Johannes Leppänen, Translation: M. Keranen | The Voice of Zion September 2022 --
God created the world and all that is in it by His Word. God also created human beings in His own image, but in the fall into sin, God’s image in humans was corrupted. God Himself gave the first human couple a promise of the Savior (Gen. 3:15). Believing in this promise, God’s children of Old Testament times owned righteousness of faith. By faith, they were acceptable to God.
Righteous by Faith
The author of the letter to Hebrews describes in many examples how the former saints were victorious by faith (Heb. 11). The phases of Abraham’s life show in a very concrete way what righteousness of faith meant to him. His life included many major changes and uncertainties. God tried Abraham’s faith, but Abraham was still obedient to him. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness,” Paul summarized (Rom. 4:3).
Abraham is called the forefather of faith, an example to learn from. Abraham obeyed God by faith. This is the only possible order. It is important to remember that one cannot become a believer through obedience.
Paul describes extensively in the letter to the Romans the essence of righteousness of faith. A person becomes righteous – acceptable to God – only through faith bestowed by God (Rom. 3:21–31). True faith that is in accordance with God’s Word brings joy and freedom to the believer’s heart.
Faith gives birth to love that joins believers to Christ and each other. This is the love we continue to experience today in the kingdom of God. Mutual love is the hallmark of believers. After all, the Savior said to His disciples, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
Love is especially evident when we encounter the inhabitants of God’s kingdom from other countries. When the Holy Spirit unites hearts, cultural differences, skin color or any other outward differences have no meaning. So strong is the love of God which comes from heaven, the love that unites believers.
Reason Does Not Comprehend the Righteousness of Faith
Righteousness of faith that is acceptable before God is not comprehensible to human reason. Human beings have always wanted to acquire righteousness or even some part of it for themselves.
However, no human work is acceptable to God no matter how valuable it may be by human standards. Everything a person does to be acceptable to God is mere self-righteousness. Before the face of God it is like a stained rag or an unclean garment (Isa. 64:5,6). Although God has given humankind a lot of wisdom and astonishingly advanced scientific developments, it nonetheless cannot research or understand the righteousness of faith.
Righteousness that is acceptable to God has been and always will be the same. That is what we are content with, and that is what we endeavor to display, so that seeking ones may find the kingdom of God and receive the gift of faith. We have been given the task of carrying this message to the ends of the earth. In miraculous ways, God has opened the way for the gospel in people’s hearts.
Righteousness of Life Does Not Just Mean a Good Life
Righteousness of faith results in righteousness of life. Faith effects in a person’s heart the desire to live so that he or she does not transgress God’s will. We have experienced how a person who has received the grace of repentance rejects lifestyles that do not belong to a believer. When Jesus in His time preached repentance and people believed, He instructed them, “Sin no more” (John 8:11).
Most people want to live a good life as a good person. I have often had to lower my head when I have met a friend whose life is exemplary, even if she or he is not a believer. The enemy of the soul has tormented me: here you see that he or she is a better person than you and lives better than you. In such a situation it is easy to doubt whether I am correctly believing.
To a good person who lives an outwardly flawless life, it is difficult to talk about God’s mercy toward a sinful person. A good friend of mine once said when we were discussing the gift of faith that he has no sin, he does not feel that he has transgressed against God.
However, a good life does not make anyone acceptable to God. Personal faith, or lack thereof, is what counts. God awakens people to feel their sinfulness. It is God’s work alone. God’s work is also this when he leads one to the gospel fountain. As such, it is more accurate to say that a person received the grace of repentance, rather than saying that he or she repented.
Faith Effects Righteousness of Life
Those outside the kingdom of God often think that believers live according to prohibitions and commandments. They appear to be looking for lists of what can and cannot be done. Certainly believers talk to each other about the dangers of our time and also warn each other about these dangers. After all, this is what God’s Word clearly urges us to do (Rom. 12:2; 1 Thess. 5:21,22).
It is a living reality that the enemy of souls walks around like a roaring lion and seeks to deceive people into sin (1 Pet. 5:8). No one can escape the temptations of sin, and all will fall. Fortunately, our faith is based on God’s grace, not our own successes.
God’s grace also teaches us to forsake sin, wickedness, and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly (Titus 2:11,12). When one has been able to believe that all one’s sins are forgiven because of Christ’s merit, the desire to live as a believer and walk in light as Christ is in the light is kindled in the heart (1 John 1:7). Personal faith thus influences a person’s life. A believer has a different teacher in his or her heart than an unbeliever.
When considering righteousness of life, it is important to remember that what matters is personal faith, which begets the desire to live in a way that suits a believer and not the appropriate lifestyle per se. The latter alone will not make a person saved if faith is extinguished. It is dangerous if the focus is solely on outward things, on living as a believer. The counsel of the kingdom of God on life-related issues is a safe signpost on the endeavor.
The life of a believer involves many different phases, but at all times we have a battle against sin and its effects. The endeavor is personal to everyone. We are in a state of war against the threefold enemy: the world, the enemy of the souls, and our own corrupt flesh tempt us away from our portion as a child of God.
Jesus encouraged His disciples to fight evil. He promised, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). My uncle Toivo Leppänen, who has gained the rest of the righteous, often said in his sermon, “We have salvation in faith and we have strength in the gospel.” Those few words sum up the “constitution” of a person’s life as a believer.
We Need Obedience of Faith
There are many dangers in our time that are necessary to discuss. We ask for a humble and obedient mind in order to maintain a common understanding and mutual love. Believers should not have a wide range of opinions about phenomena of our time that are sinful. We cannot turn a blind eye to statements that reflect a different state of the heart. They destroy and tear apart God’s congregation.
Living faith guides one to examine what God’s Word says about a matter. However, we do not find a direct answer in the Bible to all modern questions. We can discuss such things together, discuss different opinions, and use God’s Word to try to examine what would be pleasing to God. After all, this is what the Apostles did in their time (Acts 15). Then when, through the Spirit of God, we come to a common understanding, we can be content and accept it.
In the Bible we find many examples of obedience, above all others of which is our Savior, Jesus Christ. The Bible describes how He wanted to fulfill the heavenly Father’s will even when it seemed insurmountably difficult to Him (Luke 22:42). If Jesus had not been obedient to His Father’s will, we would not have redemption through His blood. Then we would be left without gift righteousness.
Through faith, we partake in the same obedience that Jesus also had (Rom. 1:4,5). However, our obedience is broken by our weakness, by our own human nature. Therefore, we must over and over again learn obedience of faith and strengthen it with the gospel. Disobedience is a sin (1 Sam. 15:23), and that is why the Bible warns against it. God has promised to bless His obedient children, and His promise is true.
Our only refuge is the love and patience with which our Savior nurtures, refreshes, and comforts us in His kingdom. Even now the gospel holds the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes it. Believing in the gospel, we wish to endeavor toward the goal of faith, the heaven of glory.
Originally published in Finnish in the SRK’s yearbook Vanhurskas elää uskosta, Ajankohtaista 2017 (SRK, 2017). Translated and published with permission.