The righteousness of faith speaks in this way, "Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ "(that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, " ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ "(that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach).
There is a difference between what is called ‘active righteousness’ and ‘passive righteousness.’ As the difference between active and passive with reference to verbs, so here. Active righteousness is that righteousness which the subject brings about, does, works, etc. Passive righteousness is that righteousness which is brought about by another, given, bestowed, declared, received. It is the passive righteousness of God through faith in Christ Jesus whereby one has eternal life and the promises of God.
Passive righteousness is what the prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles speak about with reference to ‘being’ in God’s favor and good graces. Because of the Law of God, no one is able to please God (Psalm 53:3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Luke 18:19; Romans 3:12).
St. Paul writes that “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). Because all are sinners, because of their sin, all deserve God’s wrath and punishment. But God also says that “the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ” (Romans 6:23b).
This gift of God is such passive righteousness which God declares of the sinner, the righteousness which is God declared and not man-made. Self-induced and self-made righteousness (what we do and think is good) before God is not true righteousness, but deceives. The Only righteousness which stands before God is that which He Himself gives, bestows, declares, and which is ours—through faith.
This most excellent righteousness, the righteousness of faith, which God imputes to us through Christ without works, is neither political nor ceremonial nor legal nor work-righteousness but is quite the opposite; it is a merely passive righteousness, while all the others, listed above, are active. For here we work nothing, render nothing to God; we only receive and permit someone else to work in us, namely, God. Therefore it is appropriate to call the righteousness of faith or Christian righteousness “passive.” This is a righteousness hidden in a mystery, which the world does not understand. In fact, Christians themselves do not adequately understand it or grasp it in the midst of their temptations. Therefore it must always be taught and continually exercised. And anyone who does not grasp or take hold of it in afflictions and terrors of conscience cannot stand. For there is no comfort of conscience so solid and certain as is this passive righteousness. (Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, LW 26, p4-5)
Prayer: Father in heaven, look not upon my sin, but wholly look upon Your beloved Son, for He is my righteousness before You. Amen.
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