Since all descendants of Adam have no righteousness, how do we become righteous? It’s not what we think.

Righteousness by Faith

This is the fifth article in our current series, Not I But Christ. This post highlights how we become righteous. The Bible clearly says there is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10). When Jesus was addressed as “Good Teacher,” His response was, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone” (Luke 18:19). This is confirmed in Romans 3:12: There is none who does good, not even one. So much for human goodness and righteousness. We have neither.

Once again, our problem is that we all refuse to believe the truth about ourselves. We want to be seen as competent Christians who need help from time to time. We’ll go to great lengths to keep up appearances. We’re proud of our many accomplishments and convinced that we’re making progress toward the day when we will have “arrived.” We look forward to hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

It Began with Abraham

So, how do we become righteous? The first mention of a man becoming righteous is in Genesis 15:6: Then he (Abram) believed in the Lord; and He (God) reckoned it to him as righteousness. The Jews believed God chose Abraham because he was the most righteous person on the planet, but that’s not what Scripture says. Abram, who was renamed Abraham, did absolutely nothing to become righteous. The Law hadn’t been given yet, so there were no ordinances for Abraham to obey. God reckoned (accounted, considered) him righteous when he believed in the Lord. Let that sink in.

Righteousness came through faith, not works,
and it’s still true today.

Father of the Faithful

By simply believing, Abraham became the Father of the Faithful-those who would take God at His word, believing His promise and trusting Him for their salvation, not in their own best efforts. But doesn’t salvation come by trusting in Jesus? Yes, and that’s what Abraham did when he believed in the Lord. He believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s why God accounted Abraham righteous. Paul made this clear when he wrote that the Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith when it preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you” (Gal. 3:8).

Paul reaffirmed that righteousness didn’t come through man’s works when he wrote that apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnesses by the Law and the Prophets, even (that is) the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:21-23). There it is as clear as it can be. What was true for Abraham is still true for us. Righteousness comes to us when we place our faith in Jesus Christ.

 God’s Solution

But how does believing in Jesus bring righteousness to us? If we’re as hopeless as Scripture says we are, how does faith fix that? Won’t there always be a war going on between us and what we believe? Yes, and this is exactly Paul’s struggle in Romans 7. This is where we must learn from him so we don’t remain stuck here for the rest of our lives. To see God’s solution, we must turn our attention to our co-crucifixion with Christ. Since the hopeless and unrighteous person we used to be couldn’t be fixed or improved, it had to crucified and replaced with something much better-the resurrected life of Christ Himself. He would become our new life by the indwelling Holy Spirit. What a solution! Righteousness at last!

Since we have none of our own, God gives us His own righteousness in the person of Jesus Christ.

Christ is Your New Life

Since we are in Christ, when God looks at us He sees Christ’s righteousness which He attributes to us. That’s great, but if we can’t actually change the way we live, what’s the point? Thankfully, God had a solution for this, too. We would manifest Christ’s perfect and very real righteousness when we simply walk in the Spirit. Since this allows Christ to live His resurrected life through us, everything about our life will change for the better. Do you see it? Your old life died with Christ, so stop trying to improve it. Your new life is Christ’s actual life!

Returning to Abraham, consider that all the conditions of blessing in God’s promises to him were fulfilled by Christ. Believers simply step into the line of blessing from Abraham through Christ. How do we realize these blessings? By walking in the Spirit. Both salvation and righteousness are gifts from God to be received. They go together. When we believe and are saved, our sins (bound up in our old man) are removed. The “void” is filled by the resurrected life of Jesus himself, who brings with Him His own righteousness which becomes ours since He is now our life.

Expect Difficulties

At this point, I must warn you that the transition to your new life won’t be easy. Though the power of the flesh over you has been broken, it will fight against the new you. It will desperately try to convince you that your old man was just fine and didn’t need to be replaced. It will whisper, “You’ve got this. Just work a little harder. This is why so few Christians ever reach the place of total surrender-the place where Christ finally takes His rightful place on the throne of our lives. We give in to Satan’s lies. As long as we think we can do what Christ requires, we’re doomed to failure, for apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Beware of Legalism

As we have seen, we resist the idea that righteousness is a gift to be received. We desperately want to prove our imaginary righteousness through our good works. We want to display proof that we’re improving, but there’s another insidious reason for our legalistic mindset.

We’re drawn to legalism because following a list of rules is easier than cultivating a relationship with God.

As with the Law, legalism always leads to bondage and frustration. God’s way is the way of freedom, joy and peace-walking in the righteousness that has been provided as a gift and enjoying sweet fellowship with our Lord. What more could we ask? God is so good!



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