RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD
Leslie M. John
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him”. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
Theology can sometimes be bizarre when someone interprets not just as the Scriptures say, but resorts to private interpretation.
Bible says “…that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (cf. 2 Peter 1:20). Prophecy here is within the purview of the testimony of Jesus as the scripture says in Revelation 19:10b.
One such wrong interpretation is that one has to believe in the perfect obedience by Jesus to the Father while He was on this earth. While it is true that Jesus lived in perfect obedience to the Father, it cannot be made as a condition to receive salvation. There is no scripture to support this demand.
A great Bible Teacher calls it as “active obedience of Jesus”. He and his followers believe that it is mandatory to believe in such “active obedience of Jesus” to have imputation of righteousness.
There are varied interpretations as to how salvation is achieved. While the Bible is clear that salvation is by grace through faith, some say the efficacy of the blood of Lord Jesus Christ shed on the cross was not enough to be saved, but according to their interpretation man has to live by the law to receive righteousness. They have even gone to the extent of naming the obedience of Jesus Christ into two categories.
ARE THERE TWO CATEGORIES OF OBEDIENCE?
There is no scripture that demands to name the obedience of Jesus to the Father into two categories. The two categories of obedience of Jesus, according to them are:
- Active Obedience of Jesus
- Passive obedience of Jesus
It seems good to study these two aspects of obedience; but imposing a condition that belief in both these two categories as mandatory for receiving salvation is utterly a false teaching. According to them the active obedience of Jesus is recognized by the implicit obedience to the Father, of Jesus Christ before His death on the cross. The passive obedience of Jesus, according to them is recognized by the implicit obedience of Jesus to the Father in yielding Himself for crucifixion.
THE SON OF GOD
The testimony of Lord Jesus Christ is that He is the Son of God. In order for to be reconciled to God for the trespass Adam had committed, God sent His only begotten Son into this world that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. The Son was born of the Virgin Mary when Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Highest overshadowed her. The Holy thing that was born of her was called the “Son of God” (cf. Luke 1:35; Matt.1:23).
LITTLE LOWER THAN ANGELS
The transgression of God’s command that Adam had committed, was imputed to him as sin, which was inherited by all mankind. That sin had to be fully paid for and the only one qualified to pay for the sins of mankind was Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrews 2:9).
Lord Jesus took the position little lower than angels and came into this world in the form of servant and in the likeness of man. It was necessary for Him to take such position to qualify Himself to taste the substitutionary death on behalf of sinners, and it pleased the Father to bruise Him on the cross. He was obedient unto death, even unto death by crucifixion. The Bible says that there is remission of sins unless blood is shed.
In the Old Testament it was seen how animals were used as sacrifice as substitutionary death to cover the sin of man, who offers such sacrifice and confesses his sin. It was not a permanent solution until Lord Jesus Christ shed His precious blood upon the cross for the remission of our sins. He died substitutionary death on behalf of us fulfilling all the law of the Old Testament.
Lord Jesus came to fulfill the law and He did it by his birth as the holy one born of the virgin Mary and by living a holy life and offering Himself as a sacrifice on behalf of us in due time. It was in due time that He came into this world in flesh. (cf. Romans 5:6; John 1:1-14)
He was Holy in the form of God before the foundations of the world and thought it not robbery to be equal with the Father but gave up His glory and made Himself of no reputation when He came into this world.
Lord Jesus, who was the incarnate God, He lived among men and was obedient to the Father. He had the power to forgive sins of sinner.
“But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house” (Matthew 9:6)
He saw how terrible it was to take upon Himself the sin of man to redeem from the bondage of slavery under sin, and yet He was of the desire to fulfill the will of the Father (cf. Phil. 2:5-10; Matt. 26:42). He was Holy, and His Holy and He will be holy.
It was not by His obedience to the Father that He qualified to be called Holy and sinless, but being God Himself even before He came into the world, and being born in the womb of Virgin Mary He was Holy and sinless. There was no union of Joseph and Mary before Jesus was born in the womb of Virgin Mary “for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 1:20b)
THE LAST ADAM
We, human beings are not born with Holiness such as Lord Jesus was born, but we are made of dust. By one man’s sin we are all made sinners and by one man’s obedience we have the privilege to claim righteousness. One man who was disobedient to God’s command was Adam, but by the obedience of one, who came into this world as man, was the Jesus, who was also called as the “last Adam”
“And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45)
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:19)
DID CHRIST DIE IN VAIN?
Apostle Paul writes…
“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:21)
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” (Galatians 3:1)
Paul continues to write that Abraham believed God and his belief in God it was accounted to him for righteousness. Therefore those who are of faith are all the children of Abraham. “The scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith” this good news was preached to Abraham.
CAN MAN FULFILL ENTIRE LAW OF GOD?
No one can be justified under the law, which only points sin, but does not provide salvation. All those who claim salvation under the works of the law are under the curse, inasmuch as not a single person on the earth can keep the entire law God gave to man. No man is justified by the law in the sight of God. Man, who commits himself to abide by the works of the law for salvation and justification will live by the law and the grace of God is not available for him. Because man cannot fulfill all the law he will remain cursed. On the contrary, if man believes in the grace of God, and accepts that Christ, who was made a curse for us and has redeemed from the curse of the law, he will be saved and justified as innocent. (cf. Galatians 3:6-14)
This is where some believe that when God forgives sin man is restored to the position of Adam before he sinned, but does not make him righteous before God. Such belief is nothing but heresy. When God declares a man sinless it is the justification and the imputation of God’s righteousness to man. There is nothing more to be done by man. It is the action that God takes and it is none of man’s actions. There is no scripture to show that man has to live by righteous works or be subject to the Old Testament laws to be reckoned as righteous.
“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith”. (Romans 1:17)
Putting in the mouths of people that which is not there in the scriptures is like making few statements as to how would the weather be in heaven. Would be like that of the weather near Indian Ocean, or some other ocean? The scripture is clear that there would be no sea in eternity, and Lord Jesus Christ is the light in heaven. There is no Sun or Moon required there to light heaven. Disputing what is in the Bible and adding that which is not there in the Bible is in bad taste of theology.
Romans 3:21 does not justify to take a position to state that man has to believe in the active obedience of Jesus, but the meaning of the verse should be read in its context.
“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets” (Romans 3:21)
Romans 3:21 is in the midst of Romans 3:19-24.
“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. 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: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:19-24)
LOVE OF GOD
It is the righteousness of God that is imputed to man and it is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe. The leading design of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to evince the love of God. Few scriptures in support of this fact are…
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. (John 3:16)
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us” (Ephesians 2:4)
“Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace” (2 Thessalonians 2:16)
“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:8)
BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH
None of these verses or any other verse in the Bible constrains us to believe that man has to believe in the active obedience of Jesus Christ. Rather scripture acknowledges that man is not perfect and cannot keep the entire law of God. It is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ that God’s righteousness is imputed instantly to the believer.
While we attempt surely to keep ourselves free from sin even after being born again, yet because we are living in this sinful world we might commit sins. Such sins are forgiven by God upon confession.
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10)
Lord Jesus Christ has set us up on a very high plane to know what it means to sin and what exactly constitutes sin. He said that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of judgment, and if anyone says to the other “you fool” shall be in danger of hell fire. The definition of “adultery”, as Jesus said, is the lusting after woman (cf. Matt.5:22; 27-28). The Lord gave two commands, and they are…
“… Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”. (Matthew 22:37-40)
Who could fulfill all these commands? If anyone were to fully keep these commands all through his life, it would be hard to call him less than god. Therefore, it is the grace that is available for us to confess our sins to Him and receive pardon. However, if we repeatedly commit sins only to avail the privilege of being forgiven, it is tantamount to being considered as not born-again in the first place. Therefore, the Scriptures say…
“He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God”. (1 John 3:8-9)
The Lord said our righteousness should exceed the hypocrisy of Pharisees, who pay the tithe of mint and cumin and omit the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy and faith (cf. Matthew 23:23)
SANCTIFIED ONCE FOR ALL
Hebrews 10th Chapter has powerful text to defend that the death of Jesus Christ (which some call as “passive obedience of Jesus Christ”), was enough for man, who accepts Lordship of Jesus Christ, to be justified as righteous before God.
“Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:7-11)
JESUS FULFILLED LAW FOR US
Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the Old Testament spoke of, came into the world in due time, and by His death we are sanctified once for all. He fulfilled the entire law on behalf of us, and, therefore, there is no necessity for us to keep Old Testament laws. It is enough if we keep His two commandments. If by chance we fail to keep them, there is always forgiveness upon confession and on repentance. This does not preclude man making every endeavor in his life after being born again to keep himself holy and blameless before God by obeying the two commandments that Lord Jesus gave to us.
“Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (Hebrews 10:38-39)
“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4)
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1)
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35)
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)
We are no longer slaves to sin; and because we are yoked to Christ we are set free from the penalty of being cast into the “lake of fire”. The power of sin has no dominion over us.