The words ‘Christ, Our righteousness’ embody the whole truth concerning man’s salvation. In this phrase we can see and understand the basics of the Christian faith, e.g., the fall of man and it’s consequences, the design of the law of Moses, the meaning of Christ’s birth and death, and the fact that he will return to the earth to establish the Kingdom of Israel.
Men acknowledge Christ in different ways: some view him as merely a good man, others as God Himself. The historian Josephus calls him Christ as does all Christendom, many of whom, however, misunderstand his role; Christ was sent not to save man from his enemies, but to save him from himself. So does Christianity glorify man who has set out to establish his own righteousness, or is it a different message , more like the one we see in the behavior of Israel under the law of Moses? Paul, speaking of Israel, says:
They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
Being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about
to establish their own righteousness,
have not submitted themselves
to the righteousness of God.
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness
to every one who believeth. (Rom. 10. 2 - 4).
The basic fact that we learn from these words is that man is imperfect , not righteous and from which we can infer that he merits death. I used to think this a peculiar law, though observable in nature, where everything dies because of weakness: trees, buildings, machinery, animals. when all organic material breaks down. Summarized in Gen 3. 18 we read,
In the sweat of thy face shall thou eat bread,
till thou return to the ground;
for out of it were you taken; for dust you are,
and unto dust you shall return.
To avoid the consequences of imperfection–death-- we must necessarily be perfect. An illogical impossibility. Whoever made a perpetual motion machine? Man is in a quandary, and the solution lies in the creed of Christ, our righteousness.
The word righteousness is translated from the Greek word dikaiosis meaning rightness, or justice. We gain a full understanding when we when we look at the word in the context of Matt 3. 15 where Jesus, speaking of his own baptism by John the Baptist, said Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness, or as expressed in the New English Bible, We do well to conform in this way to what God requires. Righteousness is doing what God requires. Ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, Israel did not submit themselves to the righteousness of God. (Rom 10. 3) And the law was impossible to keep–they were unable to keep it. Why? Paul explains in Rom. 7. 21 - 24:
I find then a law, that when I would do good
evil is present with me. . .for the good that I would, I do not:
but the evil which I would not, that I do . . .
I see another law warring in my members,
warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity
to the law of sin which is in my members.
Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me
from the body of this death?
I thank God, through Jesus Christ our lord. So with the mind
I myself serve the law of God: but with the flesh
the law of sin.
With this background, let us turn again to Christ. Christ was a man who, through the grace of God, did the impossible. He did what God required and therefore merited life–justification. Jesus had to die because he was a man, but whose sins did he die for? Not his own–he was sinless; he died for our sins. He was that perfect sacrifice foreshadowed in the law, the sacrificial lamb who represented perfection. Christ , a perfect man, covered our sins. If our sins have been blotted out, then we have by Christ attained righteousness. It’s interesting and heartwarming to read Paul’s words in Rom 5. 16 (NIV):
The gift of God is not like the result of one man’s sin:
the judgment followed one sin (Adam) and brought condemnation,
but the gift followed many trespasses
and brought justification.
The gift is free because we do not merit it; we ourselves have not done what God requires, it was done for us by Christ; He has thus gained our salvation.
It’s a mistake to conclude that if our justification is a free gift that there is nothing for us to do. We have to make ourselves eligible for this gift. How?
If you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus,
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead
you will be saved.
For with the heart man believes unto righteousness
and with the mouth confession is made
unto salvation. (Rom 10. 9 - 10)
Belief is key. Without faith it’s impossible to please God. Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Made clear in Romans 9. 30 - 33:
What shall we say then? That the Gentiles
which followed not after righteousness,
have attained to righteousness,
even the righteousness which is of faith.
But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness,
has not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore?
because they sought it not by faith,
but as it were by the works of the law.
They stumbled at that stumbling stone.
As it is written, behold I lay in Zion a stumbling stone
and rock of offense; whosoever believeth on him
shall not be ashamed.
It is our faith that makes us part of his body, partakers of his righteousness.
When we hold fast to an unyielding faith, in spite of our imperfection, our inward man can delight in the law of God.