In the midst of his trials, Job asked a question that ought to resonate within the heart of every individual, “…how can a man be righteous before God?” (Job 9:2). Job was a godly man and had defended himself against the false accusations of his friends, but he knew that his righteousness was nothing compared to the righteousness of God. All of our works and morality may be impressive when compared to other fallen men and women, but cannot begin to meet the standards of Yahweh our God. The good news, however, is that God doesn’t simply leave us in our fallen, guilty state. The same God who demands righteousness also provides righteousness through Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:21-22 teaches us that God revealed His righteousness in Jesus Christ. Jesus displayed this perfect righteousness by fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. Jesus fulfilled the moral demands of the Law with His sinless life, He fulfilled the judicial demands of the Law by his sacrificial death, and He fulfilled the ceremonial demands of the Law by his supreme nature; Jesus is the high priest, the perfect sacrifice, and the true temple. Where men had failed to keep God’s Law, Jesus prevailed and now provides His righteousness for us. No wonder the Messiah is called “Yahweh our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:5-6); He is our God and our Savior!
In Romans 3:22-23 we discover that anyone can receive this gift of righteousness and everyone needs it, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No matter how clean our lives may appear to other people, each and every one of us has “missed the mark” of God’s righteousness. Like the Babylonian ruler, Belshazzar, we “have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting” (Dan. 6:27). Paul had a shining record according to the law prior to his conversion, but he recognized that he was spiritually and eternally bankrupt without the righteousness that Christ gives (Philippians 3:4-9). No person is so good that he doesn’t need Christ, and none is so wicked that he can’t receive Him.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about the gift of righteousness to sinners is the way it is provided. Jesus is the possessor of righteousness and He is the provider of righteousness, but He is also the propitiation for our sins. The fact that Jesus is our propitiation means that He is the means through which we are forgiven. Salvation and righteousness did not come without a cost; in order for us to receive His righteousness, Christ had to receive the punishment for our sins. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). There could be no justification for us without the sinless sacrifice of Jesus in our place.
In our busy, task-oriented society we are often evaluated by other people for our works and productivity, but we need to remember that while God rewards us for our performance, He accepts us based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. Many of the Israelites rejected Christ because they were depending on a works-based righteousness which is totally incapable of justifying us before God (Rom. 10:1-4). In contrast, Abraham, the father of the Israelites was justified by his faith and not by works (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3). Although we are called to live in obedience to God’s commands, we find righteousness and salvation through faith in Christ, not by the incomplete, fallen works that we have to offer.
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, December 11, 2012.