The Righteousness of God

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 Corinthians 5:21

Most of us live in a culture that has been greatly influenced by the Bible, even if the cultural memory of the things of God is fading fast. There are many benefits we enjoy because of this; however, there are also some drawbacks. One of the negatives is that certain biblical words have so thoroughly penetrated our vocabulary and are so commonly used that we are sometimes unaware of what they actually mean. The term gospel is an excellent example of such a word. We often use it simply to mean “truth,” and since the gospel is a true message, that is certainly appropriate. Yet the gospel itself has a particular content, and if we do not understand this content, we cannot know the truth about salvation.

It has been reported that fewer than ten out of one hundred people can actually give what we would call an adequate summary of the gospel. Many would say that the gospel tells us that Jesus died for our sins, which is true as far as it goes, but without further exposition the statement does not tell us why He needed to die or what His death actually accomplished. This is no small matter, for if the gospel is the gospel of the kingdom and tells us what the King has done to make us citizens, we need to understand that gospel correctly in order to enter this kingdom.

The gospel message confronts us first with the holiness of the Lord and the fact that we have broken His law (Rom. 3:23). That in itself is bad news, but it must be understood if we are to see the good news, namely, that the Son of God has taken upon Himself the punishment we deserve for breaking this law. By faith alone we benefit from this work, for when we trust only in Christ, we are forgiven for rejecting our citizenship in the kingdom in the first place. More than that, we are counted as “the righteousness of God” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). He not only pardons us but He also reckons us as individuals who have kept the law of His kingdom. The basis for this reckoning or imputation is what Jesus has done and what Jesus has done alone. When the Father looks at our record, He sees the perfect obedience of Christ, which perfectly covers our sin and avails for us before the great Judge of all.

This gift of righteousness is entirely free, and we could never earn it even if we tried our very best. All we are to do is receive it by faith, by casting off any hope of making ourselves right by our good deeds and resting on Jesus alone (Gal. 2:15–16). It involves complete dependence on Christ and His promises. That’s what it means to believe the gospel.

Coram Deo

Even many professing Christians believe that they become citizens of heaven because they have lived a “good life.” The gospel tells us that no one but Christ has lived a life that is truly good. He alone deserves the kingdom of God, but our Father graciously allows us to share in Christ’s citizenship if we come to Him only through Christ, which means not by other teachers or even by our good works. If we trust in anything in addition to Jesus, we cannot be citizens of His kingdom.

Passages for Further Study

Psalms 20:7; 22:4–5; 62:8; 78:21–22
Luke 12:32–34
1 Peter 2:21–25

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