CHRIST BECOMING OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS
Once I was talking to a theological student. I said, “The Bible does not say that we have put on the righteous garment of Christ. It only says that we have put on Christ.” Galatians 3:27 says that we have put on Christ. Today we have not put on the righteousness of Christ, but Christ Himself. The righteousness of Christ is something that is in Christ Himself, and it is history. Today Christians come to God through putting on Christ. Christ Himself has become our righteousness, and we can come to God at any time because Christ lives forever.
How can we, as sinful persons with so many failures, come to God? Why should God answer our prayer? One sister did not feel that temper was a sin, and she would not deal with it. Later, she could not get over a particular matter, and she wanted to have a thorough dealing before the Lord. She called me by phone and made an appointment to talk to me. I told her to go and pray. She took my word and went to pray. Before she went to God, the subject of righteousness was not in her thought. However, as soon as she turned to God, the matter of righteousness came. She thought to herself, “With what kind of righteousness should I come to God?” Then she realized that her temper was a sin, and she acknowledged that she did not have any righteousness of her own. A new believer very often prays and asks, “What is my basis for coming to God?”
Suppose you are in your bedroom. You can dress any way you like, but when you meet a guest, you have to properly attire yourself. No one ever dresses up to go to bed. This is because you are alone when you go to bed, and there is no need to dress up. But during the day you have to meet people; consequently, you have to dress up. In the same way, as soon as a man comes to God, he considers how he should dress. When a certain member of one’s family is sick or in trouble and he is forced to come to God, he often suddenly remembers many sins that he has otherwise ignored.
How do we come to God? First Corinthians 1:30 is a great verse in the New Testament. This verse reveals that a Christian does not come to God through his own righteousness. Neither does he come to God with his many sins. Rather, he comes to God through Christ alone. A Christian’s access to God is not based on his righteousness or his unrighteousness. This verse shows us clearly that Christ has become the righteousness of the believers. It is not something about Christ that has become our righteousness; rather, Christ Himself in His entirety has become our righteousness. Something of Christ can never be as absolute and perfect as Christ Himself. When Christ Himself becomes our righteousness, God receives us.
The experience of many Christians follows a certain pattern: If they read the Bible in the morning and manage to control their temper during the day, they can pray in a strong way at night. But if they fail during the day, their prayer at night is very weak. Actually, even when we sin, Christ is still our righteousness. The fact has not changed, because we are in Christ. If we behave well today and think that we are more qualified to come to God, we are coming to Him by our own righteousness. This is a wrong concept. God does not receive us based on our righteousness, much less on our unrighteousness. His receiving is based on Christ.
A Christian does not become more unrighteous through sinning, nor does he become more righteous through doing good. Sin does not diminish a Christian’s righteousness, nor do good works increase his righteousness. Our righteousness before God is not dependent on our conduct, but on Christ Himself. Our righteousness before God never changes.
Righteousness is a person; it is not a thing. The righteousness that a Christian has is the living Christ; it is not some dead object. Even if we committed all the sins of the world, our righteousness is still Christ Himself. Sooner or later every Christian must realize who this One is who is his righteousness.
PUTTING ON CHRIST
The robe of righteousness is a good illustration, yet it is not a perfect illustration. In the Old Testament, Jacob cheated his father in order to receive his blessing. Jacob’s brother was a hairy man, but he was a smooth man. Rebekah gave to Jacob the coat of Esau and covered his hands and neck with the skin of goats in an effort to steal his father’s blessing. This is a disguise; it is falsehood. This is not the way Christians come before God.
We have not put on a robe of righteousness; we have put on Christ Himself. We have not put on the garment of Christ; we have put on Christ Himself. Galatians 3:27 speaks of the putting on of Christ. The righteousness which we now have far exceeds our own righteousness. It is Christ Himself becoming our righteousness. Hence we are perfect, and God can now accept us.
What is our basis when we come to God? What is in our mind when we come before Him? Are we fearful when we think of our sin and bold when we think of our righteousness? Or do we think of Christ? Many people are occupied with either their sins or their righteousnesses. Let me allude to the sister that I spoke of earlier. I eventually went to her home and asked about her prayer life. She answered, “I cannot pray well because I have a bad temper.” I said, “God does not answer you when you have a bad temper, and He does not answer you when you have a good temper either.” She could not understand my word. I sat in my chair and said, in an apparently arrogant way, “I am better than you are in one thing: I have confidence that the Lord answers my prayer. What do you think?” She said, “I do not believe this. This is only what you claim.” I said, “I may be as good or as bad as you are, or I may be worse than you are. But the righteousness that I have believed and received is different from yours.
I come to God through Christ as my righteousness, not through the righteousness of Christ. Before the Lord I have my own righteousnesses as well as my own unrighteousnesses. Of course, my own unrighteousnesses cannot be reckoned as righteous in His eyes, but my righteousness cannot be reckoned as righteous in His eyes either. This has nothing to do with me loving Him but with Him loving me. I do not preserve myself; He preserves me. It is not my hands that are holding Him but His hands that are holding me. It is not a matter of my faithfulness but His faithfulness.” I may have sinned more than all of you sitting here, but I can be bold before the Lord because my righteousness is Christ alone.
A new believer’s condition can be quite high, like Paul’s experience in the third heavens. At other times it can be quite low, as if he has descended into the abyss. However, we have to realize that the problem of sin has been dealt with by Christ on the cross, and the problem of righteousness has also been settled by Christ on the throne. The righteousness that God has given us is just Christ. Once He gives Christ to us, He will never change His mind. In Christ, God cannot find anyone more advanced than He has already found. This is why our heart rejoices today. When we first believed, the basis of our coming to God was Christ. After being a believer for many years, the basis of our coming to God is still Christ. Our advancement cannot make us more qualified to come to God, and our evil cannot make us less qualified to come to God. Hebrews 4:16 says that we can come forward boldly to God at any time.
OUR RIGHTEOUSNESSAND OUR CONDUCT
I have been a Christian for over twenty years. My conduct has changed, but my righteousness has never changed. It will not change in another twenty years because my righteousness is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Even if I become as fallen as Demas or Alexander the coppersmith, I will not be more unrighteous than I already am. On the other hand, even if I suffer as much as Paul did, love the Lord as much as John did, and am as bold as Peter was, it will not increase my righteousness at all. My conduct may improve, but my righteousness can never improve. I can advance in holiness, but I cannot advance in my righteousness, because the righteousness that God has given me is already perfect. This righteousness is just Christ. I am the most righteous person on earth because my righteousness is just Christ. Just as Christ never changes and is well pleasing to God, I cannot change, and I am well pleasing to Him.
Once this issue is settled, all the problems that a Christian faces are settled. We have seen that righteousness has nothing to do with sin. Sin is one thing, righteousness is another. If our coming to God is based on this righteousness, Satan can do nothing to accuse us. I hope that we will not take these words as just a kind of doctrine. In the course of our fellowship with God, we have to see something new. We have to see that man’s condition before God can be good or bad, but his position before God can never change. If our life as a Christian lasts for twenty or thirty more years on this earth, we may become more advanced, holy, spiritual, or mature, but our righteousness will not change. It will not afford us more boldness, nor will it take away any of our boldness, because our righteousness is simply Christ Himself.