The apostle St. Paul on two occasions first in his letter to the church in Rome and then again in his letter to the church in Galatia states that “the righteous shall live by faith.”
The simple passages have been the impetus of some of the most profound theological study and debate over particularly the past 500 years. It was Martin Luther who was so moved and transformed by this passage that he was spiritually enabled to battle the forces of Roman popes and kings.
I have personally both prayed and meditated on this verse throughout my life and Ministry. It has clearly occurred to me on numerous occasions that I could do nothing without faith in Jesus Christ, and more specifically the faith of Christ (Pistis Christou). All that I am and all that I believe is grounded in faith. Faith is a gift of God. It is given in Baptism and nurtured in the frequent reception of the sacraments and participation in the life of the church.
What does it mean to be righteous? Is righteousness something that we choose to be? Is it something that we can cultivate by doing good and by being loving? Is it something that is intrinsically an aspect of our character? Clearly righteousness is intimately associated with goodness and with love. But the goodness and the love by which righteousness is apparent in one’s life is God’s own goodness and love. If in baptism the old man is dead to sin and the new man rises with Christ in spiritual rebirth, then righteousness must be understood as the righteousness of Christ in us.
If we count on our own perceived righteousness rather than Christ’s righteousness, then we are deceiving ourselves and fall into the prey of the devil. Let us look carefully at the words of the prophet Isaiah.” All oll of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6)”
See how the prophet tells us that our own works, which we perceive as righteousness, are like filthy rags. Imagine if you left the house on a daily basis dressed in filthy garments. What would people perceive about us? How are they to look at us? Will they want to be near us? Would they look at us as an example of wholesome living? Clearly one who is well groomed, clean and presentable is going to be perceived as much more wholesome and one who others will naturally gravitate toward. The righteousness of Christ has the same effect. When we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, then we live by faith and the goodness, the purity, and the wholesomeness of Christ which becomes an attraction to those who come into contact with us and nurtures and safeguards in us Eternal life found in him.
St. Paul clearly believed and taught that it is the faith of Christ that produces righteousness which is a fruit of Christ’s own Faith. He states for the church of Rome, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written, “But the righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).” It is worth noting that clearly the righteousness of Christ is not nearly based in a historical faith in the Scriptures nor on the other hand and emotional attachment to Christ but also an obedience to Christ and subjugation to his life. Saint Paul boldly confesses “I no longer live but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)” Even if we are found to be weak in our face the face in which we live is Christ only. This means that the week will grow in strength of Faith while those who have a false faith, one based in personal works and “righteousness”, will perish and wither like a leaf.
My personal objective for this lenten season is to repent of any perceived notion of righteousness. I will look to Christ and seek to grow in my obedience to him and his will. I will pray that he will plant in me by his Holy Spirit the fruits of righteousness in faith and that I may become worthy in my unworthiness to reclaim his surpassing glory and eternal life which she one for me on the cross on the holy, Great and Good Friday.