Christ our Righteousness
Written by Pastor Craig Baxter
Have you ever wondered why it was that Jesus needed to live thirty-three years before being crucified on a Roman cross? Why couldn’t God have simply had Jesus born on Maundy Thursday, die on Good Friday and rise again on Easter Sunday? Apart from Jesus showing us what it means to serve the Father, or His training up eleven disciples to carry forward the message of the gospel after His ascension, there is a far more fundamental reason we often overlook or may be unaware of. That is, Jesus not only had to die for our sins, but He had to live for our righteousness.
Jesus not only had to die for our sins, but He had to live for our righteousness.
This is what theologians term Jesus’ passive and active obedience. On the cross Jesus passively bore the punishment on our behalf as our sins were imputed to Him. He passively received the curse and judgement of God. As a result, we who are in Christ are now considered not guilty, and therefore sinless in the sight of God. But we are not declared righteous. Only half the work is done.
None of us would be happy if our child continually hits their sibling and continually receives the just punishment as a result. Yes, justice has been paid, but we remain unsatisfied. We want obedience. We are not satisfied until our child actively obeys our requests to love their sibling. So it is with our heavenly Father.
Therefore, in order for God’s people to satisfy Him, Jesus had to live enough of life to actively obey the Father to the degree of every jot and title of the Law so that He would be our righteousness. Righteousness needs to be fulfilled. As Jesus actively fulfills all of the law’s demands, He receives for Himself all of the blessings, as outlined in the covenant of Moses. But instead of keeping these blessings to Himself, Jesus imputes His righteous life and all its associated blessings to His people, while receiving all His people’s sins of disobedience and their consequent curses upon Himself.
It is precisely for this reason that Jesus submits Himself to the waters of Baptism. John the Baptist was aghast that Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, would be baptized by him. “But Jesus answered, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness’” (Matt 3:15). When Jesus was baptized, He was baptized for His people. As Jesus kept all of the commandments, He was keeping them for His people. Know this: Jesus not only died to pay the penalty for our sins, He lived a perfectly righteous life for us also.
Knowing that Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to us now protects us from debilitating guilt experienced through disobedience. It also protects us against pride experienced in our obedience. We can neither add to or take away from what Christ has secured in His active obedience that has now become ours. Let your obedience be motivated by thankfulness and not by the pursuit of merit.
Let your obedience be motivated by thankfulness and not by the pursuit of merit.
Professor and New Testament scholar John Gresham Machen’s last telegram to his good friend before he died said, “I am so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.” Live content, knowing Christ is our righteousness.