Christian (and other) Righteousness

The difference between Christian righteousness and all other kinds of righteousness.
  1. There is a political or civil righteousness. This is what world leaders, diplomats, civic leaders and lawyers must teach.
  2. There is a "social" righteousness, which is acting, speaking, dressing, and carrying oneself correctly according to the traditions and mores of a particular culture or vocation or field. This is what parents and families and schools teach.
  3. There is moral righteousness, "the righteousness of law" that comes from obeying the Ten Commandments. This the church teaches (but only in light of the "Christian" righteousness, below).
  4. The righteousness that comes from relationships — becoming attractive and loved by people of both sexes.
  5. The righteousness that comes from career achievement — becoming successful or respected or monied through your talent and work.]
There is another, a far better righteousness, which Paul calls "the righteousness of faith" — Christian righteousness.

We must distinguish this from the rest because this righteousness of faith works in a completely different way from the others. The other kinds of righteousness we can work at ourselves, by our own strength. But this Christian righteousness is the greatest of all. God puts it on us without our lifting a finger. It has nothing to do with our obeying God's law; it has nothing to do with what we do or how hard we work, but it is given to us and we do nothing for it. It is a passive righteousness, while the others we have to work for. (It is perfect righteousness, because it is the perfect record of all Christ did in living and dying, while the other kinds are partial and imperfect.) And it is free righteousness, for we don't do anything or give anything to God to get it, but we receive it, because someone else has done all the work for it in our place. Therefore it is "passive" righteousness.

This passive righteousness is a mystery that someone who doesn't know Jesus can't understand. As a matter of fact, Christians never completely understand it themselves, and do not take advantage of it when they are tried and tempted. So we have to constantly teach it to others over and over and we must repeat it to ourselves. For anyone who does not understand this righteousness and fails to cherish it in the heart, will continually be buffeted by fears and depression. Nothing gives peace like this passive righteousness.

A faithful communicator of God's Word will give out the law so it is kept in perspective. If the law is pressed on people's consciences, giving them the impression that they must obey it to win God's favor, then Christian righteousness becomes mixed up with earned/moral righteousness in the people's minds. Instead the Law must be taught clearly, to see the futility of satisfying it, of meriting God's favor and love through it. Then a person must have the "law and works" taken out of his sight and be shown the gospel, Christian righteousness.

If the truth of being justified by Christ alone (not by our works) is lost, then all Christian truths are lost. For there is no middle ground between Christian righteousness and works-righteousness. There is no other alternative to Christian righteousness but works-righteousness; if you do not build yourself on the work of Christ you must build your life on your own work and effort. On this truth and only on this truth the church is built and has its being. Now if we cannot see the differences between the two kinds of righteousness, and if we do not take hold of Christ by faith, sitting at the right hand of God (Heb 7:25) who pleads our case, sinners that we are, to the Father, then we are under the Law, not under grace, and Christ is no Savior, but a Lawgiver, and is no longer our salvation, but an eternal despair.

D.M. Lloyd-Jones ("The True Foundation" in Spiritual Depression).

Roman's Leader's Guide. Tim Keller.