The Biblical Message of the Righteousness of Jesus Christ
Among the attributes of God, although they are equal,
mercy shines with even more brilliancy than justice.
—Miguel De Cervantes, Spanish novelist, poet, playwright (1547-1616)
The Wohlberg family lives in the mountains of Auberry, California, just east of Fresno, about an hour from Yosemite National Park. Our house is rather isolated (nestled at the end of a dirt road), which we appreciate. It’s quiet, safe, and a wonderful place to raise kids. But recently something occurred that jarred our comfort. At 6:45 p.m. one evening, the power went out, and we unexpectedly found ourselves in pitch darkness.
“I have a prayer request!” little three-year-old Seth blurted out as we huddled together on our living room couch holding flashlights. “Dear Jesus,” Seth breathed after dropping to his knees, “Please turn on the power so we can see! In Jesus name, Amen.” I really wasn’t worried, for power outages aren’t that unusual, and it was sweet to hear our son’s earnest prayer. After praying, Seth opened his eyes, and looked around. “Daddy!” he blurted out, “The power is still out!” “Give Jesus some time,” I replied calmly, “He doesn’t always answer our prayers right away. Be patient.”
Because total blackness was scary for Seth, our entire family slept together in the same room that night. At 9:00 p.m., still no power. At 10:00 p.m., no change. Around midnight, I heard the heater kick in, so I knew power was restored. At about 6:15 a.m. Seth jumped out of bed, seeking one of his toys. “I need the flashlight,” he whispered. “Just turn on the light,” I replied with a sleepy grin. He did, and I love his response. “Whoa!” Seth said with a huge smile, “Jesus answered my prayer!” He was so excited.
I know this is a rather down-to-earth illustration, but the spiritual condition of our 21st-century world is a lot like the little town of Auberry on that dark Tuesday night. “Darkness shall cover the earth,” prophecy predicts, “and deep darkness the people” (Isaiah 60:2). At no time in history is this truer than now, in these last days. Yet prophecy not only depicts darkness, but it also predicts an end-time burst of incredible light all over the world. Those who see this light, and who grasp its significance, will say “Whoa!” just like Seth did when he flicked that switch at 6:15 a.m. Heaven’s “power” will be turned on full force.
Here’s the prediction: After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory(Revelation 18:1).
To truly comprehend this prediction, and the power of Heaven’s final message to a lost and dying world, we must first uncover the hidden connection between two mighty biblical themes: the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the Law of God. A single key verse in the book of Revelation puts both of these themes together: Here is the patience of the saints; here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus (Revelation 14:12).
The focus of this apocalyptic passage is “God,” His “commandments,” “faith,” and above all, “Jesus.” Let’s study this carefully.
Paul wrote: Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24, KJV).
Let me explain this text. The Greek word for “schoolmaster” is “paidagogos,” which means “instructor.” God’s law instructs us about His character, His will, and His perfect standard for humanity. When we look squarely and honestly at the Ten Commandments (see Exodus 20:3-17)—through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit—we are enabled to discern our failures. We see how many times we have:
- failed to put God first,
- embraced false gods (including false mental pictures of God),
- dishonored His name, both in speech and life,
- broken the Sabbath,
- dishonored our parents,
- practiced murder, or self-murder, or hate,
- yielded to sexual impurity, both inside and outside of marriage,
- rejected strict honesty,
- lied about others, and
- not been content with what we have.
This unwelcome realization that we have “fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) creates guilt within our consciences; a deep, troubling sense that we have failed our Maker. It doesn’t matter what religion we have professed, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, New Age, Wiccan, or Hindu, or whether we’ve professed no religion at all. An honest look at the Big Ten, accompanied by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, will not only produce this guilt, but will automatically create a need for a Savior. This is how “the law” becomes “our schoolmaster” to lead us to Jesus Christ.
Not only has God made known to men the holiness of his character by proclaiming the Ten Commandments amidst thunder and flame from the crest of a blazing mountain, but He has also, based on the attributes of His character, provided a way out – a way that exalts both His justice and His mercy. But it is ever the purpose of Satan to make void the law of God and to pervert the true meaning of the plan of salvation. It is our task to detect, and reject, his satanic wiles.
Because of the devil’s subtly, extremes abound. Some speak lovingly of Jesus, but reject God’s law. Others coldly stress the importance of obedience to God’s commandments, but their hearts are devoid of sunshine, kindness, and grace. But these are both satanic imbalances. The Lord doesn’t change, and His Ten Commandment law is solid, fixed, and unbending, “written with the finger of God” (see Exodus 31:18). The eternal security of the entire universe depends on the stability of God’s moral principles.
But oh! God’s love has also developed a costly Rescue Plan perfectly consistent with His royal attributes. The living center of this plan is His Son. An Old Testament prophecy about Jesus predicted, “And this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS ” (Jeremiah 23:6).
What does it mean that Jesus Christ is “ our righteousness?” Let’s unpack this terminology. In its simplest terms, righteousness is right doing, or doing what is right, because it is right. In spite of Satan’s false accusations, God is righteous, which means that He always does the right thing 100% of the time. Again, the loyal universe depends on this. On Mount Sinai, God used His finger and wrote down the eternal principles of His righteousness on solid rock. Now notice how the Bible consistently connects the word “righteousness” with the “law”:
… all your commandments are righteousness (Psalm 119:172).
…righteousness …. My law (Isaiah 51:7).
…the righteousness of the law (Romans 2:26, KJV).
…the righteousness of the law (Romans 8:4, KJV).
…the law of righteousness (Romans 9:31, KJV).
Pretty plain isn’t it? Thus, biblically speaking, “righteousness” is defined by God’s Law. Now let’s discover the truth about “sin.” Notice what Moses said to the Israelites after they first heard the Ten Commandments at the foot of Mount Sinai, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin” (Exodus 20:20). Thus, to Moses, sin was breaking God’s law. Notice how the New Testament writers agreed with this assessment:
By the law is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20).
If you show partiality, you commit sin , and are convicted by the law as transgressors (James 2:9).
Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4, KJV).
If God’s law is “righteous,” and if sin is breaking that law, then what does it mean that Jesus Christ is “The Lord our righteousness”? Here’s the answer: As the Royal Man among men, Jesus Christ flawlessly obeyed God’s law in human flesh in our behalf . Near the end of His earthly life, Christ could state with absolute innocence, “I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love” (John 15:10). By obeying the Ten Commandments in the flesh through faith in His Father, the Son of God—day by day, step by step, test by test – earned the royal right to receive the prophetic name, “The Lord our Righteousness.”
Again, it’s obvious that we haven’t obeyed God’s Law. How many Bible verses do we need to convince ourselves of this? Two texts from Romans 3 should be sufficient: “There is none righteous , no not one” (Romans 3:10). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We haven’t kept God’s law, but Jesus has! Not only that, but at the end of 33 years of righteous human living, He bore our sins, took our guilt, suffered the full penalty of a broken law, and died the death which the law requires of us as lawbreakers! Because of these fearful and joyful realities, Jesus can now legitimately forgive our sins, lift our guilt, and impute to us His own spotless righteousness as a free gift. This is the true “plan of salvation” which our loving Creator has painstakingly devised for our redemption. It exalts both His Mercy and His Justice.
A Philippian jailor asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Paul’s answer was: “ Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). In other texts Paul added “repent” (see Romans 2:4; Acts 20:21) and the importance of “faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25, KJV). Yet many today have lost sight of these biblical necessities. There’s a hidden reason for this. Lucifer is at work behind the scenes. Here is what Paul had to say in the book of Romans:
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those 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 no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe (Romans 3:19-22).
Here is Paul’s exact argument: In the penetrating light of God’s Law, “all the world” is now “ guilty before God.” Many refuse to accept this, but their reasoning is futile. “You are guilty!” is still the verdict of Heaven. Now here’s a vital point: Because “all the world” stands “guilty before God,” therefore “no flesh” can be “justified” (or made “not guilty”) by their efforts to keep the law. Imagine a murderer who, after sitting reflectively in jail for six months finally declares before his judge, “But Your Honor, I’ve been good for six months! Won’t you justify me?” The answer is obvious – not a chance! It’s the same with us. Once we have broken God’s Law even one time, from that point on, the law can’t save us. On the contrary, “by the law is the knowledge of sin.” That is, the only thing we get from the law is the uncompromising message that we are utterly lost, helpless, undone, and condemned. And if there were no “rest of the story,” quoting Paul Harvey, there would be no hope for any of us.
“But now” Paul continued, “the righteousness of God,” which is the only righteousness the Lord will accept, “apart from the law,” meaning “from somewhere else besides the law,” is “revealed.” Where is it revealed? In only one place : in Jesus Christ. This righteousness is “witnessed by the Law,” which means that the law itself testifies to its perfection. Now here’s the Great News: this “righteousness of God” is now freely offered to every sinner “through faith in Jesus Christ.” In other words, if we repent of our sins and have simple faith in Jesus as “The Lord our righteousness,” then God will “justify” us freely, forgive our sins, and boldly pronounce us Not Guilty before His entire universe!
Paul wrote about “the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works (Romans 4:6). The Greek word for “imputes” is “logizomai.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says that the word “primarily signifies ‘to reckon,’ whether by calculation or imputation.” The Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon includes: “to pass to one’s account, to impute.” Thus God will “impute,” or “reckon” to our “account,” “ righteousness apart from works.” Whose righteousness? Paul’s answer is, the righteousness of Jesus Christ . In other words, “apart” from our own “works” or “righteousness” (which we have none), God will apply 33 years of His own Son’s righteous living to our personal “account” in the books of record.
Jesus Christ’s righteousness is “imputed” to us “by faith.” Again, Paul taught “the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22). This kind of faith means more than merely acknowledging God’s goodness. Rather, it is faith directed at our Savior for a purpose – to lay hold on His righteousness.
Such a faith deeply appreciates the merits of Jesus Christ’s blood. Paul wrote, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1:7). The book of Revelation also testifies about the significance, power, and cleansing virtue of the blood of our Savior.
To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood (Revelation 1:5).
And they [the saints] overcame him [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death (Revelation 12:11).
The blood of Jesus Christ represents His worthiness – the merits of His righteousness. We broke the law, but Jesus didn’t. We’ve sinned, but Christ committed “no sin” (1 Peter 2:22). On the Day of Atonement, “the blood” of the sacrifice was “sprinkled” above the Mercy Seat “seven times” (Leviticus 16:14). Moses told the Israelites that this was done “to make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord” (Leviticus 16:30). That ancient act speaks to us today.
Of deep significance is the text, “that He [God] might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). This is the epiphany of Paul’s arguments in Romans 1-3 and demonstrates how the biblical message of Righteousness by Faith in Jesus Christ is truly an ingeniously devised and skillfully implemented Plan formulated by both the Father and the Son that not only defends their non-negotiable attribute of infinite justice but also “justly” legitimizes what they desire most – to grant mercy to us.
We must understand this. God is so “just” that He cannot ignore, overlook or excuse any violations of His law. He can “by no means” clear the guilty. Yet His justice, while firmly rooted in His uncompromising commitment to what is right, or “righteousness,” is inseparably intertwined with His love for the lost. And so, 2,000 years ago, compelled by this love, He amazingly and unselfishly chose to lay aside His divinity and to be “made flesh” (John 1:14)—which is comparable to a man becoming an ant—for the specific purpose of forming a righteous character in behalf of those who have no righteousness of their own. Then He died for our sins, and rose from the dead. Now He offers to take our sins and give us His righteousness. If we respond to such love, repent of our sins, and trust Jesus as our Savior, He still won’t clear the guilty, but will do something much better. He will remove our guilt entirely and treat us as if we never sinned! This is how guilty lawbreakers like us can legitimately be “justified by faith,” and how God’s gracious character shines forth as the sun.
This is really good news, and its effect goes far beyond forgiveness. When we trust Jesus fully, Christ changes the heart. Such a change is absolutely necessary because, from God’s perspective, our natural heart is like a rust corroded battery that must be replaced. Using a medical illustration, it is 100% saturated with spiritual cholesterol, with every artery blocked. Apart from the gospel, there’s no cure. Our only hope is a divine operation performed by the Great Physician. A quadruple bypass won’t due. We need a heart transplant from a heavenly donor. When we fully submit to His gracious touch, Jesus changes us on the inside. “I will give you a new heart” (Ezekiel 36:26), is His promise. We must trust Him for this. He never lost a case. As the famous hymn says, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” Jesus loves us, and those who come to Him He will in “no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
The complete Message of the Righteousness of Jesus Christ advances even beyond forgiveness and a new heart. Its ultimate goal is not just “imputed” righteousness to cover our past, but “imparted” righteousness–which is spiritual power–to bring us back into harmony with the law of God. This is what the book of Revelation means when it says: “Here is the patience of the saints; here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”
There it is—God’s true, end-time, apocalyptic message, based on the Bible. It exalts Jesus Christ, His love, His sacrifice, His righteousness, His merits, and His divine power to enable us to keep His law. Thus this entire message reveals what God is really like. He is our Creator, Ruler, Lawgiver, Redeemer, Justifier, Sanctifier, and above all, the Supreme Lover of our souls who has made an infinite sacrifice to save us from sin. Yet hiding within shadows, even inside many Christian churches, and often behind the pulpit, is our ancient enemy who hates who God really is, and these truths—every one of them.
Lucifer is so subtle that he will “deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). In these last days it is even possible for him to war against the message of the Righteousness of Jesus Christ under the guise of promoting salvation by grace. But we must stick to the true Word of God, rather than man’s opinions, no matter how sweet those opinions may sound.
While driving along California Interstate 99 recently, en route to a relative’s house, my family recently witnessed another one of God’s gorgeous sunsets. Its last rays shone exquisitely, and then they were gone.
Dear friend, just as a setting sun casts its fading beams before night settles, even so is Jesus Christ now sending His last rays of merciful light into our hearts before “the end of the world” (Matthew 24:14).
Those last rays center around the Law of God, the Righteousness of Jesus Christ, and the cross of Calvary.
Let’s respond to His gracious offer, while there’s still time.