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Christ Our Righteousness

Larry Kirkpatrick 26 December 1998
Fairplain Seventh-day Adventist Church


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.

We Are Not Saved by Our Own Works

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?
  • We are not saved by our own works, and
  • We are the children of promise
What about this, "we are not saved by our works?" The Bible is clear in Galatians 2:16: "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 in obedience.

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.

Defining Righteousness and Unrighteousness

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.

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 power?

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.

What is the gospel All About, Anyway?

Listen to these succinct points the Bible makes about the purpose of the gospel:

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 Father."

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!

Christ Our Righteousness

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 Luke 18.9-14:

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.

Are Our Sins Hidden or Covered?

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.

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.

Righteousness and Last-Day People

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.

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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