Some Ways Satan Attacks Us, Part Two: Deceiving Delusions (1), by Jeffery Smith

By deceiving delusions I’m referring to lies by which Satan seeks to draw us to sin and away from God. Jesus speaking of the devil in Jn. 8:44 says, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks lies, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” Satan is a liar and one of the primary ways in which he attacks us, and attacks the cause of Christ, is by the promotion of lies. He deceives men by lying delusions. Let me mention some of the ways Satan does this.

First of all, he does this by insinuating doubts into our minds about the truth. The Bible indicates that Satan and his evil spirits, in some mysterious and unexplained way, have the power at times to make suggestions, or to interject thoughts, into the minds of men. It was said of the betrayal of Christ by Judas that, “the devil put it into his heart” (Jn.13:2). The same is said of Ananias in Acts 5:3 where Peter said to him, “Why has Satan put it into your heart to lie.” There are what the Apostle Paul calls in Eph. 6:16 the fiery darts of the wicked one that he shoots at us. And the scriptures indicate that one of those fiery darts…one of the things that Satan or his evil spirits sometimes do, is insinuate doubts into our minds about the truth.

Now this is something else we see at the very beginning when Satan tempted Eve. I noted it in the previous post. Gen.3:1, “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed, said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” God never said that, at least not in that way. What did God say? Gen. 2:16, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat.’” The emphasis of God’s words was upon all of the trees from which they could eat freely, with just one exception. v.17, “’But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” Satan, in a very subtle way, turns it around and puts the emphasis upon what God would not allow Adam and Eve to do. He distorts what God actually said about the trees of the garden. But notice at this point, he doesn’t openly contradict God. He just makes the suggestion, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” He was seeking to insinuate doubts into Eve’s mind about the goodness of God.

Initially Eve met the first attack with truth. Gen.3:2-3, “And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’” You’ll notice she does add something though to what God said. She adds, “nor shall you touch it, lest you die.” Now that may simply be an expression of the full import of the command as she genuinely understood it, or it could indicate that already Eve is willing to play loose with God’s Word.

But now Satan comes back and he insinuates another doubt about what God said and this time more bluntly. v.4, “Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die.’” You see, Eve had never once doubted or questioned God before. But the serpent comes in with his fiery darts and he begins to insinuate doubts about what God had said and doubts about God’s goodness.

Brothers and sisters, have you not found that to be so at times in your own experience? Here you are in a perfectly happy mood when suddenly this thought comes to you unexpectedly; this doubt about God or about some aspect of God’s truth. Or maybe you’re reading something, or you hear something, and this awful doubt is suggested to you. Well remember from the beginning the devil has been tempting men with these fiery darts of doubt. Doubts about God and his ordering of the affairs of your life or doubts about various things God has said in his word. He shoots at the saints his fiery darts of doubt.

Satan even attacked our Lord in this way. At his baptism in the Jordan, the Father spoke to Jesus from heaven declaring, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” But then immediately after that, when He was driven into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, Satan insinuated to our Lord that He might not really be the Son of God after all. He said, If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” You claim to be the Son of God, you think you’re the Son of God, well if you really are, why are you starving out here in the desert? If you’re really God’s Son turn these stones into bread. You see, there was a mixture there of seeking to draw our Lord to sin by a pleasing seduction or enticement…the appeal to his appetite and hunger…and then also by the subtle attempt to insinuate doubt and to challenge his awareness of his unique identity as God’s Son.

There is a very striking and dramatic example of this in the case of Peter when he tells Jesus, “Lord. you’re not going to die.” Do you remember? In Mt.16 Jesus asked His disciples “Who do men say that I am?, and various answers were given. “But who do you say that I am?, Jesus replied.” Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Wonderful, so far so good but then Jesus began to tell his disciples about His upcoming sufferings and death. Jesus knew that the commission given to Him by the Father was to lay down his life for the sheep. He knew that the primary purpose for which He came was to suffer and to die on the cross for sinners. But when he began telling his disciples about his death we read that, “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘Far be it from You, Lord, this shall not happen to You.” And immediately Jesus rebuked Peter but in a very strange way. Do you remember what he said? He said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Now was Jesus saying that Peter was really Satan in disguise? No, but at that moment Satan was making use of Peter’s words to seek to insinuate doubts into our Lord’s mind about his mission. Jesus had come to die, but Peter questions it and says, “This shall not happen to You!” And it was the devil who was using this to tempt Christ. But our Lord immediately resisted his suggestion and said, “Get behind me, Satan!”

So this one of the ways Satan sometimes attacks the people of God: he insinuates doubts into our minds. It may be directly or indirectly through the words of other people. All of this should remind us that you must never conclude when you’re sometimes attacked by these doubts this means that you’re not a Christian. When Satan throws his fiery darts of doubt at you, those doubts can only hurt you if you embrace them and welcome them and nurture them. If you hate them and resist them and fight them, don’t let them shake your assurance. This is something Satan sometimes seeks to do.

There are at least two other ways Satan tempts us which fit under this category of deceiving delusions. These will have to wait for the next post.

Some Ways Satan Attacks Us (part one: pleasing seductions), by Jeffery Smith

1 Peter 5:8-9, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by brotherhood in the world.”

Peter tells us about the identity and characteristics of the Christian’s great enemy. His identity, he is the devil. His relationship to us, he is our adversary. And his characteristics or what he is like, he is like a roaring lion walking about seeking whom he may devour. The second main category of thought is what Peter tells us concerning how we, as God’s people, are to respond to this. He says that we are to resist him steadfast in the faith.

However if we’re going to resist the devil, part of what is involved  is having some awareness of what  precisely, with respect to the devil, we are to resist. What is it the devil does we are to resist? How is it the devil attacks God’s people? If we would resist Him we need to be able to give an answer to that question, otherwise the devil may attack us without us even knowing it. And if we don’t recognize his attacks, how can we possibly resist those attacks? So the focus of this series of posts is upon this question, “How does the Devil attack the people of God?”

Now the simple most basic answer is by temptation. His object is to draw us to sin and to draw our hearts away from God and, ultimately, to destroy our souls and the cause of Christ. Or if he can’t succeed in that he wants to make us gloomy, depressed Christians who present a poor testimony for the gospel. This he seeks to do by means of temptation; sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. But the ways in which Satan and his emissaries tempt us, together with the remaining corruption of our own hearts, may vary greatly. There are many different ways in which Satan tempts the people of God. I’d like to try to give a general overview of some of those ways. Let me emphasize two words in that purpose statement. The first word is “some.” I don’t intend or pretend to be exhaustive. I’m simply hoping to set forth in an orderly way “some” of the ways Satan does this. The other word is “general”. This is a general overview. If you would like a more detailed treatment of this the Puritans wrote many treatises on this subject. I would recommend as one of the best Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks. A paperback copy of this book has been available now for some years as published by The Banner of Truth Trust.

I believe almost all of Satan’s temptations can be summarized and then subdivided under three major headings. There are: 1) pleasing seductions, 2) deceiving delusions and 3) frightening intimidations. First of all, Satan and his evil spirits sometimes attack us by means of…..

Pleasing Seductions

By pleasing seductions I’m referring to those temptations of the devil with which he seeks to draw us to sin by the promise of pleasure and the satisfaction of our appetites. Those temptations by which he seeks to rouse our lusts, our passions and our desires. There are at least three avenues through which Satan comes at us with these pleasing seductions. They are what the Bible calls the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

John speaks of these three avenues in 1 Jn. 2:15-16, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” In this passage John describes that worldliness which is in opposition to the love of the Father. And here we learn that the worldliness that is condemned in scripture does not so much lie in the things we do, or the clothes we wear or the place we go. It lies in the human heart, in the human affections and attitudes. Worldliness is whenever the heart is supremely set upon the passing things of earth instead of being supremely devoted to the God of the Bible. Worldliness is when anything that is purely material or temporal is the supreme object of our desires, affections and pursuits. And John tells us that this worldliness has three avenues to which it makes its appeal and seeks to stir up excessive cravings that draw the heart away from God and draw us to sin. They are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

The lust of the flesh seems to refer to a desire after those things that promise sensual pleasure and delight to the body. The lust of the eyes seems to refer to those temptations that appeal to our visual perception; those things which draw out the heart after them because they are beautiful, or pleasing, to look at. And then the pride of life seems to refer to that itch in the natural human heart for the honors of this world. Things like position, power, prestige and the desire to make a name for yourself among men. These are three main avenues through which temptation makes its appeal. And I would argue, these are the three main categories of desire Satan seeks to stir up in our hearts by his pleasing seductions and, thereby, to draw us to sin.

We first see this in the Garden of Eden with reference to the very first sin ever committed. Now in v.3 of Genesis three Satan first attacks Eve from another direction. He tells her a lie. “You shall not surely die.” I hope to come back to that later. But then in v.5 he both continues his lie and also by it seeks to stir up the same three desires referred to in 1 John 2. We read, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food”; the lust of the flesh. There’s the prospect of sensual pleasure to the body if she eats it. She also saw, “that it was pleasant to the eyes”; the lust of the eyes. Her heart was also drawn out after it because it was pleasing to look at. And she saw that it was “a tree desirable to make one wise.” There we have the pride of life. Satan had accused God in v.5 of having an ulterior motive by not letting her eat from the tree. God is trying to hold you down and keep you from being all that you could be. He is confining you, and restricting you, because He knows if you eat of the fruit of this tree you will be like a god, knowing good and evil. So she saw it as a tree to be desired to make her wise, to make her like a god. In this way Satan seduced her by stirring up within her heart the pride of life.

So it was through all three of these avenues Eve’s heart was drawn away from her love, trust and devotion to God and led into sin. There is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. So this is the first way Satan attacks us. He tempts us by means of pleasing seductions. In the posts that follow we will look in much more detail at two other ways which will be further subdivided and give some practical applications. The other two are what I’m calling deceiving delusions and frightening intimidations.

Righteousness Terms and the New Perspective, part 3, Pauline Epistles (2), by Jeffery Smith

In part two of Righteous terms and the New Perspective we began to focus upon Paul’s usage of righteousness terms in is epistles, especially the book of Romans. In the last post we consider his use of the terms “righteousness, righteous” etc.. with reference to men under the headings of active righteousness and passive righteousness. Now in this post we continue with considering Paul’s use of righteousness terms with reference to men. Then in last post I plan to consider his use of righteousness terms with reference to God.

The Meaning of Justification in Paul’s Epistles

We saw from its O.T. usage that justification doesn’t mean to make a person righteous, in the sense of some subjective transformation of the person’s character. Justification is a forensic term which speaks of a judicial declaration; declaring a person either guilty or righteous. Paul uses the word in this same way when he refers to the justification of sinners.

First of all, this justification is set forth as the opposite of condemnation. Remember to condemn is not to make bad, nor is it a process by which a man is made bad. To condemn is the declared sentence of a judge about a person. The judge does not make bad when he condemns, he declares the person to be bad and sentences him to his punishment. Well, in Paul for the sinner to be justified is the opposite of being condemned. We see this, for example, in Rom. 5:18, “As through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteousness the free gift came to all men resulting in justification.” Justification is the opposite of condemnation.

In Rom. 8:33 Paul is specifically speaking about the justification of sinners, and he says, “Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns?” We see here again that to be justified is the opposite of having something laid to your charge. It means to have nothing laid to your charge. It’s the opposite of being condemned. Now again what does it mean to condemn? It certainly does not mean to make someone wicked or to infuse wickedness into a person. It means to judicially declare or to pronounce someone guilty before the law. Likewise, justification, as the opposite of condemnation, does not mean to subjectively transform someone’s character. It means for the judge to render a verdict by declaring someone righteous in the eyes of the law.

Secondly, there is the fact that when Paul speaks of the justification of believing sinners he speaks of that justification as a completed act as opposed to being a process. He speaks of the justification of those who are already believers as a completed event which took place in the past. Notice Rom. 5:1. Here we have an aorist passive participle. “Having been justified by faith.” The passive voice points to this as being an act of God. The aorist tense preceding as it does the verb it modifies, (“we have peace”), points to a once and for all act in the past;[1] “Having been justified by faith.” We see that the justification of the believing sinner is not an ongoing process the outcome of which is suspended until the Day of Judgment.

Now it is true that we will be shown to be among God’s justified people on that day and the evidence of that fact will be brought forth to demonstrate it. We also show ourselves to be God’s people in this life by how we live; what is sometimes called demonstrative justification. But our actual justification and acceptance as righteous before God occurs the moment we first believe. It is a past completed one time act.[2] “Having been justified by faith (aorist passive participle), we have (present tense) peace with God.” Not the peace of God here, but peace with God or peace toward God. This is not a subjective feeling. It’s an objective presently ongoing state of reconciliation with God that results from a past once-and-for all justification. And this is not a state that can be entered then forfeited by disobedience.[3] “It is a point-in–time accomplishment of a once-and-for-all act of God which continues into the present as the basis of continual peace with God.”[4]

In v. 9 of chapter 5 we have an aorist participle again, “Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath”. As a believer my salvation from wrath on the day of God’s righteous judgment of sinners is absolutely certain and secure. Why?: “Having now been justified by his blood.” It is secure because I have been justified. Both present peace with God and full salvation in the future are all certain and secured by this once and for all act of God completed in the past at the moment the sinner first believes. Therefore Paul could say in Rom. 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus”.

This tells those of us who are trusting Christ for salvation, that we must realize that we are no longer under condemnation for our sins and never will be. We who are pastors need to preach this to our people. This is the truth which drives away the legal spirit that would bring believers into bondage and despair by telling them that every time they are aware of remaining sin they cease to be justified; that every time we fall prey to sin we have fallen back under legal condemnation and back under the wrath of God. No, by faith we must lay hold of this reality that there is now, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Our sins as believers do not nullify our justified standing before God. They do not cause God to cast us out of his family. They can never condemn us to hell. It is God who justifies us, who is he that condemns? We are now members of his household, his children. We are now in the living room context. Our sins are still real sins and they should still cause us grief and as we are made aware of them we must confess them and repent of them. God is displeased with the believer’s sins, and we need our Father’s ongoing forgiveness in that sense. But the sins of the justified do not cause God to throw them out of the house. They do not put us back into the position of the condemned criminal before the judgment bar and we will never be back in that position. “Having been justified by faith we have peace with God”! We must lay hold of this glorious reality by faith. We must keep coming back to it and keep bringing our people back to this reality. It is the assurance of our acceptance with God that fills the heart with love and gratitude and joy and drives the engine of sacrificial self denying devotion to our Savior.

Well I trust we see, from this survey, that justification in Romans cannot be reduced merely to the recognition or declaration that one is a member of the covenant. Righteousness language in this epistle means more than that.[5] Righteousness is the opposite of sin. Justification is the exact opposite of being condemned. And to be declared righteous is to be declared not guilty. It is to be put into the category and declared to be in the category of one who has perfectly kept what God requires in terms of his moral claims upon men.

Furthermore, this is not some kind of pronouncement in the present of what people will one day become on the Day of Judgment; a declaration that believing sinners will one day become subjectively righteous. We will but that’s glorification, not justification. It is also not a future justification on the basis of our own covenant faithfulness projected into the present and suspended upon the condition of continued covenant faithfulness. In other words, our future justification in glory is not our actual justification with present justification only being the anticipatory recognition of what we will be by our own faithfulness. No, it is just the opposite. The sinners actual justification occurs the moment he believes the gospel, and our future justification will simply be the unveiling and manifesting of who we are and the reality of what we became when we first believed on Jesus and continued becoming in the sanctification flowing out of that believing justified relationship to Him. Justification is the once and for all judicial declaration that the believer is now and will forever be regarded as righteous in the eyes of God’s law. Well we’ve surveyed Paul’s use of righteousness language with reference to men, next time in the last post on this subject we’ll consider righteousness language in Romans as it’s used with reference to God.


[1] I know the aorist does not always require a past reference. However,  normally the aorist participle when preceding the verb it modifies does. Furthermore, this is supported by the use of the aorist participle in v.9. See Douglass Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 298,310.

[2] This is consistent with how the word is used elsewhere in the N.T. as well. There are numerous places where any other meaning would be extremely difficult to apply if not impossible (See for example: Lk. 7:29; 16:15; 18:14; 1 Cor. 4:4; Galatians). There are a few instances in scripture where the term has the meaning “to show to be righteous” or to demonstrate oneself to be righteous before men. For example, some argue, including me, that this is the way James uses the term in James 2. But when speaking of the gift of free justification to sinners in Christ here in Romans this is clearly not the way Paul uses the word. It is a matter of debate as to whether he uses the word in a demonstrative, rather than a declarative sense, in Rom. 2:13. He may be using it that way there also, though there are good arguments for understanding him as speaking hypothetically in that verse of what would be the case if anyone, indeed, did or could obey all that the law demands.  Philip Eveson, Justification by Faith alone- in light of recent thought (Surrey, England: Day One Publications, 1998) 57-58, in giving a helpful word study  defending the traditional reformed understanding of the term makes this comment, “While the declarative meaning predominates in the New Testament, there are cases where dikaioo (justify) has the demonstrative sense of, ‘to show to be righteous.’ We read of the lawyer who felt he needed to ‘justify himself’ by asking Jesus the question ‘who is my neighbor?’ (Luke 10:29). He wanted to ‘show himself righteous’. At the end of Mathew 11:19 Jesus remarks that ‘wisdom is justified by her children’. Again, the meaning is that wisdom is ‘shown to be righteous’ rather than ‘declared to righteous’. It is important to bear in mind this meaning of the verb when we consider the statement in James 2:24, where it is often suggested that James is contradicting Paul. Instead of using the word in Paul’s declaratory sense ‘to declare righteous’ James could well be saying that a person is ‘shown to be righteous’ by his works and not simply by his faith”.

[3] Fred Malone, “Justification By Faith Alone In Contemporary Theological Perspective: A Critique of ‘New Covenant Nomism’,” in Reformed Baptist Theological Review vol. 1, no.1 (2004), 107. Malone gives a brief but very good exposition of Rom. 5:1-2 on pages 106-110.

[4] I am aware of the textual variant. Some manuscripts have the subjunctive “let us have peace with God”. Moo presents the arguments in favor of the indicative rendering followed in most of our English translations, “we have peace with God”. Moo, Romans, footnote 17, 295. Even if the variant reading was used it does not significantly alter the point being made above concerning justification.

[5] This is not to imply that Paul’s speaking of righteousness in this way is only found in his epistle to the Romans or only in the texts we have considered. Westerholm, Perspectives Old And New On Paul, 278-279 helpfully summarizes and collates Paul’s references to this passive righteousness as contrasted with that which comes through the law (Gal.2:21;3:11-12; 5:4; Rom. 10:5; Pp. 3:9), as contrasted with the law’s works (Gal.2:16; Rom. 3:20;28), and as contrasted  with works in general (Rom. 4:2; 5-6;Rom. 9:31-32). It is also called a righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom.3:24), righteousness of faith (Rom. 4:11, 13), righteousness which is of faith (Rom. 9:30; 10:60), Righteousness from God by faith as opposed to my own righteousness which is from the law (Pp. 3:9).

Righteousness Terms and the New Perspective Part Two, Pauline Epistles (1), by Jeffery Smith

The Use of Righteousness Terminology in the Pauline Epistles (1)

We are particularly concerned here with Paul’s usage of righteousness language in his epistle to the Romans. This is the place where by far the most references are made to the righteousness of God. The righteousness or unrighteousness of men is also a major emphasis. Let’s begin, first, with….

Righteousness Language as It’s Used With Reference To Men

Now it must be acknowledged that, like we see in the O.T., in the N.T. men are sometimes referred to as righteous in different ways. While, on the one hand, we are told that there are none righteous no not one and all have sinned and are guilty of unrighteousness, yet at the same time some men are referred to as being righteous. Sometimes men are spoken of as righteous in a relative sense in the N.T. in terms of the basic orientation of the life and not in the sense of being perfectly righteous. See, for example Luke 1:6 and Phil. 3:6. We have to make those distinctions at times depending upon the context. But my focus right now is to look at the specific way Paul uses the language of righteousness with reference to men in the book of Romans in a context in which he is setting forth the doctrine of justification by faith. My purpose is not to give a detailed exposition of all the relevant texts but I just want to give something of a quick survey.[1] Paul’s use of the language in that context can be put into two categories. I like the language that was used by Luther; active righteousness, the righteousness that men themselves perform and passive righteousness; the righteousness that God in his grace gives to sinners.[2] So let’s consider the righteousness terminology in terms, first of all, of…

                        Active Righteousness

First, in speaking of righteousness, or in using righteousness language, Paul constantly contrasts righteousness with sin. Let’s start at Rom. 3:9. Paul asserts: “For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.” This claim in Rom. 3:9 that all are under sin is further supported and followed in v.10 by the scriptural declaration that, “There is none righteous, no not one.” Clearly here to be under sin is to be unrighteous. Sin and righteousness are set forth as opposites, while sin and unrighteousness are set forth as synonymous. This is expanded in the verses following by a detailed description of what it means to be unrighteous. And that description is given in terms of sinful wicked behavior and attitudes. (note-vv.11-18.)

In Rom. 5:7-8 we are told, “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. Notice again that being a righteous man is contrasted with being a sinner. The amazing thing is that Christ died for sinners; which is the opposite of his dying for a righteous man. A sinner is someone who has done what he ought not to do. He is a person who does, or is, what God forbids men to do or to be, or a person who has failed to do or to be what God commands him to do or to be. Sin is the transgression of the law; as Paul says up ch.3:20, “for by the law is the knowledge of sin”. Well if that’s what sin is and righteousness is the opposite of sin, what is righteousness? Righteousness is doing what God’s law commands; actually doing and being what God commands men to do and to be.[3]

Secondly, notice how Paul defines what one ought to do. He continually defines what one ought to do in this epistle in terms of God’s moral claims upon men. For example, in Rom. 1:18 Paul speaks of the wrath of God that is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Now he’s not merely talking about Jews there. He’s speaking of the unrighteousness of Gentiles or of all humanity. God’s wrath against all who do not do what they ought to do in accordance with the light of nature and conscience which is given to every man.  But how does Paul go on to define that? How is unrighteousness defined in the description that follows?

In Rom. 1:19-32 “unrighteousness” is defined in terms of the violation of God’s moral claims as Creator upon his creatures. “They suppress the truth”; “they do not glorify God as God, nor are they thankful”. They give themselves up to various forms of idolatry, “changing the glory of the incorruptible God into an image like corruptible man”. Women exchange the natural use for that which is against nature and also the men, leave the natural use of the woman and burn in their lust for one another. They are filled with sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife and on and on the list goes. Man as a creature created in the image of God is guilty of refusing to give his Creator and Sustainer the honor and gratitude that He is due. He is guilty of worshipping himself instead of his Creator. He is guilty of violating the creation mandate concerning marriage and what is appropriate human sexual behavior. He is guilty of doing evil to his neighbor and having a heart that is full of envy and greed and malice. And all of this is spoken of mankind in general, the human race, Gentiles included, not just the Jews in terms of God’s covenant relationship with Israel. And Paul assumes in v.32 of ch.1 that all humans, at some level and to some degree, both know what they ought to do and they know that God rightly condemns them for not doing it, even if they do not have the law in the written form by which it was given to Israel through Moses. Ch. 1:32, “Who knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them”.

Now all of this wickedness and sin and evil that characterizes fallen humanity, even those who do not have special revelation and are not parties to the Mosaic covenant as the Jews were, Paul describes as unrighteousness. Thus, unrighteousness and righteousness cannot be defined merely in terms of God’s covenant with Israel. It cannot be defined in terms of covenant membership or being recognized as one who is or who is not loyal to the covenant.

Paul goes on to emphasize in chapter 2 that men will be judged by God for their actions. He speaks in 2:5-6 of the righteous judgment of God who will render to each one according to his deeds. He says in v.13, “For not the hearers of the law are just or righteous in the sight of God, but the doers of the law”. Without giving right now a detailed exposition and interpretation of that verse in its context and in its relationship to the justification of sinners, one thing it makes clear is that righteousness has to do with being a doer of what the law requires. One is found righteous at the judgment because he does what the law requires.

Then Paul, in vv.14-16, goes on to point out again that it’s not different for the Gentiles who do not have the law in inscripturated form as the Jews do.  For even they show the work of the law written in their hearts. Righteousness in terms of doing what God’s law requires is not merely a Jewish thing. The Jews, indeed, had special guidance in these matters as they had the law in written form but it was special guidance with reference to the kind of behavior God requires of all men, both Jew and Gentile.  Righteousness is behavior that God requires of every member of the human race and that righteousness is defined in terms of the ethical demands of his law. As Paul goes on to emphasize in the first part of chapter 3, therefore, all have sinned, both Jew and Gentile, and have fallen short of the glory of God. “There is none righteous, no not one.”

So we’ve looked at Paul’s general use of righteousness language in its ordinary sense or what has been called active righteous. But that’s not the only way Paul uses the language in this epistle and elsewhere. Which leads us now to consider, secondly…

                        Passive Righteousness

Paul also speaks of righteousness in terms of that which God gives or credits to those who have no righteousness of their own; those who are sinners and yet God declares them righteous. He puts them into the category of those who have done all that his law demands and requires men to do. Yet, in reality, they have not done that. They are not righteous in the active sense, they are ungodly. They are sinners. Paul has already told us that, ultimately, all have sinned; there is none who is truly righteous in the ultimate and active sense. Yet he then goes on to declare the good news of how God declares righteous those who are sinners.

Again we go back to Rom. 3. Paul has just given his sweeping indictment of the unrighteousness of the whole human race both Jews and Gentiles. He concludes in v.20 with these words, “For by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” And now he begins to introduce the righteousness that God himself gives to sinners. Rom. 3:21-24:

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,..

Here Paul speaks of sinners, unrighteous people, who have fallen short of the glory of God, being justified, rightified, declared righteous. And this righteousness is not on the basis of anything they are or anything they have done. They are justified freely. And this justification is not an act of reward or recompense for righteous deeds done. It is by God’s grace, “freely by his grace.” Furthermore, they are declared righteous through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Without opening that up right now, clearly this extraordinary righteousness, this righteousness for sinners, is possible because of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, which the apostle then goes on to explain in more detail in vv.25-26.

But my point for right now is that here we see sinners justified; declared righteous. And we see in the context that this is made possible by the work of Christ and that this justification is the possession of those who believe in Him.

Let’s move over to Rom. 4:5. “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” Here again we have people who are considered ungodly and who have no works sufficient to build a claim of righteousness upon, and yet righteousness is accounted or imputed to them. They are justified, declared righteous, accounted as having righteousness. Paul speaks here of God justifying, rightifying, the ungodly.

Let’s look at Rom. 5:7-9: “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.” We looked at this earlier. Here is ordinary righteousness, active righteousness. But Paul goes further. Notice vv.8-9: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” Here we see extraordinary righteousness or passive righteousness. We have sinners, unrighteous people, whom Christ died for who, as a result of his death for them, have been justified by his blood. They have been declared righteous, even though, in and of themselves, they are not righteous.

Look on further in Rom. 5 at vv.17-19. Again just very briefly, without opening this up in detail right now, notice what we see. In v.12 Paul says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned-”. Here we have the universal guilt of the entire human race resulting from Adam’s sin. For our purpose right now here is what I want us to see; all men are counted as sinners according to this text. All sinned. Now notice how Paul picks up this line of thought in v.17, “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” Here we have, in contrast to the death that came to all men because of sin, what Paul refers to as the gift of righteousness. Here again are sinners and yet they have righteousness given to them as a gift. He goes on to connect this gift of righteousness to the obedience and righteous act of Jesus Christ in vv.18-19.

So here is the mystery, as it were, of Paul’s usage of righteousness terminology we must understand if we would understand the gospel Paul preaches. In its ordinary usage, or in its active sense, righteousness is moral conformity to the claims of God upon men as his creatures which are given clearest expression in his law. The righteous are those who have done what they ought to do in terms of those claims. And righteousness is the possession of those who have done so. But there is none righteous, no not one, for all have sinned. So how can there be any hope for sinners? How can sinners stand righteous before God? Contrary to the new perspective this is the question that Paul addresses in his doctrine of justification. It is here that Paul brings in the gospel as he sets before us this extraordinary righteousness, or passive righteousness. It is righteousness that is freely given to sinners and received through faith in Jesus Christ.

But how can it be that God justifies sinners who believe on Jesus? Prov. 17:15 says, “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.” But Paul tells us that God himself justifies the wicked. How can God do that if he who justifies the wicked is an abomination to the Lord? Well, again, it is Jesus Christ and his work that enters into the equation. Paul answers that question in terms of the work that Christ has done on behalf of sinners.

Let me say as a practical aside, that until a man, in some measure, has been brought face to face with this dilemma he can’t really understand the gospel. Until he sees that God is holy and just, and until God’s law has produced in his conscience the conviction that he is a sinner deserving of nothing from God but wrath; until his conscience is brought face to face with this dilemma of how can God do anything else but send me to hell; until a man feels something of this dilemma, he cannot possibly experimentally understand the gospel, or rejoice in the gospel with the cordial embrace of faith? Why?; because this is the very dilemma that the gospel addresses and answers.

This is one of the great needs in the preaching of our day. This is one of the great needs in the so-called biblical scholarship of our day. Men need to be confronted with the majesty, holiness, justice and wrath of God. They need to be confronted with the law of God in order that they may be brought to see and to feel their sinfulness and hell deservedness and their lost condition. It is then and only then that the gospel of justification by faith becomes relevant to them and can be properly appreciated as they are forced to ask the question, “How can a sinner like me be right with a holy and just God?”

This is why Paul spent the first two, and over half of the third, chapters of this epistle to the Romans setting forth these very issues before he ever begins to take up justification by faith beginning in Ch. 3:21. He begins with God, His justice and wrath against sin, his moral ethical claims upon men, the claims of His law, and man’s condition before God as a sinner who is justly condemned. And then after that he takes up the glorious gospel of justification by faith. Listen to the comments of James Buchanan:

The best preparation for the study of this doctrine is—neither great intellectual ability, nor much scholastic learning,–but a conscience impressed with a sense of our actual condition as sinners in the sight of God….the law must be applied to the conscience, so as to quicken and arouse it, before we can feel our need of salvation, or make any serious effort to attain it. It is the convicted, and not the careless, sinner, who alone will lay to heart, with some sense of its real meaning and momentous importance, the solemn question—How shall a man be just with God?[4]

Another quote; this time from John Murray:

We are all wrong with God because we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. Far too frequently we fail to entertain the gravity of this fact. Hence the reality of our sin and the reality of the wrath of God upon us for our sin do not come into our reckoning. This is the reason why the grand article of justification does not ring the bells in the innermost depths of our spirit. And this is the reason why the gospel of justification is to such an extent a meaningless sound in the world and in the church of the twentieth century. We are not imbued with the profound sense of the reality of God, of His majesty and holiness, And sin, if reckoned with at all is little more than a misfortune or maladjustment. If we are to appreciate that which is central in the gospel, if the jubilee trumpet is to find  its echo again in our hearts, our thinking must be revolutionized by the realism of the wrath of God, of the reality and gravity of our guilt, and of the divine condemnation. It is then and only then that our thinking and feeling will be rehabilitated to an understanding of God’s grace in the justification of the ungodly[5]


[1] In this I’m following to some degree the helpful method used by Stephen Westerholm, Perspective Old and New263-283. Westerholm divides Paul’s references to righteousness with respect to men into two categories; what he calls ordinary righteousness and extraordinary righteousness. By ordinary he means the righteousness of one who does what he ought to do. By extraordinary he means the righteousness of one who has not done what he ought to do and yet he is counted righteous.

[2] See for example, Martin Luther, Commentary On Galatians, (1850; reprint, Grand   Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1979), xi-xviii.

[3] One could add Rom. 6:13-14; 18-19, though the context is not that of the sinner’s justification before God but of the believer’s new life in Christ that is inseparable from it.  For example, in Rom. 6:13-14 we are urged to not present the members of our bodies as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you.” Again righteousness is set forth as the opposite of sin and sin is set forth as synonymous with unrighteousness. Rom. 6:18-19, “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”  The opposite of being in bondage to sin is being a servant of righteousness. “I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” Again righteousness is the opposite of lawlessness. Being a servant of righteousness for holiness is the opposite of being slaves of uncleanness and lawlessness.

[4] James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification, (1867; reprint, Carlisle PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1997), 222. See also John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, (1955; Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 117-118

[5] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, (1955; Wm. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 117-118.