None Righteous

2 Corinthians 5:14‑17  •  26 min. read  •  grade level: 9
CO 5:14-17TO-NIGHT we come more directly to the thought on my mind, namely, the distinctive character of the place into which God has called the believer, whether as to Himself, as to Satan, or as to the world, and also how this place has been acquired. We have already had presented the thought that the Lord Jesus Christ, by taking in grace His people's place, has made their place in righteousness: that is to say, the place a believer now occupies is the answer on God's part to the work of Christ on the cross, a work whereby God was fully glorified.
Let us now turn to Scripture and trace therefrom the position of man, that we may see how it came to be a necessity that the Lord should take His people's place if He would bring them into blessing.
Man, in the opening out of God's day, appeared in all the blessedness and innocence in which he was placed in the garden of Eden. It was a bright dawn. But man, acting in his own self-will, departed from that place in which God had set him, and not only forfeited his place, but was driven out from the presence of his Creator. He hearkened to the voice of his wife and the serpent's lie, was driven out from the place of blessing, and was thenceforth a fallen creature instead of the innocent one that he had originally been. He is God's creature still, truly, but he is a fallen one. Now it was not till Adam was driven out from Eden that his posterity sprung up on this earth. We, then, as descended from Adam, start with a nature which is that of fallen man-the very opposite to what God is. We were born in a position of ruin, and our nature answers to the fallen stock from which we have sprung, and is energized by a will that is opposed to God. The result, as to our practice, is that we are thoroughly guilty before God, and have rendered ourselves individually subject to the judgment of God on account of that practice.
Now, if this be our condition, what do we need? On the one hand, as to our state by nature, we need to be reconciled to God; and on the other, our practice being guilty, we need clearance from our guilt, and positive righteousness in addition. These are necessities which arise owing to the state in which we are found, and to, the practice that vie have followed.
In the Old Testament Job, wearied by the speeches of his friends, asks the question, "How should man be just with God? " Now, the epistle to the Romans is the New Testament answer to this Old Testament question: how shall man be just with God is the subject-matter of Let us look at it for a moment.
We, find, in the first chapter, Paul, after setting forth his credentials as apostle, presents the Lord Jesus Christ according to the promises of God, "made of the seed of David according to the flesh," and also "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." Thus he presents him as the object of faith. Then, verse 14, he speaks of the value of the gospel, and in verse 16 tells us what that gospel is, namely, "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, The just shall live by faith." The great subject of the epistle is thus seen to be the Son of God as the object of faith, and the righteousness of God revealed on the principle of faith to everyone who trusts in Him.
The apostle then proceeds to show what made the righteousness of God necessary, namely, the fact that "wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." Therefore, if a soul have not this righteousness, he falls under the wrath that is revealed. He then, from chapter 1:19 to 3:30, enters into an elaborate proof of the guilt of wan. To show what it was that made wrath necessary, he in doing so takes up the two great classes into 'which: the race of man was divided, namely, the heathen Gentile and the religious Jew. Heathendom is first arraigned, and in verses 19 and 20 we find the first ground on which he proves this guilt, namely, the testimony of creation. The created things of this world bore witness to man, from the time of their creation, of the eternal power and divinity of Him who created them. Of their testimony man took no notice-did not recognize the eternal power and divinity therein set forth-and was on this ground guilty, the testimony leaving him without excuse.
In verse 22 we find a second ground on which the apostle proves their guilt. In Gen. 4 we learn that men began to call upon the name of the Lord, and, after that, Noah became a " preacher of righteousness;" that is, there was a traditional knowledge of God handed down from father to son. On the ground of this knowledge the apostle takes them up. What did those who possessed this knowledge do? Instead of bowing to the God of whom they had this knowledge, they did what men of the present day do: they attempted to measure the infinite by the finite. The infidel nowadays urges that he cannot believe what he cannot understand. And who made your senses? Can your senses measure the God who made them?
So, "professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." Man would not own God, would, not have God. God therefore orders that, as they would not honor Him, neither should they recognize what was due to themselves; and, with man who would not glorify God, Satan takes the place of God. Man consequently deified his lusts, made of them a religion, and his religion from that time became not merely a corrupt but a corrupting thing; man's religion itself corrupted -man. Man knew that the God of whom he had a knowledge was opposed to the lusts he loved, and he consequently tried to shut out all thought of God, that he might follow his lusts unhinderedly. This being so, God gave him up to his lusts.
There was, however, one thing that man got at the fall, and which he has had ever since conscience—that which takes knowledge of good and evil. The effect of conscience, in the midst of the evil here described, was to cause men to judge as evil that by which they were surrounded; but, the will not being subject to God, the only effect of the judgment of evil was that they moralized about it whilst they still practiced it themselves, or took pleasure in those who did so. The question therefore arises, would this moralizing about evil, while still practicing it, save them from the judgment of God? The case of this special class the apostle meets in chapter 2:1-16, where he shows that the judgment of God is according to truth, and that consequently the evil-doer would not escape, however he might moralize. " We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest 'thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?" God's long-suffering is shown on purpose that the evil-doer should be led to repentance, but, continuing to practice the evil, he would inevitably fall under the judgment.
Having thus closed the case of the moralizer, the apostle resumes his general proof of the guilt of man, taking up in verse 17 the case of the privileged Jew. The Jew would be ready enough to admit the guilt of the Gentile, but here the apostle turns to him, and asks, What about yourself? You are the one who has God's law; you boast of. it; you are a teacher of this law; and what is the effect on you of the privileges of which you boast, of the law which you teach? You are not governed by it, and the truth is, that the God who gave you this law is more dishonored by you to whom He gave it than by the dog of a Gentile to whom He never gave it at all, so that you are, if anything, the more guilty of the two in His presence. In chapter 3:9 the apostle sums up the guilt of' both Jew and Gentile, but to seal home the guilt of the Jew, the favored one, more distinctly upon him, he turns for a moment to the law, and shows what it said to those who were under it. Here we find one of the most minute and solemn descriptions of fallen man. If he be taken up as to his person, " It is written there is none righteous, no, not one." If, as to the activity of his mind " There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God." Or if in the detail of his members, " Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes." Such is man as to his practice, and that in the most favorable circumstances that could be; such the verdict of' the law about him If an be viewed individually, the result is that " every mouth is stopped; " or collectively, " all the world subject to the judgment of God." Thus the apostle proves the universal guilt of man, and demonstrates what made wrath necessary.
Man being at a distance from God as to his position, and opposed to God as to his practice, in such a way as we here see set forth, and without righteousness for God, what is to meet his ease, so that he may be not only sheltered from judgment, but God may be free to bless him? Only through an atonement offered to God could man's case be met. But for this a spotless victim was requisite. Could such an one be found amongst men? No; " for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." The solemn conclusion, therefore, to which man is reduced is, that, as far as man is concerned, he is lost.
But God has resources deep enough to meet everything, and God presents to us His own beloved Son as the one who is able to open up the way that He may bless and that sinners may be blessed. But in order that this might be so, He must glorify God about sin; He must take the place and bear the judgment due to those for whose blessing He came; He must die. Thus alone could God maintain His own character, and at the same time exercise in righteousness His love and grace. Thus alone could sinners be brought back to God that He might bless them.
In speaking of the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross, it is well to see clearly the double aspect of that work, that is, its aspect Godward-which is atonement; and also its aspect manward-which is substitution. The first is that in which the Lord Jesus has glorified God about sin; the second is that in which He has in grace taken His people's place, has stood as their substitute before God, has borne in His own person the wrath due to their sins, and been made sin for them, that they "might be made the righteousness of God in him."
In Rom. 3 we get the first aspect, namely; atonement. There we find God spoken of as acting in grace towards certain who have sinned, justifying them freely; consequently, we have brought before us the ground on which He can do so consistently with His own character-a holy God who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon iniquity-and that ground is atonement. " Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood." Is God's character then called in question by this exercise of grace? Not for a moment! The blessed Son of God has come down, died as a. propitiation on the cross of Calvary, and God, having been glorified thereby, having had every demand of His holy nature met therein, is not only free to minister blessing to any poor sinner believing in Jesus, but is consistent' with His own character in so doing. The blood of atonement is the ground on which His righteousness in justifying is declared: " To declare, I say, at this time, his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." Thus we find God has been glorified by the atonement wrought out by the Lord Jesus Christ.
But now to take up the second side-that of substitution. The Lord Jesus comes and actually takes, as their substitute, the place of those who now believe on Him, to receive at the hand of God what was due to them on account of the offenses they had committed. In this we see Him, not as the victim of atonement glorifying the nature of God, but as the bearer of His people's sins. In the latter part of chapter iv. Abraham's faith is presented to us, and it is beautiful to see how entirely he was above surrounding circumstances; he neither looked in at himself nor out at Sarah, but up to God. " He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory. to God; fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform;" and the consequence was, "it was imputed to him for righteousness. And it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification." Here we have, beyond a question, the blessed Christ of God taking in His grace His people's place, and acting as the sinbearer—their substitute. What 'happened then? " The Lord laid upon him. the iniquity of us all." If the Lord has thus taken in grace His people's place, what is the result to them? They are justified-are cleared from all that guilt, under the judgment of which they must have sunk had not another borne it for them.
All this, however, is rather negative in its character. It is clearance from guilt; but there must be also positive righteousness. Righteousness from man God by law demanded but failed to get. In that of which we have been speaking God is seen acting in grace, and we find that when man had no righteousness for God, God, in that glad tidings which is the power of God to salvation, reveals righteousness of God for man. This righteousness the apostle describes in chapters 3:21,22 as a divine righteousness wholly apart from law, "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe." Thus, as there is on the one side for the believer clearance from all his guilt, so there is on the other, on the positive side, divine righteousness -righteousness of God.
It is important that souls should understand this-what God's righteousness is, what it is to be made the righteousness of God in Christ.
Creature righteousness consists in the fulfillment of the duties that flow from the relationship in which he stands to one having a claim over him. God's righteousness is His perfect consistency with Himself, with His own nature and character. This is seen in His acts, which display that nature and character. Now, man, as the creature of God, is responsible to have righteousness for God his Creator. This God demanded in the law, which furnished the creature with the perfect rule of his responsibility to his Creator, as also to his fellow-creature. In the fulfillment of this man has utterly failed, and so failed to render to God the righteousness due to Him. The case then stood thus: on God's side, a righteous requirement from His creature by means of a holy, just, and good law; on man's side, complete failure in meeting the righteous, requirement of his Creator.
Thus God was dishonored through the sin-and failure of His creature, and was consequently under obligation to Himself to manifest His. righteousness, that is, His consistency with. Himself, with His own nature and character as. pure, holy, and absolutely intolerant of evil, in the judgment and condemnation of the evil-of the one who committed it. To do so would be His righteousness. To have visited this judgment on man, however, would have entailed the eternal punishment of the whole human race. This God does not desire. " He will (desires to) have all men to be saved." How could this be consistently with His own character, man's case being such as described?
Christ, the Lamb of God, has come; has presented. Himself before God as the one on whom God could display His righteous judgment of sin. Christ has presented an atonement to God for the dishonor put on, Him through the failure of man, His creature. He has glorified God's nature as to all. But in this-offering of atonement to God, Christ has also borne in His own person the judgment, the penalty due, on account of their failure in their responsibility, to every soul believing on Him.,
Thus the entire question at issue has been taken up by Christ. In and on Him, a sacrifice for sin, at the cross, God's righteous judgment of sin has been displayed. God has been glorified as to sin and is, in consequence, free to act in grace to -any poor sinner believing in Jesus. Failing atonement, God was not free,, if one may so speak, to act thus. To have done so without atonement having been offered to Him would have been to have done it at the expense of His righteousness, which -demanded the condemnation of the sinner-the one who had failed to meet God's righteous requirements. Through atonement a way of escape has been opened for -the sinner. God; having been glorified by it, is freed from the obligation of condemning the soul.-'that-believes on Him who wrought the atonement. God has condemned the evil in the person of Him who was guiltless, and can now, where there is faith, let the guilty go free, accounting that not only his evil but himself has been condemned in the condemnation of the One in whom he, through grace, believes-the One who, while glorifying God in atonement, at the same time stood as the substitute for that believing soul.
But more. If atonement have, by glorifying God's nature and character, freed Him from one obligation, it has, through that same nature and character, laid Him under another. He owes it to the man Christ Jesus, who went into death in order to glorify Him, that He (God) should glorify Him (Christ) personally. To do so would be God's righteousness. This He has done, and therefore in Christ glorified as man is seen God's righteousness. But at the time Christ glorified God by atonement, He also stood as the substitute for everyone who believes in Him. God has proved His acceptance of Christ's work by raising Him from the dead and giving Him glory; and, having done so, He owes it to Christ to justify every soul for whom that work was wrought. To do so would be simple righteousness on God's part. In doing so He would -display His consistency with Himself—His righteousness. Every justified soul, therefore, is a monument of God's righteousness, for it is by and according to that righteousness he is justified. He is made the righteousness of God in Christ.
From this it will be seen that God's righteousness is not a thing put to the believer's account. The believer himself is made the righteousness of God in Christ. He stands before God in Christ, clear as Christ. Nor is it Christ's righteousness imputed to the believer, as is sometimes said. It is only as having part with Christ in death that any soul is made righteous, but the righteousness which it is made is that of God.
Thus far, then, we see the believer cleared from all his guilt and having a positive righteousness before God.
We must next look at the sin in the 'believer's nature. The believer is forgiven on the ground of the blood that another, who has borne his sins, has shed. But he finds he has an evil nature in him, and until he learn the fullness of redemption, and what God's action with regard to that nature which He finds within has been, he is troubled; for he argues, and argues rightly, that such a nature never can stand before God. Sins God forgives 'on the ground of the blood; the nature which produced those sins God never forgives; with it he deals in another way. We find that His blessed Son has taken His people's place, not alone with regard to the practice-the sins-but the nature too, and God has in Him, a sacrifice for sin, not forgiven but condemned sin in the flesh. " 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." Here we find the nature that is within treated of, and the testimony of God is that He has 'condemned it. The result to a soul that has believed in the Lord Jesus Christ is that, while still conscious of having within a nature that never can stand in God's presence, he knows on God's authority that that evil nature has already been the subject of God's judicial action-has been condemned by God-and that he is no longer associated with it-no longer 'in it (though it be still in him) before God. What he has now to do is, in full liberty and in the power of that risen life in which the Spirit acts, the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, to take God's part against it, and, reckoning it dead, allow it no place. If this be not done the nature will be active, and the product of that activity will be sins, 'about which God will be obliged to deal governmentally with the believer-His child-that, the sins being confessed, communion, not relationship, which had by these sins been interrupted, might be restored. But-the root sin, the nature, God has already dealt with, not by forgiving it or extracting it from, but by condemning it in, the believer. "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." ' Chapter 6 enters into this most fully. " Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." " Our old man " signifies the nature that the believer argues can never stand in God's presence. What has happened to it? Why, God has brought it to an end by the execution of judgment upon it, and by death the believer is discharged from sin. We read, "Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God." The next verse, "'Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord; or more correctly, " in Jesus Christ our Lord." Now this tells us not only of God's condemnation of the nature, but it tells us of 'the introduction of the believer into a new standing altogether. God's judgment of the Adam nature is seen in the condemnation of Christ when a sacrifice for sin, and, in this, death has severed the believer from the Adam association in which he stood.
But God has raised Him from the dead, the One in whom this was accomplished, even His own blessed Son, and this risen One is the believer's life, and he, possessing this life, stands before God in an entirely new association, not in Adam but in Christ Jesus. Christ has died to sin once, but now lives to God. God has brought Him up from the dead, and the believer is now, as to his standing before God, not any longer in Adam, but in Christ risen from the dead. Blessed be God! the life that we possess is the risen life of the Lord Jesus Christ. The believer was by nature associated with Adam; death has come in and severed this association; next God has come in and raised up from the dead the One who died, and the believer has been introduced into a new association, even with Christ risen from the dead, and has now no standing before God but in that risen One alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Thus, with regard to sin, the believer is delivered. The twofold bearing of the truth is, that Christ has died for His sins, hence he is forgiven; and that he has died with Christ, and hence he is delivered; and that the life that he now has is the risen life of Christ, and that in the power of the Holy Ghost. Hence, also, sin has no more dominion over him, he being no longer under law, which demanded good from a bad man but did not produce it, and condemned the man for not having it, but under grace, which does not demand but does produce.
Under grace a new nature has been bestowed, in which life in the power of the Spirit acts and produces fruits pleasing to God:, " The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith; meekness, temperance; against such there is no law."
But when thus brought nigh to God, does the believer stand-in a mere creature relationship to Him as formerly? No, the Lord Jesus, when revealing Himself to Mary after His resurrection, delivers to her a message which discloses the relationship into which those who believed on Him were introduced. He there says, "I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." The relationship of the believer, therefore, to God is that of a child to a father. As we have seen, it is '" ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." Or as we have it in John 1, " As many as received Him, to them gave He power lo become the sons (or more properly children) of God."
We see how perfectly thus, as to God Himself, Christ has made our place: we are forgiven through the blood, stand before God in divine righteousness in an entirely new place, no longer in Adam but in Christ Jesus, and in positive relationship with God as His children. The Lord give us in some little measure to enter into the blessedness of that into which He his, by taking in grace our place, introduced us!
One point I might just touch on before closing, and that is, that the Lord Jesus Christ has also made our place as regards Satan. See Heb. 2:1414Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; (Hebrews 2:14), where we read: " Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Satan had the power of death, a power permitted of God, one that he had acquired through the lusts of man. Now, the Lord has taken His people's place, and, by going into death, has broken the power of him who had the power of it, and, as the result, the believer is delivered from the power of him who had that power. Death is now in the hand of the blessed One who is the believer's life, and when the believer does pass from this scene, he is laid to sleep by Jesus, the One who loves him, and who gave Himself for him, and who Himself, as the One who has power over death, exercises the prerogative of laying*His own to sleep. The apostle in Col. 1:12,1312Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: 13Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: (Colossians 1:12‑13), when giving thanks to the Father, who has made His people, His children, meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, adds: " Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness (that is, Satan's power), and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son."
As regards Satan, therefore, the believer is, through the work of Christ, delivered from the bondage in which he was through fear of death.
And now let us ask, At what cost has this deliverance, this introduction into the presence -of God in blessed relationship with Himself, been accomplished? At no less a cost than the travail of the soul of the Lord Jesus Christ. He died to make it ours; He lives to bring us into the power of it. May it be ours ever to connect the blessing with what it cost that blessed One to win it for us, so that we may hold it dear; and may we day by day enter more fully into it with quiet, praising, joyful spirits, as we walk with Him here below, waiting that time when He shall come to introduce us into the full fruition of it with Himself on high. [J. L. ]
To promote and maintain the rights of One only entitled where they are not owned, or only carelessly acknowledged, is not only the duty but the happiness of a righteous soul.
[J. B. E.]