Christ Our Righteousness
To illustrate how the righteousness of Christ may be obtained, let us look at the work of justification, or the imparting of righteousness. The example is given in Luke 18:9-14, in these words:-
"And He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
The Pharisees are not extinct; there are many in these days who expect to gain righteousness by their own good deeds. They trust in themselves that they are righteous. They want to be able to say to the Lord, "See how good I have been for the past few days: you surely will accept me now!"
But what was the result? The man who trusted in his own righteousness had none, while the man who prayed, in heartfelt contrition, "God be merciful to me a sinner", went down to his house a righteous man. Christ says that he went justified - that is, made righteous.
Notice that the publican did something more than bewail his sinfulness: he asked for mercy. What is mercy? It is unmerited favour; it is the disposition to treat a man better than he deserves. And in what respect does He treat us better than we deserve? The answer to this is found in Psalms 103:11,12, where it says, "For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us." God treats us better than we deserve by taking away our sins from us. The apostle John confirmed this truth, stating that, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9). The apostle Paul writes, that we are "justified [made righteous] freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." (Romans 3:24-26).
Since the best efforts of a sinful man have not the least effect toward producing righteousness, it is evident that the only way it can come to him is as a gift, for "...they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by One, Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:17). It is because righteousness is a gift that eternal life, which is the reward of righteousness, is the gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The apostle adds, "But now the righteousness of God without 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." God puts His righteousness on the believer. He covers him with it, so that his sin no more appears. Then the forgiven one can exclaim with the prophet:-
"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness..." (Isaiah 61:10).
Let the reader try to picture the scene. Here stands the law as the swift witness against the sinner. It cannot change, and it will not call a sinner a righteous man. The convicted sinner tries again and again to obtain righteousness from the law, but it resists all his advances. It cannot be bribed by any amount of penance or professedly good deeds. But here stands Christ, "full of grace" as well as of truth, calling the sinner to Him. At last the sinner, weary of the vain struggle to obtain righteousness from the law, listens to the voice of Christ, and flees to His outstretched arms. Hiding in Christ, he is covered in His righteousness; and now, behold ! he has obtained through faith in Christ, that for which he has been vainly striving. He has the righteousness which the law requires; and it is the genuine article. The apostle Paul describes this kind of righteousness as being of God, obtained through the faith of Christ. (Philipians 3:9).
There is in the transaction no ground for finding fault. God is just, and at the same time the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. In Jesus dwells all the fulness of the Godhead; He is equal to the Father in every attribute. Consequently the redemption that is in Him - the ability to buy back lost man - is infinite. Man's rebellion is against the Son as much as against the Father, since both are one.
Let us look at another illustration of the righteousness of God:-
"And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at His right hand to resist Him. And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire ? Now Joshua was clothed in filthy garments, and stood before the Angel. And He answered and spake unto those that stood before Him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him He said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the Angel of the Lord stood by." (Zechariah 3:1-5).
Notice in the above account that the taking away of the filthy garments is the same as causing the iniquity to pass from the person. And so we find that, when Christ covers us with the robe of His own righteousness, He does not furnish a cloak for sin, but takes the sin away. And this shows that the forgiveness of sins is something more than a mere form, something more than a mere entry in the books of record in heaven, to the effect that the sin has been cancelled. The forgiveness of sins is a reality; it is something tangible, something that vitally effects the individual. It actually clears him from guilt; and if he is cleared from guilt, is justified, made righteous, he has certainly undergone a radical change: he is, indeed, another person. For he obtained this righteousness for the remission of sins in Christ. It was obtained only by putting on Christ. But, "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." (2 Corinthians 5:17). And so the full and free forgiveness of sins carries with it that wonderful and miraculous change known as the new birth; for a man cannot become a new creature except by a new birth. This is the same as having a new, or a clean heart.
The new heart is a heart that loves righteousness and hates sin. It is a heart free from the love of sin as well as from the guilt of sin. But what makes a man sincerely desire the forgiveness of his sins? It is simply his hatred of them, and his desire of righteousness, which hatred and desire have been enkindled by the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit strives with all men. It comes as a reprover; when Its voice of reproof is regarded, then It at once assumes the office of comforter. The same submissive, yielding disposition that leads the person to accept the reproof of the Spirit will also lead him to follow the teachings of the Spirit; and Paul says that, "as many are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." (Romans 8:14).
There is no ground for the idea that a person must go through a sort of probation, and attain to a certain degree of holiness, before God will accept him as His child. He receives us just as we are. It is not for our goodness that He loves us, but because of our need. He receives us, not for the sake of anything that He sees in us, but for His own sake, and for what He knows that His Divine power can make of us. It is only when we realise the wonderful exaltation and holiness of God, and the fact that He comes to us, in our sinful and degraded condition, to adopt us into His family, that we may appreciate the force of the apostle's exclamation, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." (1 John 3:1). Every one upon whom this honour has been bestowed will purify himself, even as He is pure.