Paul’s letter to the Romans puts the righteousness of the law in contrast to the righteousness of belief.
Throughout Church history theologians have had the unenviable task of trying to make sense of the vast, awesome, mystery of both God and God’s saving work.
In 1725 Lutheran theologians came up with the Ordo Salutis: the sequential order in which salvation occurs; it is the steps that we go through on our way to salvation; it is taken from Roman’s Chapter 8 (29-30), but it has been expanded upon, debated over, twisted, reformed, reconsidered and ultimately never convincingly agreed upon by some really clever people, for a very long time.
One thing which is agreed upon in every proposal of the Ordo Salutis, is the step known as justification, which is one of the steps around the middle of the sequence. The Greek word for both ‘righteous’ and ‘justice’, ‘justification’ is δικαιος. God is infinitely δικαιος. So for there to be justice, there must also be righteousness. We are justified for salvation, after being judged as righteous.
Being righteous is important to God, it is one of His defining characteristics; and as His image bearers He wishes it for us. it is also important to the Kingdom of God. If you remember from the last time I spoke, one of the hallmarks of the coming Kingdom is that it will be a place full of righteous people.
But this is where things start to become unstuck! The apostle Paul points out to us that in fact none of us are righteous by the law.
If you’ve ever stolen something, lied about something, coveted something, or even looked at another person with lust, then you have committed adultery in your heart.
The sad truth is that pretty much all of us are lying, stealing, covetous adulterers! That is the law, the Law that was given to Moses and the Law that the Sadduccees and the Pharisees used to keep people in line.
We know that although those things may be true of each of us, we do our best most of the time – not living our lives by the letter of the law but striving each day to live our lives by the spirit of the Law. No one wakes up in the morning thinking – today I will be a lying, stealing, covetous adulterer.
This is Pauls argument against the law. God knows us, God sees us, and God knows what we try to do, but often fail to do.
The law will never find us to be righteous, and we need to be righteous to inherit the Kingdom. It is the universal desire of man to get something we haven’t paid for- but there is no justice in that, it is not δικαιος.
God loves us and want us in his Kingdom; how, then, can we find God’s love for us, in the precepts of the Law that He gave to Moses. How do we circumvent the problem of the law?
The language around such things is all very dry, it’s all very Judicial, it’s all very academic, it’s all very forensic, it’s not how people navigate the way through life: it’s good as an idea, but not so good in practice. This is what a 1st century Jew would call Halakah.
Halakah, is the equivalent of the complicated instructions that come with a piece of Ikea furniture; they are a good place to start but then they often prove to be overcomplicated, nebulous, often misleading when interpreted and ultimately, not really grounded in the reality – there might be 10 screws but I’m going to do it with 8.
The opposite of Halakah, is Haggadah. Scripture is a work of Haggadah, God’s word to us is a work of Haggadah.
Haggadah, is the lived reality of something, the acceptance that things aren’t always neatly tied up, that human existence, people’s lives, are complicated and messy. It’s the stories that we tell each other with embellishments to make the point all the more clear. It’s the language of life, and vibrancy, and relationship and all the things with a deeper meaning.
How do we know God loves us? How does God know that we love Him?
How do we know anyone loves us?
We don’t find the answer in Halakah. We find it in Haggadah. When Becca [my partner] says she loves me, I can’t quantify or measure by how much, I can’t look it up in a table in a book. I can’t even understand how she defines what she means when she says it. So how does it get confirmed to me?
She wakes up beside me each morning, leans over and gives me a kiss before saying – your breath stinks!
She shows me she loves, despite my many failings. That’s haggadah.
Whenever we see the disciples in the Bible think of them in that haggadic manner: they represent us and our relationship to God.
They get confused, they often don’t understand, they make mistakes, but they do their best. They strive to do as Jesus teaches. They are righteous because of their belief.
Think of Jesus walking on the water. Did it happen, exactly like that. Is the depiction of the Gospel message historically accurate?
The truth is, we don’t know, we can’t know and we would be lying if we said otherwise. We would be unrighteous. We can, however, believe it happened.
But with an understanding of Haggadah, it doesn’t matter either way.
The events of the Gospel show us something. They show us something about God, they show us something about our relationship to God.
God gave us many Laws; He gave us our moral laws which are the basis of our human laws, but he also gave us the laws that regulate the cosmos, the pathways of the planets, the laws that dictate the tides, and the seasons, the ebb and flow of our human lives. The very laws of nature.
The laws are important to God because of His righteousness, but when He needed to show us something important, he cast them aside, he rewrote the Law, not just the ones that shape our relationship with Him, but the very laws of nature to show us He loves us.
And Peter responded. In faith, he stepped from the boat. He did so well, until he faltered.
And what happened? Jesus put out his hand to him and carried him the rest of the way. He displayed his righteousness through his belief. Laws can be rewritten, but you can’t take back something that you have shown.