The word “righteousness” is an important word in Scripture. The word righteousness is used over three hundred times in the Bible. It was the misunderstanding of this word that kept Martin Luther enslaved, and fearful for many years.
There is a righteousness which is of the Law. The Apostle Paul recorded these words of the Spirit of God, “Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the Law, ‘The man who does those things, shall live by them'”( Romans 10:5). God demands righteousness but the accomplishment of righteousness which is of the Law is beyond the ability of man. Paul wrote again, “If there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been of the Law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin” (Galatians 3 :21,22). Consequently, the Apostle, writing the Word of the Lord, said, “Israel, pursuing the Law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness” (Romans 9:31). Mankind, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) cannot attain righteousness unto salvation through the righteousness of the Law because man cannot by his own actions, merit, or pursuit attain the perfection that the divine 1aw demands.
That is why penitent Christians appreciate the blessing that is ours through ” The Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 33:16). Christ is the “end of the Law for righteousness to everyone that believes” (Romans 10:4). The Lord Jesus fulfilled all things for us. Perfectly. His righteousness is imputed (credited) to the account of the sinner who believes in Christ. The Father who ” reconciled the world unto Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19) by the death of His Son los upon the believer in Christ as righteous. “For He made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus died for all people. But they who reject Jesus or who believe in their own meritorious deeds remain in their condition of unrighteousness. The righteousness, which counts before God unto salvation, is that which He gives to the sinner, and which is apprehended through faith. This righteousness is not a demand upon us but a gift to us. Luther said, “Christ is known only through teaching and the external Word. Therefore the Gospel is, as it were, the vehicle which brings Christ with His righteousness and all gifts to us,” (WLS, page 1229,Vol III). Until Luther understood that righteousness is a gift of God through faith to all who believe he says, he “hated” righteousness. It frightened him.
How beautiful is the righteousness of Christ. We sing therefore, “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress; Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head” (LH 371). And again in hymn 370, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness . . .” On the day of judgment the believer will not hold before God as reason to enter heaven his own works and righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ.
Those, whose righteousness is in Christ, are not, nevertheless, excused from pursuing a life of righteousness. Scripture exhorts the Christian to present himself ” to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God, for sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the Law but under grace” (Romans 6:13,14). They who are righteous unto salvation through faith in Christ have not been released from the condemnation of the law in order that they might live the life of sin and unrighteousness. The believer in Christ does not attain in this life the righteous life as much as he desires and pursues it. He is still in the flesh a sinner. Nevertheless he pursues a life that reflects righteousness with a new attitude. Luther said, ” Ah, how large a part of righteousness it is to want to be righteous” (WLS, page 1233,Vol. III). To put it simply, they who trust in Christ and His righteousness will want to live as instruments of righteousness to the glory of God who has clothed them freely in the righteousness of Christ unto salvation. How beautiful is the gift of righteousness in Christ!