The Righteous Will Live by Faith—Romans 1:17
"For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith" (Romans 1:17)
This is a profound statement—one that has the ability to revolutionize our lives. But in the same way, it is the most under-taught concept in the entire Bible. This is a key part of the gospel, and yet so many of us have no understanding of what righteousness entails. The gospel we’ve heard is only part of the good news, and when we fail to understand how we are righteous in Christ, we miss out on the transforming power of the gospel.
The way we begin with God is the way we finish by being righteous
Paul exclaims immediately after revealing the gospel as the power of God, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last…” This is the way we begin with God and this is the way we finish by being righteous.
Righteousness is the “state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God. Integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting.”1 This is what God gives to the believer. By faith we accept this as part of our salvation. The forgiveness of sins and righteousness are indivisible. “Here we are shown the inseparability of the two things: God imputing “righteousness” and God not imputing “sins.” The two are never divided: unto whom God imputes not sin He imputes righteousness; and unto whom He imputes righteousness, He imputes not sin.” A.W. Pink.2
Is Righteousness Important?
Here, the problem is when we don’t understand our righteousness in Christ. Imagine you are in debt to a bank and owe a lot of money. Then imagine you have no way of paying off the debt. Then the bank comes along and forgives the debt. That would be great, right? Your debt is paid, you no longer owe anything, and you are starting with a zero balance—sounds wonderful!
While the forgiveness of debt is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t solve the problem because debt is only half the issue
The problem is that you still have a zero balance, which means you either go to work to make money or fall in debt again. While the forgiveness of debt is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t solve the problem because debt is only half the issue. The other half is that without money, you are still poor.
This is what it is like for the believer who only understands the forgiveness of sin. We are in incredible debt and helpless in repaying it. The good news of the gospels tells us that Jesus came to forgive sin, which means our debt is paid in full. This is a wonderful setup! Sin is taken care of, and we are forgiven for this debt (Heb. 8:12; 9:26; 10:10, 18; 1 Pet. 3:18). However, if that is the only part of the gospel we understand and start with a zero balance with God, what happens next is off to work we go. We are saved by grace and forgiven, but then we start doing and trying to stay ahead of the issue of poverty because we are starting off at zero, while still feeling like we either owe something or need to start paying our own way.
What if, in the same gracious act, the bank not only forgave your debt, but then announced that the resources of the bank fully belong to you? You then have access to the fullness of the bank’s riches, and you can use whatever you need at any time. That would solve the issue of poverty. You wouldn’t need to go off to work to earn a paycheck, you would own what the bank has and gain access to it.
This is an illustration for understanding the second half of the gospel. Jesus graciously forgives our debt and still gives us His very own righteousness. This means we are not starting at zero with God; instead, we do not need anything. In this way, we are starting in the fullness of Christ’s perfection that brings us into a right relationship with God while owing nothing. It gives us equity with God. In Christ, His righteous gives us all that God requires us to be, but what we could never in ourselves be. In Christ, we start perfect and end perfect with a righteousness that is by faith from first to last.”
Within this gospel, we are forgiven and imputed with righteousness. Today, I pray this truth starts to sink in and changes the way you encounter God.
- May an understanding of His righteousness give you boldness to access the fullness of His grace.
- May you find incredible life-giving rest in the riches of His righteousness.
More About Righteousness?
For more about the gift of righteousness, please visit my topical series on righteousness.
Original article published May 16, 2009.