There is a second aspect of the work of Christ, however that we must not miss. Not only did Christ die for us as our sin bearer, enabling the Father to forgive all our sin, but Christ lived a righteous life that we could have never lived, providing a righteousness that was acceptable to God. The word justify is a legal term meaning to declare righteous, and God has no basis to justify those who have no acceptable righteousness. The very best work that we can muster is never acceptable to God. Our righteousness before God is somewhat like monopoly money at Wal-Mart. It is not acceptable. It has no value, however it really goes even beyond that illustration, because not only is it unacceptable to God, but it is actually offensive to Him. Isaiah 64:6, says that “we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags.” The word unclean comes from the Old Testament concept of the stigma of a leper. His disease made him loathsome to society. He was unclean, and our nature makes us loathsome to God. Ephesians 2:3 says that we are “by nature children of wrath.” And Romans 3:10-12 presents us as un-righteous, without understanding; and seeking after everything but God. He says we have all “all turned aside; and together become unprofitable. In God’s eyes there is “none who does good, no, not one.” So based on our performance, how is it possible for God to declare us righteous?
My heart is overwhelmed with gratitude to God when I think about the answer found in Romans 3:21-22 Paul paints a desperate picture of all men, and then brings this powerful contrast to man’s unrighteous, helpless condition. He says “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…even the righteousness of God, which is through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” God has provided through Christ a righteousness that is acceptable to Him. This righteousness is what we call an alien righteousness, or a righteousness that comes from outside of us, and our performance of the law. Based upon our performance we are already guilty and hopeless, but God in His great grace has provided an acceptable righteousness for all who will receive it. Think about these powerful statements about this righteousness that is provided for all who will receive it by faith alone in Christ and His work. Consider Paul’s wonderful statements about the righteous life of Christ that provide an acceptable righteousness to all who will receive it by faith. Romans 5:18-19 “through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life…and also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Our justification is provided in one person, and that person is Christ. His death alone made it possible for God to forgive our sin. His righteousness alone is acceptable to God enabling God to justly declare a man righteous. When we are united with Christ, we are justified on the basis of His imputed or credited righteousness and not our own dismal failure.
Let us take a moment to reflect on the way that the salvation of every sinner both reveals the goodness of God and magnifies this awesome display of His perfections. God’s holiness and intense hatred for sin is not diminished by the gospel, but rather it is displayed in all its beauty in the cross. God’s justice is not compromised, but rather it is satisfied in the cross. God’s righteousness is not cheapened, but rather it is contrasted with the feeble, worthless attempts of fallen humanity to merit God’s favor. God’s goodness and love are magnified as He sets His affections on God’s most unworthy and unlovely creatures. God extends unprecedented love to His enemies who have presumptuously rebelled against His love. And God’s grace is revealed in all its beauty. Salvation from start to finish is an awesome display of God in all His beauty, and let us never forget the beauty of our salvation. God saves because He is good, and every aspect of His salvation magnifies and glorifies Him. Now that we have seen the nature of our justification, we will answer two more questions: first, what is the condition or response to God’s grace that He demands in order for us to be credited with the righteousness of Christ, and secondly, is this righteousness received at a point in time as a once and for all action by God, or is it a lifelong process?