Christians were created for good works (Eph 2:10). Our faith in Christ is actually seen by works (Jas 2:18), and faith without works is dead, being by itself (Jas 2:17). It is important to clarify, however, that good works merit nothing with God. In other words, we gain no favor with God because of the good works done in the flesh. Rather, God works in us (Gal 2:20), and our good works should be ascribed to Him, alone, who is willing and doing His good pleasure in us believers (Phil 2:13).
There are some who imagine that it is our good works that save us (ie. Roman Catholics). This is explicitly denied in Titus 3:5b, where Paul wrote that salvation is, “not on the basis of works done in righteousness.”
Righteousness is best understood as one having a legal right standing before our holy God. The righteous man is in right relationship with God. He is rightly positioned, having been justified (declared “not guilty”) by the blood of Christ (Rom 5:9), and by the grace of God (Rom 3:24; Gal 5:4), as evidenced by his faith in Christ (Rom 3:28; 5:1). Christ is righteous (Dt 32:4; 1 Cor 1:30; 1 Jn 2:1), but there is no one else who is righteous on their own (Rom 3:10).
A person’s righteousness before God is purely alien. The status is imputed, meaning, it is credited to one’s account for no other reason than a Creditor having absolute mercy on a debtor (Ex 33:19; Rom 9:15–16).
It is common to false religion, to have as its basis, a works-based system of paying off one’s debt to a deity. The debt is incurred by sin, but who is the accountant present to determine when enough works have outweighed sins? No one is in a position to judge; and sin is evident in a myriad of ways, so that the number and varieties of sins is incalculable. At best, one can be considered earnest.
Earnestness and sincerity are not evil in themselves, but when one has successfully convinced others, the result is pride. It is a vicious cycle with no exit. It is bondage to a failed system of errant religion. This is why the apostle Paul is adamant in stating his contempt for works righteousness, immediately following the claim that, “He saved us (Tit 3:5a).”
Fallen man is not right with God (Eph 2:12). He has good intentions, at times, to reconcile his unrighteousness (Dt 6:25). Because God has provided an alien righteousness, and imputed it to His elect people, they evidence the imputed righteousness of Christ, by faith (Rom 1:17; 3:22). The apostle Paul makes this clear elsewhere, with plain words, “…David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works (Rom 4:6).” The Law of God can never produce righteousness in a person (Gal 2:21), it can only reveal the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man.
A man will read about works of righteousness, as in Psalm 15:2, “He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart,” but who is this man dwelling in the tent of God, but Christ Jesus the Lord, our righteousness. His righteousness endures forever (Ps 111:3).
As we conclude, we must let the apostle Paul have the last word on the issue he brought up to Titus, to the Galatians, to others, and to the church at Rome, “But to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness (Rom 4:5).”
Human works of righteousness are “filthy rags” in the assessment of our holy God (Is 64:6). All of them, for even when the Christian has done his duty, he remains an unprofitable servant (Lk 17:10). Righteousness, then, is an unreachable standard for people, who must humble themselves upon hearing God’s judgment of them and their works (Rom 3:10–12; 3:23; 6:23; Heb 9:27; Jas 4:6, 10; 1 Pet 5:5).
By the grace granted to manifest faith in the believer (Rom 12:3; Gal 3:22; Eph 2:8–9; Phil 1:29; Heb 12:2), Christ’s righteousness — attained by His supernatural conception, virgin birth, sinless life, atoning death, burial, resurrection, ascension, enthronement, and session positions us now with no condemnation (Rom 8:1), before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10), on His great white throne of judgment (Rev 20:11). When death consumes our bodies of sin, our hope is solely in the resurrection of the righteous (Lk 14:14; Jn 5:28–29; Acts 24:15; 1 Cor 15), which is who we are by no merit of our own.
Spokane Valley, Washington
September 30, 2021