But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known… This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. … [A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
– Romans 3:21-26 (NIV)
As seen yesterday, though as God’s children we fail to fulfill our part in the covenant He made with us, God still seeks right relationship with us. The fact that Christians are even considered God’s children and recipients of His covenant is a result of such reconciling action on His part.
Without God’s faithfulness to the covenant He made, the promise to bless the nations through Abraham and his descendants probably would have ended during Moses’ time, if not beforehand. But God remained faithful to His promise even when His people broke covenant with Him again and again.
Knowing that no human can align with the standard set by His holiness (in other words, no human can be righteous) or restore the world to its original intentions, God chose to come to earth as a human Himself.
Once again, Isaiah 59:16 says, “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him” (NKJV).
In the person of Jesus Christ, justice and righteousness entered the fallen world like never before. As the full expression of humanity, always living in right relationship with the Lord, Jesus was the manifestation of what every person was intended to be.1
He is the standard against which all humans can be measured and against which all “fall short.”2 The names by which Jesus is called therefore include “the Lord Our Righteousness,”3 “a Branch of righteousness,”4 and “the Righteous One.”5
Jesus did not come to set a standard though. He came to fulfill the standard that had already been set.
By living a life without transgression, then taking on all human transgressions by dying on the cross, and finally rising from the dead, Jesus overcame all unrighteousness that separates us from God.
He fulfilled the human end of the covenant made between God and Abraham’s descendants.
In other words, Jesus offered a way to make things right again between God and man. According to the verses with which I opened today, God “justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”6
In Johannes Pedersen’s words, “To justify a man means to obtain for him the place due to him within the covenant.”7 (More accurately stated with regards to the Abrahamic covenant, justification obtains the place man was meant to have in the covenant, for mankind did not behave in such a way as to make the place due him.)
Jesus restores man’s place in the covenant God made with him. By Jesus’s righteousness, death, and resurrection, God grants righteousness to all who have faith in Him. He thereby reconciles once and for all with the intended recipients of His covenant promises.
Because of Jesus’ righteousness fulfilling the covenant, people no longer depend on conformity to the law and animal sacrifices to be able to rightly relate to the Lord. For God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”8
1. I do not intend to exclude the unique personalities with which God creates us here.
2. Romans 3:23.
3. Jeremiah 23:6.
4. Jeremiah 23:5 (NKJV).
5. Acts 22:14 (NIV).
6. Romans 3:26 (NIV).
7. Johannes Pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, vols I-II (London: Oxford University Press, 1926), 345, qtd. in Hemchand Gossai, Justice, Righteousness and the Social Critique of the Eighth-Century Prophets (New York: Peter Lang, 1993), 59.