This is a great question because many Christians don’t understand what it means to receive the righteousness of Jesus. Christians understand that when we are saved by Jesus, He…
- forgives our sins (Col 2:13),
- sanctifies us by washing us clean by His blood (Rev 1:5),
- declares us justified (Rom 3:24),
- reconciles us to the Father (2 Cor 5:18),
- regenerates our souls from being dead to being alive (1 Cor 15:22),
- gives us the Holy Spirit who indwells us and seals us (Eph 4:30), and
- gives us all the promises of the New Covenant (John 17),
But do Christians understand that in the Lord’s sanctifying, justifying, regenerating, sealing work, He also credits HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS to our account (Rom 5:18, 1 Cor 1:30, 2 Cor 5:21)? Let’s first understand, what is…
The Righteousness of Christ
First, understand that God does not have righteousness. He IS righteousness. The same is true of His truth and love—and all of His attributes, God does not simply have truth. He IS truth. God does not simply love. He IS love. God does not simply administer justice. He is Just. And likewise with God’s holiness, mercy, grace, and faithfulness. These attributes are who He IS, not something He has.
Also understand that we are not truth, love, holiness, etc. We might act in accordance with these things (sometimes), but they are not absolute attributes of our being. We are fallen human beings with a sin nature. However, that wasn’t always the case.
The Loss of Perfection
We know that Adam was created perfect, in the full and complete image of God. He was created without sin, perfect, and righteous. We also know that all people born since the fall of Adam are born in the image of Adam (Gen 5:3). We are born with a sin nature, imperfect, and without righteousness. Yet perfect righteousness is what Jesus said is required to enter Heaven.
Jesus Said “Be Perfect”
The scribes and Pharisees worked hard to be righteous, and Jesus told the multitudes in His sermon on the mount, “except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat 5:20)
Jesus continued His sermon and elevated the Law beyond just words and actions to include inner thoughts and desires. And then He told the people:
Be therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Mat 5:48)
But We Can’t Be Perfect
That is so true. We are born sinners and there is no way we can be perfect. But God, in His love, mercy, and grace made a way for us to receive the needed perfection.
Jesus came to earth and was born a man, but without sin. He lived a perfectly sinless human life. It is the perfection of His humanity and the sinlessness of His human life that is imputed (credited) to our accounts. It is not His righteousness in His deity, nor His righteousness in fulfilling God’s will of dying for us, that is credited to us. It is His righteousness in His sinless human life. That’s why when we are saved and declared justified by God, which can understand it to mean “just as if I’d never sinned’ AND “just as if I’d always lived a perfectly righteous life.”
No Righteousness to Impute Before the Cross. So What About Abraham?
Gen 15:6 And he [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.
Rom 4:3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Gal 3:6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.
These verses tell that righteousness was imputed, or credited, to Abraham. But it wasn’t Christ’s righteousness or God’s righteousness. It could not have been, for the Lord told the prophet Isaiah:
Isa 42:8 I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another..
So what was counted as righteousness to Abraham? It was Abraham’s believing God. It was something Abraham did that God approved and declared to be a righteous act. But even that righteous act, Abraham’s believing God, did not save him.
Salvation Before the Cross
Old Testament believers were saved in the same way that New Testament believers are saved: “by grace” (that is the grace of God) “through faith” (that is their faith). (Eph 2:8)
It’s important to distinguish that they were under the Old Covenant. Jesus had not come yet, so their faith was in the God they knew, Yahweh. And the grace they were given was a “gift,” but it was not the same “gift” that is received by those who believe under the New Covenant.
Under the Old Covenant, their sins were atoned for by animal sacrifices. However, animal blood could never fully pay the price for human sin. Only a sinless human being could fully atone for mankind’s sin. Until Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection there was no perfect human righteousness to impute. Therefore, Old Testament believers could not be made perfect, declared fully justified, or be fully sanctified, and they did not go to Heaven when they died. [Read: Where did OT Saints go at death? Abraham’s Bosom? Where was that?]
Just as Jesus said, “”I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) No one could go to Heaven, and enter into the Father’s presence, until Jesus lived a perfect human life, died an atoning death, rose again to glory, and opened the way to Heaven.
They Died in Faith
We are clearly told that those under the Old Covenant, who believed and trusted in God (Yahweh) “…died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off…(Heb 11:13).
Therefore, at death they went into the heart of the earth, into Abraham’s Bosom (Luke 16), the same place where Jesus went for three days and three nights when He died (Matt 12:40). Jesus called this place Paradise (Luke 23:43).
Abraham’s Bosom was a place of rest and comfort for those who died in faith. It was also a place of waiting. And 40 days after Jesus’ atoning death, when He ascended to Heaven, He emptied out Abraham’s Bosom taking Paradise, and all who were there, to Heaven with Him. Since Jesus’ ascension, Paradise is in the third Heaven (2 Cor 12:2-4)
Salvation After the Cross
When one comes to faith in Jesus under the New Covenant and is saved by Him, one receives the righteousness of Jesus Christ. With His righteousness given to us, we stand positionally before God as perfect! Hallelujah, what a Saviour! We are united forever to the Father, through the Son, and kept by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
I said this already, but it’s worth repeating. Jesus has
- forgiven our sins (Col 2:13),
- sanctified us by washing us clean by His blood (Rev 1:5),
- declared us justified (Rom 3:24),
- reconciled us to the Father (2 Cor 5:18),
- regenerated our souls from being dead to being alive (1 Cor 15:22),
- given us all the promises of the New Covenant (John 17),
- given us the Holy Spirit who indwells us and seals us (Eph 4:30), and
- credited us with His righteousness so we are positionally perfect in Him. (Rom 5:18, 1 Cor 1:30, 2 Cor 5:21)
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