The Righteousness of God -- David A. DePraArticles
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe:
What is righteousness? Well, “righteousness,” is a state of BEING right or just. Note that: Righteousness means to BE – not just to DO. In the context of Christianity, of course, “righteousness,” means to be right or just before God. Indeed, we might even say that, “righteousness,” is a state of RIGHT-NESS before God, because of Jesus Christ.
Closely related to the term, “righteous,” or, “righteousness,” is the term, “justify, justified, or justification.” These terms mean, “the act of declaring as righteous; to have been declared righteous.” Of course, once again we need the Christian context: To be justified means, “to be declared righteous; to be declared right or just by God.”
So to be RIGHTEOUS means that I am RIGHT before God – according to God’s standards and definition. To be justified means that God declares me as RIGHT before Him. Note that when we say a person is RIGHT before God we are really saying that they are RIGHT FOR GOD. God is able to approve, accept, and then make Himself ONE with a person who is RIGHT before Him in Christ.
Christ, The Righteousness of God
It is important to understand RIGHTEOUSNESS – not so much in terms of DOING – but rather, in terms of who or what I AM. “Righteousness,” means I am a RIGHT creature, as opposed to a WRONG creature. It means I am TRUE unto God, rather than FALSE unto Him. It means that I fit God’s design, rather than violate it. I am what God desires a human being to be – I am a right expression of God’s mind. Of course, God declares me righteous ONLY because of Jesus Christ.
The incredible Truth about righteousness before God is that it is NOT based upon who I am to Him. Rather, it is based upon who Christ is to ME. And yet most of us have that totally upside down. We continue to think that our relationship with God is based on US. It is not. It is based on faith in Jesus Christ.
God’s declaration of the believer as righteous is not possible except Christ be in us. But notice what this does NOT mean: It does not mean, as so many of us continue to believe, that God declares us righteous, or makes us, righteous – as persons separate from Christ – as if God gives us our own righteousness because of what Jesus has done – sort of as if God gives us a little portion of righteousness, as opposed to the big portion of Jesus. No. We are righteous only if we are IN CHRIST – or to put in another way – the righteousness of the believer is Christ Himself; Christ in us. He is made to be unto us RIGHTEOUSNESS. (see I Cor. 1:30)
Jesus Christ IS the righteousness of God. He is the ONLY righteousness of God. And if Christ is in us, then He is our ONLY righteousness. We have none of our own. This one Truth, if we would truly grasp it, would change everything about our relationship with God.
The Essential of Righteousness
Certainly one of the main themes of the apostle Paul is that of RIGHTEOUSNESS. Paul goes to great lengths to not only show the essential of being righteous before God, but He walks through the means by which a person is justified – declared righteous – through faith in Christ. Thus, righteousness is fundamental to being in Jesus Christ.
But why must a person BE righteous before God? Because God is righteous and holy, and we are to spend eternity living with God. The need to be righteous is not merely so that we can escape, “the wrath of God.” No. The need to be righteous is so that we can live with God forever.
If you read the epistles of Paul, you will find that Paul speaks of righteousness and salvation as if they are the same thing. That is because they essentially ARE the same thing. Eternal life IS a righteous life – it is that by nature. Why? Because Christ IS our life, and Christ IS our righteousness. In other words, we are not merely talking about doctrines. We are talking about a Living Person. Many of Paul’s epistles, most notably Romans, walks us through the moral and legal Truth of how God is able to take a lost sinner and declare him righteous through Jesus Christ. But in the end, everything resolves to the reality of Jesus Christ in us.
We know that righteousness is normal for God. That is an understatement. But likewise, it was always God’s normal for man. God originally created a RIGHT man – a man that was right according to the mind of God.
But note the characteristics of this man, Adam, who was created RIGHT by the Lord: Adam was naked and unashamed. God MADE him that way – this was God’s normal and right human being. In short, Adam was naked of his own righteousness and yet unashamed – he was unashamed because God was His righteousness. To God, and before the sin, to Adam, this was RIGHT and NORMAL.
Adam was made to abide in God, or to put it another way, Adam was to fully depend upon God for everything by faith. God was, in effect, the very life source for Adam. And again – this was NORMAL. It was the purpose for which Adam was made, and the only way in which he could function and live in God’s purpose.
Now this is what we need to see: Because man was created with NOTHING in himself – naked of all – and just as importantly -- because man was created TO abide in God for all -- righteousness was always bound up with abiding in God by faith. To refuse to abide in God was SIN – and death. To voluntarily abide in God was faith, and opened the door to being a vessel through which the righteousness of God could be manifested.
The sin of Adam was that he chose to find in himself what only could be found in God – life -- included in which was the possibility of righteousness. When Adam ate of the forbidden tree he was, as it says in Genesis 3, choosing to, “be as god, deciding for himself what good and evil would be.” This is the correct Hebrew. Adam chose HIMSELF as the source of life and of all – including righteousness. The result was that he got exactly what he chose – his naked self -- in which there was NO life and NO righteousness. In other words, Adam died.
Thus, God had created a NORMAL man and that normal man, because he departed from God, became ABNORMAL. God was no longer the source of his life and his righteousness. This meant he had none of either, and no possibility of obtaining them.
What Adam did after the sin made things worse. Instead of standing before God and confessing his sin, he tried to fix it. He made himself fig leaves. Here was what was now an abnormal human being tried to make himself look normal without faith in God. Here was a man who was trying to do for himself, and BE for himself, what only God could be. Thus, on top of Adam’s original sin, he now sinned by trying to fix sin.
Even Christians continue to do the same. Have we realized that self-righteousness – the covering of our true self with fig leaves – is sin? To try to maintain myself as righteousness – and it does not matter whether I think I’m successful or not – the attempt itself is SIN. It is unbelief. It is a denial of the Truth. It is deception. I am trying to do for myself what Christ has already done.
The Adam race is dead. There is nothing in the Adam race that is of God. The solution is not religion. It is not a repair job. You cannot prop up the Adam race. The only solution is the very death God said would be the wages of sin – BUT – through Jesus Christ, a resurrection as a NEW RACE.
Through Jesus Christ, God made a way for the Adam race to DIE and be RAISED as a new humanity. On the Cross, Jesus bore, yes, sin, but he bore US. Jesus Christ is like Noah’s ark – and we are like the 8 occupants. He passes through death, and is raised – but so do we – howbeit only IN HIM. When Jesus died on the Cross, He carried in His body the entire Adam race. When He died, the Adam race died – although the essence of our being is preserved in Him like in the ark. When we are raised, all that is of the old man is Adam is left in death – just as that old world was left in death – and we are raised new creations IN HIM.
The essential to see is that we are crucified WITH CHRIST – buried with Him by baptism into HIS death – planted into His death. But if that is the case, then for those who come to Him, we are raised IN HIM to newness of life. There is NOTHING that happens except it be IN CHRIST – because we are joined to the Lord.
This has been greatly understood. Most of us have limited our redemption to what Jesus did FOR US, and to things Jesus gives TO US. But the Truth is, we are redeemed because of Christ IN US. In short, God doesn’t merely give us things because of Christ. God gives us Christ Himself.
Paul understood as well as anyone that Jesus Christ was crucified FOR him. But Paul also understood what this made possible: That he could be crucified WITH CHRIST. “I am crucified with Christ.” Paul knew that only if we come to Christ and take our place in His death that we are crucified WITH Christ – and that only then could the old man actually come under death and we be set free from the sin that is rooted in that old man. Thus, Christ did die for the Adam race as our substitute. But it was all unto the possibility that we could die WITH HIM and be set free from the Adam race.
Paul also understood that Jesus Christ was raised for us. But he knew that we are raised IN HIM. Note that we are raised, not merely because of something Christ did – and then handed to us. No. We are raised IN HIM.
Can we see that Jesus did all of this FOR US – but so that we could experience them IN HIM? Christianity is CHRIST IN US – not merely – stuff Christ did for us.
Now, all of this brings us back to this matter of righteousness. God does not merely declare us righteous because of Christ. No. He gives us Christ, who is our righteousness. Neither does God give us a righteousness because of Christ that we now have in ourselves. No. Again, He gives us Christ, who is our righteousness. Jesus Christ is the ONLY righteousness that exists. Thus, if Christ is in us, we are the righteousness of God IN HIM.
Justification by Faith
The Christian doctrine of, “justification by faith,” states that if we put our faith in Jesus Christ that God will impute our sin to Him, and will impute to us His righteousness. This is a great explanation of how God is able to LEGALLY and MORALLY justify the sinner because of Jesus Christ. But it does not go far enough – it does not go as far as Paul the apostle takes it. Is our righteousness only a LEGAL one? Are we merely saved LEGALLY? Or are we saved because Christ is in us?
Certainly, if we believe, God does IMPUTE to us the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But more importantly, if we believe, God IMPARTS to us Jesus Christ Himself. Indeed, it is because God has imparted to us Christ – that Christ is in us -- that God is able to declare us righteous and be telling the Truth: Christ is our righteousness, and thus, we are the righteousness of God IN HIM.
Jesus Christ is in us if we are born from above. And Christ in us is not only our life, but He is also our righteousness. Indeed, the believer has NO OTHER righteousness. As stated before, we are not given a righteousness of our own. No. We remain as naked as Adam. But when we abide in Christ, He is our righteousness – this is not only legally imputed, but spiritually imparted.
What helps here is to see the separation between soul and spirit. When we are saved, we are joined to the Lord and become one spirit with Him. (I Cor. 6:17) Our human spirit is united with Christ who dwells in us by the Spirit of God. This spiritual or resurrection union is the new man IN Christ Jesus. All that is of Jesus Christ is contained within this union. But all that is outside of that union remains of the natural man. This Truth is so utterly important to grasp – it clears up so much as to what the Bible is talking about and about how we function in Christ.
The point here is that it is Christ who brings, and carries, the righteousness of God – the Christ with Whom we are one in Spirit. There is NO righteousness outside of our union with Christ – that is – no righteousness in our natural man. And there never will be. God does not make our natural man righteous, nor does He ever declare it so. Rather, God declares us righteous because we are united in Spirit with Jesus Christ, who is made to be the righteousness of God in us.
But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:That, according as it is written, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord. (I Cor. 1:30-31)
Passages like this one from I Cor. 1 state outright that Jesus Christ is our righteousness. But it would seem that most of us pass these verses over and never quite grasp the meaning. We are being told that all the glory for what the believer has become belongs to Jesus Christ – Christ in us IS our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. HE IS. Contrast that over and against what most of us have thought: That BECAUSE of what Jesus did, God makes US righteous, etc.
This error leads to much trouble. If you think that God has made YOU righteous then you are going to have to face the fact that you don’t seem to be righteous at all. What are you going to do with that? Some get under condemnation. Others get under whatever law they think will make them righteous like they should be. Even others despair and doubt their Christianity. But such trouble goes back to a wrong premise: We have not seen the separation of soul from spirit. We have not seen the distinction between Christ in us and our union with Him – the distinction between that and our natural man. So we read Bible verses that are talking about the new creation in Christ and look for evidence of them being fulfilled in our natural man. We will never find it.
Our natural man is supposed to come under Jesus as Lord – to come under the government of our union with Christ. But what this means is that the natural man is merely the place of EFFECT, but not the SOURCE. Christ in us is our righteousness and the effect of this will be seen in natural man. But our natural man is not the source. Christ is the source of all.
Jesus Christ is our righteousness, and the only righteousness we will ever have. But this means our righteousness in Christ is eternal, unchangeable, and not dependent upon our works. We are righteous in Christ because of HIMSELF – and in Him it is finished.
What this means is that when we put our faith in Jesus Christ and are born from above, we are made one with Righteousness Himself. He is the source. There will be many effects IN US. But all the glory goes to Him. God is able to then tell the Truth: Declare us righteous, and impute to us a legal righteousness – because Christ Himself is in us, and we are one with Him.
Faith is not just a matter of believing I am righteous because of Christ – that certainly is an essential – but there is more. Faith is also a matter of depending upon Christ AS my righteousness – to be my righteousness continually – I depend upon Christ as my very life.
Of course, this matters when we sin – when we sin we must keep our faith in Christ as our living righteousness. Indeed, if Christ is our righteousness then there is no possibility that our sin can undo or defeat that fact. His redemption work is finished. We cannot, and need not, finish it. Neither can we add to it, or subtract from it through sin. This is why Romans 8:1 is able to say, “There is now NO condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” By faith we maintain our position in Christ and rely upon Him to be all that we cannot be. Even when we sin, He is our righteousness.
Now, don’t misunderstand. When I say, “By faith we maintain our position in Christ,” I am not suggesting that anything we do can change that position. That position of victory is forever in place. But WE can change. It is by faith that we stand in that position. The Bible may assure us that there is no condemnation, but if we choose not to believe it, we are not in the position of victory – we are in unbelief. Thus, nothing can change the position of victory in Christ – He is our righteousness. But WE can change from faith to unbelief.
Note also that Christ is our righteousness, yes, when we sin, but also when we OBEY God. If I think that my good works obtain for me a righteousness, than I am just as much in unbelief as when I think my bad works lose Christ as my righteousness. Both errors are a righteousness based on works, rather than Christ as my righteousness through faith.
I am only justified before God because of Jesus Christ. There is absolutely nothing that I contribute to justification. I am simply told I must believe and stand by faith in this great reality through Christ.
It is Finished
So much confusion, and so many problems, in the Christian life are cleared up once we grasp the Truth of Jesus Christ IN US. We are joined to the Lord and are made one spirit with Him. (I Cor. 6:17) Once we realize this Truth, we will then be able to more fully grasp the fact that Jesus Christ in us IS the righteousness of God, and all of those other realities the Bible mentions. And we will likewise see that even when we sin, or fall into unbelief, Jesus Christ is the same IN US today, yesterday, and forever. We can do nothing to change Christ. We can simply believe and abide in Him. It is finished. He is the righteousness of God in the believer.