Day 11: Status Symbol
… for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” Romans 1:17
Righteous – Tim Hegg, in the book The Letter Writer, makes an incredibly important point about Paul’s understanding of righteousness after his encounter with Christ. Paul, as a Pharisee, thought of righteousness as the identifying mark of those elected by God. Since he believed that election was a matter of ethnic heritage, he thought that all those who could trace their bloodline back to Abraham were therefore marked as righteous before God. It was on the basis of Abraham’s faith that every Jew was saved. This stamp of righteousness ultimately applied only to those who were descendants of Abraham.
Then something happened. Paul encountered the living Christ. His theology was radically altered. He saw the light. Righteousness was not an ethnic status symbol. It was a spiritual status symbol. It indicated the status that the righteous God placed upon all those who trusted Him. So, as the summation of all that Paul knows about faith, he quotes Habakkuk 2:4. But he doesn’t quote it the way that we usually think of it in this translated verse.
The Hebrew of Habakkuk should read, “It is on the basis of faith that the righteous one lives.” In other words, the one who trusts God demonstrates righteousness. That’s what it means to be righteous. On the basis of this trust, this one will live. This means that trust produces the kind of person who perseveres. Righteousness is not something that I obtain as I place my trust in God. God counts me righteous because I have faith in Him. As a result, I live my life based on that faith and that is the demonstration of righteousness. Hegg says, “for Paul, the words ‘righteous’ or ‘righteousness’ . . . do not describe an idea or ideal (as they would in Greek) but rather the character of holiness within the confines of a relationship – in this case, the relationship of the sinner with God as well as the man. . . Entrance into the covenant (which ascribes the status of righteous) also brings an enablement to live within the guidelines of that covenant – ‘to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.’”
God makes sinners righteous. In doing so, He enables men and women to live out the demonstration of that righteousness by keeping His covenant instructions. That means that Habakkuk does not say, “It is on the basis of my faith that I am given righteousness.” He says, “Those who are marked as righteous are preserved on the basis of faith (trust).” In other words, those who go forward after God has chosen them, live according to the trust they place in God. They are members of the covenant of grace, and that covenant affects every thought, decision and action that they make in the world. Grace dominates them, saturates them and infuses them until they have no other way of being in the world. They didn’t earn that grace. It didn’t come from their heritage or their personal efforts, but once it arrived, it changed everything about them. Now they cannot live without it. They were stamped righteous and they now live righteously. The two go hand-in-hand.
We may never really know why God chose us. All we know is that we were confronted, humbled and brought to our knees. He chose us and we submitted to Him. From that moment on, our lives exhibited being grace-filled, resulting in the process of exhibiting righteousness.