UNDERSTANDING THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST
WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT
Not only have we been made a new creation in Christ, but we have also been given the very righteousness of Christ. Salvation requires that we be totally righteous. Jesus said in Matthew 5:4, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Only perfect righteousness will do. Since this is an impossibility for us, God in His mercy and love chose to make us righteous through Christ Jesus. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).” When God says that Jesus became sin for you, that does not mean He lost His righteousness, but that He took upon Himself the guilt and punishment that you deserved.
THIS IS ALL OF GOD’S DOING
We are constantly reminded in His Word that it is God’s doing that we are in Christ and the recipients of the gift of His righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Because it is God’s righteousness, it is not subject to corruption. It is not a resource which we improve upon or add to or use up; neither can we be the cause of its erosion or destruction by our own doing. It is God’s gift to us in Christ Jesus and is described in the Scriptures as a coat which we who are in Christ wear. Scripture tells us, “For all you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27).” When God sees His people, He doesn’t see our sin. Instead, He sees us clothed in the righteousness of Christ. He sees us instantly and completely justified through that righteousness.
Could we become righteous and holy through our own self efforts? Absolutely not. Could we become righteous through the law? Absolutely not. It tells us in Romans 3:20, “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight……” No one can be justified by keeping the law. The law was not given to justified people but to produce the knowledge of sin – not the knowledge of salvation, but the knowledge of sin.
THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
It is obvious that the gift of God’s righteousness to us was provided to correct our absence of righteousness, specifically, our unrighteousness. This unrighteousness, His Word tells us, was the result of the trespass of one man. By that trespass (see Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1ff) of one man, Adam, and death came upon all men. Likewise, by the righteous act of one man, Jesus Christ, many will be made alive. The similarity ends there. The significance of this comparison is to be seen not in the similarity but in the contrast:
But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift of that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgement followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:15-17).” While God’s mercy is showered on all, His grace is appropriated only by those who trust the Savior.
GODS ABUNDANT GRACE
For all that God has provided for us, He does not force anything upon us. What He provides, He wants us to receive with grateful hearts as an act of our free will. A group of programmed robots is not His idea of a body of “called out” believers. What He desires is the heart that comes in humble faith for His “abundant vision of grace.”
That person who feels no need for God’s gift of righteousness, whose heart does not stir in response to God’s offer will not “reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” According to 1 John 1:8, how can people deceive themselves? Well, Scripture tells us, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” If we claim to be without sin, would we come to God for His gift of righteousness Jesus Christ? Absolutely not. Would we “reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ?” Absolutely not.
Salvation requires that man must be totally righteous. If he is to be reconciled to God, he will have fellowship with God, literally in God’s presence, and therefore must be totally righteous. From where must man’s righteousness come? The Scripture reveals that no one is righteous in God’s eyes for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” It was necessary, therefore, for God to provide man’s righteousness. This He did, providing us with the very righteousness of Christ. We read this in Romans 1:17, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ ”
Paul goes on to tell us this: “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things, I consider them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith (Philippians 3:8-9).” If you’re righteousness were anything less than that of Christ’s righteousness, could you receive His salvation? Absolutely not. If you are in Christ, are you as righteous in God’s eyes as the apostle Paul? Yes. Look, if you are not as righteous in God’s eyes as Jesus Christ you could not be a child of God. It’s that simple.
In closing, I just want to tell you that righteousness is a very important subject in the Word of God. In fact, according to scholars, righteousness and the word righteous appear over 500 times in the Bible. On the other hand, faith, faithfulness, and faithful over 300 times.
When you believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus in your heart and confess it with your heart, you become saved. Therefore you become righteous when you believe: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness….. (Romans 10:9).” The righteousness of Jesus is imputed to you when you believe in Him. Hence, your righteousness is not dependent on what you do but rather it depends on what you believe. The moment we believed, God put us IN CHRIST, and we received this perfect righteousness. God accepts us fully and completely because we are IN CHRIST. When God looks at us, He does not see us as we are; He sees only Christ. Because we are IN CHRIST.
Because we are IN CHRIST, God accepts us in the same way He does His own Son. Just as He Loves the Son and delights in Him, so He loves us and delights in us. This is so wonderful that we find it hard to believe, but it is true. Jesus prayed to the Father concerning His believers “that the world may know that you have sent Me, and have loved them, as You have loved Me (John 17:23).”