Christ, Our Righteousness, Part 4
We pointed out in our previous installment in this series, Part 3, that God is able to grant us salvation when He sees the requisite faith in us as a response to the completed work of Jesus Christ. Salvation also allows God to literally stamp our lives with the word “RIGHTEOUS.” This has nothing whatsoever with anything we have done to “earn” this eternal status and everything to do with God being able to legally declare us that way. Our faith is the “go ahead” to God to impute Christ’s righteousness to our lives. This is merely the first – though very important and eternal – step that occurs when salvation is applied to our lives.
We literally become the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Nothing can change that. Nothing Satan can do and nothing we can do can or will change our status once we have been declared righteous by God Himself. Let’s be sure we understand that before we move onto other areas connected to our salvation. We’ll do that by looking at several important areas of Scripture. Admittedly, this is a difficult area to discuss namely because of the fact that I’m trying to explain it with verbiage that makes sense to me and you – the reader – are trying to understand what I’m saying through your own specific lens. Let’s do our best to be gracious to each other even if we disagree over things, chalking it up to the limitations of language.
As noted, when a person exercises faith in the redemptive work of Jesus, that person is given a gift by God Himself. That gift is what we call salvation. This salvation is either eternal or it isn’t, but my understanding, based on God’s Word, is that the gift of God is eternal life (cf. Romans 6:23). In order for it to be truly eternal, it cannot depend upon a person to maintain salvation at all. It either comes to us as eternal – something that remains for all time and eternity – or it does not. If it comes to us as something less than eternal, then it cannot accurately be called eternal. In that case, it only has the potential of being eternal, but is not, in and of itself eternal. However, can we know that we know one way or another? The short answer is yes.
It is extremely important to comprehend that all authentic Christians (as opposed to those who simply think they are Christians, but are not; e.g. professing Christians), operate in at least two realms. The first realm – which is the one we are currently discussing – is the one that deals with the Law. By “law,” I am referring to God’s Law and the requirements of His Law.
As soon as we are born into this world, we crash against God’s righteous Law and impending judgment because we are born “in sin” or with a sin nature that has already corrupted us, physically and spiritually. Because of this sin nature, we are in a position of enmity where God is concerned. In order to change ourselves from that unenviable position of rightly deserved (or “just”) condemnation, we need to extricate ourselves from underneath His righteous judgment. The problem of course – according to God’s Word – is that we are completely unable to do this. This is the whole purpose for the Law, to prove to fallen humanity that we are completely out of sync with God, His character, and righteous living and we have no capacity to obey the Law all the time and in all ways.
Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions, until the arrival of the descendant to whom the promise had been made. It was administered through angels by an intermediary, (Galatians 3:19).
Romans 2 is a chapter well worth reading and knowing. In it, Paul painstakingly discusses aspects of the Law and why all people – Jewish and Gentile – are condemned by it. In fact, Paul is extremely nuanced in the progression of his argument here, as he is throughout all of Romans. He notes that all are condemned because all break the Law (he deals with the fact that we “inherit” a sinful nature in other chapters of Romans). Because of this, we are all under God’s thorough condemnation and there is really nothing we can do (under our own power) to change our position before God.
The only answer is found in Jesus and His redemptive work on behalf of the world. His death – sinless in and of itself, yet seen by God the Father as being thoroughly sinful – was enough to offer all people throughout all time redemption for their sin. Only those who avail themselves of His redemptive work (via faith) will be changed. We go from being labeled “condemned” to “righteous.” Again though, this is the legal aspect of our condition. We will eventually get to the practical aspect of it, where the rubber meets the road in daily living. For now, we need to be as thorough as possible in defining the legal terms of our condition before and after receiving salvation via the new birth of John 3. After all, Paul treats the whole thing as though each person was in God’s court of Law. This is where it starts.
Being born into this life marks us as condemned already (John 3:18). The goal is to find a way – if one exists – to legally and permanently change that status. What we are learning is that the legal status can only be changed by Christ and through our faith in Him so that our standing of “condemnation” is somehow changed to “righteous” before God in that same court of Law. This is exactly what salvation procures for us.
What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us, (Romans 8:31-34).
In the above passage, Jesus is seen as our Advocate. Literally, in the Greek, it means parakletos, someone who literally advocates for another. Jesus advocates and intercedes for us. He does so because through faith, we have gained salvation and become one of His own. Notice verse 33 which asks the question who can successfully bring a charge against God’s elect (those who have salvation)? Instead of simply saying, “no one can,” Paul uses another argument to prove his point. He says “It is God who justifies.” What does that mean? It means simply that God, in seeing my faith in Jesus and recognizing that Jesus’ substitutionary atonement was more than “good enough” to take away my sins – past, present, and future – is legally able to justify me as an individual in His court of Law.
We all know how it works in the courts. The accused (you and me) stands before the Judge (God the Father). The Prosecuting Attorney (Satan) reads the charges aloud in court and those charges go on the record. The Judge listens, then turns to the Defense Attorney (Jesus), who then acknowledges that the defendant (you and me) has placed faith in the substitutionary atonement of Another, One who was able to fulfill all the standards of the Law at every point without fail. Because of the defendant’s faith, the Judge is allowed (under the exact same Law used to condemn) to declare the defendant righteous and does so.
At this point, there is nothing the Prosecuting Attorney can do. Though he can insist that the person is guilty of breaking the Law (that is true), because the defendant’s faith is tied to the Person who was actually able to uphold and fulfill the Law and who never, at any point, succumbed to sin, that same faith is what makes the defendant “whole” or “righteous.” It is that faith that directs the Judge (Father) to release the defendant because Another (Jesus) has already paid the full price. Since the full price has been met by Another for the entirety of the defendant’s life of sin, the Judge can announce to the court that the full penalty has been legally paid.
This is the fully legal result of Jesus having paid the price in full and our faith in His atonement. While this atonement is available to all people, only those who actually place their faith in Jesus and His substitutionary atonement gain this full legal advantage over the enemy of our souls, the Accuser himself, Satan. By the way, does this stop Satan from accusing us? Hardly. Revelation 12:10 is merely one verse that points out the fact that Satan does not take no for an answer.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “The salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the ruling authority of his Christ, have now come, because the accuser of our brothers and sisters, the one who accuses them day and night before our God, has been thrown down.”
Satan lives to accuse us. Interestingly enough, he knows he is correct too, in so far as we are sinners and we do sin. It is absolutely maddening to him that whenever he brings a charge against it, it literally gets thrown out of court because of our faith in Jesus.
The authentic Christian is righteous before God. That is our legal standing, which can never change. Do you understand that? Do you get it? Do you see that as far as God is concerned, in His court of Law, every true Christian has been declared “righteous” and that standing is His legal pronouncement on each and every person who turns to Him in faith, trusting in Christ’s finished work on Calvary’s cross. There is nothing you or I can do to change that legal standing. It remains…forever.
A person who is found to be innocent or acquitted cannot be retried on the exact same charges again (generally speaking). They are forever free from that issue that brought them under the scope of the law in the first place. They have been legally labeled “innocent.”
In the Christian’s case, we are guilty, but because of our faith in the fact that Jesus voluntarily stood in for us and “became” sin, taking upon His Person the wrath of God for our sin, we are declared fully righteous.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, (2 Corinthians 5:21).
On the cross, God the Father looked at God the Son and saw Him as sin, though He had personally never sinned, nor did He have a sin nature. Christ was willing to become sin (to be seen as sin) for us because of His great love for us. Having died “in sin” (so to speak), He fulfilled all the righteous requirements of the Law and was then able to grant eternal life to those who trusted in His vicarious atonement.
Again, these are the legal ramifications of Jesus’ death and our faith in that death. Our faith in God allows Him to apply His righteousness to our account so that we are then legally seen by God as being fully righteous.
If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” (Romans 4:2-3).
Our belief in Jesus is enough – in fact, it is all that it takes – for God to be able to declare us as being legally righteous. This is one side of the salvation “coin,” so to speak. This is what God does for us when He sees the requisite faith emanating from us toward Him. From that point onward, we are forever seen as righteous and having no sin. That is the legal perspective.
We now need to begin looking at the practical side of what it means to be a Christian and why it seems that too often, we fail God, and in spite of being labeled righteous, we feel anything but that.