The Doctrine of the Cross
The Righteousness of the Law
The basis of this righteousness was obedience. Moses taught: “And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He hath commanded us… .Ye shall therefore keep My statutes, and My judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord.” It depended upon obedience to all the law, always. The Lord Jesus Christ confirmed this when He said to “a certain lawyer,” “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (Deut. 6:25; Lev. 18:5; Luke 10:28).
The Lord’s Interpretation of the Law
As the Lord Jesus Christ interpreted the law, all righteousness of man was swept away as inadequate to meet God’s requirements. In the sermon on the mount He showed that God read the heart and that motives and desires are before Him as actions. By His standard of truth it is evident that in the sight of God no man living can be justified by his own righteousness (Psa. 143:2).
At the same time, the Lord Himself fulfilled the law. He wrought out in His own life a righteousness which stood the test of the throne of God. He fulfilled His own interpretation of the law in its strictest sense. He merits the title: ‘Jesus Christ the righteous One.’ He offended not in one point. Had He been a sinner He could never have become our Redeemer (Matt. 5:17-18; 1 John 2:1).
‘Why Then the Law?’
The law of Moses was never intended to be a means of justification. It revealed the sinful nature of man and emphasized the need of justification without supplying it. ‘…for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”… for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.’ ‘For by the law is the knowledge of sin.’ The law was given then to reveal the need of sinful men and to prepare the way for the revelation of the one way of justification (Gal. 2:21; 3:19-26; Rom. 3:20).
The Witness of the Law to the Righteousness of God
‘But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it.’ Wherein the righteousness of the law was inadequate, that in Christ is sufficient. Paul proclaimed at Antioch: ‘Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses’; and he wrote to the Galatians: ‘We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified’ (Rom. 3:21, RSV.; Acts 13:38-39; Gal. 2:16).
Tile Righteousness Which is of God
Justification is that position of acceptance with God into which the believer is brought in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Seven aspects of this justification are here considered.
Authorially, we are justified by God: As to the source of our justification, we are justified by God and by Him alone; in contrast to the righteousness of the law which depended upon the obedience of man. ‘It is God that justified … that He might be just and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus’ (Rom. 8:33, 3:26).
Conditionally, we are justified by grace: The condition upon which we may obtain justification is solely by the grace of God. ‘Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’ This must be so, for before God, on account of our sins, we merit nothing but condemnation. No other way of obtaining acceptance before God is open to sinful men. We are thrown upon His mercy; justice condemns us. Since this is so, how can God justify the sinner? Does God suspend the eternal law of righteousness which is the foundation of His throne? Not so; He Himself is just and the Justifier of the believer (Rom. 3:24-26).
Judicially, we are justified by His blood: The law demanded obedience; righteousness was the reward. But to those who failed in this obedience — and there are none that sinneth not— it was not simply a matter of losing a reward; the offender finds himself under a grievous curse; ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.’ Sin merits death; all sinners must die: law or no law (Dent. 27:26; Gal. 3:10; Rom. 2:11-12).
God has not annulled these Scriptures. He, in justifying the believer has vindicated the law. He has reckoned with the truth — the truth that we are sinners and must suffer death. God has provided a way consistent with His own righteousness whereby we may die; whereby we may meet the righteous requirement of the law and yet live before Him. He has provided a propitiation. ‘Justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him’; judicially therefore, we are justified by His blood. The blood of Christ is the means whereby we may meet our deserved fate. God reckons (or imputes) His death to us as our death. Our debt is paid in full; henceforth God sees us in the risen Christ. Our old sinful self, condemned and undone is for ever put away from the face of God. The law is established. We have risen in Christ, and because this is so (Rom. 3:31,5:9):
Positionally, we are justified in Christ: “…ye are justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus … justified in Christ.” We are justified because we are one with and in the Lord Jesus Christ: that ‘new Man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.’ Our standing is in Him. Since we are partakers of Christ, how can we be otherwise than accepted before God? We are accepted in the Beloved One, and all the beauties of His holy character are imputed to us. There is no justification outside of Christ (Gal. 2:17; 1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 1:6; 2 Cor. 5:21).
Actually, we are justified by the Spirit: The practical means whereby justification becomes a reality in our experience are two-fold: by the Holy Spirit and by the exercise of faith. By nature we are not inclined either to desire or to seek justification before God, but God Himself, by His Spirit leads us to the realization of the truth and presents Christ to us to meet our need; so that justification becomes ours by the Spirit. We are justified by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:11).
Experimentally, we are justified by faith: “To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness …a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law …being justified by faith we have peace with God… even as Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness, know ye that they which are of faith the same are the children of Abraham.” The epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians teach this aspect of Justification (Rom. 4:5; Gal. 3:6-7). There is yet another aspect to be considered: the practical manifestation of justification.
Evidentially, we are justified by works: Although we can by no means obtain justification by our works, for by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified, unless our righteousness reveals itself by righteous acts, it is a justification of theory and not of fact. We are justified by works: not to obtain it, but because we have obtained it by grace. ‘Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous.’ Abraham’s faith revealed itself in works which could be seen by all. He showed his faith in God by obedience to His will; which will be the experience of all who are truly justified before God. Our standing is glorious indeed; but even that does not absolve us from blame when we walk in sin (1 John 3:7).
“This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works.” “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” Even after we believe God we are no more capable in ourselves of producing righteous acts than we were before; but by that act of saving faith in Christ we owned our death and we received the new life. We became indwelt by the Spirit of God. There is now a Living Power, even God Himself within us, enabling us to bring forth fruit to God, fruit acceptable to Him because it is of Himself (Titus 3:8; James 2:14-26).
Christ by His Spirit is made unto us righteousness. To have this righteousness manifested in the daily walk, it is necessary to walk in the Spirit, thereby allowing Him to reveal His presence through our members. We are justified by works: not the works of the flesh, but the fruit of the Spirit; so that our righteousness is wholly of God, whether before God or before men.
A man was once urging a younger man to go into Christian work in mission countries. The younger man answered with an excuse that had a familiar ring:
“But I have never felt any compelling call to give my life in that way.”
“Are you sure you are within calling distance?” was the disquieting reply.