OVERVIEW. These thoughts on my righteousness, both absolute and practical, were captured from writing on December 29, 2022. Several terms will be discussed including “wholly unrighteous,” “absolutely righteous,” “practical righteousness,” and, in a subsequent post, “relative righteousness.”
WHOLLY UNRIGHTEOUS BEFORE CHRIST
Before salvation, that is, before a person’s initial saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, all people are wholly unrighteous. The Bible makes clear that “unrighteous” is the state of all unbelievers without exception. All are born absolutely unrighteous and, in that state, they remain unless they are rescued from that domain of darkness by Christ (Col. 1:13). There is no righteousness in them. All their righteous deeds are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Any efforts at works-righteousness despise the offering of Christ on the cross as the only atonement for sin (Acts 4:12; Eph. 1:7; Mark 10:45), because they substitute man’s sinful efforts for Christ’s perfect sacrifice. The Bible declares that, before my justification, there was no righteousness in me at all. I was a child of God’s wrath (Eph. 2:3) and was subject to His full condemnation.
ABSOLUTELY RIGHTEOUS BY FAITH IN CHRIST
But at the moment of my salvation, I was justified. That is, I was declared righteous by the Holy One of Israel because of my faith in Jesus and immediately there was imputed to my account the full righteousness of Christ. In a moment, I moved from wholly unrighteous to fully righteous (John 5:24; Acts 13:48; 16:31). At salvation, I was wrapped in a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10; confirm 2 Cor. 5:21)) and, from then on, I am viewed by God to possess (by the Lord’s imputation and declaration) the full righteousness of the Lord Jesus Himself. As a disciple of the Lord Jesus, I have received an absolute righteousness and I will be fully righteous for all of eternity.
This biblical doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness to all who believe in Jesus can, however, cause some confusion, especially among those who have recently come to Christ. The confusion can take one of two forms. The new believer can think, “Well, since by faith the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to me, I do not need to be overly concerned about my ongoing sin.” This is a grievous error, because it suggests that the Lord does not make holy those He saves. (See also Matthew 5:6 and Romans 6:1-2; etc.) The other end of the spectrum is the idea that, “Since by faith the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to me, I should quickly cease from all sinning.” This latter error reveals a misunderstanding about the process of sanctification and about the disciple’s necessary growth in practical righteousness.
The Bible teaches that there are two types of righteousness that come to the person who trusts Christ as their Lord and Savior. We have already addressed the absolute righteousness of Christ that is imputed to every believer at the moment of salvation. This event is called justification when God declares the sinner righteous. But justification necessarily ushers in the process of sanctification, which is the lifelong journey in which the disciple of Jesus grows in practical righteousness. In the process of sanctification, through the use of the means of grace and by “working out one’s salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), the disciple of Jesus strives to close the gap between Christ’s perfect righteousness, which has been imputed to their account at salvation, and the disciple’s current experience of practical righteousness in their life. Slowly, steadily, “little by little” (Ex. 23:29-30; Deut. 7:22) God the Holy Spirit works together with the disciple as the disciple’s hunger and thirst for righteousness is satisfied (Matt. 5:6). As practical righteousness grows, the disciple becomes more evidently conformed to Christ (Romans 8:29) and brings forth more of the fruit of righteousness (Luke 3:8).
There is another term that I want to consider in this subject of righteousness, and it is the term “relative righteousness.” In his salvation, the believer has received the absolute righteousness of Christ and has embarked on the path of growing practical righteousness. What, then, is this “relative righteousness” of which we speak? Tune in next time!
Soli Deo gloria rmb 1/4/2023 #607