Friday, March 12, 2010

“The Fruit of the Spirit is Righteousness”

Ephesians 5:9 is a very important text which must be kept in mind when discussing the topic of “righteousness”. “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Eph. 5:9). In the context of the Great Controversy, when it comes to human beings, righteousness is a “fruit” which only the Spirit can produce.

There is a tendency in human nature to seek some credit for what God alone can do. God alone can produce righteousness in fallen flesh. This was done in the life of Christ. He “fulfilled” the law in human flesh (See Matt. 3:15, 5:18). Our activity does not, indeed cannot, add to that accomplishment, but we so wish that it could.

Nevertheless, the righteousness of God is a gift that is given to mankind “apart from works” (Rom. 4:6). The Authorized Version is perhaps a little more emphatic. It uses the expression “without works”. This does not mean that the justified believer does not work. It merely points out the fact that the believer does not attempt to be justified by works.

“When the apostle speaks of not working, it is evident that he means not working in order to be justified. A man is not made just by works, but the just man works ʹ yet always by faith” (E. J. Waggoner, Waggoner on Romans, p. 4.82).

Obedience to the law is the only means of salvation. But it is not our obedience no matter how genuine it may be that is the means of our salvation.

“The provision made for the salvation of men through the imputed righteousness of Christ, does not do away with the law, or lessen in the least its holy claims; for Christ came to exalt the law and make it honorable, to reveal its exceeding breadth and changeless character. The glory of the gospel of grace through the imputed righteousness of Christ, provides no other way of salvation than through obedience to the law of God in the person of Jesus Christ, the divine substitute” (Ellen White, Signs of the Times, September 5, 1882).

When it comes to the issue of salvation, our works are separate and apart from the righteousness that God gives and imputes. This is an issue which is far too little understood. Too often good works are done which honor God and then they are spoiled by the thought that the doing of those works has merited the blessing of God or contributed toward salvation. Even when we have done the right thing, perhaps even manifested the genuine righteousness of Christ, we have no merit. Salvation remains entirely a free gift.

“Let the subject be made distinct and plain that it is not possible to effect anything in our standing before God or in the gift of God to us through creature merit. Should faith and works purchase the gift of salvation for anyone, then the Creator is under obligation to the creature. Here is an opportunity for falsehood to be accepted as truth. If any man can merit salvation by anything he may do, then he is in the same position as the Catholic to do penance for his sins. Salvation, then, is partly of debt, that may be earned as wages. If man cannot, by any of his good works, merit salvation, then it must be wholly of grace, received by man as a sinner because he receives and believes in Jesus. It is wholly a free gift” (Ellen White, Faith and Works Pg. 19.3).

Yes. The one who has genuine faith will always reveal some degree of good works. Yet, if his/her obedience is genuine, it is not a manifestation of self-­righteousness. It is a manifestation of the righteousness of Christ. All of the merit is still Christ’s and we get no credit and can claim no righteousness except the righteousness of Christ.

Many are confused by the apparent difference between the expressions of Paul and James. Yet, the Holy Scriptures penned by Paul and James both originate with the same Author. They reveal no diversity of viewpoints. James and Paul were both inspired by the same Person (i.e. the third Person of the Godhead) and they both taught the same view. The false perceptions are rooted in the failure to realize that Paul and James are not addressing the same problem. Therefore, their “answers” must not be applied to the same question. This mistake has produced false perception and misunderstanding.

Paul’s issue is justification before God.

“What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (Romans 4:1-3).

James is dealing with justification before man. This is why he cites the example of a brother who destitute and hungry and asks the questions “what does it profit”"

“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16)

James argues for justification by works in the eyes of man. Paul argues against justification by works in the eyes of God. Yet, James would agree with Paul that we are not justified by works in the eyes of God and Paul would agree with James that we are justified by works in the eyes of man.

Salvation concerns the “eyes of God”. Therefore we should agree that justification is “without works”. And our works contribute nothing toward our salvation, even though genuine works of faith are an evidence of the reception of the gift of salvation from sin (i.e. the righteousness of Christ).

In the final analysis, when we have genuinely obeyed through the power of the Spirit and revealed to some degree the righteousness of Christ we are still “unprofitable servants”. Therefore we have no merit.

"So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'" (Luke 17:10).

Mark Duncan

Sabbath Scool Today

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