If I gave you a million dollars, how would you react? If you were poor, you’d be thrilled. You’d thank me and tell all your friends how awesome I am. But if you were Bill Gates you might say, “Meh. Add it to the pile.”
How you react to a gift reflects your need for that gift. Which is why I am dismayed by the teaching that says humanity is justified and righteous. This is a central claim of inclusionism: “All humans are justified through the faith of Christ… All people, past, present and future, are justified already.” In contrast, the Bible declares that the righteousness you and I both need comes to us a gift through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom 1:17, 5:17).
What does it mean to be righteous?
To be righteous means to be right or straight with God. To be unrighteous is to be bent by sin. A quote from DL Moody comes to mind: “The law tells me how crooked I am. Grace comes along and straightens me out.” It’s the grace of God that straightens us out and makes us righteous. How does it work? Righteousness is a Person (1 Cor 1:30). Receive Christ and you receive his righteousness, and the result is you are justified by God.
So who is righteous? Jesus exhorted us to seek his righteousness and promised that those who want it shall have it (Matt 5:6, 6:33). Receive the gift by faith and you are 100% righteous! In Christ, you are just as righteous as he is. In contrast, inclusionism teaches that all are righteous whether they want it or not:
The disobedience of one man exhibits humanity as sinners; the obedience of another man exhibits humanity as righteous. (Rom 5:19, Mirror)
As far as I know, the Mirror is the only Bible translation that suggests humanity is righteous. Every other Bible says something like “through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” See the difference? One translation suggests all are righteous; the others say many will be made righteous. Big difference. I personally like this translation:
One man’s disobedience placed all men under the threat of condemnation, but one man’s obedience has the power to present all men righteous before God. (Rom 5:19, Phillips)
How do you become righteous? There is nothing you can do to make yourself righteous, but the good news declares that Christ’s obedience has the power to make you righteous. Believe it, and receive that free gift!
Getting straightened out
A miracle takes place whenever God transforms a crooked man like Saul into a righteous man like Paul. Saul was the chief of sinners – a violent man and a blasphemer (1 Tim 1:13) – but by the grace of God he became an apostle and herald of the gospel. That’s a miracle! But the miracle might not have happened if Saul had been convinced that he was righteous to begin with. In fact, that was part of Saul’s problem; he thought he was righteous when he wasn’t.
It would have been a mistake to tell Saul the sinner that he was righteous. And it’s a mistake to tell the Sauls of this world that they are righteous. The self-righteous aren’t righteous but unrighteous.
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. (Rom 5:18)
Paul is not saying all are righteous, for elsewhere he says the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9). Like Jesus before him (Matt 5:45), Paul distinguished between the righteous and the unrighteous. He wasn’t being judgmental, but simply stating a fact, which is that if you are unrighteous you can be made righteous by grace! Condemnation is for all who follow faithless Adam; justification and life are for all who follow Jesus. So choose Jesus!
Are all righteous?
Paul says the gift of grace righteousness overflows to the many (not all) and on account of the gift “many (not all) will be made righteous” (Rom 5:15,19). Why many and not all? Because not all receive the gift. Light has come into the world but some prefer the darkness.
For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. (Rom 5:17)
Only those who receive the gift of righteousness reign in life. Incidentally, this is a particularly awesome passage to read in Phillips’ translation:
For if one man’s offence meant that men should be slaves to death all their lives, it is a far greater thing that through another man, Jesus Christ, men by their acceptance of his more than sufficient grace and righteousness, should live all their lives like kings! (Rom 5:17, Phillips)
If a believer is not living like a king, it is because they do not properly value the gift of Christ’s righteousness. But if an unbeliever is not living like a king, it is because they have not received it, and they won’t receive it if they are told they already have it.
Inclusionism says all are righteous, but Paul says righteousness is received by faith. In the first five chapters of Romans, he says this SEVENTEEN TIMES:
- 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… (Rom 1:-16-17)
- This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Rom 3:22)
- (God is) justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Rom 3:26)
- A man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Rom 3:28)
- There is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. (Rom 3:30)
- However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. (Rom 4:5)
- Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness… he is the father of all who believe… (and) who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had… the righteousness that comes by faith. (Rom 4:9-13)
- Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. (Rom 4:16)
- but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. (Rom 4:24)
- Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Rom 5:1-2)
The good news that Paul preached is scandalous: “God justifies the wicked (Rom 4:5).” This is the sort of message that enrages the self-righteous but makes the sinner blush with joy.
God justifies the wicked! He gives grace to the unrighteous!
The law says you have a great need for righteousness; the gospel declares you have a great Christ for your need! “You are broken and in need of straightening out – receive God’s free gift of righteousness!” It is just about the most splendid announcement a bent and broken sinner can ever hear.
What are we to do with the scandalous announcement? “Believe it!” says Paul again and again and again. “Have faith in this good God who loves sinners and justifies the wicked.”
And what will happen if I do?
“Receive it and this powerful gospel will change you,” says Paul. “It will save you and make you righteous (Rom 1:17, 3:22, 30, 5:1). And when you see that – that in Christ you are as righteous and holy as he is – you will reign like a king (Rom 5:17).”
Sounds like very good news to me!