Time and time again, TANC Ministries has demonstrated that the reformed standard for justification is perfect law-keeping rather than the new birth. Here is a summary of the salient premises (what reformed theology must assume to be true to arrive at their conclusion). It goes something like this:
- Man is totally depraved.
- Because man is totally depraved, no one can keep the law perfectly.
- Because no one can keep the law perfectly, we need someone to keep the law on our behalf.
- Jesus is the only one who ever kept the law perfectly.
- Because Jesus kept the law perfectly, we must depend on Jesus to keep the law for us.
- God “declares” us righteous because Jesus’ obedience is imputed to us.
- When God looks at us He doesn’t “see” our sin, He only sees Christ (covering/atonement)
There might be a few more details one could add in there, but the conclusion is this:
The standard for righteousness is perfect law-keeping.
The list of problems with this line of reasoning is extensive, not the least of which is the fact that the Bible says righteousness is apart from the law. But when we keep thinking about the ramifications of the above assumptions, the conclusions are obvious. In this construct, a believer is only “declared” righteous as long as he keeps living by “faith alone”. So if at any time he ceases to live by “faith alone” he puts his justification at risk. This means he is never really “righteous” until he gets to the end of his life. And even then, his righteousness depends on the degree to which he lived by “faith alone”. In other words, no believer can ever really “know” if he is really righteous until all the facts come in. There would have to be sufficient “proof” that reveals that his justification is authentic.
But I want to camp on a notion that I doubt very few have ever stopped to consider. If the basis of righteousness is perfect law-keeping, then how is Jesus righteous? Would not He too be required to live a perfect life? Of course the protestant response to this is a resounding, yes. They openly declare that it was by His perfect law-keeping that Jesus was righteous. That is one of the assumptions listed above. But now consider this. How could a claim be made for Jesus’ righteousness until He had demonstrated perfect law-keeping His entire life? It is impossible to claim that Jesus was righteous before he ever demonstrated one good work. Ironically, the same standard that the reformed use for believers MUST also apply to the One who makes justification possible according to their theology. And this just will not work because it makes Jesus’ own righteousness suspect (which the reformed conveniently do not allow for). You cannot reason something after-the-fact!
The Reformed gospel makes Jesus’ righteousness a function of works and not intrinsic to His nature. Jesus was not really righteous UNTIL He had demonstrated perfect law-keeping. Furthermore, such a conclusion of His righteousness could not have been realized UNTIL the end of His life.
Jesus is righteous by virtue of the fact that He is God’s Son. He has His own righteous nature because He was born of God, God’s offspring. He was not righteous because of His perfect law-keeping. It was intrinsic to who He is.
I can go to the NFL’s web store and order a jersey of my favorite football player, maybe Peyton Manning. When I receive that jersey in the mail I can now say I have Peyton Manning’s jersey, or I have the jersey of Peyton Manning. Does that mean that I have Peyton Manning’s ACTUAL jersey that he ACTUALLY wore when he played in games? Of course not. But it is still a jersey. It is similar (identical, like in kind) to Peyton Manning’s in every way with one exception; this one belongs to me.
Our righteousness is this way. Does this mean that we have the ACTUAL righteousness that Christ had? Only in the sense that it is IDENTICAL to it, the exception being is that the righteousness we have actually belongs to us! Why is that? Because it was given to us the moment we were born again. It is not a covering. It is intrinsic to the nature of our being as a child of God.
Whether reformed/protestants want to admit it or not, the fact remains that their construct of righteousness is works-based justification. It might not be “us” doing the works, but works are works no matter who does them. Not only is it works-based, it is progressive, meaning it must be performed throughout one’s life. This is why there is NO DIFFERENCE whatsoever between Catholicism and Protestantism. They both believe in a works-based progressive justification. Protestants have simply taken the “work” away from us and given it to Christ. And in the process, they have made Christ’s own righteousness predicated on works.