What Does it Mean to be Righteous?

It’s Monday Grace!

There’s a lot of discussion these days about what happened at the cross and why. We believe that Jesus died for us and that we live forever through Him. Some say that Jesus had to die to satisfy some ancient heavenly law. Some say that He died to break down the barrier between us and God. Some say He died to show us how much God loves us. All of these are true to some extent, I suppose, but I think we are trying to define something far beyond our human understanding.

What we know is that the sacrifice of Jesus has made us righteous in the sight of God. We were sinners in need of salvation, and Jesus forgave us, recreated us, and gave us life in Him. He said that He did not come for righteous people, but for sinners (Mt 9:13). Of course, Isaiah in the Old Testament and Paul in the New explained that there are none who are righteous. So, everyone needs what Jesus did on the cross. Those who consider themselves righteous apart from Jesus are wrong. We have all sinned. We needed the righteousness Jesus came to give us.

But what is righteousness? What does it mean to be righteous? Whether you believe that sin broke some ancient law or is just inconsistent with the character of God, the message of the gospel is the same. Something was wrong. We were broken, condemned, lost, stained. Deep within we were not right. Sin had found its way to damage every part of us.

Sin broke the righteousness that was part of being human. The innocence of Adam and Eve in the Garden is righteousness. When they sinned, they not only lost the Garden, but they lost their righteousness. Innocence, purity, virtue—whatever you want to call it. When Adam and Eve left the Garden, they were not the same people as before. Something was lost.

The Scriptures usually put this situation in legal terms. The righteous one can stand before the judge with no sin. The accuser can point to nothing. The unrighteous person will be found guilty of sin. Righteousness equals innocence. Unrighteousness equals guilt.

There are other ways the Scripture describes our situation. Sin is called a stain, and those who are unrighteous are in need of cleansing. Those who are righteous have no need of cleansing.

Also, those who are sinners are broken and in need of healing. Those who are apart from God are considered lost in need of being found. And, of course, the unrighteous are on their way to destruction and are in need of salvation.

Just because there are several ways of illustrating our need for righteousness does not mean one explanation is right while the others are wrong. The bottom line is that we all need Jesus.

Jesus is the One who entered our world and grew up in it without sin. He was righteous from the beginning and remained righteous through His earthly life. Those who hated Him had to lie about Him in order to condemn Him. He was innocent.

So, somehow the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross transferred His righteousness to all who believe. He exchanged lives with us. He took on Himself our unrighteousness (2 Cor 5:21) and gave us His righteousness. Then He overcame the power of sin, which was death, and reigns in righteousness forever.

That means that those who are in Christ, who have come to Him in faith for salvation, have been declared righteous. That means innocent, pure, victorious, free, clean, and more. We are all those things in Christ and because of Christ.

If you think in terms of legal standing, we are innocent of any charge brought against us. If you think in terms of brokenness, we are restored. If you think that we were lost, we are found and safe at home. If you think we were in danger of destruction, we have been saved. All of this is what it means to be righteous.

But, you say, I remember the things I did. I did those things. I am a guilty sinner. No. That’s only true for those who refuse to come to Jesus, who remain in their sins. You are a new creation, filled with new life. Your charges have been erased, your life is no longer what it was.

Adam and Eve remembered the Garden after they were cast out, but they could never live there again. You and I remember the things we did before we came to Jesus, but we can never live there again. Now, things are different. We are not who we were in terms of righteousness.

The Righteous One has made us righteous in Him, and we will be righteous in Him forever!

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:3-4

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:21

1 Comment

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One response to “What Does it Mean to be Righteous?

  1. Phoebe Baumgardner

    Thank you Jesus

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