Martin Luther said that believers are simul justus et peccator, or “simultaneously just and sinner.” He was saying that believers, while declared just by God, remain sinful creatures. However, their salvation places upon them the responsibility to seek to become more like Christ, forsaking sin and submitting to His commandments. This is what we call sanctification, that lifelong process of growth in righteousness that begins at the point of salvation and lasts until death.
It is very uncommon today for a person to be interested in becoming more “righteous.” Some desire to be more “spiritual,” more “ethical,” more “moral,” or more “pious.” Thus, we have bookstores filled with sevenstep plans to achieve these goals in a matter of days. But books on achieving greater righteousness are few and far between. In Biblical categories, however, being spiritual, ethical, moral, or pious is never an end in itself. Rather, it is only a step along the road to greater righteousness. This is not the same righteousness we have been discussing in the context of justification, the righteousness of Christ that is credited to believers’ accounts when they are justified. This is the righteousness that comes to believers as they grow in obedience to their Lord Jesus Christ and His commands. And as Jesus made clear, that is to be the top priority for Christians. He said, ‘ “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” ’ (Matt. 6:33a).
How do we pursue this righteousness? By faith, or trust. First, we must trust that His Word is leading us aright. Sin is essentially a lack of trust in God’s wisdom and kindness. We violate His commands because we refuse to believe that they are given for our good. We must believe and obey, even when it appears that disobedience will bring us greater happiness. Second, we must trust that God will help us overcome our sins by His Holy Spirit. He is given to us to help us defeat sin. As Paul says, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). Third, we must trust that God will forgive our failures. The Bible assures us that Christ knows our situation, having lived among us in the flesh. He has compassion for us and is faithful to plead with the Father for our forgiveness. And, the Bible tells us, the Father is willing to forgive on the basis of Christ’s work on the cross. Believing that truth sets us free to seek righteousness without guilt.
We are to live our lives by faith in God. We are to let our roots grow deep into Him, trustingHim for all we need. We are to do all we can to grow in obedience, relying on Him for ourgrowth. Are you doing these things? Search your heart for self-dependence and areas in whichyou fail to trust God. Repent and surrender them to Him.