Christ Our Righteousness
26 December 1998
The Scriptures tell us that no one has anything to boast about in the presence
of Christ; that through Jesus Christ we are reconnected to heaven, and
that Jesus is "made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification,
and redemption." (1 Corinthians 1:30, 31) And thus it seemed well to
consider what God wants this passage to say to us when He presents these
four statements about what Christ is to us. Last Sabbath I was privileged
with the opportunity to share the first message "Christ our wisdom" over
at Coloma church. Today we share the second one, "Christ our righteousness."
Since most of you weren't there, let me bring us up to speed by just summarizing
a couple of points from 1 Corinthians. You may want to open to 1 Corinthians
chapter one, and especially scan the verses from 17 onward.
There are problems in the church at Corinth, and there really shouldn't
be. Paul opens this letter reminding them that God has equipped them with
everything they need to live out all the power of the gospel. But they
have lost sight of that and permitted themselves to get bogged down into
a cheap conflict about (in this case) inconsequential things. They have
slipped back into their pre-conversion value-systems.
The Jews had made their value judgments based on miracles and signs;
these were the primary evidences of the divine to them. They were impressed
by miraculous free food while they couldn't bear the spiritual nature of
the kingdom which Jesus offered to them. We also saw that for the Greeks,
it was the allure of wisdom and high-powered philosophy that they held
in highest esteem. For each of these ethnic groups, the Jews and the Greeks,
in both cases, measured alternate world-views, not against the true standard
of God's truth, but against the false-measuring sticks of their own distorted
value systems. They insisted that God prove Himself to them in a way of
their own choosing.
That's why the Jews asked Jesus to be fed as by manna, and why He refused
to be made king on their terms. Jesus rightly pointed out that in their
rejection of Him, they were like children sitting in the marketplace and
whining that although they had played the music for Him, He had not danced
to their tune. And to the Greeks, the cross was foolishness, for they said,
how can we worship someone who has died? And what kind of God would
come down into flesh and become as human as we are? That's why Paul
was introducing the Greeks to He who was to them "the unknown God." In
portraying the challenge of communicating a life-changing gospel to both
Jews and Greeks, Paul shows us how readily the lense of our own immediate
world distorts our perceptions. For neither the Jews, nor the Greeks,
nor we ourselves, exist in any vacuum. That's why the devil's deceptions
are planned, multi-generational--even epochal--schemes designed to envelope
us in whole systems of distortion.
And that's why 1 Corinthians 1 warns us to consider how our own time
and world in which we live, has its own peculiar poison--its own unique
distortion of values. I suggested that our diverse age impacts us through
its own blend of science, materialism, and experientialism. And finally,
that the answer to all this is that Christ must become our wisdom--we must
let Him take center stage in our world-view and measure all things by God's
biblical standard. If we are not diligent, we will inevitably value things
by our own distorted value system and we will reject God's kingdom because
it doesn't fit our system. If we do not let Christ become our wisdom--if
we do not let Him replace our fleshly system of relating to our world--He
will come to us, and we won't receive Him. Christ must become our
wisdom. And that can only be if we let the Word of God dwell in us so richly
that it changes our minds and our hearts.
Since we are going to consider some strong texts on God's law, it is well
that we first put two things very clear in our own minds. If you don't
hear these first, you won't be able to hear what we say next. What are
these two points?
Are Not Saved by Our Own Works
What about this, "we are not saved by our works?" The Bible is clear in
"Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of
the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus
Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the
works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified."
I do not know how much more emphatic the point could be made. If we begin
to blend God's grace with our own good works done in our own strength apart
from God, we pervert the gospel and turn it into another gospel, and remove
ourselves from the grace of God. The purpose of the law after the fall
of humankind is not to save us. It didn't save us before the fall either.
Before they fell, Adam and Eve would have formed righteous characters if
they had steadfastly lived in obedience to God's law. But they didn't stay
We are not saved by our own works, and
We are the children of promise
And now for us the function of the law is to point out sin and to point
us to Christ for restoration. If any law could have been given that would
have given us life, it would have been God's law (Galatians 3:21). But
God's law cannot give life to a transgressor. Instead, it brings only wrath,
for it condemns the transgressor. Romans 4:15. And apart from God we are
only ever transgressors; disobedient rebels. We find ourselves definitely
to be among the all who "have sinned, and come short of the glory of
God." Romans 3:23. Therefore even if we obeyed God perfectly from this
moment all the way out to the end, we'd still be lost unless He ignored
our previous transgressions. Thus it is clear that we cannot bring to
God any blurry-mix of His righteousness with ours. His goodness blended
with our badness would only produce a toxic mixture. The righteousness
that we are speaking of is entirely of a heavenly origin. We have no meritorious
part in it.
But there is righteousness there. And we are involved in the
most crucial way.
It is also true that we are not children of wrath, but children of promise.
Galatians 4:28 reminds us that "Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are
the children of promise." Isaac came, not because Abraham and Sarah
had any goodness apart from God, but because God had sprung a precious
promise upon them. He had promised them a son from a dead womb. And that's
exactly what He produced. It was only possible for there to be an Isaac
because of a miracle. And it is only possible for us to be the children
of promise because of a miracle. God must reach down into our lives and
be allowed to bring forth newness of life in us, or we will never become
the righteousness of God in Him. If we say that God can't do miracles in
us, then it is we who limit the Holy One of Israel, and it is we who are
without faith. It is then we who are violating the command of our Lord,
"Be not faithless, but believing." John 20:27.
Let's carefully define righteousness now, and make sure that we have a
Bible-definition of it. The first occurrence of the word "righteousness"
in the Bible is Genesis 15:6. After God promises Abraham that son, He says,
"Come on, Abraham, let's go outside." And Having gone out, God tells His
friend "Take a look up there at all those stars. See if you can count them.
The number of your offspring will be like that." Abraham, having no children,
simply responded to God in faith. How? "And he believed in the Lord;
and He counted it to him for righteousness." The "counted" right there
really means that God considered Abraham's trustful response to be a meaningful
evidence of moral rightness. When Abraham believed God, his act of choosing
to believe Him was not a substitute for righteousness, but it was
righteousness. Because biblically, righteousness is to do what is right.
And Abraham did what was right.
Righteousness and Unrighteousness
Could Abraham have done what was right without God's help? Nope. But
did he do what was right? Yes. Then he must have had God's help. Do you
think so? Yes. Then could he have done righteousness there, with God's
help? Yes. And do you think Abraham went strutting around advertising his
righteousness? I don't.
Job also helps us to understand what righteousness is. He is the first
to talk about putting it on like clothes. Look with me at Job 29:14-16:
"I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe
and a diadem. I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I too the lame. I was
a father to the poor: and the cause which I knew not I searched out."
See, Job's righteousness was something that worked itself out in his life.
He was known for helping the blind and the lame, the poor and the downtrodden.
It wasn't a big fake-show. It was what Job really was inside. Does anyone
here think that Job lived that out without the need of depending upon God's
So righteousness is very simple. It just means to do what is right.
And what is unrighteousness? Well, it is the opposite of righteousness.
Unrighteousness means to do what is wrong. And to do what is wrong is sin.
1 John 5:17 is clear: "All unrighteousness is sin."
If that isn't all plain enough, consider Isaiah 51:7: "Hearken unto
Me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law."
Plainly, people who know righteousness are people who have God's law written
in their hearts.
Listen to these succinct points the Bible makes about the purpose of the
is the gospel All About, Anyway?
Matthew 1:21: "And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call
His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins."
Romans 1:16: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it
is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the
Jew first, and also to the Greek."
1 Corinthians 1:18: "For the preaching of the cross is to them that
perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."
Galatians 1:4: "Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins, that He might
deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God our
Can we see that the gospel is--emphatically is--the power of God to
save us from sin? And that means to be made right with God. If the gospel
doesn't make us right with God, what will? Nothing will. There is nothing
else in the universe that can. The gospel is not a placebo for sin.
It is salvation from sin, the very breaking of its power. We'd like
to think we are forced to sin. That would strip us of responsibility and
we could breath a sigh of relief. But we are responsible for our
actions. Satan himself cannot make us sin. He can prompt us, but we choose.
And when we choose to let Christ be our righteousness, everything is changed,
everything becomes different!
Our key-text says that Christ is made unto us "wisdom, and righteousness,
and sanctification, and redemption." Christ as our righteousness echoes
back to Jeremiah 23:6, where the promise is made that Jesus will come,
and reign, and be called "THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS." What will be the
result? The next two verses say that the remembrance of the power of God
is not that of the exodus from Egypt, but of the Lord who brought them
back from captivity in Babylon.
In the light of that, isn't it interesting that a major part of the
end-time message that God has given to us is "Babylon is fallen," and
"Come out of her my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and
that ye receive not of her plagues." Revelation 18:14:8; 18:2, 4.
What does it mean that we receive Christ as our righteousness? A simple
story, one with which we are all familiar, will show us. Turn with me to
And He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in
themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. Two men went
up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that
I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as
this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes
unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a
sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than
the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he
that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
O.K. Now for the nickle quiz. Who left the temple justified? The self-righteous
pharisee, or the repentant sinner? The tax collector went home to his house
justified, literally, "made right" with God. Not just counted right
and hoping to get better. But made right and growing ever closer. This
isn't a story about some heavenly fakery; it's a tale so startling that
for centuries people have misunderstood what it said. God accepted
the sincere repentance of the tax collector, and worked with mighty power
inside of him, changing him. When he left for home, he was a changed man.
What was the difference? What did the tax collector do? He asked for mercy.
The pharisee didn't ask for mercy. And he didn't go home justified.
Now remember Romans 2:13: "For not the hearers of the law are just
before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." Why is
it that mere hearers are not just before God? Because a righteous law cannot
justify a person who is actually wicked. A law that would say someone wicked
was good would be a wicked law. No. God's law can only call a sinner
a condemned person. So God must change us so that we are not sinners any
more. And He does this when we respond to Him through the faith that He
gives us. How does God justify us? He justifies us freely by His grace.
Romans 3:24. We can't earn a fraction of the justification. It's wholly
a free gift. No, God won't clear the guilty. But He does something far
better: He removes the guilt! Turn to Zechariah 3:1-5.
And he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before
the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD
that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out
of the fire? Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before
the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him,
saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold,
I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee
with change of raiment.
What does the Lord do for Joshua here, representing God's people? He doesn't
cover Joshua's filthy garments, does He? No, no! The command goes forth,
"Take away the filthy garments from him." Then He plainly informs
Joshua that He has caused his iniquity--his sin--to pass from him. It has
not been covered; it has been removed! And in its place? "I will cause
thee to be clothed with change of raiment."
So here is a snapshot of the process of justification, of being made
right with God. The sin is removed by Jesus, and the guilt goes with it.
Then He, Jesus provides a change of garment: His righteousness is put upon
the believer. Christ thus becomes our righteousness.
The forgiveness of sins is more than a mere form, more than a legal
entry in the books of heaven. It is a real and radical change in the believer.
So radical, that the Bible can talk about something happening within us:
"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.
Because Jesus became as human as we are, we are enabled to become as
obedient as He is. And so the Scripture reads "that the righteousness
of the law might be fulfilled in us." God fills up our lives with obedience
that is acceptable to His law. I mean real, authentic, actual, true obedience.
And it is God's righteousness in us, not ours.
So Paul can say in Philippians 3:9-10: "And be found in him, not
having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through
the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I
may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of
His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death." Paul could
write of the "righteousness of the law" being fulfilled in him because
Christ was Paul's righteousness--Paul never struck out on his own to produce
his own obedience apart from Christ. And so he says in Philippians that
he must be found "in Him," not having his own righteousness derived
from the law apart from faith in God. No. All righteousness that any Christian
has ever had has been by faith in God. It comes only through connection
with Him. And having this righteousness means that we know Him and the
power of His resurrection. The same power that sprung Jesus free of the
tomb then, springs us free from sin now.
Does God ignore our previous transgressions? Habakkuk 1:13 reminds us that
God is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity."
But Psalm 32:1-2 says
"Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto
whom the Lord imputeth not
iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile." Are these Scriptures
in contradiction to each other? The all-seeing God sees all that is done,
good and evil. But while He may not send judgment immediately, He will
send it when the wickedness is full-grown. That is all good news too, for
while it warns us against willfully sinning against Him, it also promises
us that when evil surrounds us, our God will deliver us in the way that
most glorifies Him. Sin is only a temporary situation in this universe;
that's why we must leave off from it permanently.
Our Sins Hidden or Covered?
And you have to read all of Psalm 32 to understand that the person who's
transgression is forgiven, literally "lifted," and covered, is the person
who is a repentant seeker after righteousness. This person acknowledges
their sin plainly to God, seeks God's guidance, responds to the conviction
that the Holy Spirit puts upon their conscience, and let's God change them
and turn them to Him. They respond in faith. And God, in His mercy,
forgives and removes that which is already old information. Through
depending upon the raw power of God, the person is changed. James talks
about this process also: "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord,
and He shall lift you up." James 4:11. We turn to God and humble ourselves
through His strength, and He lifts us up. There is no hidden purpose of
making a sneaky escape in the heart. God's righteousness is no covering
for evil, never has been, never will.
1 John 1:9 makes the point simply. "If we confess our sins, He is
faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
What did we say? "All unrighteousness is sin." And how thorough
is the cleansing that comes from our Jesus? "From all unrighteousness."
Mark it down once and for all, the Holy God who made us will not
settle for anything less than the best for us. He will remove all sin from
His children, so that they may stand in His presence. It is our privilege
to go to Jesus and be cleansed, and stand before the law without shame
or remorse. When we arrive in glory, brethren, our God will not blush.
Instead, the chambers of heaven will echo with the glorious refrain, "Behold
I and the children which God hath given Me." Hebrews 2:13.
Turn finally with me to Revelation 14:12. This is where we often end up,
isn't it? But now looking at it today in the light of Christ our righteousness,
what do we see? That in the end, God does produce a people who keep the
commandments of God. They are obedient. They are righteous. On their own,
apart from God? No, a thousand times no! But do they really obey?
Yes! Can they do it--can we do it--without God? No. Will we thus
become 144,000 little Jesus's who, having arrived, no longer need the righteousness
of God? Oh, no, not ever. We will need Him to be with us always. We will
look to Him and be changed, not just now, but through an eternity. Christ
will always be our righteousness. In a world poised on the edge of forever
we must be brands plucked from the fire, clothed with the righteousness
of Christ, and set on a lampstand to shine and fill this broken house.
There is a lot of cheap glitter out there. But you and I are commissioned
to become the true gold. Becoming like Him we will lift Him up and draw
all men to Him. And then the end will come.
and Last-Day People
Brethren, let us see to it that Christ is our righteousness. Over and
over again we have heard our God speak to us in His Word, and tell us that
we can obey, that it is His good pleasure to give us the kingdom. But maybe
we haven't always taken hold on that pleasure that He has offered to us;
the pleasure of obeying our Redeemer, and being inwardly changed. But now
we begin to see that He must be our wisdom, our substitute for the philosophical
poisons that we have grown up in the midst of. And He must be our righteousness,
the substitute for our righteousness apart from Him and the substitute
for our disobedience. O, turn to Him and be renewed. What better time than
now to put away all the barriers between Christ and your soul? Let Him
clothe you in His raiment, and live by His power. This is present
truth. This is an up-to-date message. So be very sure, that your experience,
and mine, is up-to-date. Let us link-up with Him and receive His power,
and receive into our souls the fullness of blessing that He longs to give
to His people in the last days.
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Last Modified 23 March 2000