Author: Ron Graham
Grace and Righteousness
We should all respect such important things as the promises of God, our faith in Christ, and God’s grace toward us. But we should also respect the strong connections such things have to other important things like God’s commandments, our obedience, and our righteousness.
Breaking a nexus between important things produces much error. It's like cutting the ropes that connect a hot air balloon in flight to the gondola beneath where the passengers travel.
In this lesson we consider three important connections. This will help to explain the principle that such connections should not be broken.
1 Promises and Commandments
When God makes a promise to us, he obligates himself to keep it. When God issues a commandment to us, he obligates us to keep it. Most of God’s promises are associated with commandments.
Imagine that somebody says, "You don't really have to keep commandments, because God’s promises are connected to his grace, not to anything you might do. God is totally independent in his promises and his grace toward you ".
The Case of Noah.
That doesn't match Noah’s experience. God promised Noah salvation from the flood, but Noah had to build the ark (Genesis 6:9-22).
You see in Noah the connection between promises and commands. In Noah’s case, the promise was conditional upon his obedience to the command to build an ark. Given that Noah obeyed, the promise of survival was an obligation God imposed upon himself for it is impossible for God to lie.
So we must understand and respect the connections between promises and commandments in the Bible. There is no righteousness in claiming promises while neglecting to obey the commandments connected to them.
2 Faith and Obedience
Just as there is a strong connection between promises and commandments, so there is also a similar nexus between faith and obedience.
The Case of Abraham.
Abraham believed what God said, and he obeyed. Four words are all it takes to describe the connection: "By faith Abraham obeyed" (Hebrews 11:8).
When God told Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, Abraham obeyed. However at the very moment Abraham was about to kill Isaac, God cancelled the command. Abraham passed the test nevertheless. His faith and obedience were robustly connected (Hebrews 11:17-19, Genesis 22).
James makes this connection clear: "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works and by works faith was made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousnes' " (James 2:21-23,NKJV). Abraham was saved by faith (belief) but not by faith alone. Rather he was saved by a faith connected to works of obedience.
Paul claims that Abraham was not justified by obeying God’s law instead of believing God’s promises. Rather, Abraham was made right with God because his obedience was connected to a belief in God’s promises (Romans 4:13-25). Paul calls this "the obedience of faith" (Romans 1:5,16:26).
Note: Does James Contradict Paul? —There is no contradiction between Paul and James because they both support the need to join faith and works. It's like saying that I cannot see through my glasses alone apart from my eyes, and I cannot see through my eyes alone without my glasses. I cannot be justified by faith alone apart from my obedience, and I cannot be justified by obedience alone without my faith.
3 Grace and Righteousness
Acts 10:1-48, 11:1-18, Philippians 3:4-11
We are counted as righteous by the grace of God. He attributes the righteousness of our Lord Jesus to us. But he does this on the condition that we believe in him and obey his word.
It is commonly said that we are saved by grace alone and that grace is unconditional. Of course it's true that we cannot be saved or justified by anything other than God’s grace in giving his Son to die in our stead. There is absolutely nothing else and nobody else we can turn to and believe in for salvation (John 3:16,14:6, Acts 4:12).
However, believing in Jesus Christ, and turning to him, requires that, with God’s help, we turn away from evil and be righteous in obedience to Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19, 10:35).
The Case of Cornelius.
There is a fine example of a man whom God acknowledged as righteous (Acts 10). He was Cornelius the centurion "a devout man who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people and prayed to God always..." He was called "a just (or righteous) man" (Acts 10:2,22).
As Peter acknowledged, "God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears him and works righteousness is accepted by him" (Acts 10:34-35).
Cornelius was counted as righteous at two levels. First, he was righteous by any human standard. Second, God was eager to attribute the absolute righteousness of our Lord Jesus to Cornelius, instead of Cornelius’s own righteousness. In this way, Cornelius would be judged righteous by the divine standard rather than the lesser standard. Thus Cornelius was, by the grace of God, "made accepted in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:6).
Cornelius was still obligated to be righteous in obedience to God. In fact he entered into his Christian life by obeying Peter s command (which was God’s commandment) to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:46-48)
We are required to conduct ourselves in holiness by the gospel of Jesus (2Peter 3:11). If we refuse or neglect to do that, we forfeit the accounting of Christ’s righteousness to us (Hebrews 10:26).
The Case of Saul of Tarsus
Saul of Tarsus (later known as Paul the apostle) was proud of his own righteousness. He relied on his careful and passionate obedience to the law of Moses and associated traditions. He did not see righteousness in Jesus Christ, in fact he led the persecution of those who followed Jesus (Philippians 3:4-11).
But Jesus decided to make an example of Saul and challenged him as he was entering Damascus. In that city, at the hand of ,God’s servant Ananias, Saul was soon converted. He, entered into the Christian way by obeying the command, "Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).
Thus the righteousness of Jesus was accounted to Saul so his sins were forgiven. The mistaken righteousness he had lived by was now replaced by the true gospel way.
Grace is connected to righteousness in two ways: (1) Grace lets us live our lives by the righteousness revealed in the gospel. (2) Grace lets us be justified and saved by the righteousness of the life that Jesus lived and forever lives.
"...Having been justified [made righteous] by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more having been reconciled we shall be saved by his life" (Romans 5:9-10).