KNOWING CHRIST - KNOWING GOD
Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley 2003
STUDY SIX: JESUS CHRIST - THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS
[This Study relates to Knowing Christ - Knowing God Worksheet 6 designed for use in group study situations. Some of the suggestions in blue are specific for group study leaders; these can be adapted for personal study.]
We have already seen in previous studies that man substitutes
- false gods in the place of the one true God
- error in the place of truth
- human performance in the place of God's free gift of salvation.
Our study this week zeros in on the third of these. Here we come face to face with a fundamental human religious error: that man must and can gain and maintain his salvation by his own performance. In this universal error we seek to defend, preserve and justify ourselves by our own merit. We humans are obsessed with justifying ourselves. We defend our own rightness and excuse our lack of it. We hate to be considered in the wrong. We treasure our lists of 'brownie points', thinking that by them we merit acceptance and reward, and we minimize and deny our demerits, believing that by them we are disqualified and condemned. We automatically relate to God, our Judge, on a good works/performance basis. The Bible rejects this mindset as the way of the flesh, our way, as opposed to the way of the Spirit, God's way.
In this study our focus will be on the legal aspect of our relationship with God, the Judge of all the earth. Here we face the question: how can we, who are sinners, find acquittal in the presence of the ultimate and eternal Judge? This legal aspect is at the very centre of Biblical teaching about salvation, and is intimately bound up with the ransom/redemption, sacrifice and substitution aspects that we studied last week.
Task #1: These verses identify Jesus Christ, the Lord, as our righteousness, the One in and through whom we are justified - as opposed to any thought that we have to gain and maintain our own righteousness.
Task #2: Knowing that Hebrew poetry is expressed in parallel thoughts teaches us that in these verses 'salvation' and 'righteousness' are one and the same thing. 'Righteousness' is not something we do or achieve, but the gift of God; it is his gift of salvation. These verses are listed here to press this point home to the group. Historical note: Martin Luther hated the concept of God's righteousness as long as he thought it was something God demanded of him. As soon as he realised that is was God's gift it became a thing of great joy.
A. THE BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF 'RIGHTEOUSNESS'
The Bible contains a group of words, sharing a common Greek root - dikaiosune, dikaioo, dikaios - which translate variously as'to declare righteous', 'righteousness', 'to justify', 'justification', 'justice'and'just'. Their primary application is legal, not moral. They are the language of the law courts; in the Bible they describe our legal standing in the presence of God. The person who is dikaios is the person who has received from the Judge the declaration of legal acquittal from all guilt.
B. 'RIGHTEOUSNESS' IN ROMANS 3
Task #3: This task requires the group to read and discuss Romans 3:20-31 and to identify 12 powerful truths about Gospel righteousness/justification by faith in this passage. The material below is what should be learned from this passage. There are ten points below, but some contain more than one truth. [For further Bible references go to the Appendix in Studies in Romans on this website.]
Romans 3:20-31 explains the significance of this justification/righteousness:
No one will be declared righteous (dikaiothesetai) in his sight by observing the law (3:20).
No matter how we try to keep the law our performance will never obtain for us the declaration 'not guilty' in the presence of God. He cannot acquit us on the basis of our own performance because our performance always fails. Similarly 3:21 & 28 tell us that righteousness/justification (dikaiosune, dikaiousthai) is 'apart from law'and 'apart from observing the law'. In the Gospel God declares us righteous apart from our keeping the law.
It is a righteousness (dikaiosune) from God (3:21,22; 1:17).
When we try to be justified/declared righteous by keeping God's law, we see justification/righteousness as having its source in ourselves. When we think that by our own performance we can/must earn it, our standing in his presence will be constantly under threat of our failure to keep God's law. There is no guarantee in such self-focused justification/righteousness. In Gospel justification/righteousness no such threat hangs over us, because it is a legal acquittal in the presence of God that depends not on us but on him. It comes from him. Because it is not relative to our performance, it is absolute and guaranteed (Romans 4:16).
It is a righteousness/justification (dikaiosune) that has been made known (3:21).
Every human effort to find union and acceptance with our god or gods is performance based. World religions, false cults, our own misuse of Scripture, all testify to this. Our idea is that we, by our effort, must get ourselves right with God: Gospel righteousness/justification, cutting right across our idea, is something that God has made known. He tells us that Gospel righteousness is in fact the message of the Law and the Prophets (3:21).
Gospel righteousness/justification (dikaiosune) comes through faith in Jesus Christ (3:22).
Rather than our own actions meriting the declaration of acquittal, the Bible teaches that faith in Jesus Christ, which is essentially a return to the one true God, and always a gift of God, is accompanied by the declaration that we are right with God. 'Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness' (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3; Gal. 3:6); in the same way faith in Jesus Christ brings upon us the 'blessing of Abraham' by which we are declared right with God irrespective of our performance (Romans 4:1-25; Galatians 3:1-4:7).
Gospel righteousness/justification (dikaiosune) is to all who believe. There is no difference ... (3:22).
Here the Bible teaches that all who believe in Jesus Christ stand equally acquitted, equally in the right with God. There are no degrees of righteousness/justification. Because our legal standing as right in the presence of God does not depend on our performance but on his pronouncement, it is the same for all who believe. There is no difference. (See also 3:29,30)
Reinforcing this Paul wrote: 'for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' (3:23). We 'have all sinned' (past tense) and are thereby disqualified in the court of heaven; in addition we 'all fall short' (present continuous tense), and are thereby constantly disqualified in the presence of our Judge. Not one of us ever merits God's acquittal. We are all equally condemned, equally in need of this alien righteousness, all the time.
We are all 'justified (dikaioumenoi) freely by his grace' (3:24).
Justification/righteousness is something we cannot earn, merit or deserve with obedience or good works. It is free. It is independent. It is absolute. It does not vary with our variability, becoming greater when we are 'good' and lesser when we are 'bad'. It is unconditional. It is fixed. All of this is because it is by God's grace. Sheer unqualified, undeserved gift. This is God's will, God's purpose, God's pleasure (Ephesians 1:5,9,11): that out of his boundless, overflowing love he gives to us that which we don't deserve, that which we could never merit or maintain by our own goodness. By this grace we are justified freely.
This declaration of justification/righteousness (dikaioumenoi) is through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (3:24,25).
What Jesus did on the cross was the one thing, the onlything, necessary to enable God to acquit and declare righteous those who believe in his Son. He died as our substitute, bearing all the legal punishment and condemnation due to us because of our sin. By dying for us (in our place) Jesus Christ redeemed us (set us free) from the curse of the law which holds all of us alienated from God and accountable and unacceptable to God (Galatians 3:1-14). This action of Christ on the cross to obtain our justification/righteousness was fixed in the purpose of our God before the world began (1 Peter 1:18-20; Revelation 13:8). It is rock solid. It cannot be moved. It cannot be reduced by our failures.
Because Gospel righteousness/justification depends on the death of Jesus Christ on the cross on our behalf it demonstrates God's justice(3:25b-26) (dikaiosunes, dikaion, dikaiounta).
How can God acquit the guilty and remain just? How can he accept us, whom his word condemns, and remain faithful to that word? God here teaches us that because Jesus died in our place God's just verdict on our sin has been carried out. Justice has been upheld. Our sin has been paid for, punished to the full. So complete and finished is this act of Jesus Christ in taking our place that God reckons his death to be our death (Romans 6:2-11; 2 Corinthians 5:14; Galatians 2:17-21; Colossians 2:12,20; 3:3).
Gospel righteousness/justification (dikaiousthai) excludes boasting (3:27-28).
Because gospel righteousness is grounded and fixed in the action and obedience of Jesus Christ and has no relation to our actions and obedience, because it is grounded and fixed in the purpose of God, because it is by sheer undeserved, unmerited grace, it excludes and outlaws boasting. We contribute nothing. Nothing we do gains it. Nothing we do maintains it. None of us can say 'I am right with God because I....'. None of us is permitted to say 'I am more acceptable to God than you are because I ...' There can be no boasting. Every believer is acceptable in the court of heaven because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. All equally acquitted. All declared righteous.
Gospel righteousness/justification upholds God's law (3:31).
Lest some respond to justification by thinking that law is redundant Paul states that, rather than nullifying the law, justification by faith upholds the law. Living, Jesus fully met the law's demand for righteousness. Dying, he fully bore the law's penalty on all unrighteousness. In both he affirmed the true significance and relevance of God's law.
Task #4: Is geared to get the group to think about this verse. Don't allow them to spend too much time here.
C. SINAI - CALVARY : IS THERE A CONFLICT?
The last and third last points above draw our attention to God's law, raising the question of the justice and rightness of teaching that a 'not guilty' declaration is granted apart from keeping the law. Having affirmed God's justice in verse 26, Paul asks in verse 31: 'Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?' and answers 'Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.' We could phrase this question and answer another way: Does Calvary nullify Sinai? Not at all: Calvary affirms the law. Calvary is the anticipated and God-planned fulfilment and goal of Sinai. Sinai always had Calvary in mind.
C.1 What does Sinai teach?
 the Sinai covenant is much more than the Ten Commandments. It is recorded in Exodus 20-23 and 25-31; and reaffirmed in Deuteronomy. The sacrificial, ceremonial and ritual regulations of Numbers and Leviticus flow out from the Sinai covenant. Hence, the five books of Moses - Genesis to Deuteronomy are commonly known as 'The Law'.
 We must also realize that the Sinai covenant, although expressing the facts far more comprehensively and extensively, is essentially no different from the relationship already in place between God and sinful man. Genesis 2:17 warned how it would be: disobedience would bring death (=separation from God and life), as its result and punishment, and as it turned out in Genesis 3. We see this law of sin and death/punishment in operation in Genesis 3 (Adam and Eve), 4 (Cain), 6-9 (the flood) and 11 (the tower of Babel).
Among Sinai's more significant teachings we can identify:
- Full obedience to God and the Sinai covenant as a prerequisite to a right relationship with God [Exodus 19:5,6].
- God is so holy and we are so unholy that no one can approach him and live [Exodus 19:10-24]
- Sin incurs a penalty/punishment .
We also find that Sinai includes certain provisions or 'concessions':
- To avoid sin's penalty/punishment, atonement for sin is necessary
- Only the death of a perfect substitute can atone for sin
- A God-appointed Mediator is necessary between man and God
C.2 What does the New Testament teach about the Sinai Covenant, or 'the Law'?
Immutability of the Law
' ... until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.'
Jesus came to fulfil the law
'Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.'
Jesus upheld the law
'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied 'Love the Lord your God ... Love your neighbour ... All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.'
'What is written in the Law' ... 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart ... Love your neighbour as yourself.' ... 'Do this and you will live.'
As a basis for relating to God the Law must be kept in its entirety; keeping one part or most parts is not enough.
'Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.'
'Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: "The man who does these things will live by them."' [Gal. 3:12]
'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law.'
' ... I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.'
'Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.'
The Law exposes our sin and guilt
'we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.'
' ... through the law we become conscious of sin.'
'The law was added so that the trespass might increase.'
'I would not have know what sin was except through the law ... '
The law was never meant to be used to justify us or identify our goodness
' ... no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.'
'but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.'
' ... if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.'
' ... the law made nothing perfect ... '
Interim nature and purpose of the Law
'It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.'
' ... we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.'
'the law was put in charge of us to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.'
C.3 How are we justified [ = declared righteous = declared 'not guilty'] through Jesus Christ?
We are justified, declared righteous, declared 'not guilty' through Jesus Christ because he fully met the requirements of the Sinai Covenant on our behalf:
- He fully obeyed 100% of the law 100% of the time. Without this perfect life he would not have been able to bear the punishment for our sins, for he would have had to be punished for his own.
- He bore the total punishment for our sins required by the law.
We are justified apart from our keeping the law but not in disregard of the law. We are justified, declared righteous, acquitted, because the law has been fully kept both positively in its commands, and negatively in its punishment. Jesus Christ fully met all the requirements of the law on our behalf. We could rightly say: we are saved by the 100% keeping of the law, but it is Jesus Christ, our Saviour, who kept it, not us.
Thus, in Jesus Christ, both the justice of God, and his law, are upheld. Jesus Christ in his life and his death confirmed and upheld the law, and the true purpose of the law. It's goal was never intended to be a check list by which we tick off our own qualifications: rather it's immediate intention was to identify us as sinners, and to identify our sins; it's ultimate goal and purpose was to lead us and drive us to Jesus Christ, so that we would find our qualification in him. God's purpose for the law was to drive us out of our ego-centric independence back into dependence on God. [We on the other hand, in our self-centred passion for independence and significance, see the law as our means of gaining/manipulating God's approval.]
C. 4 In addition, not only has Jesus Christ kept the Sinai law in these two respects, he is also the true meaning and the fulfilment or goal of the Sinai law in its 'concessions': its symbolic, prophetic anticipation of his and his work in ritual and ceremony:
- He is the one perfect substitute qualified to atone for sin, anticipated by the sacrificial beasts.
- His death for our sin is the one real, ultimate and final sacrifice for sin, from which all previous sacrifices took their power, and by which any subsequent sacrifices are made redundant [Heb 7:27; 9:26-28; 10:12].
- He is the one perfect ultimate and final High Priest qualified to enter the presence of God on our behalf, anticipated by the High Priests of Israel [Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16; 7:18-28].
- Jesus Christ, the great and final High Priest, bearing his own great and ultimate sacrifice for sins, enters not into the symbolic presence of God in the Most Holy Place in the temple, but into the very presence of God once and for all [Hebrews 8:1-3; 9:11].
Through the death/blood of Jesus Christ our perfect substitutionary sacrifice at Calvary by which all of our sins are wiped off our slate, and through his perfect High Priestly representation of us in the actual presence of God, those who believe in him now possess, (which were impossible under Sinai):
- permanent and guaranteed justification/righteousness/acquittal/not guilty declaration.[Romans 4:13-14; Hebrews 9:15,26;]
- permanent access into God's presence through Jesus Christ our great High Priest and through his blood [Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:24,28; 10:19-23]
- permanent relief from a guilty conscience [Hebrews 9:9,14; 10:22]
- permanent acceptance by God as perfect, holy and blameless [Hebrews 10:1-3,9-10,14; Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 1:22].
C.5 Is there then a Sinai 78 Calvary conflict?
No. Not in God's perception. There is only a conflict when we, in our perceptions, see Sinai as a way of establishing our own 'righteousness' in the presence of God, when we like the Pharisees, see our supposed keeping of the law as a means of justifying ourselves and obtaining a 'not guilty' acquittal from God, the righteous Judge. Paul once lived this way, but cast such 'righteousness' aside for the perfect 'righteousness' that is offered in Jesus Christ [Philippians 3:1-11].
Task #5: This task, (based on the above teaching), requires the group to think through the impact of Calvary and its fulfilment - the God-planned telos - of Sinai; to make the group realise that the conflict between Sinai and Calvary exists only when we assume that we have to keep relating to God on our own two feet, instead of resting in Christ who by God's will stood, and even today stands, in our place. (Answers included below.)
The Effect of Jesus Christ and his death at Calvary
Permanently fulfilled by Jesus Christ
Permanently and fully met in or by Jesus Christ on our behalf
Not required of Christians for salvation, but enriching our understanding of salvation.
Still personally required of Christians for acceptance by God today
Still in place as God's rules on how to live as his children
The Moral Law
The Principle of Punishment for anything less than 100% obedience.
The Law banning the sinner from the presence of God
The Law of Sacrifices, requiring death as penalty for sin
The Ceremonial and Ritual Law, requiring 'cleanness' 'holiness'
The Law of Mediation through a High Priest
This then is justification/righteousness: that we stand today in the presence of God and are pronounced 'not guilty', declared 'right with God'.
- It comes not from our performance, but from God's pronouncement.
- It comes not from our goodness, but as a gift of God's grace.
- It depends not on our doing but on Christ's dying.
- It cannot fluctuate because of our fickleness and failures, but stands fast because of God's faithfulness.
It is not, and never will be, our own, but is always a gift, a declaration, given to us but alien to us, his righteousness, counted as ours, credited to us. It is not contrary to or opposed to Sinai: rather it is anticipated by Sinai and is gained for us by Jesus Christ in full and complete fulfilment of the moral, sacrificial, ritual and ceremonial teachings of Sinai. Jesus Christ, including his death at Calvary, is the real meaning of Sinai. He, the Lord, is our Righteousness.