The Struggle to Be Christlike Is Made More Difficult By The Idea of Positional Righteousness

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

For a while now, I’ve been writing about two de-motivators of spiritual efforts towards Christlikeness – “faith alone,” and “positional righteousness.” Why engage in practices that actually stimulate a deepening communion with God when I’m already righteous in Christ by faith alone? I’ve tried to show that these two notions are not found in scripture. In fact, there is sound evidence that effort must be made so that the salvation provided by God can be fully realized. 

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This is a huge topic, much broader than I can address in a brief blog post. So, let me wrap things up with these final thoughts on “positional righteousness.” 

I’m calling into question the idea of positional righteousness because it demands too much from justification.

For positional righteousness to be effective, justification must be seen as… 

  • its own entity separate from sanctification. However, these aspects of salvation ( and other aspects) are unified in scripture (1 Corinthians 1.30, 6.11; Galatians 2.17-21, 3.23-29; 2 Thessalonians 2.13; Titus 3.4-8; Acts 26.18, Romans 5.18-21; Hebrews 2.11, 10.10). The Church for 1500 years understood salvation as one whole reality. The reformers fragmented it. 
  • a forensic action. The idea is that God declares you righteous setting you free from guilt. It’s God’s verdict or opinion of you. God changes His mind about you. Even if that is true, what difference does that actually make within you? Now, you have to convince yourself that it is true. But, you look at your life and conduct and know it’s not true. So you’re paralyzed, or at the least confused, about righteousness. 
  • by faith alone. You must become convinced or convince yourself that God “sees” you as righteous. It is dependent on your believing. You must have faith in your faith. You must imagine yourself as righteous in Christ, thinking about it until you become righteous. Can you see the frailty of this idea? It depends on you. This is superficial and potentially dangerous.
  • limited to a “declared righteousness.” However, justification is broader than this. It can be understood as the act, process, or state of being justified by God. Scripture does not define justification, it describes it. And when it does, as in Romans 5.18-21, a process is described.  
  • a “thing” from God. Righteousness is seen as an entity unto itself. It comes from God but is not God. However, righteousness is God Himself. He alone is righteous. So, if you are to become righteous you must actively live in God’s righteousness. You participate in Him and He acts in you. There is no other way to become righteous.  

Positional righteousness is built like a house of cards. You blow away one card and the whole house crumbles.  

Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest human being and holder of 28 medals, was never declared the winner of a race until he actually ran (and won) the race. God’s rightful declaration of our righteousness comes at the finish line, the judgment seat of Christ. So, we diligently run the race set before us.  

Here’s the bottom line. Your righteousness is not so much about being declared righteous as it is about being and living in union, relationally with God.

These are really two different “systems” of understanding what it is to be a Christian. We might say one is “judicial” and the other “relational.” Judicial has won the day in evangelicalism. However, thousands are discovering that only in a deepening relationship, a communal partnership, with God can true righteousness take place in one’s life. 

This may be what Paul is getting at in his own personal journey with God recorded in Philippians 3. He explains that he has a righteousness from God that comes through faith in Christ which includes knowing Christ – in power, suffering and death – pressing on to make this his own, and straining forward to what lies ahead. He does not say he’s declared righteous so all is good. But, he is saying that he is living in a righteousness that comes from God (only God is righteous) through knowing Christ with great effort. He must participate in that righteousness for it to be effective in his life. 

Remember, righteousness is God’s not ours. You can participate through faith in Christ Jesus in the righteousness of God, becoming more like Him day after day. The key is to participate.

How are you participating in the righteousness of God? 

Dr. K