John Bradshaw - Righteousness by Faith
Thank you so much for joining me today. Let's pray and expect God's blessing.
Our Father in heaven, we thank You today for Jesus, and we ask that as we come to Your Word that You would strengthen us, speak to us, and give us grace to experience Your power in Jesus' name, amen.
One of the low points of my academic career, one of the most memorable challenges I ever had, I can never forget, happened a good few years ago now. It was while I was undertaking a math assignment. I was 6 years old and in the fourth grade. My birthday came right in the middle of the school year, so I did the first two years in, oh, I don't know, 18 months or so, less, then skipped a grade, and at 6 years old I was grappling with what appeared to be extremely complicated mathematical problems. At least complicated for a 6-year-old, well, at least complicated for this 6-year-old. This traumatizing experience came early in the fourth grade year, really right in the beginning. I had the most wonderful teacher I had ever had. Well, let me say that again, because up till then I hadn't had too many teachers, had I?
Mrs. Mounsey was a very, very special person. We were working through a list of very advanced mathematical equations when I got stuck. I sat staring at what was on the page in front of me and realized I simply couldn't do the work. I didn't know how. I'd never seen this stuff before. And I didn't know what to do. And the longer I stared at my page or at my maths book, the more I knew that I couldn't even do the first one of these problems listed. And I felt terrible. In fact, I cried. Six years old, what would I do? I didn't have a clue. I still remember what those math problems were. I remember that day clearly. And I remember that I might as well at the time have been reading hieroglyphics. But then Mrs. Mounsey came to my aid. Mrs. Mounsey was the best teacher in the entire world, from then till now, best teacher I've ever had.
As a matter of fact, I think I knew it way back then at the time, but, I, I'm still in touch with her, you know. And she says, "Call me Amy," but I won't. She's Mrs. Mounsey, you know? And I don't mean 'cause she's so old, because even then she was really young at the time. But she was Mrs. Mounsey. All the respect, all the love in the world for her. This wonderful human being came to my aid. She realized I was distressed. She came to help me. She asked what was wrong. I told her I couldn't do the work. She asked me why. I told her I just didn't know how. "Mrs. Mounsey, I've never seen anything like this before". You know what she did? She showed me what to do. And I said, "Oh, now that I know what to do, it really isn't that difficult". In fact, it wasn't difficult at all. And I never had another problem with understanding how to do that sort of work. All I needed was for someone to show me how, and when Mrs. Mounsey showed me how, I didn't have a problem with it. I just needed someone to show me the way.
Do you think there might be a modern-day spiritual parallel to my mathematical conundrum way back then? I think there could be. In the Word of God, God presents to us what is necessary for a person to enter into heaven. It's right there in the Bible. And as you read in the Bible, 1 Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 9, you discover that it says, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived". And then, Paul lists 10 different categories of sin, and he says that these, or those that do these, shall not inherit the kingdom of God. That's plain. Paul wrote to the Philippians and he told them very clearly that what is required for a person to know eternal life is for that person to be righteous.
Good people, friend, don't go to heaven. Righteous people go to heaven. But knowing that, you need to know this. Just any old kind of righteousness will not do. And certainly a person cannot enter heaven relying on one's self-righteousness. The righteousness that we can originate won't get us very far. It is tainted and tinged and infected by sin. Like the fig-leaf righteousness of Adam and Eve after the Fall, it isn't helpful. Paul wrote to his good friends there in Philippi and he told them, about as far as you can measure a person's righteousness, you'd think I was a pretty righteous sort of a guy. I was a Jew; yea, verily, I was a Pharisee. I was from the same tribe as King Saul. I persecuted the church and did whatever the law said a man should do, and still that didn't fit me for heaven.
In fact, Paul said, I now consider all that to be refuse, "dung" in the King James Version, garbage. And Paul explained, what I need to have is not my own righteousness, but I need to have Christ's righteousness, "the righteousness which is of God by faith". And when I have that, I will know Jesus and I will know and experience "the power of His resurrection". So, there you have it. We understand it now. What we need is the righteousness of Christ, not our own. Our own won't get us anywhere. We need Christ to be our righteousness. But the problem with that is there are Christians everywhere who see this written in their workbooks, and they stare at it frustratedly. And like a little boy crying in math class, they don't know what to do because, although they see the problem and though they might have heard about the solution, they do not know how to make it work in their lives.
I had that experience, too, as a child. I wanted to go to heaven in the worst way, and I knew that heaven was for good people. But I didn't know how to be good. In fact, I knew for certain that I was anything but good. I had a good heart, if, you know, the, the, you judge it the way you judge people. I was a decent human as far as decent human beings go. But at my core, I was a sinner, and I had no power to do right or to live right. And so the question is this. How does a sinner who is not just before God become righteous in God's sight? How do those who are wrong become right in God's sight? How does a sinner become a saint? How do the lost become found? How do those who are dead in their trespasses and sins come to the place of being right in God's eyes? The answer might seem obvious, but it clearly isn't obvious to everyone. There are still myriad people who think that we become righteous before God by obedience to the law.
If I just try harder, I'll be righteous before God. If I just try harder, I'll be able to obey better. You know, that's the way people thought under the old covenant. They said, "Everything the Lord hath said we will do". Did they mean it? Yes, they meant it. Were they sincere? Oh, they were sincere. Were they serious? Serious as a heart attack. Did they want to do right? Oh, yes, they wanted to do right. Was there anything fundamentally wrong with their intent? No, there was nothing wrong with their intent. They wanted to obey God. But how did it work out for them? Well, Moses was gone for six weeks. When he came back down the mountainside, here were these same individuals, six weeks ago, "Everything the Lord has said we will do," six weeks later they're dancing naked around a golden calf. Their good intentions did not carry them very far.
And do you know what? One of the great problems we encounter when studying this very important subject is that even in wrong ideas there's very often a grain of truth. Let me say that again. Even in wrong ideas there is very often a grain of truth. Isn't it a good idea to obey God? Oh, yes. Isn't obedience to God sometimes a bit of a battle? Oh, yes. Now, and now, listen. If, if you allow God to grow you, you know, you're going to grow to the place where obeying God is just going to become impulsive to you. You'll just be carrying out your own impulses when you do God's will. That, that, that's a fact. But, you know, as we grow, sometimes obedience can be a bit of a, you know, tough slog. But is it a good idea to try to obey your way to holiness in the sight of God? No. That's what we call in the business...a bad idea. The Bible tells us that "all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags".
And I read where somebody wrote this. I can't tell you right now where I got this from, but I wrote it down. "Let no one take the limited, narrow position that any of the works of man can help in the least possible way to liquidate the debt of his transgression. This is a fatal deception". There's nothing we can do to liquidate the debt of our transgression. Fatal deception. Human beings are fundamentally flawed. We are fundamentally corrupted. Adam and Eve lost their perfection in the Garden of Eden. And as a result their posterity was born fundamentally unrighteous. The best that we can do is going to be tainted by the corruption of our own inadequacy and incompleteness. We simply cannot present righteousness to God because we don't have any of our own righteousness to give Him. What we need is a righteousness that we do not have, and there's only one place to receive that righteousness, and that is in Jesus Christ.
And, by the way, I don't want to make this sound like some kind of imperative, like some kind of a threat. I don't mean that. We are fundamentally flawed, but hallelujah, God has said, "There is a way out for you". God is saying, "In spite of your mistakes, in spite of your errors, in spite of your lack of judgment, in spite of your weakness, I've got a way out for you". So it's not that, "Oh boy, you better"! It is, "Ha! Hallelujah, you may". God is giving you a way out of this thing. I recall being in a maze. Where was this thing? It was near Toronto, Canada. Fantastic maze. A place that you go with your family and you walk through, one of these big old life-size mazes. And it's fantastic, if you can find your way out. We ended up figuring out how to get out. But if you cannot figure out the way out, ho, you, you might spend the rest of your life in there.
Except that, along the way there are, I don't want to call them trapdoors, but you can just go to this part of the wall, push, and it'll open, and you can, you can go out. You know what I mean? Uh, thank God for that. In life we are in this maze of sin, but, thank God, there is a way out of the maze. You know, too many of us are like mice trying to figure out our way around the maze and hope that we get out. It's a maze you can't get out. There's a, there's an escape hatch there that you can go through, and His name is Jesus. So, let me ask ya, how is it that a person experiences this righteousness of Christ? Well, full marks, I think we know the answer. It is written right there in the passage that we are considering. We receive the righteousness of God by faith.
So let's talk about that. Read about it in Philippians chapter 3. We want to know how a person is made right in the sight of God. And we want to know how we can experience that rightness in the sight of God. Writing to the church in Rome, and you find that in Romans chapter 3, Paul said this. He said that, "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight". That's in God's sight. "For by the law is the knowledge of sin". "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin". That word "justified," let's not be afraid of it. In Greek it is "dikaioó". It means "to be considered just".
Now, it's probably not a good idea to interpret the Bible according to a dictionary, but a dictionary of the English language that I consulted says that "just" means "conforming to a standard of correctness," or, "being in conformity with what is morally upright or good". In other words, it means "just," "righteous". Simple. And Paul says that we cannot be that by the deeds of the law. The meaning of "dikaioó," "to justify," and it, its cognates has long been an issue of, of debate between Catholics and Protestants, especially. Some Protestant scholars grant "dikaioó" a, a, a judicial, a declarative interpretation. For some, Paul's conception of justification is limited simply to God's judicial declaration that the person now believing in Christ is righteous or innocent in terms of divine judgment. In which case, the righteousness of justification doesn't involve any ontological or ethical change, but instead it speaks of a person's legal innocence derived from Christ and His atoning work. No change, just a legal declaration.
There are some who insist strongly that the righteousness of justification has nothing to do whatsoever with regeneration. Hmm. But some others insist that "dikaioó" has strong, ontological overtones. Justification in this line of thinking is virtually synonymous with spiritual regeneration and it speaks of the sinner's actual transformation. Now, it would appear that both sides are right, but not entirely so. If justification and pardon are one and the same thing, then a person who is justified is affected thoroughly, not only pardoned, but cleansed. Now, how cleansed? Ah, there's the rub. Cleansed and pure, that is righteous. But this isn't a cleansing that brings with it, listen, this isn't a cleansing that brings with it maturity. Hmm? Cleansed, made, declared righteous, where does maturity come into it?
Really important, because there's still a need for growth, and there's still a need for development. Maybe this is the middle ground that, uh, theologians, at least the theologians in question so far, have been missing. I think it is. Jesus tells a story about two men who went to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee; the other was a publican. Remember how Jesus starts the story. He begins in Luke 18 in verse 9 by saying Jesus told this to certain individuals who what? "who trusted in themselves that they were righteous". Pharisees, you see. These were very zealous, very dedicated, outwardly moral individuals. So there was a tendency among them to trust in their own righteousness and to think of themselves as pretty holy. Paul had been a Pharisee. So let's pick up the narrative in verse 11. Bible says, "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.'"
Anything wrong with the things that this man did? No, no, no, no. Tithing and fasting, both very good things. But what was his problem? He thought that doing those things made him accepted with God. And that was not accurate. But then there's the poor publican. Publicans were hated. They collected taxes on behalf of the Roman government. You know how in the Middle East locals get into a lot of trouble when it is suspected that they are working with the occupying forces. People don't like that. The Romans had invaded Israel, and the people of God were suffering the ignominy of not even governing their own land. That was quite a commentary on their religion, too. When the land of God was occupied by heathen, the despised tax collector is in the temple and he's seeking God. And what does he have to recommend himself to God? Nothing. He knows that he's a scoundrel. He knows that he is unrighteous. He knows that he needs God's mercy.
So he calls out to God and he says simply, "God, be merciful to me a sinner"! That was all. "God, be merciful to me a sinner"! Very simple. And what did Jesus say about the man? He said, "This man went down to his house justified rather than the other". He was justified. Pretty simple, according to God. And he was declared righteousness before Him. I read somewhere where somebody said, and I mentioned this a moment ago, that justification and pardon "are one and the same thing". And I think that's right, too. But Paul went on to say in verse 21, "But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference". Verse 24: "Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus".
So, you see, Paul is telling us the only way we can be justified is through Christ, through Christ. This is why he asks us in verse 27, "Where is boasting then"? He says, "It's excluded". There's no place of boasting or for boasting. There's no place for pride when it comes to righteousness, because we realize that our righteousness doesn't come from us, but it comes from Jesus. And what sort of righteousness does Jesus gives us? He gives us absolute, complete, dare I say it, perfect righteousness. Now let's consider the story, very important story, of Abraham. So, we'll pick it up in the Word of God in Romans chapter 4. Paul wrote in Romans 4 in verse 2 that if Abraham was justified by works, then he'd have something to glory in, that is, glory in himself. That's what he said. But Paul tells us that the scriptures say that Abraham did what? Can you tell me? "Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness".
Romans 4 and verse 3. We read a little further on that the promise to Abraham that he should be the heir of the world wasn't made to him or his descendants through the law, "but through the righteousness of faith". Abraham was told he was going to have a son. The son would not only be his heir, but he would, in turn, have a son. And eventually the Messiah would come out of Abraham's line. Now when Abraham was told, this for the first time, hah. Well, okay, in fairness, when Abraham was told for the first time, he was not an especially old man. But time, as it does, if you're blessed, passed by, and when Abraham was 99 years old, actually, he wasn't even "Abraham"; he was still "Abram". When he was 99 years old, God appeared to him and told him that He would multiply Abram exceedingly. Abram fell on his face, an appropriate reaction, I think.
God said to him in Genesis 17, verse 4, "You shall be a father of many nations". He said, "A father of many nations have I made thee". Thirteen years or so earlier, Abram's son Ishmael was born. Hagar, Abram's wife's servant, was the mother of that child. But now God says, "Hey, fella, you're going to be a daddy again". Abraham laughed about it. He said, "Shall a child be born unto him that's a hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear"? God said, "It's gonna happen". And Abraham believed God. Back in chapter 15, it says that Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. Now in Romans 4 and verse 19, we read this: "And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb". It goes on: "He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God".
And here's the key. Verse 21: "And being fully persuaded that, what He," God, "had promised, He," God, "was able also to perform". Abraham was convinced. "I believe with every fiber of my being. God can do what God said He would do, even if it is unlikely as a hundred-year-old man fathering a child and a 90-year-old woman giving birth". He believed the word of God. And that act was counted to him for righteousness. It was an act of faith. He received righteousness by faith. He was not declared to be a righteous man because of the things that he had done. He was made righteous by God because he believed and accepted by faith what God had said. We can put it this way: what accomplishes justification? Does justification come as the result of our good deeds or works?
That famous passage in the book of Ephesians says that we are saved by grace through faith. Where are our works in that passage? They're not there, except that we are saved by grace through faith, unto good works. Let's get this straight. You're saved by grace, that's God, through faith, you respond to the grace of God, unto good works. God moves, He's the initiator of this, comes to you with an offer. You believe it; that's faith. And now, as a result of you moving forward in relationship with God, good works are performed in your life. Abraham believed, and God said, "That's enough for you to be considered righteous". Oh, it sounds so simple, doesn't it? Do you know why? It's because it is. People typically like to feel like they've done something in order to deserve something. But with salvation, there's nothing we can do to deserve it. All we can do, really, is accept it. It's a gift.
Paul said in Romans 10 in verse 9, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved". "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness". Justification by faith "is the work of God in laying the glory of man in the dust, and doing for man that which it is not in his power to do for himself". Let's not make receiving salvation any more complicated than it really is. There's a very human tendency to want to receive something as a result of having done something. And again, I'm going to double back around here. God says, "Believe, and I'll give you righteousness". For some people that's too simple, and so they work. For other people, they say, "Well, where's the rest of the equation? Because if I've received righteousness, you're telling me that the, that the drunk in the gutter who remembered the Sunday school song, 'Jesus loves me, this I know,' and cries out to God through the haze, 'Oh, God forgive me; I just so want to be a Christian; I renounce my old life,' what you're going to tell me is that he can't have assurance of salvation until he's gone, what, a day, a month, a week, a year living on the straight and narrow".
And even then, Christian, how straight is the straight and narrow? How straight do you have to live and for how long before you can be sure that you have the gift of eternal life? Whereas John wrote in 1 John, chapter 5 in verse 13: "I write these things to you... so that you may know that you have eternal life". Young man came to me. He said, "Pastor, I'd like to talk to you". We sat down in the foyer of this big, beautiful church. He said, "Uh, I'm really worried that I don't have salvation". I said, "All right. Uh, yeah, that's something to worry about". I said, "Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior"? "Yes, yes, I have". "I mean, are, are you living in daily experience with, with God"? "Yeah". "Jesus real to you"? "Yeah". I said, "I'm not finding the disconnect. I'm not seeing the problem here". He said, "Well, I've been told that I've got to put every last sin out of my life before I can be sure that God accepts me and has forgiven me and I can go to heaven".
Isn't that something? Uh, just last night, I was tinkering around with some seeds, planting them in little pots to get them started, to stick in the garden someday. That would be like saying to the little cucumber seed that I was handling last night, "Well, because you are not a cucumber and I cannot eat you, I'll toss you in the trash because I'm only interested in complete cucumbers". Like saying to them...have you seen how small a cauliflower seed is? Be easier to handle if they were bigger. It's like saying to the teeny-tiny cauliflower seed, "Because you are not ready to be turned into a delicious meal of aloo gobi", you know what I mean? "then you aren't good to me, and I'm going to toss you out". No. We say, "Ah, wonderful cauliflower seed. Wonderful eggplant seed. Mmm. I like you just as you are. I'm going to help you to grow into a fruit-bearing plant, and when you've borne fruit, I shall harvest the fruit. I'll love you at every step of the way. As the matter of fact, I'm going to keep weeds out of your way. I'm going to water you. I'm going to take care of the pests. I'm going to run off the deer. I'm going to make sure the turkeys don't scratch around in our garden. I will take care of you and love you and hover over you so that you can grow to your full potential".
See? This young fellow said to me, "I'm being told that because there's sin in my life, or because I'm not doing every last thing..." Oh, come on. You, you, you can't go through life believing that. He was the second person in less than 12 months, both young men, to approach me, "Please may I talk to you," with exactly the same issue. "I've been told that I'm not going to heaven until", how about that? No, you didn't hear me say that it's okay to languish and loll about in sin. Oh, I'm not saying that. Jesus came to save us from our sins. But I'm suggesting, because the Bible states when you have faith in God, you receive righteousness by faith, you have received the righteousness of Christ, your fitness and your title for heaven, and ya grow. You grow and you grow and you grow. You just keep on growing. "How, how long do I grow, preacher"? Unto "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ," that's how long. "And when will I know that I've done enough growing"?
You won't. You'll want to keep on reaching out to Jesus and pressing on to Jesus. You'll want to just keep on doing that. And you'll look to Jesus. "Oh, you're a wretch". "Yeah, but Jesus is my Savior". "You messed up". "Ah, thank God, He loves me". "You're incomplete". "My completeness is in Jesus". "Are you saying it's okay for you to be like that"? "No, I hate being less than what I ought I to be, but I'm hanging on to Jesus, and He is growing me". Hang on and grow! Hang on and grow! Hang on and experience His power in your life, and trust Him at every step. I want to share something with you. Christianity is really an interesting thing.
Now, if you were going to the Olympics Games, and you wanted a gold medal, you'd have to train and qualify and qualify, and train and train some more. You'd have to get to the Olympic Games, go through the heats, and then the semifinals, and then the final, and you've got to win that. And then you gotta wait for half an hour or an hour, and then they're going to play the national anthem, and then you're going to step up onto the top level of the victory dais, lean down, and somebody's going to place a gold medal around your head. Now, that's the Olympic Games. You compete, you train, you compete, you strain, and you work for the prize. Did you know that Christianity works kind of different? If Christianity were the Olympic Games, you would get the gold medal the moment you say, "I want to go to the Olympics".
Let me explain that. When you become a Christian, what do you get? You get the gift of salvation. Too many of us, "Oh, no, I don't have that. Maybe one day I'll be good enough. Maybe one day I'll get that". No, hold on. The minute you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, what you got? You got the gift of salvation. Now it's just a matter of not giving it back. Don't give it up. Don't walk away. Don't turn your back. Just keep on hanging on to Jesus, and grow. Keep on hanging on to Jesus, and grow. You enter the race. "Here's your gold medal. We've got enough for everybody. Wonderful. Just stay on the track. Keep heading towards the finish line. Hang on to Jesus. He is going to get you from here to there". That's how it works with Christianity.
I want to challenge your thinking. Is that how it is in your mind? When you came to Jesus, did you know that you had the gift of salvation? Now what you're saying is, "What about that guy? 'Cause he's got a wicked temper. Are you telling me that he's safe"? I'm not telling you nothing about him. I don't know about him. You ask him. He may be right or he may be wrong, but if he has accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior and he's repentant and he's growing in the grace of God, I'm not going to argue with him about it, but I will tell him, "Get over that bad temper in the name of Jesus". You accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, salvation...is yours. Is salvation yours? Do you know what faith means?
Faith is believing that what the Word of God says, it's true, based on the fact that the Word of God says it's true. Believing that the Word of God is going to do what it says because the Word of God says it's going to do what it says. You may have the righteousness of God now, and you may experience righteousness by faith. Aren't you glad it's not by works? Let's not make this any harder than it needs to be. Let's believe in the God who does the work in us that we could never do. And let's accept by faith Jesus, our Savior from sin, now, a moment from now, later today, tomorrow, and forever. And we look forward to the time that Jesus comes back; the great corridors of space split wide open. There He is! And gravity loses its power on the soles of your feet, and you go up.
Come on, let's pray together and thank God that we have the gift of salvation. Wait. Do you have the gift of salvation? Have you surrendered your heart to Jesus? Have you said, "Lord, I want that gift. I would like that gift. I believe for that gift now. And by faith I accept it from You," have you prayed that prayer? If you have, you should be in good shape. If you haven't, you're not in good shape. Either way, let's pray the prayer now and know that when we say amen, salvation is ours. Come on.
Our Father in heaven, thank You that as we enter into this, this Christian race, Paul described it like that, uh, we thank You that we enter in with the gold medal hanging around our neck, and the promise of salvation, actually the assurance of salvation. Attend us by Your Holy Spirit now. Give us the assurance that Jesus is ours and ours is Yours. In fact, You've given us that assurance. Give us grace to simply appropriate that assurance by faith to believe it, to not look at our own sin, but to look at the great salvation, all the great perfection of Jesus. We thank You today that we can have Your righteousness by faith. We believe it. We thank You for it, and we pray in Jesus' name, amen. Amen and amen.