Bookends of the Christian Life
- Tuesday, April 21, 2009
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from The Bookends of the Christian Life by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington (Crossway).
CHAPTER ONE: THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST
I am not ashamed of the gospel . . . for in it the righteousness of God is revealed. – Romans 1:16-17
What is the righteousness of Christ, and why do we need it as the first bookend? The word righteous in the Bible basically means perfect obedience; a righteous person is one who always does what is right. This statement assumes there’s an external, objective standard of right and wrong. That standard is the universal moral will of God as given to us throughout the Bible. It’s the law of God written on every human heart. It’s the standard by which each person will ultimately be judged.1
Our problem is that we’re not righteous. As the apostle Paul put it so bluntly, “None is righteous, no, not one … No one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12). That’s strong language. We may quickly protest that we’re not so bad. After all, we don’t steal, murder, or engage in sexual immorality. We usually obey our civil laws and treat each other decently. So how can Paul say we’re not righteous?
We respond this way because we fail to realize how impossibly high God’s standard actually is. When asked, “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:36-40). None of us has even come close to fulfilling either of these two commandments. Yet Paul wrote, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them’” (Galatians 3:10). “All” is absolute. It means exactly what it says; not most, but all.
If we applied this same standard in the academic world, scoring 99 percent on a final exam would mean failing the course. A term paper with a single misspelled word would earn an F. No school has a standard of grading this rigorous; if it did, no one would graduate. In fact, professors often grade “on a curve,” meaning all grades are relative to the best score in the class, even if that score isn’t perfect. We’re so accustomed to this approach we tend to think God also grades on a curve. We look at the scandalous sins of society around us, and because we don’t engage in them, we assume God is pleased with us. After all, we’re better than “they” are.
But God doesn’t grade on a curve. The effect of Galatians 3:10 is to put us all under God’s curse. And while it’s one thing to fail a course at the university, it’s altogether something else to be eternally damned under the curse of God. The good news of the gospel, of course, is that those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior will not experience that curse. As Paul wrote just a few sentences later, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). Let this truth sink deeply into your heart and mind: apart from the saving work of Christ, every one of us still deserves God’s curse every day of our lives. We may not commit “scandalous” sins. But what about our pride, our selfishness, our impatience with others, our critical spirit, and all sorts of other sins we tolerate on a daily basis? Even on our best days, we still haven’t loved God or our neighbor as we should. So we have to agree with Paul. None of us is righteous, not even one.
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