For in the gospel the righteousness of 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 (NIV)
On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany protesting the religious teachings of the church in his day.
To a certain degree the entire Reformation hinged on one word—righteousness. Luther had been taught that righteousness was something that humans had to offer to God. He was told that the only way for a person to be acceptable to God was to love the Lord above all things and to love others selflessly. But no matter how hard he tried, even devoting himself to the strictest level of obedience as a monk, he always came up short. If God’s standard of righteousness is perfect obedience in thought, word, and deed, which it is (Matthew 5:48), how can anyone count themselves “righteous?”
If you’ve ever tried to get really good at something, then maybe you’ve come to the realization that the better you get, the harder it is to make improvements. For example, if you have the natural gifts and devote yourself to hours of practicing the piano, you will probably be able to get pretty good—maybe even better than most. But if you want to reach the level of a professional concert pianist, you’d have to devote your entire life to practice, and you still might not reach that level. The closer you get to perfection the amount of practice necessary increases exponentially. That’s kind of like what Luther discovered when he tried to earn God’s righteousness. The harder he tried the more he realized how far away he was.
Luther’s “aha” moment came when God opened his eyes to see that the righteousness we need, is not something that we can give to God, but something that God gives us through faith. This is the good news. We could never offer God the righteousness he demands in his Law. But God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, came to live a perfectly holy and righteous life in our place. He then offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to credit us with his perfect obedience.
This is the truth about righteousness. It’s a truth that led Luther to stand before Emperor and Pope and risk his life. It’s a truth that gives us peace and confidence. We can’t do it, but Christ has. “For in the gospel the righteousness of God has been revealed” and it’s for you!
Prayer by Martin Luther: “Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours. You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not.”