THE ROBE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
A Meditation on Isaiah 61:10 and other Selected Scriptures
There is only one way of salvation, namely that of perfect righteousness. Or we could say that perfect righteousness alone allows us to stand in the presence of a holy and just God. And this “perfect righteousness” comes via flawless obedience to the law without breaking even a single command, because “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (Jam. 2:10).
Now before you rush headlong to pull the hot iron out of the fire and brand me as a heretic, while quoting Galatians 2:16 and 21: “by works of the law no one will be justified…if justification (i.e., righteousness) were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose,” let me explain. I’m considering salvation from this unique perspective for two basic reasons. First, so we can better comprehend the seriousness of our sin by highlighting our unrighteousness or lawlessness. Second, in order to exalt the righteous life and atoning death of Christ that were both indispensable for our justification.
In Romans 2:13, the apostle Paul lays out one way to be righteous before God, to be justified. He wrote, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” In the context, Paul is obviously not encouraging impeccable adherence to every jot and tittle of the law in order to merit justification; rather his point is to show that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight” (Rom. 3:20), since “None is righteous, no, not one” (vv. 10b-11a). God demands absolute righteousness, yet, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isa. 64:6). Consequently, our need is two-fold: we need forgiveness for our trespasses against God’s law and we need righteousness imputed to our account. Forgiveness alone is insufficient, because it is not merely the morally neutral who are granted access into the Holy of Holies; only the positively righteous are given this inestimable privilege. So lawless sinners need perfect pardon and righteousness, neither of which they possess in and of themselves. What is our one and only hope? Enter: the gospel, where “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith” (Rom. 1:17).
Too often the truncated gospel narrowly focuses on the offer of forgiveness. While it’s certainly true that forgiveness is at the heart of the good news, it only remedies one half of our wretched condition. Again, we must not overlook our need for righteousness—perfect righteousness. Once this great need crystallizes in our minds we are finally in a position to appreciate one of the most potent transitions in all of Scripture, if not the most potent transition. I’m speaking of Romans 3:21-22: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe…” If you don’t feel like shouting “Amen” or “Hallelujah” please read the verses again. They are exploding with theological grandeur. They describe the single greatest transition in redemptive history—world history. They are the beginning of the paragraph which Pastor John Piper refers to as the most important paragraph in the whole Bible. God bestows righteousness upon those who exercise “faith in Jesus Christ”; it is “for all who believe.” The emphasis is upon faith, which is contrasted with works of the law by which no one will be justified (Rom. 3:28).
Sometimes justification is quaintly defined as “just as if I had never sinned.” But that is really only one half of the definition, we must also add: “just as if I had obeyed the law completely.” The point I’m at pains to stress is that through faith in Christ our “slates” are not only wiped clean, they are also credited with the very righteousness of Christ—a righteousness that comes from His nature and His perfect obedience to the law that fulfilled all righteousness (Matt. 3:15).
Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Picture a massive exchange taking place when you put your faith in Christ: Jesus takes your sin and pays the penalty for it on the cross, and in return He gives you His righteousness. Our sins were imputed to Christ, and His righteousness is imputed to us. He bore our sins, so that now we are clothed in His righteousness. Theologians call it an alien righteousness, since it is not our own. We now see the beautiful fulfillment of Isaiah 61:10: “he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”
Pastor Wayne Christensen, www.foxlakechurch.org, Feb. 28, 2016