The Righteousness of God: What Is It? 7

Romans 3:21‑26  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 8
THE evident scope then of the righteousness of God is, that He Himself is righteous in justifying the believer by virtue of Christ's work in all its extent and blessedness. It is a work first viewed in the efficacy of His blood-shedding upon earth, but alone fully displayed in His resurrection, that we might stand in Him, cleared from all charge, the old nature being thus judged before God, and a new life given according to the power and character and acceptance of Him risen from the grave. Legal obedience is essentially individual. The law is the measure of duty as in the flesh to God. Its righteousness therefore wholly differs from God's righteousness, not in degree or sphere only, but in source and kind. To the sinner the law was necessarily a ministry of death and condemnation; to our blessed Lord an occasion for manifesting His perfectness and having its own character retrieved.
But never did the law hold out such a prospective reward as quickening or justifying others. The idea is purely imaginative, and entirely false. Nor did Christ earn life by doing the law: such a thought denies the glory of His person. “In Him was life;” yea, He was “that eternal life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us.” Not as made of a woman, made under law, did He give life, but as the Son of God, quickening whom He would in His own sovereign title, and in communion with the Father. But the law knows nothing of the sort; it says, the man that does these things lives, and the man that does not dies. So Christ, speaking for it, says, not to sin-convicted souls but to the self-righteous young ruler, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” No dead ever passed into life by this road, but only by faith, only by hearing the voice of the Son of God. For eternal life is the free gift of God, and is never otherwise the portion of sinful man. It is false then, and ignorance of the gospel, to say that we enter into life by virtue of Christ's keeping the commandments; for life and incorruption are expressly declared to be brought to light by the gospel, not by the law. “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” But it could give neither. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”
Hence, in scripture, legal righteousness is never treated as vicarious: if it be so, where? Not only is the language of the law intensely, exclusively personal, but the New Testament pointedly contrasts it with the language of faith in Rom. 10 “For they [the Jews], being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law [why not tell us of fulfilling it?] for righteousness to every one that believeth. For Moses describeth the righteousness of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above), or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead). But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
It is impossible to conceive words more directly fitted to shut out the thought of the same righteousness, only fulfilled by Christ for us. The point insisted on is, that there are two righteousnesses which speak two-wise: not a single righteousness of law, obligatory on us, and done by Christ; but one righteousness of law, and another of faith; one of doing to live, and the other of believing (not that the Lord Jesus kept the law for us, to justify us by filling up the deficiencies of the old man, but) that God raised Him from the dead. It is a question of salvation, which finds its answer only in the righteousness that is of faith.
Again, this difference is entirely confirmed by Phil. 3:9, where one's own righteousness is explained to be of law, in contradistinction to that which is through faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God on the ground of faith. And the reason is obvious. Legal righteousness is that which every one under law is bound to render to God; the righteousness which is God's, and of God on the ground of faith, is of pure grace, and as much higher and better as God is above man—yes, above what man ought to be; for this was human, that is divine righteousness. The law never called a righteous man, still less a divine person, to die for sinners; never claimed his resurrection, and still less to raise him again for their justification; never proposed to glorify in God Himself a suffering, crucified, but therein God-glorifying man, still less to give us the glory which the Father gave the Son. The law, in fine, sought righteousness from man, made God but the receiver and so far passive, man being contemplated as the active party. In the gospel, on the contrary, God has His due and better place as active in grace through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. It reveals His righteousness. It is δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ and not only ἐκ Θεοῦ divine in nature and in source.
John 16:8-10 does not expressly mention “the righteousness of God,” but its close and evident connection with it is full of instruction and interest. “I tell you the truth. It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin,” &c. It is a totally different process from that of Judaism. In the prophets' times the law was made to reprove the Jews of sin. And so at any time it may be the instrument to deal with the guilty, and convict them of sin. “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” But now appears another power, mightier yet deeper withal, and not precept or principle only but a living divine person. Assuredly He is here, while Jesus is away, for glorifying Him, for teaching and comforting those who believe in Him; but the same Holy Ghost sent down from heaven affords the demonstration to the world of sin, righteousness, and of judgment. Whether men like it or not, such is the effect of His presence and acts: let them beware of fighting against that word.
The Spirit then yields proof to the world of three things: “of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness” —is it because Christ came from Jehovah to fulfill the law for man? On the contrary it is “because I go to my Father; I of judgment, because the ruler of this world hath been judged,” that great fact that faith now knows, instead of only waiting for the public execution of it on a guilty world at Christ's appearing. How then can men continue to speculate? Why should believers persist in giving up that which Christ declares here? It is a mere delusion which the enemy encourages them in, because he knows that, in their zeal for putting believers under law, they are losing the full and fresh power of God's grace and truth as set forth in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. The object of the enemy is to make some fancy about Christ Himself a means to take people back to the state of things before redemption. Do you suppose Satan is become less keen-sighted? Do you imagine that he has lost his ancient subtlety? This is his aim—if he cannot keep people altogether away from Christ, as little of Christ as possible. Even scripture may be so misused as to help it on.
(To be continued, D.V.)