Declared Righteous or Made Righteous?

What is the difference between being declared righteous compared to made righteous? Answered by Jon Moffitt



Hi, this is Jon, and I am answering the question: what is the difference between being declared righteous and being made righteous?

This is really at the heart of the reformation. Roman Catholic theology teaches that through works and the sacraments, you are made righteous. You actually become righteous as part of your nature. As far as the reformation goes, we hold that, according to Romans chapter 5 verse 1, we are justified by faith. This means that one is declared to be right with God by faith, not by their actions. So, we did not actually gain forgiveness of our sins, and we are not by nature righteous.

When God looks at us, he does not say that we are righteous, rather he says that we have been declared to be righteous. It has been pronounced over us. It has been given to us. It is not part of who we are. Once we are justified and have been declared righteous, God begins to sanctify us, transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ; however, we will not be made righteous until we are glorified, in heaven, when we are finally transformed into the actual image of Jesus Christ. That’s when we will be made righteous, but as we stand right now, as believers, we have it declared over to us. It’s pronounced upon us.

This is why this is important: if we are made righteous, that means that God looks to our own righteousness as to why we are justified and why we can have a right relationship with him. This means our justification is now dependent upon our level of righteousness, and you have to not only gain it, but maintain it. This goes right along with the Council of Trent, Canon 24, where it literally says that your good works not only are part of your justification, but they increase your justification.

We believe that sola fide, by faith alone, one is declared to be righteous.  Not in a progressive stance, but in the eyes of God, there is nothing left – it is finished. The guilt of sin is removed from you, and all the requirements to be accepted by God have been given to you by Jesus Christ.

The acts of obedience to the law- by Jesus on Earth- all of those good acts have been given to us, and not because we’ve deserved them or earned them. That is why God can look at us and say he declares us righteous. He pronounces us righteous because of the gift that we have received. As stated in Ephesians 2:8-9, we received this gift of grace, by faith – it is not something that we earned. The difference between declared righteous verses made righteous is that to be declared righteous is something that’s pronounced over you, it is not because of who you are.

This is also helpful when you think about your relationship to God going forward. If you have not been made righteous, which means it is not part of your inherent nature, you are now still going to battle the flesh. Paul says, “the Spirit wages war against the flesh and the flesh against the Spirit”. That is because the Spirit lives within you, and is calling you to holiness, but it’s not part of your actual nature. Your nature still fights back against that. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because you have been declared to be justified- not because you are actually righteous. God looks to the righteousness of Christ that has been declared over you, not to your own personal righteousness. One day we will be holy and righteous, but that is not who we are now.

So, that’s the difference between being declared righteous and made righteous. I hope this was helpful.

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