Righteousness in Christ is a foreign concept to most, if not all, of us.
We think we have a pretty good idea of what righteousness is. After all, we see it in movies and on TV. It’s upholding friendship, loyalty, and honour. It’s the skilled martial arts master putting down his jug of wine to beat up the baddies who are terrorising the poor damsel on the road. Basically, it’s doing the right thing.
That’s what righteousness by man’s definition, or righteousness in the world, is: Doing the right thing. Our human idea of righteousness is always tagged to the act that we do.
But that’s totally different from the righteousness that God provides to us in Christ:
For He [God] made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him [Christ]. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and His gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17, NLT)
Righteousness in Christ is given to us by God as a gift when we receive Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. In doing so, we become the righteousness of God in Christ. Righteousness becomes our identity – who we are.
An identity is something we can’t shake or change, no matter what we do. Like being human – we can never change from being a human into something else. Being a human is who we are.
Before we accept Christ, our identity is as a sinner and that’s how God sees every one of us. It doesn’t matter how many good or right things we do, how many people we help, or how many people admire and laud us. We will remain a sinner and nothing we do will be seen as righteous in God’s eyes, because we can never match up to God’s standard of righteousness.
But from the moment we accept Christ, we are spiritually reborn and we put on a new identity – Christ Himself, the very righteousness of God. And in the same way, we can never shake or change this identity, no matter what we do, good or bad.
When you are in Christ, everything you do, you do as the righteousness of God Himself – because that’s who you now are.
That means you are righteous when you brush your teeth, when you prepare breakfast for your family, and when you drive to work. You are righteous when you sleep, righteous when you eat, righteous when you sit on the couch and watch TV, and even righteous when you sit on the toilet. All these become righteous acts, because they are done by a righteous person.
Even when you happen to cut someone off on the road, gossip about someone, watch porn or even steal, it doesn’t change your righteous identity, if you are in Christ. You may have done something ungracious, unkind, even immoral or illegal, but it doesn’t make you unrighteous all over again.
Because righteousness in Christ is a permanent reality. You can’t sin away your righteousness in Christ.
It’s a gift, which means you never did anything to deserve it or earn it. It also means you can’t do anything to forfeit or lose it, otherwise it wouldn’t be a gift, but a reward.
Many Christians find it really hard to wrap our heads around this wonderful truth of the gift of righteousness that God has given us in Christ, often ending up settling for a righteousness that is given to us but that we maintain as Christians through doing the right things, simply because we are still so accustomed to linking righteousness with what we do. Unfortunately this is simply returning to the human idea of righteousness and putting ourselves back under law, which always leads to confusion and defeat.
As Christians we don’t feel righteous a lot of the time, because we’re either caught up with doing regular day-to-day stuff, forgetting to pray or read the Bible, and at times losing our temper and our cool when we know we shouldn’t, and feeling lousy about it.
Which is why the Bible keeps issuing this reminder to us:
“The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38, quoting Habbakuk 2:4)
In Christ, we are called to live by faith, and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). God knows it is really hard and foreign for us to think like He does, which is why He keeps telling us to renew our minds according to what He says in His Word.
We don’t live righteous in Christ by feeling it based on what we do, we live righteous in Christ by believing that we are righteous in Christ regardless of what we do, simply because God says we are.
This is so important because the effect of knowing and being firmly established in your righteous identity in Christ is this:
[Instead], clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:14, Berean Study Bible)
For all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:27, Berean Study Bible)
When we accept Christ, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized into Christ, and in God’s eyes immediately and permanently clothed with Christ, i.e. in righteousness Himself. The imagery of being clothed in righteousness is well-described in the Bible (Psalm 132, Isaiah 61, Revelation 19), as well as by reputed preachers such as Charles Spurgeon.
So often we read verses like Romans 13:14 with a tendency of linking it to what we have to do, thinking that we are to clothe ourselves with Christ and deny the desires of the flesh. Some translations even give this impression, because we are all so wired.
But when we read it again slowly and carefully in translations that accurately render the meaning of the original Greek, we find it simply gives us the result of being clothed with Christ: that in doing so, no provision will be made for the desires of the flesh.
In other words, the more we are conscious that we are clothed in Christ and in righteousness Himself, the more we will cease to follow the desires of the flesh, but rather walk in His Spirit!
Yes, the more you know and believe you are righteous in Christ, the more you will truly walk righteous.
So in Christ, rest in the security that righteousness is who you are, not what you do.
You will never lose your righteous identity in Christ, because He has done it all for you, and permanently supplied and gifted it to you.
Because when we encounter Jesus, we encounter grace.