The Two Types of Righteousness
in the Bible
By William Handschumacher
A Special Rock of Offence Commentary
Some Opening Comments
According to Scritpure - along with research performed by various Bible scholars, some disturbing facts come to the surface concerning the subject of this study. When most Christians are asked if they are righteous in the eyes of God, they often say something like ... "I try to be" or "I want to be, but don't live as I should". Unfortunately, this common response reveals that a vast majority of Christians (estimated to be approximately 9 out of 10) are trusting in their own works and behavior to be righteous ... rather than receiving the "gift of righteousness" that comes from true faith in Christ. God expects every Christian to incorporate good works and Christ-like character into their life - for the right reasons. But, contrary to popular church teachings, these attributes play no part in obtaining either righteousness or eternal life after the cross - according to the New Testament Scriptures.
Did you know that trusting in works, behavior and personal merit to obtain righteousness is a characteristic of the Old Testament program that God now considers to be obsolete? Do you also know that, after the cross, God stopped using this "works-based program for obtaining righteousness" ... and started using His Son's New Covenant program called, "the new and living way of Christ" (See Hebrews 8:6-13 and Hebrews 10:19-23). This new Divine program now freely assigns (or imputes) God's very own righteousness to all believers on the basis of 'a faith apart from works'; also known as “Grace”. There is no higher form of righteousness than God’s very own righteousness – and this is what the believer in Christ receives as a free gift. (See Romans 5:15-21 and 2 Corinthians 5:21)
It doesn’t surprise us if you are reading these things for the first time and tend to be skeptical. Many prominent church leaders and their followers have embraced and taught a works-based righteousness since the first century, which makes it appear to be 'orthodox and biblical'. Years ago, as an inexperienced Christian, this writer was in this camp - until I studied the Scriptures and discovered that the cross radically changed all the previous rules that governed how righteousness was received.
A works and merit-based righteousness, and the conditional salvation connected to it, was the first major heresy the early church leadership confronted. In Acts chapter 15, we see the gathering of what theologians often call; "The First Jerusalem Apostolic Council" led by James, our Lord's half-brother. All church elders, the original eleven apostles of Christ, and the apostle Paul attended the meeting. After careful deliberation, the council officially condemned this theology - and wrote a warning letter to all the churches. However, those who embraced its tenants ignored the council's decision and continued to spread the doctrine throughout the church. Paul wrote his "Epistle to the Galatians" to expose and condemn this same teaching, which is why its often referred to as; the Galatian error. Today, this same aberrant theology is taught as authentic Christianity by many well-intentioned ministers and Bible teachers. However, the New Testament declares it to be a dangerous spiritual counterfeit ... that redefines the blood-bought redemption of Christ.
The following New Testament Scriptures
provide some life-changing insights
into one of the most important – yet
misunderstood truths of Christ's great
"...And be found in Him (Jesus Christ), not having mine own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith..." (Philippians 3:9 - Emphasis Added)
"But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. For such are falso apostles, deceitful workers, tranforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works." (2 Corinthians 11:12-15 - Emphasis Added)
Paul's warning to the Church about false apostles and ministers from 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 should cause us to ask some important questions. He refers to these individuals (paraphrased) as "the devil's ministers who masquerade as ministers of righteousness". It's one of the most shocking, yet informative statements in the New Testament. How can a person be a "minister of righteousness" and, at the same time, work for the enemy? Isn't ministering (or preaching) righteousness a good thing?
The answers are found in an often ignored New Testament truth about the changes that take place after the cross. The book of Hebrews calls it "the new and living way of Christ" (Hebrews 10:19-23) . It's called "a new way" because it isn't the same "Old Testament way" that previously existed. It's called "the new and living way of Christ" because it didn't officially start until after Christ's crucifixion. The prophet Isaiah gives us a preview about this future change initiated by God;
Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)
It's amazing that so many people who regularly read the Bible assume that God relates to people the same way after the cross - as He did in the Old Testament before the cross. They fail to understand that this mindset effectively denies the "new way" Jesus established through His sacrificial death. As a young Christian, I fell into this same trap until God supernaturally made some painful, but important adjustments. Failing to recognize these revolutionary changes (Paul called it "rightly dividing God's Word" - 2 Timothy 2:15) creates a dangerous misconception where it is believed that the New Covenant of Christ (or "His new and living way" that started after the cross), is just an extension or continuation of the Old Testament program. Yet, this popular brand of theology, in all its countless and varied expressions, is spiritually lethal - and operates on both the Roman Catholic and Protestant sides of the Church. For many ministers and preachers, merging (or intermingling) the Old and the New Testament together is a way to simplify the Bible for the spiritually inexperienced laity. Unfortunately, this is the way most professing Christians are taught to handle the Scriptures. However, when we study the New Testament teachings and warnings of Paul, we discover that this is also the way "false apostles and deceitful workers" (Corinthians 11:12-15) teach the Bible. It redefines the principles of Christ's salvation and sends us dangerously astray in our faith. When Biblical context is ignored or rejected by mixing the Old and New Testament programs together, we can be tricked into thinking that God says things - that He does not actually say.
What does this have to do
with our topic?
The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ changed the way an individual is made righteous (or worthy). Before the cross, righteousness came through performing various good works along with obedience to the commandments of Old Testament Law. However, after the cross, God considers (or reckons) the obedience requirements of the Law to be fully satisfied by Christ (Matthew 5:17). Since Jesus fulfilled the demands of the Law for us, God can now freely impute (assign) righteousness based only on our faith in Christ – with no dependency on personal merit or behavior.
“For if by the one man's offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of Grace and of THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.) Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's (Jesus') righteous act THE FREE GIFT came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also BY ONE MAN'S OBEDIENCE MANY WILL BE MADE RIGHTEOUS." (Romans 5:17-19 – Emphasis Added Note: Also Read Romans 4:4-8, and Romans 4:16-25)
“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. BUT TO HIM WHO DOES NOT WORK BUT BELIEVES ON HIM WHO JUSTIFIES THE UNGODLY, HIS FAITH IS ACCOUNTED FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man TO WHOM GOD IMPUTES RIGHTEOUSNESS APART FROM WORKS: "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; BLESSED IS THE MAN TO WHOM THE LORD SHALL NOT IMPUTE SIN." (Romans 4:4-8 - Emphasis Added)
In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, the false “ministers of righteousness” - the ones that Paul warned were sent from the devil, continued to preach a “righteousness through the works of the Law” and rejected the freely imputed righteousness (or gift of righteousness) that comes through the cross of Christ. To emphasize this truth, Paul made the following statement to the Philippian Church ;
"...And being found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the Law (or through my own works and behavior), but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith..." (Philippians 3:9)
Paul also draws our attention
to this danger in his epistle
to the Romans.
"Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to (obeyed) the righteousness of God (which now operates after the cross). For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Romans 10:1-4 – Emphasis and Comments Added)
The incorrect way the Israelites tried to obtain righteousness after the cross, is exactly the same way a vast majority of the professing Christian Church tries to obtain righteousness today. Notice that God considers the practice of “establishing our own righteousness” (through good works, Christ-like behavior and religious service) AS DISOBEDIENCE. It results in a failure to obtain the righteousness they seek, many times without their knowledge.
All readers should think long
and hard about what this
failure actually means. It
is not about some “difference
of opinion”, where those who
disagree continue to be “right
with God”. Paul warned that
such individuals are not right
with God, regardless of how
Biblical or godly their
behavior appears to be.
Contrary to the accusations of the critics, Saint Paul never teaches that good works and godly behavior are to be disregarded or "thrown out". Instead, He emphasizes that these attributes should be applied to the believer's life for reasons other than trying to earn or achieve salvation (or eternal life). All believers should possess these character qualities as Christ's representatives on earth. Yet, attempting to achieve or keep salvation through good works and godly behavior is forbidden under the authority of the New Covenant that began after the cross.
When studying the Bible, it is crucial to understand that two different kinds of righteousness are found within its pages;
- FIRST: A conditional "Law of Moses type of righteousness" (or worthiness) based on a person’s behavior and obedience (keeping Old Testament Law/The Ten Commandments)
- SECOND: An unconditional and unmerited type of righteousness, which God freely bestows (or imputes) through Christ upon His believing people as a prepaid blood-bought benefit (or gift).
Imputed righteousness operated only once in the book of Genesis in the life of Abraham BEFORE the initial stages of Old Covenant Law officially went into operation. Abraham was considered to be the Father (or forerunner) of the faith we now enjoy under the New Covenant”. Paul reminds us that; “Abraham believed God and it was accounted (or reckoned/imputed) unto him for righteousness - without any works or merit requirements”. (See Romans chapter 4) This window of imputed righteousness closed right after God introduced the practice of circumcision in Genesis chapter 17, which later becomes a requirement of Old Testament Law. The window didn’t open again until after the crucifixion of Christ thousands of years later. The reason Paul called Abraham “the Father of our faith” (or the faith of the New Covenant) is because Abraham was the only person who became righteous through “a faith without works” until after the sacrificial death of Jesus at the cross.
Each type of righteousness is linked to its own unique spiritual program (or set of covenant rules). The first type of righteousness (connected to the Law) is found in the Old Testament. The second type of righteousness (connected to the cross) is found in the New Testament. Rules governing Biblical context forbid the mixing these covenant programs together into one confusing “unified theology” - as practiced by most of the modern institutional church. When a Christian believer attempts to relate with their Heavenly Father using the conditional righteousness of the Old Covenant program of the Law - they unknowingly become subject to many unexpected (and undesirable) spiritual consequences. Paul warns that these consequences are part of a curse - mentioned in Galatians 3:10-12 and Galatians 5:4. Since recent studies reveal that more than 8 out of 10 professing Christians and their leaders operate in this spiritually illegal “grey zone”, we can better understand why so many good-sounding excuses are offered as to why God’s promised blessings don’t operate as expected - and bad things happen instead.
Few things are more damaging to the spiritual life of a Christian than being misled about how their righteousness (or “right standing before God”) is obtained after the cross. It is not our desire to offend - but, a lot of Bible teaching on this subject, especially within various holiness and fundamentalist congregations, borderline on being spiritually criminal. These things are always taught with the best of intentions. Yet, to quote an old proverb; "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
Why A Correct Understanding
of Righteousness is
The faith of the Christian believer is powerfully influenced by how they view their personal "righteous standing" (also called worthiness) before God. For example ;
- If we believe that our life is deficient in righteousness because of some sin or moral weaknesses - it becomes impossible to approach God with any kind of confidence, which is a primary component of strong faith. As a result, when calamity and adversity strikes, we lack the ability to withstand the assault; since the believer lives, stands and walks by faith (Romans 11:20, Romans 1:17, 2 Corinthians 5:7).
- If we believe that our life is deficient in righteousness - answers to prayer and needed physical healing may become impossible to obtain, since strong faith, which is empowered by our confidence before God, is a primary requirement to receive these benefits.
- If we are "watching for Christ's return" as stated in Hebrews 9:28, but have doubts that our righteousness or worthiness is good enough to meet God's approval - we will always be fearful that Jesus will "leave us behind" when He returns to remove the Church at the rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
Doubts about whether our righteousness (or worthiness) is adequate to meet God’s approval remain a source of unspeakable torment and bondage for millions of Christian believers today. Unfortunately, certain churches and their leaders skillfully use this mental torment (and the fear it creates) as a way to coerce their congregations into some regiment of sinless living or obedience (often called “holiness”). It’s an effective, yet misleading ministry practice that’s been around for thousands of years (Galatians 2:4-5). This “coerced obedience” is always said to be done for the believers own spiritual benefit and is therefore provided with the best of intentions. Yet, manipulating the Church in this manner is forbidden by our Heavenly Father.
The source of this torment comes from an erroneous theology that remains popular, especially among Protestant fundamentalists and Roman Catholics. A majority of Christians (thought to be more than 8 out of 10) are taught that this doctrine represents the truth of God’s Word. As a young believer, I was involved in a fellowship that embraced this belief and personally experienced the torment. This ordeal provided first-hand knowledge about the damage inflicted on a believer’s faith. Many denominations, churches, movements and evangelistic ministries are governed by this same theology. It generally teaches that the Bible has only “one message”, and then mixes everything in Scripture together into one confusing system of faith (or theology). It can mislead believers into thinking that “righteousness” as defined and provided through Old Testament Law - is obtained the same way and carries the same definition as "righteousness" provided by the New Covenant of Christ. This is a disastrous misconception - because the cross of Christ changed the characteristics of righteousness and the principles by which it operates - as illustrated through the following Scriptures :
"Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)
"Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus (the New Covenant), by a new and living way which He (Jesus) consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:19-23 -- Emphasis Added)
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. (1 John 5:13-15 - Emphasis Added)
"Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end. . ." (Hebrews 3:12-14 -- Emphasis Added)
No one can "come boldly" before God's throne by trying to live according to the performance-based conditional righteousness of Old Testament Law. This kind boldness only comes through the New Covenant imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ, which God freely gives through faith - apart from personal merit and works. Since this righteousness depends entirely on Jesus Christ - and not on us - we can have confidence and boldness that God will accept us - because we know that He accepts His Son.
"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21 - Emphasis Added)
"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in tresbasses (sins), made us alive together with Christ (by Grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His Grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by Grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it (salvation) is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." (Ephesians 2:4-9)
God called the Apostle Paul to write nearly half of the New Testament Scriptures. In His epistles to the Church, Paul warned his disciple Timothy that God’s Word (the Bible) is a divided book consisting of two different covenant programs. As a result of this truth, if your goal is to teach the Bible correctly as His workman, you must rightly (or correctly) divide the Word (2 Timothy 2:15).
So, what exactly does
Many popular types of theology exist in the worldwide Christian Church and claim to represent God's Word. Yet, a majority of these tend to mix Scripture together - treating it as one “unified” message. The Bible warns that this popular way of handling the Scriptures is not only incorrect, but spiritually lethal. In addition to the apostle Paul’s warning to Timothy, we are also confronted with the major divisions of the Bible (The Old Testament and the New Testament) every time we open its cover. The Old Testament (or 'Old Covenant') represents God’s spiritual program for the nation of Israel. Another name for this program is Judaism, which is the religion of the Israelites. However, Judaism and Christianity are established on radically different tenants.
The New Testament, starting with the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John--and half-way into the book of Acts represent a transition from Judaism (which governed before Christ's crucifixion) ... into the New Covenant, which could only operate after Christ's crucifixion. As with any transition, the tenants of both programs are present, which can confuse an inexperienced reader into wrongly thinking that both sets of tenants govern Christianity. However, the Bible warns that the Old Testament program ended at the cross and became obsolete ... when the New Testament program began. It is for this reason that Saint Paul warned that the Bible must always be "rightly divided" when interpreting its message.
Why are these things important?
The New Covenant of Christ changed
all the old rules governing
This is why the New Covenant can never be merged, mixed or unified with the Old Testament program of faith ... a program that the book of Hebrews now describes as being “obsolete” (See Hebrews 8:6-13). Christ’s New Covenant changed the way eternal life is received. It also changed the principles and rules that govern how God’s forgiveness is now obtained, changed the way God deals with our sin ...
And, it changed the way our
righteousness before God is
received and understood.
Saint Paul said it this way...
"Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic.
For these are the two covenants:
The one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar -- for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children (speaking of the first covenant) -- But the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written:
"Rejoice, O barren, You who do not bear! Break forth and shout, You who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband."
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman." So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free (Speaking of the second [or New] covenant)." (Galatians 4:21-31)
"Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He (Jesus) consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:19-23)
You can obtain more information
about these revolutionary New
Covenant changes in the following
Heaven's Royal Proclamation
The Spiritual Revolution of Christ
Imputation: The New Covenant Method
God Uses To Transfer His Spiritual Benefits
Avoiding the Error of Replacment
The Righteousness of the Believer
A major problem has plagued the Christian Church since the first century. It operates by stealth and is empowered by various brands of denominational theology that abuse the context of Scripture - yet continues to be called God's Word. This is not about some minor disagreement about doctrine restricted to a small group. It is a mainstream problem that will not be resolved until Christ returns to set things straight. For this reason, the only thing truth-seeking Christians can do today is educate themselves and attempt to warn others about the dangers.
"... And be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith..."(Philippians 3:9 KJV -- Emphasis Added)
"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, Who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses (sins) to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)
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