A Summary by Sosthenes of a Paper by John Nelson Darby
In this paper Darby sought to counter the belief, which was taught at that time that Christ became our righteousness, that is that what was due under the law from us, He took on himself. Hence He would help us walk in according to the same law here if we are to follow Him. Personally, I have not heard this taught, nor do I know where it is still taught, but any tendency for Christians to place themselves under a legal obligation must have its root in this unscriptural teaching. There is that favourite Easter hymn ‘There is a green hill far away’. It goes on ‘He died to make us good’ and ‘try his works to do’. Oh dear!
Is the righteousness of God legal righteousness?
We should bless God that Christ is our righteousness and that by His obedience we are made righteous. It is the settled peace of our souls.
There are three stages of sin: lust, willful lawlessness (or transgression), and hatred of God. In sovereign grace Christ was made sin for me, and died to put me in a wholly new position. He is the heavenly Man; He is my righteousness and He has set me in the righteousness of God, seated in heavenly places in Him. Christ was the root and spring in life of the redeemed race. We are united to Christ in His new position, where He is the righteous man at the right hand of God. The first is wholly set aside, judged, condemned, and dead. “I am dead to the law, by the body of Christ, being married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead.” (Rom 7:4)
If, as sinful creatures, we were under the law of righteousness, we could only be condemned. “Do this and live” (Luke 10:28) is not written on the gate of heaven. It was written on Sinai, which is not the gate of heaven.
Judaism was flesh under law, and flesh was judged. This was what judgment was pronounced on. It is a mistake if I look to legal obedience, the law reaches the disposition and condition of my heart, when spiritually apprehended. It does not only say, ‘Do’, but ‘Be’. If I say ‘Love and do not lust’ (the two aspects of the law), righteousness is taken out of the sphere of doing. Doing becomes evidence of my state and nature.
The Error of Substituted Righteousness
I know of no scripture which says that a doer of the law was entitled to heaven, or which promises heaven to a doer of the law.
The error put out by a Mr Molyneaux, which JND sought to counter went along the following lines:
No man can enter into the kingdom of heaven unless he is garbed in a perfect robe of righteousness. Over the gate of heaven is written, Do this and live. Though a man is cleansed from his sin in the blood of Christ, and sanctified by the Spirit of God, He cannot go to heaven on that basis. He needs something more still; he must have a perfect obedience. Heaven is suspended on a perfect obedience, God said to Adam, ‘Do this and live.’ He failed. You must present a perfect obedience when you come to God. It is the active righteousness of Christ; it is not His sufferings — that blots out sin; it is not His Spirit — that sanctifies the heart; but it is His perfect righteousness. ‘By his obedience shall my righteous servant justify many’. (Isa 53:11, misquoted) The wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ… To enter into heaven legal righteousness is absolutely required. It may have been very gracious of the Lord to have righteousness provided it for me, but it had to be done.
This doctrine (no doubt unintentionally) denies the extent of sin and the true character of redemption. Nor is Christ’s righteousness a scriptural expression, though no Christian doubts He was perfectly righteous. Law is perfect in its place.
Calvin goes a step farther: I understand, by the righteousness of God, that which can be approved before the tribunal of God; as, on the contrary, men are accustomed to the righteousness of men, what is held and esteemed righteousness in the opinion of men (Rom. 1; 2 Cor. 5) – (I cannot find this quote – Sosthenes). His statement is very poor. He implies that to come short of the glory of God means that we can glory before God in the same shortness. In Romans 10 he makes the righteousness of God that which God gives, and our own righteousness, that which is sought from man.
The great evil of the whole scheme is, that it is a righteousness demanded of man as born of Adam, though another may furnish it. The thing furnished is man’s righteousness. If Christ has done it for me, it is still what I ought to have done. It is meeting the demand on me — ‘Do this and live’.
The Truth of God’s Righteousness
The righteousness of faith is contrasted with that of law. The law says ‘Do this and live’. I do not accept the principle that the requirements of righteousness have been met by another, but righteousness on another principle altogether. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise . . . that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Rom 10:9).
The first Adam, the flesh, is thoroughly and wholly condemned. God looks for nothing from the first. Another, the last, Adam is set up — the Second Man.
To make this clearer — there are two ways I can consider the relationship between God and man. I may take the counsels of God and begin with them. This is Ephesians. Or I may take the actual state of men as responsible children of Adam, and show how grace meets this state – this is Romans. Romans and Ephesians confirm one another, but from a different point of view.
When I read in Ephesians of the counsels of God, I find nothing of the law at all. All is God’s work, and all is in Christ. Man is found dead in sin. All is God’s work from beginning to end. Christ is seen — in order to bring about this blessed counsel in grace — dead; and we, as dead in sin, are brought back to God with and in Him, according to these counsels.
In Romans we have the ways of God in His moral government met by grace. Man is proved to be dead, dying under the effects of sin and his moral condition as a living responsible being. He is a child of the first Adam, a sinner who has ruined himself, and his responsibility is met by grace. The curse is taken by another; it is not met by another fulfilling it.
I must have righteousness; but I am not under law. If righteousness came by law, Christ died in vain. I am crucified with Him; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. (Gal 2:20). As regards walk, If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under law (Gal 5:8). If we are led of the Spirit, we are going right, but we are not under law. We are not children of the bondwoman.
This is the view taken in the Romans — If I build law after Christ, I am a transgressor. But I through law, am dead to law (i.e., not bound to it), that I might live unto God (which no one under law ever did: it is weak through the flesh); for by works of law shall no flesh be justified, be he Jew, or Christian, or who he may, or whoever may do them. See Rom 3:20
A believer in Christ is justified through faith – he is reckoned righteous. He has Imputed righteousness. However it is not the value or strength of his faith which is accounted as righteousness and then imputed. Yet righteousness will be imputed if we believe. Abraham was accounted, and we are accounted, righteousness on the ground of believing. That is the meaning of imputed righteousness. It is not a substantive righteousness, apart from the person, and afterwards reckoned to him, but the condition of the person in God’s sight. God views him as righteous, though nothing entitles him to it inherently. It is righteousness reckoned to him, in his standing before God. Hence it is imputed or reckoned.
It is not merely that God does not impute the sin done, but he does not view the believer as in sin, but as in righteousness. It is not a question of innocence. The Greek word is not dikaioma (δικαίωμα, Strong 1345, an act of righteousness), when imputed righteousness is spoken of, but dikaiosune (δικαιοσύνη, Strong 1343, God’s judicial approval) — not an act or sum of things done, but a state. He is reckoned to be in the state of dikaiosune: dikaiosune is imputed to him.
The Quality of Righteousness
The Epistle to the Romans places the individual on the ground of righteousness, and shows us liberty in life, but it does not reach the union of the body with Christ. All the world is guilty before God, but grace meets this. In Romans, I find the responsible man in flesh proved guilty, not dead; but with no remedy for his condition. So death is brought in, providing righteousness: God’s, not man’s. God’s righteousness has its character, quality, and source from God, not from man.
It is not “the righteousness of God”, which is spoken of, but “righteousness of God” — the quality of righteousness. It must first be found in God Himself; or it would not have that essential quality. As a result, we are created in true righteousness and holiness, as to the new man, after God.
God’s Righteousness by Faith
How and why are we accounted righteous? It is the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe (Rom 3:22) – Jew or Gentile. We are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth [to be] a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God (v.24-25). It is plain: God who knew everything, is righteous in remitting the sins of the Old Testament believers, to whom He exercised forbearance, because of the blood of Jesus.
We stand in a known revealed righteousness, not in hope of forbearance, great as the mercy that we have received may be. God is just and the justifier. Here there is an all-important principle: the righteousness of God means just that: God’s own righteousness — He is just. It is not man’s, or any other positive righteousness made up of legal merit.
In His Blood
The righteousness of God is declared or manifested by virtue of the blood of Christ. God is righteous in forgiving and justifying; witness the former saints, who were borne with before His blood was shed. We appreciate it now by faith; we are justified by his blood. (Rom 5:9) Man is a sinner, without law and under law. Now, entirely apart from law (choris nomou, χωρὶς νόμου Strong 5655, 3551), God’s righteousness is displayed in justifying the believer through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, and through faith in His propitiating blood. God is righteous and justifies those who believe in Jesus. We understand that God’s righteousness is the quality or character that is in God Himself. We are justified by His grace, through redemption, and righteousness is declared in God’s act of remission.
The Doctrine of Resurrection
Justification by His blood is not all. A very important part of Romans remains — the doctrine of resurrection. He was raised again for our justification, as He was delivered for our offences. How is righteousness set forth? In the resurrection of Christ. But there is more: God has shown His righteousness in setting Christ as Man at His right hand. Christ had a title to be there, and He is there. Righteousness is in heaven. He demonstrates righteousness to the world “because I go to my Father.” (John 16:10)
Christ is our life, and we have received a nature which in itself is sinless. Looked at as born of God, we cannot sin because we are born of God. It is a life holy in itself, as born of Him. But we also have the flesh, though we are not in it, and even though we have this new life, we do not meet the just demands of God. If we should pretend to present the deeds done in the body, we cannot fulfill our responsibility before God. That is, we do not have righteousness by being born again. We need, and have, a perfect righteousness apart from our life, though in Him who is our life. Christ is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. (1 Cor 1:30) We cannot have settled peace any other way. We are accepted in Christ – His perfection, with no diminution of its value. God delighted in His obedience, and we are received in that. What we have done as children of Adam, He took on the cross in grace, and entirely put it away. And this is our acceptance with God. It is needed for us, for otherwise we have no righteousness. For us it is a joy, because we enter, as objects of His grace, into the immediate delight that God has in His own Son.
Abraham believed that God was able to perform what He had promised. We believe that God has raised up our Lord Jesus from the dead, and therefore, like Abraham, our faith is reckoned for righteousness.
The first Adam is set aside. I am not in the flesh (in the state to which the law applies). I have an entirely new status before God in resurrection, by virtue of the work of Christ. The risen Christ is the pattern and character of my acceptance, as He is the cause of it. As He is, so am I in this world. (1 John 4:17)
Even though I am not under law, have I not neglected duty? Yes, but this has been atoned for. My responsibility is not to make good the failures of the old or first Adam: I am wholly out of that. In absolute and perfect acceptance in the second before God, I am called to yield myself to God as one that is alive from the dead. The old thing is gone — atoned for.
I should serve, not in the oldness of letter, but in newness of spirit. Instead of satisfying the requirements the law in my old condition under law, I am passed out of it. Christ has borne the curse that I merited. I have passed into another condition — Christ’s — before God, as one alive to God through Him, God having been perfectly glorified.
The Doctrine of Romans 5-8
This is the doctrine of Romans 5, 6 and 7, founded on chapter 4, and the results fully developed in chapter 8. Chapter 5 applies resurrection to justification, founded on His death. Chapter 6 applies resurrection to life. You are justified because you are dead, and have now to walk in newness of life. How can a man dead to sin still live in it? If he does, he is not dead.
Law has dominion over a man as long as he lives. But we are not alive; we are dead. In a word, Christ is alive for me before God, and I am justified, but as having died; and thus I have a place in this blessing. Hence I am dead to sin, and no longer alive in the nature to which law applied. Therefore, Paul says, in Romans 7:5, “When we were in the flesh.” I am married to another, I cannot have two husbands at a time — Christ and law. But, if under law, I have died under it in the body of Christ, and I am free. Through law, I am dead to law.
Law is for the first Adam, for the unrighteous. Righteousness is in the Second man. The law is righteous, but it was given to sinners when in their sins, and never as a law to anybody else. The law imposed the rule. “Thou shalt love” (Deut. 6:5). That is a transcript of the divine mind – It loves sovereignly. Christ here was love, and was perfect in holiness — holy enough in His being to love sinners as above sin, and further — what law cannot do – to give Himself up for sinners.
We are to be “imitators of God as dear children” (Eph 5:1) — “to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16). The law knows nothing about this, and law teachers strive against the whole doctrine of Paul, and the righteousness of God.
Where, then, and what is the righteousness of God? God’s righteousness is His perfect consistency with His own perfect and blessed nature.