Life and Law

Philippians 3: 9

[That I] may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.

Here is where things get hard. This verse perfectly positions us if, and when, we comprehend within us, what Paul intended to convey. It is easy to read with our intellect and assign it to the theological part of our minds. We need, though, to bring it to the forefront of our brains and consider each of the parts.

The truth is that we like the law. In law school students always wanted to be taught “the black letter law.” Just give us the “do this/ don’t do this” rules. That is not the way law school works. Instructors don’t just give you a list. You have to think and that, we did not want to do. Just tell me the answers! We didn’t want to have to arrive at them on our own. Why? First, it’s too much work. Secondly, we might get it wrong. Therefore, if we could just get Jesus to give us all the rules and let those rules guide us then, we think it will be much easier.

As you know, that is not the system Jesus instituted for us. Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to be our guide. Jesus’ “made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” (2 Corinthians 3: 6). “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death,” (Romans 8: 2). Jesus said it this way, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life,” (John 6: 3). All these verses point to the same thing, we cannot walk by the law and have life. The letter of the law kills but it is so much easier for the human mind to focus on.

Instead, Paul tells us, righteousness comes by faith. You can’t do anything without faith! Anytime we point out our righteousness, it is repugnant to God because it denies and rejects the sacrifice of Christ. There is no righteousness in the law, and we cannot be justified by the law, but we are like law students, “Don’t make me have to attain righteousness by exerting myself to walk, live, breathe, act and speak in faith. Whoa! That is too hard.” Righteousness comes from God and it comes on the basis of faith.

The God’s Word Translation reads that Paul’s goal was, “to have a relationship with him. This means that I didn’t receive God’s approval by obeying his laws. The opposite is true! I have God’s approval through faith in Christ. This is the approval that comes from God and is based on faith.” I like the use of the word approval in this reading because I think it makes more sense to the modern reader. Essentially, it means that we are not relying on anything we do or say to gain the favor or approval of the Father. Our worthiness and right standing come through Jesus, but not only Jesus, not only his faithfulness, but also in our faith in what he accomplished. One version uses “based on trust,” (CJB). In other words, our righteousness or approval comes out of our trust in God. It is His faithfulness we rely upon rather than our works.

Two other quick mentions. First, Paul points out another significant part of this. The first part of the verse shows that righteousness is in being found “in Christ” or in relationship with him. The Passion Translation reads, “My passion is to be consumed with him and not clinging to my own righteousness.” Paul’s deep desire was to be consumed with Jesus rather than obsessed with himself. If we meditate on that alone, I think a new paradigm for living righteous emerges.

Secondly, we must begin our reflections on the application of the law and righteousness as they affect us. Contemplation on this passage is not complete, however, until we understand that other people do not have to earn their righteousness either. We want grace, and need it, but then tend to apply the law to others. It is so easy to do, natural even, but faith in the faithfulness of the Messiah ultimately leads us to trust and grace for ourselves and others. Now, that is where we should desire to land.

Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit so that we could live by revelation rather than by law. This lifestyle should lift us higher and help us to see through the divine perspective. Life in the Spirit will always be a life of righteousness. Life lived by willpower, will always lead to failure.