ has freed us from all that the law requires (Romans 7:4). And because we are free from the law, there is "no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). However, what the world simply cannot understand is that the freedom we have in Christ is not the freedom to sin, but the freedom to be righteous (Romans 6:15-18). In fact, that is one of the greatest difficulties many have with the gospel. For as long as they think of righteousness as "obedience" to the law, they will not be able to see freedom from the law as anything other than the freedom to sin. Therefore, it is only as a person comes to see themselves as God sees them, and realizes that the law not only cannot make them righteous but keeps them from being righteous, that they can understand that Christ freed us from the law so that we could be righteous. At the same time, they also need to understand that once we are freed from the law it is not what we do, but what Christ did for us, that makes us righteous in the sight of God (Romans 10:4, 1 John 1:7).
We have been freed from the law so that we can be responsible law-abiding citizens, good parents, faithful husbands and wives, etc. without being condemned and sentenced to hell because we fall short of what the law requires. However, I repeat, it is not what we do, but what Christ did for us, that makes us righteous in the sight of God. [Romans 3:10-20 and 4:15, Isaiah 64:6, Romans 6:11, 7:4 and 9:30-32]
FREE TO BE RIGHTEOUS
We are cleansed of all sin, and made righteous in the sight of God, by the blood that Christ shed on Calvary, not by the things we do (1 John 1:7). Moreover, since that cleansing frees us from the law by freeing us from all condemnation, the last thing we would ever want to do is to behave in a way that would bring us back under condemnation. However, do not lose sight of the fact that it is the blood of Christ, not this avoidance of sin, that makes us righteous. In fact, when we trust in Christ, the blood of Christ is continually making us righteous! We are not just been washed one time, but are continually being cleansed of condemnation for all of our impure thoughts, desires, words and deeds (Romans 4:8).
A child that has just been washed may get dirty again. Nevertheless, just as avoiding dirt is not what makes a child clean, avoiding sin is not what makes us clean. The moment that we lose sight of that fact, and begin to tell ourselves that our righteousness depends on avoiding sin, we cease to trust in Christ for righteousness (Romans 10:4).
At this point the carnal mind wants to either reject what I have just said, or yell, "Whoopee letís go sin." Since those who have been blinded by the flesh cannot conceive of anyone resisting the flesh unless they are motivated by threats of punishment, they want to provide that motivation by making Godís favor depend, in some way, on what we do. They simply cannot understand why avoiding sin will not bring Godís favor, if sinning brings His condemnation (Hebrews 10:26). However, what they fail to grasp is that they are looking only at outward behavior while ignoring the inner struggle that goes with it. Thus, while they look at what they avoid, God looks at their sinful yearnings. While they think of their righteousness, God thinks of their sinful heart (Ecclesiastes 7:20). For that reason, it is only as we come to the point where we can say with the Apostle Paul, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing" that we can understand and appreciate the righteousness that is ours in Christ (Romans 7:18 and 10:4).
Having been cleansed of sin by the blood of Christ, we are free to do what is right, not because the law requires us to, but because we love Jesus and appreciate the righteousness and freedom from condemnation that we have in Him (Galatians 5:6). Since, the forgiveness that we have in Him makes us acceptable to God before we do anything, we can be good citizens, responsible employees, honest businessmen, responsible parents, and faithful spouses without deluding ourselves into thinking that such behavior is what pleases God (Galatians 5:4). In fact, because His blood washes away every sin, nothing we do can ever make us more righteous (Romans 10:4). And, any attempt to improve on what He has given us is like saying, "your righteousness is not as good as my own." In other words, it would be an insult!
FREE TO FOLLOW A HIGHER STANDARD OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Because those who walk by faith have the Holy Spirit in their heart, their behavior will be superior to the behavior of those who try to make themselves righteous. In fact, because the righteousness of faith is acceptable to God while the righteousness of the law is not, God wants the lives of those who trust in Him to shine forth as a living testimony to the righteousness that they have in Christ. For that reason, Christians have traditionally affirmed a higher standard of behavior than that required by the law. At the same time, they find that higher standard far less burdensome than the law, and in many ways almost effortless.
When a person fully trusts in Christ for righteousness, the Holy Spirit will remove much of the struggle with the flesh, so that walking in a clean conscience seems natural and right (Galatians 5:16-17). However, if a believer is still trying in some way to make himself righteous, or to earn Godís favor, God will allow the struggle will remain in order to show him his sins. In fact, if God removed the struggle He would be helping that person to deceive himself. Therefore, if you know a Christian who seems cold, austere, critical, or prone to strife there is a good chance that he or she is not walking by faith. While we all have a sinful nature, and none of us is perfect, those who truly walk by faith experience a love, peace, joy, and longsuffering that would not be there otherwise (Galatians 6:22).
As Christians we do have a responsibility to conduct ourselves circumspectly, for Christians who do evil bring only shame and reproach to Christ. In fact, you can be almost certain that someone will point to them and say, "Christians are all a bunch of hypocrites." Therefore, while we should be secure in the knowledge that we do not have to do anything to earn Godís favor, we should want to live our lives in a way that will bring honor, not reproach, to the name of Christ. [Galatians 5:18, 1 Peter 3:16-18, Hebrews 10:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.]
RIGHTEOUSNESS APART FROM THE LAW
Without being under the law, Christians have historically followed a higher standard than that required by the law. While the law limited slavery, Christians recognize the fact that slavery only exists because of sin, and have abolished it. While the law pointed out the problems that polygamy causes, Christians see that practice as a departure from Godís original intent for marriage, and recognize monogamy as a higher standard (1 Timothy 3:2). While the law condemns murder, Christians regard hate, anger, and spiteful words as sin. While the law condemns adultery, Christians recognize lustful thoughts and desires as sin. While the law deals with the reality of war, Christians recognize war as a judgement of God on both sides, and thus as an evil that is only in the world because of sin. While the law condemns drunkenness, Christians see the wisdom of limiting their intake of alcohol, or abstaining altogether. While the law says nothing about drugs, Christians recognize drug abuse as a form of drunkenness. While the law requires only rest on the Sabbath day, Christians gather for worship. And finally, while the law does not specify how we are to dress, Christians have traditionally seen the importance of modesty, while making a clear distinction between the attire of men and women.
The law not only does not make us righteous, but it will bring Godís wrath down upon everyone who trusts in it for righteousness (Galatians 5:4, Romans 3:10-23). For that reason, there is one way and only one way to be righteous in the sight of God, and that is to have your sins washed away by the blood of Christ (Romans 10:4, 1 John 1:7). The good news is, that once our sins have been washed away all of the works in the world cannot make us one bit more righteous, for the righteousness that is ours through Christ is sinless perfection. As it is written, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus // For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Romans 8:1 and 10:4). And that righteousness is ours as a free gift, through faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:23, Galatians 3:5-14).