Rightness vs. Righteousness

As I hover over Romans 1:16-17 this morning the words of Jesus come to mind:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

(Matthew 6:24a ESV)

It makes sense. Divided loyalties have a way of compromising loyalties. Being owned by two directing powers can’t help but result in being misdirected concerning one of them. Specifically, Jesus was talking about the impossibility of being a bondservant of both God and money. In my Romans reading this morning, I see Paul making the same point as to the rightness of man and the righteousness of God.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

(Romans 1:16-17 ESV)

Been noodling on why Paul should have felt the need to make the statement, “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” Think about it. Kind of a funny thing to say of a message which is the means to a myriad of blessing. Why be embarrassed by standing alongside the entryway to eternal life? Why be sheepish about something that brings salvation? Why feel guilty about something which is such good news? Because, at least in part, in the prevailing culture in which Paul lived the righteousness of God was valued less than the rightness of man.

A message of good news which first required acknowledgement of the bad news of sin; a promise of a victor’s crown which first involved the suffering of a cross; a declaration of life to the full which required dying to self; well, it just didn’t align with the way “that seems right to a man” (Prov. 14:12). Preaching Christ crucified was a “stumbling block” to the Jews who demanded a sign beyond resurrection if they were to acknowledge Jesus as the King of their expectations. And for the Gentiles, who were determined to follow what was wise in their own eyes, such “good news” was regarded as great folly (1Cor. 1:22-23). That was the prevailing rightness of man. Thus, to serve that worldly master would, of necessity, bring shame for any who would entertain the good news of God’s kingdom.

But the righteousness of God was of far greater worth to Paul. To stand in His presence, to be reconciled through redemption, to be adopted into His family, to be set apart and regarded as holy, this was the way worthy of his life. That it would be a way by faith alone was welcomed for Paul, for he was well aware of his failure at having zealously sought to attain to righteousness through his own effort and misguided good works. For Paul, the righteousness of God would prevail over the rightness of man every time. Thus, he was not ashamed of the gospel.

Through the gospel he knew a righteousness which came from faith and was for faith. What had begun by believing would be completed by believing.

Though the dissonance between the way of the world and the way of God might increase, Paul would serve but one Master — unashamed of the gospel.

By God’s grace. For God’s glory.

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