In 2018 the American Automobile Association did a survey that revealed that 80% of American men think they are above average drivers. Obviously, at least some of them are deluded. Many are similarly deluded about righteousness. Whom does God consider righteous?
When we speak of God’s righteousness, we mean that he always does what is right. He seeks the good of others and fulfills his obligations to them. He can be relied upon to tell the truth and to do what he says he will do. He rewards good and actively works against all that is evil.
Unfortunately, people are not righteous in this sense. While we all have a sense that some people are better than others and most count themselves as part of the better half, none measure up to God’s standards. Few, if any, always tell the truth. Even those who usually tell the truth are likely to shade it a little to make themselves look good. We value helping others and fulfilling our obligations but are far less likely to help if we might suffer harm or inconvenience if we do so. More to the point, a famous study in the social sciences showed that most people are even willing to harm others if told to do so by a person with authority.
So, it shouldn’t surprise us that, in chapters 1,2, and 3 of Romans, Paul argues that no one is righteous and that everyone has sinned and has fallen short of God’s desire for good. Paul concludes that all people are unrighteous in God’s sight and cites the Old Testament prophets for support. Of course, that means that because God is righteous and works against evil and those who do it, that he must continually work against us and the things we desire. Worse, since his intention is to remove and destroy all evil, unless a way can be found to reform us, we also face destruction.
Now there are many people who think that the point of Christianity is to get people to straighten up so they can avoid God’s punishment. But Paul says that can’t be done. We deserve to be condemned.
Consider that, in our human system of jurisprudence, we recognize that there are some crimes for which no restitution can be made. We don’t take a man guilty of murder and say to him, look here, what you have done is wrong, but we are going to give you chance to make it better and redeem yourself. That would be unjust. Similarly, God does not say to us, look here, what you have done is wrong, but I am going to give you a chance to make it better and redeem yourself. Why not? Because there is no chance of successfully completing such a parole without committing new offenses! Friends, the purpose of Jesus moral teaching wasn’t to show people how to be good enough to overcome their sins, but to show them how bad their situation truly was. Paul says so when he writes,
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.Romans 3:19-20
So, we need a completely different way to deal with evil and wrongdoing if we are to become righteous and escape condemnation.
How does one make unrighteous people righteous in God’s sight? In other words, how do they become as righteous as God?
There are two problems that had to be solved. The first was to deal with the guilt for the things we have done and are doing. The second was how to enable us to live in eternal righteousness just like God.
God’s plan for dealing with our guilt was simple, yet unexpected. He charged the one who made us with our sins.
We read or hear occasionally of a manufacturer that is held accountable for the harm caused by its products. For example, recently a jury held Monsanto accountable for cancers they concluded were most likely caused by exposure to Round Up. God did the same when he condemned our maker for our sins.
Woah, you say, didn’t God make us? Yes, he did, the Father did so through the Son, who is also called the Word. God spoke and everything came into being. The Gospel of John says,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.John 1: 1-3
Paul wrote the same thing to the Colossians. Speaking of the Son, Paul wrote
All things were made through him and for him.Colossians 1:16
So while you could not justly be charged with my sin because you have no authority over me, and you could not die for my sins because you bear the guilt of your own sins before God, the Son who committed no sin could take responsibility for us and all we have done and all we will do. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his second letter,
For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.2 Corinthians 5:21
For this to happen, it was necessary that God the Son die. According to his divine nature this was impossible. God cannot die. But a man could. And so, the Son took on human flesh and dwelt among us as Jesus of Nazareth, so that he could die in our place after demonstrating his righteousness by his obedience to the Father.
Because he is a man, he could die. Because he is also our God, he could be justly charged with our sins and his death could satisfy the just demands of God’s law.
And so, Paul could write that God “put Christ Jesus forward as a propitiation to be received by faith (Romans 3:25)” A propitiation is a blood sacrifice for someone’s guilt before God. In the case of Jesus, his blood is sufficient for all people, and removes the guilt of all who desire its benefits.
Paul goes on to say
This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.Romans 3:25-26
So then, all who trust in Christ Jesus are accounted righteous in God’s sight. Neither their sins of the past nor their future sins are counted against them, because God in his righteousness and justice has attributed them to Christ Jesus.
So the first problem is solved. God has dealt with our sin and guilt, removing them by the cross of Christ, but at present we still sin. How can we become truly and completely righteous? Let me assure you, God has a plan for dealing with that and Paul will unfold that plan in the coming weeks. For now let it suffice to say that as our redemption from guilt came through the work of Christ Jesus, the Son of God, the work of making us fully and completely righteous will also be his. Amen.