Righteousness

—that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.

— Philippians 3:8-9

What does the apostle mean by the righteousness that is of God by faith? He means the same righteousness Christ had by his faith in God, the same righteousness God himself has. In his second epistle to the Corinthians, he says, “He hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him;” “He gave him to be treated like a sinner, killed and cast out of his own vineyard by his husbandmen, that we might in him be made righteous like God.” As the antithesis stands, it is rhetorically correct. But if the former half means, “he made him to be treated as if he were a sinner,” then the latter half should, in logical precision, mean, “That we might be treated as if we were righteous.” And not a few argue that is just what Paul does mean, with our sins being imputed to Jesus, in order that we might be treated as if we were righteous, his righteousness being imputed to us. That is, by a sort of legal fiction, Jesus was treated as what he was not, in order that we might be treated as what we are not. This is the best device, according to the prevailing theology, that the God of truth, the God of mercy, could fall upon for saving his creatures! It seems to me that, seeing much duplicity exists in the body of Christ, every honest member of it should protest against any word tending to imply the existence of falsehood in the indwelling spirit of that body. I now protest against this so-called doctrine, counting it the rightful prey of the most foolish wind in the limbo of vanities, whither I would gladly do my best to send it. 

Commentary

by Earle Canty

While I typically agree with MacDonald’s teaching on most subjects, I do not in the case of this verse {2 Corinthians 5:21}.  MacDonald does not take issue with the first part of the verse.  Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus, on the cross, was the substitute for the propitiation of our sins.  At the risk of offending some, possibly many, my Christian life started with the NASB translation.  I still believe it is the most faithful for several reasons which I will not elaborate here.  1 Corinthians 15:3 is translated in the NASB as follows:  “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”  There he endured the wrath of the Father, in the form of feeling forsaken, that we might have some process by which we could be reconciled to the Father.  That process, accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, acknowledging and repenting of our sin, and asking the Father’s forgiveness, was the Father’s answer to the rebelliousness and idolatry of the pinnacle of His creation.

MacDonald then takes the portion of the verse that says “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” and advances an argument that, if our sins were imputed to Jesus, rhetorically, His righteousness must be imputed to us.  That was not the case and is a misinterpretation of the text.  We are not made righteous because of the cross.  The cross provides forgiveness for past sins, but while we are forgiven our past sins, the Father knows that we are still subject to sinful behavior and we will commit sins after we accept Christ.  We will never be fully righteous as Jesus was fully righteous, but we should, if we are obedient and faithful in our response to becoming a Christian, start becoming more righteous and increasingly become more righteous.  That is what is meant by “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”.  Through prayers asking for God to change us and through our response to the prodding of the Holy Spirit, Jesus in us, we can become more righteous.  Christ’s death on the cross has given us the opportunity to become more righteous, an opportunity that would not exist if He had not been obedient to the Father and been the propitiation for our sins.

The hymn, The Old Rugged Cross, by George Bennard, is a fitting addition to this commentary.