Cheap Righteousness

You get what you pay for, sometimes.     

A merchant I once knew stocked low-end shoeshine kits.  He couldn’t sell even one of them, so he jacked up the sale price seven hundred percent.  They sold out in no time.

His success relied on an old consumer assumption that the more you pay for a product, the better it is.

Biblical folks sometimes had the same thought.  Naaman the Syrian was a leper, and went to the prophet Elisha for healing.  He was offended when Elisha didn’t give him a more challenging requirement for salvation than washing in the Jordan River.  Apparently to him, an easy “bath” made the whole thing cheap.

But when we try to earn righteousness, we’re not improving its value.  In fact, righteousness by faith that costs you nothing is far superior to righteousness by works that charges you an impossible amount.

In Romans 10, Paul said righteousness by faith tells us, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (v.6). There’s no need to wonder who will enter heaven’s storehouse of salvation, and bring it to earth.  To think that thought “is to bring Christ down,” a redundancy, because the Savior of the world has already brought salvation down from heaven.

Nor should we wonder, “Who will descend into the deep,” as though it were up to us to loot the grave and retrieve the secrets of salvation.  That would be “to bring Christ up from the dead,” a needless venture, because He has already made the trip.  You needn’t mount some Tolkien quest through middle earth to Mordor.  You couldn’t do it, anyway.  You probably couldn’t even get off work for it.

Then how successful was Christ’s trip through the fullness of heaven, earth, the underworld, and back again?  For one thing, now “the word is near you.”  How near?  “In your mouth and in your heart” (v. 8).

There’s no distance or difficulty involved, just immediacy.  When the gospel is announced, the word lands in the heart and mouth of the hearer, awaiting faith to activate it.  It’s so close, that “if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

That not only makes it easier for the unsaved, but for you who are trying to preach the gospel.  You don’t need to win arguments.  Instead, treat your words like seed.  That mocker, that hater, that person who out-shouted you, will take home the word you spoke to them in their mouth and heart, whether they like it or not.  Later, when they’re in bed alone with their thoughts, that same word will be there.  And if they wake up at 2:00 a.m. and believe in Jesus, salvation will happen, without the sweat of any self-improvement, and utterly free.

But never cheap.

The value of righteousness lies not in what we pay for it, but what He paid for it.


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