In this episode, we discuss Paul’s approach to righteousness. Paul’s main thesis is that righteousness is not achieved by man’s ability to uphold the law, but by Jesus’ fulfillment of the law through his life, death, and resurrection. The law is not adequate for salvation. Neither is our ability to follow the rules of the law. What makes righteousness possible is Jesus. And our part is to put our faith in Him. 


What to do

Joey: That’s really neat. I feel like Paul’s other letters follow the same trajectory, in the sense of, I just want to know what to do. Like, I just want to know what this looks like. And so in these last parts here, it’s really kind of easy, or easier, I should say, to apply and see this. But I think that’s what’s so great about this. And again, with some of Paul’s other letters, he’s working like, “we’ve gotta make sure we have the right paradigm about this before we just focus on the mechanics of what this looks like.” Because if you’re doing these things to try to earn God’s acceptance, well, then, you’re going to derail quickly.

Practical Examples and Counterintuitivity 

Tim: Exactly, it’s all for naught. It’s not doing you any good. So he’s very careful to say that these are their examples in 12 and following. And let’s just go through some of them. He starts in 12 and he makes a pivot–and we hadn’t done 9 and 10 yet, we’ll go back to that. I would say 10 and 11 are kind of the pinnacle of the pamphlet argument. He crescendos his argument in 10 and 11, I think. But when he gets to 12, he’s now like, “Okay, I’m going pastoral now, we’ve obliterated these judgmental Jews who are trying to get you sucked off into circumcision, let’s just do some practical illustrations of what walking in the Spirit looks like.” And he starts that section with “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” And that’s a kind of paradoxical statement, as an Old Testament sacrifice loses its life for the benefit of somebody else. And these Greeks were familiar with sacrifice too, by the way, they sacrifice to their pagan temples. So you go get a lamb, you cook the lamb, the aroma goes to God, and that pleases God, and then you get to eat it with your friends, and it pleases you. Everybody’s happy, but the lamb. So he says, “the reasonable thing to do, given all this stuff, I’ve said, the rational thing to do is to give your life up for other people.” Well, now you can actually see that, given what we just went through, right? This is the way to get the greatest reward you can possibly give, just like Jesus did. He gave himself up to please God and to serve others. And when he did, he was totally fulfilled. That’s why this is rational and reasonable. So how do you do that? Alright. Well, don’t be conformed to the world, that’s where sin and wrath and condemnation come. You can choose it if you want to and still be a child. But it’s nothing good. You lose what’s good and you gain what’s bad, why would you want to do that? Don’t do that. “Don’t be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” So this whole thing we’ve talked about is a paradigm shift, right? So shift your mind to think about what is true, and what is true is that acceptance is completely independent of approval. But you want the approval because that’s where the benefits of life come, both in the avoidance of bad things and these amazing things beyond what you can imagine that are on the good side. And then he goes into “well what does that look like?” Everything that he’s now going to say is counterintuitive. “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought…” Is anything natural about that? That’s not what we’re normally born to, right? “But rather think of yourself with sober judgement” and be realistic. You’ve got however much faith you have, use that. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, we are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the gifts given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith…” That’s humility. Be who you are. All of us are prone to desire to be somebody else. Well, be who you are. Be real about who you are. And then do that, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate one to another with brotherly love…” That’s counterintuitive. You’re not demanding things, you’re giving them. And that’s not just telling you to be kindly affectionate to those you are affectionate to you but “be kindly affectionate to one another.” “Give preference to one another in honor.” Give focus on other people’s needs, and be diligent. There’s nothing natural about that. “Be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, not yourself. Rejoice in hope.” You’ve got this hope that’s set before you. Instead of getting mired down in the current circumstances, rejoice in hope. “Be patient in tribulation.” That’s counterintuitive. “Continually, steadfastly in prayer.” So when you have something that is really difficult, pray. It’s dependence. Go into dependence. “Distributing to the needs of the saints given to hospitality.” So, care for other people’s needs. Be hospitable, share your stuff, and share your space. “Bless those who persecute you.”

J: It’s pretty counterintuitive there, yeah. 

T: “Bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Don’t set your mind on high things but associate with the humble. Do not pay evil for evil, but have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it’s possible, live peaceably with men.” He just went for a fight here, right? He duked it out with these guys. He was like, “I’m duking out for the truth.” But he made it clear, it’s not ‘me vs. them.’  It’s not that, it’s that they’re telling you something that’s untrue. So they have to be silencedt. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he’s thirsty, give him a drink for in doing so, you’ll heap coals of fire on his head.” That’s an Old Testament verse. And he’s basically saying, “You know, these things may seem counterintuitive, but you’ll win.” All of these things are winning. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” If you do all these things, you’ll win. And then he goes on and talks more things about that. So, the big argument was that these guys were saying, “you’ve gotta be circumcised and obey the laws or you’re not really righteous in the sight of God.” And Paul says, “No, you get righteous in the sight of God just through a gift. But if you want to experience righteousness, unlike those guys who don’t follow their own rules, it doesn’t happen by rules, it happens by a changed heart. And the heart is changed towards God and loving other people.” That’s what you do, and that’s what the Spirit is gonna guide you to do. 

Rules and a changed heart

J: And like you said, he’s careful here to say, “These are some examples of what that looks like, these aren’t the rules. These are the manifestations, the fruit, if you will, of a changed heart.”

T: In speaking with respect to rules, he actually addresses rules in 14, where his follow-on from sections 12, 13, and 14 is about ‘this is what it looks like, this is what living righteously and walking through faith might look like kind of examples.’ He actually says, “I know and I’m convinced…” this is 14:14, “I know and I’m convinced by the Lord Jesus, there’s nothing unclean in and of itself.” So pretty much everything is okay in and of itself. It’s a matter of the application of that thing. Okay, so, sexual intercourse is a great thing in the proper place. Eating is a great thing in its proper place. There’s a proper place for everything, it’s a matter of the application of it. But then he says, “If somebody considers something to be unclean or sinful, we could say, then it is.” Meet people where they are. You may be free to do something, but if it’s a stumbling block for somebody else and they consider it a sin, then compromise with them. Because you want to focus on their conscience,  if they don’t make people violate their conscience. That’s very much a spirit-oriented application even to rules and standards. So now, we’ve talked about the argument as a whole and what it looks like. The crescendo of his argument, I would say, the pamphlet part of this, comes in 10 and 11. So now remember, he’s talking to Jews. And these Jews are using the law to argue that Paul is out to lunch. He’s throwing the law overboard, and he’s throwing Israel overboard. He’s throwing righteousness overboard. He just wants an excuse to do whatever he wants to do. Throw the law out because you just believe in Jesus and everything’s fine, and you can just gonna live in sin all you want to. And Paul’s counterargument is that you can do that if you want to, but the consequences will be horrific. You can actually come to faith in Christ, be in his family, and then go sin all you want to, and what you’ll get then is death, condemnation, and loss of reward. It’s a terrifically bad choice, but you can. These other guys are saying you can’t. But then Paul is addressing it. He calls what they’re talking about ‘the righteousness of the law.’ So in 9:30, he says, “What shall we say then?” Now, usually, when he’s saying that, he will repeat some accusation and then answer the accusation. But here we’re getting toward the end of the pamphlet part of this, the political part of this. And he says, “what should we say then?” And he actually just gives an answer. Here’s the summary: “that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained righteousness, even the righteousness of faith. But Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained the law of righteousness.” Why? “Because they did not seek it by faith.” So he started this whole thing, the pamphlet part of it, by “the righteous shall live by faith.” And now he’s saying this, “Actually, if you try to do it by rules like these guys are, you can’t find it.” And it makes perfect sense, if you think about it. Because if you make rules without changing the heart, you just make better lawyers. You’ll find loopholes, and now you can say you’re following the rules when you’re really not. And now you have justification before God and get to do whatever you want to do. And that doesn’t work. 

J: Yeah, the thought that occurs to me is, if you make rules the standard, rather than God Himself the standard, it just becomes an idol. 

Righteousness, justice, and dikaiosune

T: Yeah. Now, righteousness. I think it’s worth talking about, again, we don’t use this phrase much, but it’s basically everything in life coming into harmony as you wish it would. So, fulfillment, harmony of life, peace, what modern words dto people use? Wholeness. That’s what the Greeks meant by this word. And the Hebrews too, actually. Everything is as it should be. And so with you in your personhood, if you’re seeking this, that’s what it should look like. If you are familiar with the Greek classic, Plato’s “Republic.” It’s considered a Western classic, and it was written, I think about 500 BC, something like that. And Plato is writing about Socrates, the famous Greek philosopher. And the question that’s addressed in this is “what is righteousness?” Many of the English translations will use the word “justice.” But it’s the same Greek word dikaiosune. What is righteousness? What is Justice? And the conclusion that Socrates comes to at the end is that justice, or righteousness, is when every person in a city-state, like Athens, does what they do best for the benefit of the group as a whole. Then everything’s working like it should. So, it would be like a team. What makes a championship team? It’s when all the players are playing their roles to the best of their ability. And usually, on a football play or something, the defense just needs to break down one or two of the offensive assignments to disrupt the play. But if everybody does their job, then you have a successful play. And it’s the same kind of thing with the question of “how do you get success?” It’s when everybody’s doing their role. Well, interestingly enough, I think Paul– he’s a real genius guy, and this is written under the inspiration of the Spirit–is writing this as a political pamphlet primarily, but I think he’s also, at the same time, writing a contrast to the Greek philosophy that might have been embodied in Plato’s “Republic” about what righteousness is. So on another level, he’s actually countering Plato and Socrates. But in one respect, he comes up with the same conclusion. We’ve already talked about it, all the members are members of the body and they all do what’s best for the body. It’s the same in that respect. Where it’s different is who the head is. So Socrates’s head was a group of people that he called the guardians, who were supposed to be people with ennoblednoble natures. Well, we all know there’s no such thing, right? And he considered himself one of those guardians, and the other guys killed him for it, which ought to dispense with that notion. And of course, in Paul’s thing, the body has one head, and that’s Jesus. It’s none of us, it’s Jesus that’s the head. So it’s very similar though, everybody does what they do best. The difference is who gets to be the head. In a human construction of righteousness, normally, it’s that everybody must do what’s best, and I’ll be the head. And then we all fight over who gets to be the head. Then, the Christian orientation here is that righteousness is gained when we all believe that God has our best interest at heart and follow him. But now everybody’s in harmony doing the same thing under the headship of Christ, and there’s no competition now for me versus you.

The crescendo: righteousness in faith vs. law

J: So the crescendo here is that righteousness is achieved by faith in the head, and the body working under the guidance of the head, which is Christ. 

T: That’s right. And then he goes on into 10 and talks about, “Okay, how do you contrast of the two? How does the righteousness of the law and faith happen?” And in both cases, He uses the Old Testament, which makes sense, because he’s writing to bolster Priscilla and Aquila’s team, who are Jews leading this Gentile congregation. And he’s smashing some competing Jews that are trying to use their “we’re a guide to the blindlight and we’re a teacher of the law,”  all these things that they said of themselves that he swatted aside. He’s wiping them out, right? So he’s talking to Jews and he’s using the scripture, and he says, “so this is how righteousness and the law looks.” And he goes and quotes from Leviticus 18. And he quotes the verse, “The man who does these things, shall live by them.” Which is to say, ‘you follow the rules by following the rules.’ So he says, “that’s the righteousness of the law and it doesn’t work.” And he already said, the law was fine. It wasn’t the law’s fault, it’s our hearts’ fault. Right? If you go look at Leviticus 18, it says, “According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances.” And then he goes on to describe all these twisted kinds of exploitation, incest of every kind you can think of, and it goes all the way to child sacrifice. So don’t do any of these things. And it’s all ‘strong exploiting the weak’ kind of stuff. And he goes through and he says, “None of you shall approach anyone who is near of kin to him, to uncover his nakedness: I am the Lord.” And what he means by that is your mom, your stepmom, your sister, your stepsister, whether they’re born at home or somewhere else. So what is he doing? He’s closing loopholes. Why do you have to close loopholes? Because if your heart hasn’t changed, you’ve got to make more rules. Well, that never works. You just find more loopholes. So Paul is tapping into that. And then he goes and says, “But here’s what does work.” And then he cites Deuteronomy 30. In Deuteronomy 30, it’s at the end of Moses’s speech where Moses is basically saying, “Here’s what it boils down to. You know what’s right, this isn’t that hard. This isn’t that hard. You know, it’s in your heart. Believe it. Speak it and then do it. You don’t have to have an angel come explain it. You don’t have to have a missionary come, explain it, you know. You know what’s right? Do that.” And he explains that as the righteousness of faith. You know. And he gives a little chiasm here to kind of summarize it, it’s kind of a famous verse, usually misapplied in my opinion. And it’s “…confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. From walking in this negative way that we’re talking about. We’re talking about the ‘walk’ part of this, not the ‘how you get born again’ part, right? “For with the heart, one believes under righteousness and with the mouth confessions are made unto salvation. Salvation from the power of sin in your daily life.” So it’s a. confess, b. believe, b. believe, and  a. confess. So it’s abba and the middle part is faith, believe. So he’s mirroring this Deuteronomy passage, “Believe, speak, do.” He didn’t say do, but it’s inferred that if you believe and speak, you’re going to do, right? So that’s how you do the righteousness of faith. The irony is, you can use this verse to turn all of this around to make Romans say exactly the opposite of what Paul is saying here. All you have to do is say that salvation always means from the penalty of sin, and confession means necessity to do ongoing upkeep of rules. And you can turn this into “Oh, Paul said that you have to believe and then be circumcised and obey the law.” Which as we’ve seen, is exactly the opposite of his position.

How it’s misinterpreted

J: So this is why we still struggle with this today and have throughout the history of Christianity. If you reduce salvation from the three that we’ve outlined to the one, and if you muddle the acceptance and approval into one confused entity, then yeah, you could definitely see this and interpret it in exactly the opposite way that Paul is trying to lay out.

T: And then what you have to do–when the book itself, the letter itself stops making sense, you can’t read it in its entirety and make any sense of it–so what you do is just start taking bits and pieces and fit it into this alternate paradigm. And then, ironically, you’re agreeing with the detractors that he wrote this letter to oppose in the first place, given that we’re humans and we’re prone to self-justification, It wouldn’t be surprising that you would do that.

Paul’s effect on Rome

J: Yeah, it’s not hard to do that. One question that comes to mind, as I imagine we’re trying to wrap up here, is there any indication of the effectiveness of this with Paul and the church in Rome?

T: Yes. Absolutely, there is. Because, about 250 years from now, Constantine is going to pack up and leave to go somewhere else and turn this whole city over to the Christians.

Kylie: Because there are too many of them.

T: I don’t think it’s because there are too many, it’s because they believed this to the point that they don’t care what you do to them. They’re happy to obey the sufferings of Christ. They were walking into the plague, they were walking into the arena. One of the problems they had in the early church is people trying to get martyred. And he’s like, “No, no, no, no. If that happens, that’s good, but don’t try!” Because they embrace this so much, Rome became the city of Christ. It was the city of a pagan ruler emperor, and they just turned it over to the church. 

J: So Constantine went–

T: And he settled somewhere else. Now he set up a Christian city and stuff and made Christianity official, but I think he surrendered. I think he surrendered to it. And he tried to start over where he could kinda get control, you know? Maybe have a chance to get control of things because he had lost it in Rome.

J: That’s really interesting. 

T: And we also know that Paul won because this book is in the Bible.

J: That’s what I was thinking too. This is here, we’re not reading about somebody else.

T: If the detractors had won, there might be a different letter.

J: I think that’s right, yeah.

T: But in the long run, the detractors are still around and their position is still pretty popular. And you can understand why it would be.