Two Kinds of Righteousness
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. (Rom 3:28)
I was reading through chapter 3 of Romans last night, and I passed over this verse as I normally do. After all, its meaning is plain and we all know that a man is justified by faith and not works -I hope :). I stopped at this verse last night, though, and took another look. There is, in this whole passage of Romans 3, much to be said on this topic, but this verse makes a stark distinction.
The end, or goal, is justification -to be declared by God to be acceptable and righteous. Seemingly everywhere Paul sets forth two apparent means. The first means is the one that every man, in his flesh, seeks in one form or another -to attain this status through self-effort and works of the Law. This does not just mean "by following the 10 commandments". The Law is mentioned because there is no higher form of God's righteous requirement of men revealed. So, we imagine that works of the Law -or "good works"- will please God, and He will declare us to be fit for His presence on the basis of these things we do.
The second means is faith. "But", one might say, "isn't believing something we do?" Let me finish! :) When we say that faith is the second means we only mean that through faith we rest upon the true substitute for our futile self-effort. We do not mean that faith itself is what causes God to declare us righteous. Again, faith involves a passive rest upon another, foreign substance that will obtain this righteous standing before God. Rather than the substance being our own alleged internal goodness, the substance which faith rests upon is completely outside of us. The substance we speak of is the righteousness of Christ, Himself - the very "righteousness of God" (v.21) which has been wrought "through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (v.24).
So then, we see two different forms of righteousness outlined here and elsewhere in Scripture. There is the "righteousness of the Law", which simply means our own internal righteousness which we amuse ourselves of having through our good deeds -no matter how small or great. In direct contrast and opposition to this we have the "righteousness of faith", which is the righteousness that faith rests upon -the very righteousness of Jesus the Christ given freely to us sinners. There can be no mingling of the two whatsoever! There is no place for one in proximity to the other. What else can the apostle mean when he says more than once in that chapter 3 that this righteousness is "apart from the Law" (v.21, 28)?
Paul reminds us:
For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. (Rom 10:5)
Let our cry be the same of the apostle Paul, that in the end we "may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith..." (Phil 3:9)