Today's sermon addressed this important question: How a person can be righteous before God?
It is maybe not a question raised by most of our neighbors. Most people consider themselves 'good' or at least 'good enough' in comparison to others.
[As an aside--when I studied at the University of Alberta we were graded on the curve, which means that our mark did not reflect mastery of a subject but our performance relative to others. ie if everyone decided not to study and if everyone got less that half of the questions right, there still would be a couple people with A's many with B & C's and a couple few with D's as the marks were allocated according to the normal distribution of a bell curve... I believe that this standard of grading has been retired at the University.]
But those who read Scripture know that God doesn't grade on the bell curve. God expects more from us than the performance of our peers. We are to live according to the standard God's law.
Therein liest our problem. While it is impossible to fulfill the demands of the law of Moses, and Jesus only makes it more difficult. God's law always brings us up short.
The Good News we hear about in the book of Romans is that God himself has made a way in which we can be in a right relationship with God. God sent his own son Jesus to live the obedient and faithful life that we could never live. The same Jesus was offerered as a sacrifice of atonement so that our sins could be forgiven AND we could receive Jesus' righteousness, all the while allowing God to remain merciful and just.
When we accept this gift, in faith, we are declared righteous. We don't have to reach any level of moral perfection. We just have to welcome it, receive it, rely on it.
Jesus' righteousness is like a thick bathrobe that someone presents us. When we wrap it around ourselves it covers our naked bodies. What is seen is not our nakedness, our past/present/future failings, but that cloak of Jesus' obedience and faithfulness.
And so we are freed from the worry of trying to be 'good' or 'good enough'. By faith in Jesus we have already met the mark. This new freedom allows us to live the life God has planned for us: serving God and each other not in fear, but in joy.