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Righteousness by Faith #24: Living by Faith & the Cultural Wars

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” Romans 1:17

Believers get caught up in fighting the culture war because they want America to be a righteous nation. They want to see God still blessing America and to live free of fear. They work to get just laws passed, hopefully by ‘righteous’ leaders, because they know that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.” (Proverbs 14:34) There is no harm in doing so because the voice of those who believe needs to be heard as much as any others as laws which affect the lives of people are being formed.

But if you are engaged in such activities, keep this in mind: Laws do not make people righteous.

Years ago Becky Pippert wrote about an encounter with a Black woman on a bus. The woman declared the need for changes in the law to put an end to racism. Becky gently responded that she knew people who would still think of the woman as a racial slur no matter what the law said. “Right on,” responded the woman through angry tears. Then the woman observed that the real change needed to take place at a much deeper level inside people, though she did not know how it could happen.

This brings us to Paul’s point. We would like to see people who hold different views about a myriad of social issues from ours overpowered by our logic as well as our political power. This is, after all, how America’s government works. But deep change that is brought about by the good news about Jesus can never be delivered by passing a legislative bill.

Furthermore, other believers—and I am not talking about quasi-Christians, but real members of God’s family—may not see every issue the way you do. Their cultural background and personal experience can vary greatly from yours.

Paul is leading the Roman church away from looking to the Jewish Torah as the standard for righteousness. But he is not directing this congregation of Jew-Gentile believers to embrace an ‘anything-goes’ culture in its place. Paul knew that all cultures were developed by people affected by the Fall. All were tainted with pride, prejudices, and preferences having nothing to do with righteousness, no matter how nicely packaged.

We need to take this to heart as we live out righteousness by faith when cultural beliefs clash. When Paul speaks of the righteous ones living by faith, he means faith in the faithfulness of God. God can be trusted to guide us to righteousness. More than that, He has taken it upon Himself to produce this righteousness in us.

First, we need to trust the Father instead of depending on laws to fence in bad behavior. When we reduce righteousness down to law, we are putting our faith in law over the One who makes humans righteous. Instead of living by faith, we are living out our unspoken distrust that God actually can change the lives of people by the resurrected life of Christ.

If we are going to navigate our way in a time of cultural clashing, especially one within the Body of Christ, then we need to point people to the Father. This is at the heart of the righteous ones living by faith. God is the only one who stands above the cultural confusion. He is the standard for cultural righteousness.

We need to trust that He will unclutter our thinking and allow Him to bend our hearts toward true just living. We do this by pursuing intimacy with Him, spending time with Him, listening to Him, surrendering to Him. And by deepening our relationship with Him, our understanding of how to live righteously in unrighteous times increases. We find ourselves not looking to the law to gauge our righteousness. Instead, we look at our relationships with others—even those whose views cause us deep concern—to discover how well we are being righteous.

Does that last statement resonate? It should. Because when Jesus was asked in Matthew 22 which was the greatest commandment, he quickly identified two – love God with everything you’ve got and love others as yourself.

More to come…

-Steve Smith