Oct 30, 2016

“Alien Righteousness” 10-30-16

Romans 1:16-17 & 3:21-26
October 30, 2016

Tomorrow will be the 499th anniversary of the evening on which Martin Luther posted a list of 95 things he wanted to discuss or debate with leaders or representatives of the church.  Most of those issues are no longer hot issues within the Christian Community.  Nevertheless, that date of October 31, 1517 is recognized as the official beginning of the reformation, a movement to which all Protestants are theological descendants. 
But God had been moving in Luther and in others to prepare for that moment.
A scholar from Rotterdam named Desiderius Erasmus was a priest and a humanist scholar who had produced new texts of the Latin and Greek New Testament which raised some questions about how certain verses had been interpreted by the church. Others were expressing concerns and questions about some interpretations and practices of the church of that time.
Martin Luther, a monk and professor of Theology, read the work of Erasmus and others and had a few questions of his own.  But his greatest concern was his standing before God.  He had tried for years to use the methods of the church which included penance and good works to get into a state of grace with God, yet he still felt sinful and separated from God.
He had been teaching a course on Romans for which he started to prepare in November of 1515.  In the first weeks of his preparation he came across the first two verses of our second reading, verses 16 & 17 of the first chapter of Romans. 
In those verses, the Apostle Paul was writing about his confidence in the Gospel, or the good news about Jesus that he preached to others.  In another place Paul would write that the good news about Jesus seemed foolish to the Gentiles and heretical to the Jews.  But here he writes that in spite of such opposition, the gospel he preached conveyed the power of salvation to all who would believe, including both Jews and Greeks.
Now in all ages there are ways in which humanity is divided.  We are divided by ethnic groups, nationalities, ideas, ideals, and political parties.
Paul as a first century Jew understood that for him, the two major divisions of the world were Jews and Gentiles, which in this passage he referred to as Greeks.  So he was saying that the good news about Jesus brings the power of salvation to everyone.
But what really struck Luther was the 17th verse of chapter one where Paul wrote about the righteousness of God being revealed through faith, for faith, and where Paul  quoted the OT as saying that “the one who is righteous will live by faith.
Now Luther already had an understanding of the righteousness of God.  He understood it as the righteousness of God by which He judges all sinful people as unrighteous.  This concept of the righteousness of God was in our text from Amos a few months ago when God spoke of his judgments of the nation’s when God said “for 3 sins of a particular nation and for 4 more, I will not revoke the punishment”.
Throughout the Old Testament God judged people based on his righteous standards.  So for Luther, God’s righteousness was something to be feared, it was an impossible standard by which people, including Luther, were judged. 
But as Luther read this verse, he came to understand something else about the righteousness of God.  That God gives his righteousness to believers through the redemption that is in Jesus.  Some of the details of this are explained by Paul in chapter 3, which is why I included Romans 3: 21-26 in our second lesson. 
In these verses we learn that this righteousness that God gives to believers was spoken of in the Old Testament.  They tell us that this righteousness that renders us just before God is needed by all human beings, because we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s righteous standards. 
They also tell us how the righteousness is given to us.  It was won for us through the sacrifice of Jesus, who gave up his blood, his own life for us.  But this redemption is not conveyed to everyone, only those who believe. So it is though our faith in Jesus that God gives us his righteousness so he can consider us as just and allow us into his eternal kingdom.
When Martin Luther understood this, he felt that the gates of heaven were opened and that he marched through them.
But as a teacher of theology, he needed to name or label what he now understood about God and how God works in the lives of those who belong to Him.
So, Apart from the righteousness of God by which he judges, Luther posited that there are two types of righteousness operating in the lives of Christians, those who believe.
The righteousness won by Christ that God gives to us through our faith so he judges us as righteous Luther called Alien Righteousness, which is easy for people of our time to misunderstand.  In Luther’s terminology, the Alien was God.  The righteousness that God gives us is not a part of our human nature.  It is not something that we can inherit, or that we can create within ourselves.  It comes to us from beyond ourselves, from God, so it is alien to our nature as we are and live.
Luther went on, as he understood the demands of God on those who believe, to label another form of righteousness.  This other form of righteousness is visible in the lives of those who have received the alien righteousness.  It is seen in the good works they do and in the good and holy lives they attempt to live to please God.
This righteousness that is inspired by alien righteousness Luther called Proper righteousness.
So Luther helped us understand that we are saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus and that we accept that salvation and the righteousness of God through our faith.  But we also need to understand that Luther insisted that, and the Scriptures teach that, those who have believed in Jesus now must live lives that attempt to please God in every way.  The intentional sinfulness that is common to all who are not saved is no longer a part of the life of the believer.
So, Luther understood that we can be delivered from the righteous judgments of God against us and receive his righteousness by believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
This new understanding changed the life of Martin Luther, it changed the churches that followed him into the reformation, and, it changed the world, even churches that did not follow Luther.  That Church that calls itself Catholic and is called by some Roman Catholic is no longer the same church that Luther opposed.
But as we look at the reformed churches and the non-reformed or catholic churches we do see many differences.  We tend to focus on the obvious differences in Worship styles and structure.  But a brother named Paul Tambrino, who has 2 doctorates, posits that the differences in style and structure can be traced to a difference in the theology of Justification or how our salvation comes to us.
It has commonly been stated by many Protestants that Protestants believe that we are justified or saved only through our faith while Catholics believe that justification or Salvation comes through works or deeds that please God.
Neither of those statements is totally true.
Catholics do believe in what Luther called alien righteousness, in a righteousness that comes from God through our faith.  But they believe that that alien righteousness assists believers in doing good works and that God accepts them as righteous because they have cooperated with God’s grace and lived to please God.  In other words, Catholics believe that to be saved, a person must cooperate with God’s grace, and participate in one’s own salvation.
Protestants believe that while we are saved only by the work of Christ that is given to us only through our faith in Christ, those who really are saved will do good works, live holy lives as a result of their salvation.  So, those who claim to be saved but have no evidence of any sincere attempt to please God in their lives are probably not.
Tambrino summarizes the differences thus: “In Roman Catholicism Faith plus works yields Justification, while in Protestantism Faith yields Justification plus works.  Both views contain the same three elements, but there is a difference in how we understand how God’s alien righteousness works in us.
We do accept each other as Christians, but we do need to understand why we are different.
So, as a pastor standing in the tradition of Luther, and Calvin, I exhort you to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and as your Savior.  And, if, as I sincerely hope, you have already done that, I exhort you to live as the righteousness of God in you leads you to live.  You must display in your life both the alien righteousness of God and the proper righteousness of your own life that the alien righteousness has enabled you to have.  If you are truly saved, live like it.


Pastor David L. Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906