Faith righteousness, according to the apostle Paul, is the stumbling stone of the Gospel. In other words, more people stumble over this issue than any other doctrinal point, (Rom. 9:30-33) and nothing has changed since Paul wrote those words.
Paul’s message of faith righteousness caused him to suffer persecution by nearly every religious faction, but those who fought him most fervently were Jews and Judaizers who insisted that the message of faith righteousness and grace promoted sin. As pious and noble as their claim for righteousness seemed, it was faulty at two very key levels: it overlooked the finished work of Jesus and it robbed believers of the power to live in righteousness.
Paul’s argument for faith righteousness was fairly straight-forward. It was prophesied in the Old Covenant. The law never worked, no one ever measured up. This is the rest that God had promised. But the heart of the issue is explained in Romans 14:1, those who think performance makes them righteous are weak in the faith! As admirable and logical as their arguments may seem, they don’t fully trust what Jesus accomplished through His death, burial, and resurrection!
The opposition that Paul faced for preaching the Gospel may be different than what we suppose. In a polytheistic, Roman world there was no major issue with preaching a new god. There were, however, two very contentious issues: The first issue was the Lordship of Jesus. The idea of absolute loyalty and trust to Jesus as Lord flew in the face of everything the religious and political world was willing to tolerate; but the issue that caused more persecution than any other was the doctrine of faith righteousness.
In his letter to the Galatians Paul declared that he would not have been persecuted if he had simply gone along with the legalistic, religious world. It would have been alright to preach Jesus as Savior as long as he made righteousness a matter of works. Faith righteousness flew in the face of Gnosticism, Asceticism, Judaism, and every other form of religious belief; it was the stumbling stone and the point of contention for nearly every religious dogma.
In Romans 1:16-17 when Paul said, I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, he didn’t stop there. We lift this verse out of context and attempt to apply it in a very general sense. We make this about whether or not we will testify for Jesus or forward a “Christian” email. While there is no harm in that application, lifting it out of context robs it of the deepest truths held therein.
In verse 17 Paul explains, For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” The thing he is not ashamed of is the Gospel of Jesus that reveals faith righteousness from faith to faith, i.e., beginning to end. This was the source of his incredible opposition and persecution. He didn’t preach a gospel that started with faith and ended in works. It was faith for everything – especially righteousness!
When he wrote to the Galatians he challenged the fact that someone had bewitched them (Gal. 3:1) by preaching another gospel, (the Greek says another of a different kind) which he said is not a gospel at all. (Gal. 1:6) It had components of the Gospel he preached but it abandoned the one thing that would give them the power to live in God’s righteousness and escape the dead works and legalism wherein they had labored for so long. After getting saved the gospel they turned to was: get saved by faith in Jesus but be made righteous by your works.
It was here that Paul presented the question that the church today must answer, Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Gal. 3:3) Faith righteousness doesn’t fit the doctrinal reasoning of the carnal mind; it’s just too good to be true; but that’s why it’s called Gospel: good news!
This Gospel, the one that reveals faith righteousness from beginning to end, is, according to Paul, the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. The impotence in the church today is the result of a watered-down gospel that starts by faith but drags man into a never-ending pursuit of performance and dead works. Few Christians really know, believe, and base every aspect of their faith on the finished work of Jesus.
As we turn our back on the grace of God, (His supernatural ability given freely) we are saved but left to survive in our own power. The more we fail, the more we turn to law, rules, and regulations to protect us, totally ignoring the warning that Paul gives: the strength of sin is the law. (1 Cor. 15:56) Law can be the Old Testament, our denominational creed, or any performance we trust to make us righteous and qualified before God.
When people attempt to live by the law they always find themselves failing. According to God’s Word no one has been made righteous by the works of the law. (Gal. 2:16) When our rules are disobeyed we add more rules. At every failure we look to a new rule only to find there is no power in rules. Eventually it just becomes more than we can hope to do so we give up or become deceitful, self-righteous legalists who capitalize on self-justification! Law doesn’t work because law always causes sin to grow!
Law is the strength of sin on many levels. Paul taught us that what is not of faith is sin. (Rom. 14:23) In Hebrews he warns that continuing in the willful sin of trusting in the law is like doing spite to the Spirit of Grace, treading underfoot the Son of God, and treating the Blood as a common or unholy thing. (Heb. 10: 2-29) It’s a rejection of all that Jesus is and all He did. Trusting in the law alienates us from grace (God’s ability) and neutralizes the power of righteousness working in our life. Christians who trust in their works for righteousness are as powerless as they were before coming to Jesus.
The greatest struggle of faith is to believe we are righteous through Jesus’ finished work instead of our own works. Each time you pray or face a challenge you should remind yourself: “God answers my prayers because I am in Jesus. I am qualified for all the promises because I am in Jesus. I am free from the curse because I am in Jesus.” If you started this journey by trusting Him, finish this journey by trusting Him!
As it turns out, when we ask ourselves if we are ashamed of the Gospel we should clarify the question. Am I ashamed to stand up and acknowledge that in me, in my flesh, in my ability dwells nothing that could make me righteous before God? Christ alone is my righteousness, qualification, and security before God. All that God offers me is because I am in Him. This is what I mean when I declare: Jesus is my Lord!