Articles / Conversation

Jesus is our Yom Kippur! the perfect righteousness of God demonstrated on the cross

“This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time” (Romans 3:25b-26a).

6. The Cross Demonstrates the Righteousness of God
– substitution/imputation

This is the great and magnificent theme of the book of Romans: the righteousness of God. From the prophet Jeremiah where he says, “…the Lord our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6); to that which is punctuated by Paul himself in 1 Cor. 1:30, “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” The full orb of Scripture represents the One Triune God as being righteous–free from sin and its stain. He is perfect, holy, righteous and true.

And the miracle of miracles is this: that perfect righteousness; HIS righteousness; the righteousness of Jesus is imputed, or credited, to us. It is not an infused righteousness as the Romanists teach; but an imputed righteousness, given to us by faith in Jesus Christ the Lord that is essential in our justification.

My Own Righteousness… Nothing But Filthy Rags
Contrarily, the prophet Isaiah describes mans’ own righteousness by these vivid words: “…And all our righteous deeds are like dirty, filthy rags.” Man’s inherent righteousness is worth the status of dirty menstrual rags.

As stated in a previous post, man is totally depraved; unable to save himself; merit anything as being holy before a righteous God in and of his own good works; is conceived in sin; and by nature a child of wrath. Seeing that man’s condition cannot be changed or altered by his own philanthropic religious works, the eternal question then surfaces: if no sinful creature can find acceptance in the presence of a holy God, then what kind of righteousness does God accept to allow sinful people into His presence?

The answer? A perfect righteousness.

It alone must be accomplished and applied to man in order for man to enter heaven and have eternal communion with an infinitely holy God. As even David has said, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity,” (Psalm 32:1-2). Here is the beatitude of forgiveness and salvation. Transgressions forgiven; sins atoned for; iniquity not imputed. This is the triumvirate of spiritual blessing we have in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And how is this spiritual blessing obtained? By grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Look briefly at our text above:

“This was to demonstrate” or to declare. God made His eternal declaration of redemption through Christ Jesus. As Barnes’s so rightly says, “The meaning is, that the plan was adopted; the Saviour was given; he suffered and died; and the scheme is proposed to men, for the purpose of making a full manifestation of his plan, in contradistinction from all the plans of men.”

“His righteousness,” – justification. This is the gospel. God through Christ saved us from Himself (His wrath, His justice and the just do for violating His holy law). Here, His saving righteousness is made available to sinners.

“because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;” – the sins of the elect that is. God did not ignore their sins, but passed over them – patiently, for that glorious day, the day ‘in due time’ where He provided forgiveness of sins through His Son–the Son of His love (cp, Col. 1:12-14). This righteousness here is not being referred to as an attribute of God, but of His plan of justifying sinners. He has adopted and proposed a plan by which men may become just by faith in Jesus Christ, and not by their own works.

“for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time,” – This is the declaration for the first time under the gospel. This is the joy of deliverance. God had appointed a day in eternity past in which Jesus was manifested in the flesh to satisfy God and redeem His elect. No wonder Paul may boldly say, “who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9).

God put on public display His perfect righteousness. God showed forbearance in order for us to be given His grace in salvation. Do you want to behold the perfect righteousness of God? Do you want to have a glimpse of the holy standard that God requires of all in order to have eternal life and to stand in the presence of His glory, blameless and with great joy? Then look unto Jesus (Heb. 12:2) on the cross–for HE is our righteousness; HE is God incarnate: HE is our perfection; HE is the spotless Lamb of God, the sinless High Priest, the perfect Son of Man. And in God the Son alone, plus or minus nothing, we have obtained a righteousness that pleases God the Father alone.

My Hope is Built on Nothing Less…
Many of us have sung several times these embonpoint theological words from the great hymn, The Solid Rock: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness…” and, again from that fourth stanza: “dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before His throne. On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand…”

How glorious and true are those words.

The quintessential verse in all the NT on this important truth is found in 2 Cor. 5:21, “He who knew no sin, became sin for us; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus Christ became our sin-bearer, though without sin and sinless, so that we might become the righteousness of God IN HIM. All of our righteousness is imputed to us. It is the perfect, complete, lack nothing – righteousness of Christ. Can we grasp this reality today beloved? We only have a right standing before God, because Jesus as our Divine Substitute stood before God in our place. And therefore, all who are IN Christ are clothed with His perfect righteousness for eternity.

This righteousness of God in Christ is comprised of two very important things: the active and passive obedience of Christ. His active obedience in fulfilling the demands of the Law through His sinless life; and His passive obedience through satisfying the penalty of the Law through His perfect, once for all sacrifice on the cross for our sins. In life and in death, Jesus Christ perfectly as our merciful and faithful High Priest has completely fulfilled all righteousness and by faith, imputes that righteousness to every believer so that we may forever have a just standing before God.

For if by the transgression of the one,
death reigned through the one,
much more those who receive the abundance of grace
and of the gift of righteousness
will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
-Romans 5:17

The great Puritan divine, John Owens, so profoundly says,

“That which we plead is, that the Lord Christ fulfilled the whole law for us; he did not only undergo the penalty of it due unto our sins, but also yielded that perfect obedience which it did require. And herein I shall not immix myself in the debate of the distinction between the active and passive obedience of Christ; for he exercised the highest active obedience in his suffering, when he offered himself to God through the eternal Spirit. And all his obedience, considering his person, was mixed with suffering, as a part of his exinanition and humiliation; whence it is said, that “though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.”

And however doing and suffering are in various categories of things, yet Scripture testimonies are not to be regulated by philosophical artifices and terms. And it must needs be said, that the sufferings of Christ, as they were purely penal, are imperfectly called his passive righteousness; for all righteousness is either in habit or in action, whereof suffering is neither; nor is any man righteous, or so esteemed, from what he suffers. Neither do sufferings give satisfaction unto the commands of the law, which require only obedience. And hence it will unavoidably follow, that we have need of more than the mere sufferings of Christ, whereby we may be justified before God, if so be that any righteousness be required thereunto; but the whole of what I intend is, that Christ’s fulfilling of the law, in obedience unto its commands, is no less imputed unto us for our justification than his undergoing the penalty of it is.”

As a Reformed Baptist, I affirm on this blog, the biblically rich 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith which says on this issue of justification, substitution and imputation of the complete righteousness of Christ:

Chapter 11: Of Justification
1. Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth, not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ’s active obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness by faith, which faith they have not of themselves; it is the gift of God. (Romans 3:24; Romans 8:30; Romans 4:5-8; Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:30, 31; Romans 5:17-19; Philippians 3:8, 9; Ephesians 2:8-10; John 1:12; Romans 5:17 )

2. Faith thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet it is not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love. (Romans 3:28; Galatians 5:6; James 2:17, 22, 26 )

3. Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are justified; and did, by the sacrifice of himself in the blood of his cross, undergoing in their stead the penalty due unto them, make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to God’s justice in their behalf; yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them, and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead, and both freely, not for anything in them, their justification is only of free grace, that both the exact justice and rich grace of God might be glorified in the justification of sinners. (Hebrews 10:14; 1 Peter 1:18, 19; Isaiah 53:5, 6; Romans 8:32; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:26; Ephesians 1:6,7; Ephesians 2:7 ) (emphasis mine)

Could it be any more clear beloved?

that, as sin reigned in death,
even so grace might reign through righteousness
to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
-Romans 5:21

Based on the requirements of the Law, it is not enough that Christ dies for the sins of His people. To die and cleanse sinners from their sin is to set them at ground zero. At that point redeemed sinners still continue to sin. As Luther said, “they are piles of dung covered in gold.” The remnants of remaining sin and the filthiness of the flesh still war with the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). They must also have a covering that continues to infinitely expiate their sin before the holy justice of God; otherwise, justification becomes analytic and not synthetic.

Dr. C. Matthew McMahon helps tremendously in defining these biblical truths for us:

Analytic justification is the Roman Catholic belief where God looks both at the sinner and the Savior and justifies them based on what Christ did and what the sinner continues to do.

Synthetic justification is the biblical formulation where God recognizes Christ’s work, both the obedentia activa and obedentia passiva, and declares the sinner just as a result of them both. The sinner, in the ordo salutis, has been regenerated, acts with a fides reflexa (a reflex act of faith) springing from regeneration, is declared righteous by God on account of Christ’s iustitia imputata, but is then continued to be viewed in this credited manner because of the perfect obedentia of Christ’s work.

Jesus perfectly fulfilled the iustitia Dei where men cannot. It is this active obedience that continues to justify them, and it is passive obedience that continues to save them before the wrath of God’s justice. Kline rightly comments, “For Christ himself enters upon the inheritance as the forerunner, surety, and head of the many only when by his active and passive obedience he has fulfilled the constant Hauptgebot of the covenant and submitted to the demand of the curse sanction voiced in the covenant from the beginning.”

and may be found in Him,
not having a righteousness of my own

derived from the Law,
but that which is through faith in Christ,

the righteousness which comes from God
on the basis of faith,

-Philippians 3:9

The Belgic Confession states that understanding the justification of the sinner, “embraces Jesus Christ with all His merits…imputing to us all His merits, and so many holy works which He has done for us and in our stead.”

The Heidelberg Catechism defines this righteousness which Christians receive, “as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me.”

The Second Helvetic Confession echoes this, “Therefore, solely on account of Christ’s sufferings and resurrection God is propitious with respect to our sins and does not impute them to us, but imputes Christ’s righteousness to us as our own (2 Cor. 5:19 ff.; Rom. 4:25), so that now we are not only cleansed and purged from sins or are holy, but also, granted the righteousness of Christ, and so absolved from sin, death and condemnation, are at last righteous and heirs of eternal life. Properly speaking, therefore, God alone justifies us, and justifies only on account of Christ, not imputing sins to us but imputing his righteousness to us.”

Simon Peter, a bond-servant
and apostle of Jesus Christ,
to those who have received a faith
of the same kind as ours,
by the righteousness of our
God and Savior, Jesus Christ:
-2 Peter 1:1

John Calvin states the same, “the obedience of Jesus Christ, which is imputed to us saves sinners.”

The Westminster Confession makes this distinction when it says that justification is through “imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ” to elect sinners.

John Gill states “not only the active obedience of Christ, with his sufferings and death, but also that the holiness of his human nature is imputed to us for justification.”

John Owen speaks thoroughly about this throughout His works:

“First, By the obedience of the life of Christ you see what is intended, —his willing submission unto, and perfect, complete fulfilling of, every law of God, that any of the saints of God were obliged unto. It is true, every act almost of Christ’s obedience, from the blood of his circumcision to the blood of his cross, was attended with suffering, so that his whole life might, in that regard, be called a death; but yet, looking upon his willingness and obedience in it, it is distinguished from his sufferings peculiarly so called, and termed his active righteousness. This is, then, I say, as was showed, that complete, absolutely perfect accomplishment of the whole law of God by Christ, our mediator; whereby he not only “did no sin, neither was there guile fold in his mouth,” but also most perfectly fulfilled all righteousness, as he affirmed it became him to do. Secondly, That this obedience was performed by Christ not for himself, but for us, and in our stead.”

“with respect unto the imputation of the active obedience or righteousness of Christ unto us [is] an essential part of that righteousness whereon we are justified before God… That which Christ, the mediator and surety of the covenant, did do in obedience unto God, in the discharge and performance of his office, that he did for us; and that is imputed unto us.”

I do not nullify the grace of God;
for if righteousness comes through the Law,
then Christ died needlessly.
-Galatians 2:21

Charles Hodge states, “The righteousness of Christ is commonly represented as including his active and passive obedience. This distinction is, as to the idea, Scriptural.”

According to William Ames, in differentiation from the works of Adam which brought condemnation, Christ’s works, all of them, are imputed to the Christian for justification, “The obedience of Christ is that righteousness (Romans 5:16) in the name of which the grace of God justifies us, just as the disobedience of Adam was that offense (Romans 5:16) for which God’s justice condemns us. Therefore the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers in justification.”

Francis Turretin explains
the difference between the active and passive righteousness of Christ and its importance,

“the two things are not to be separated from each other. We are not to say as some do that the “satisfaction” is by the passive work of Christ alone and the “merit” is by the active work alone. The satisfaction and the merit are not to be thus viewed in isolation, each by itself, because the benefit in each depends upon the total work of Christ. For sin cannot be expiated until the law as precept has been perfectly fulfilled; nor can a title to eternal life be merited before the guilt of sin has been atoned for.”

He continues, “the obedience of Christ rendered in our name to God the Father is so given to us by God that it is reckoned to be truly ours and that it is the sole and only righteousness on account of and by the merit of which we are absolved from the guilt of our sins and obtain a right to life; and that there is in us no righteousness or good works by which we can deserve such great benefits which can bear the server examination of the divine court, if God willed to deal with us according to the rigor of his law.”

Jonathan Edwards explains why Christ’s active obedience is so vital in respect to covenant work and fulfillment:

“The first distribution of the acts of Christ’s righteousness is with respect to the laws which Christ obeyed in that righteousness which he performed. But here it must be observed in general, that all the precepts which Christ obeyed may be reduced to one law, and that is that which the apostle calls the law of works, Rom. 3:27. Every command that Christ obeyed may be reduced to that great and everlasting law of God that is contained in the covenant of works, that eternal rule of right which God had established between himself and mankind. Christ came into the world to fulfill and answer the covenant of works, that is, the covenant that is to stand forever as a rule of judgment. And that is the covenant that we had broken, and that was the covenant that must be fulfilled.”

W.G.T. Shedd says the same more succinctly, “Christ’s active obedience is his perfect performance of the requirements of the moral law.”

having been filled with
the fruit of righteousness

which comes through Jesus Christ,
to the glory and praise of God.

-Philippians 1:11

Jesus Christ – our Yom Kippur
Christ is our righteousness beloved; and without His active and passive obedience in satisfying the requirements and the demands of the Law, the fullness of that righteousness would be incomplete. It would be a righteousness of our own doing–not His. But the good news of the gospel is, by grace through faith in Christ alone He has imputed to sinful man His perfect righteousess so that we as His elect may have a right standing before a holy God. We can never be justified in the sight of God and obtain a true righteousness that does not fail by ourselves.

Today is Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement in the Jewish calendar. It is the one day out of the year that the high priest could go into the holy of holies and offer a sacrifice for the sins of himself and for the sins of the people. It was a shadow of things to come. BUT NOW, the substance has come and the shadow has been done away with. Jesus Christ is our High Priest who once for all, for all time, for every time entered the Holy of Holies on the cross (Heb. 2:17; 7:26; 9:14ff; 6:19f); shed His own blood as a sacrifice for the sins of His chosen ones, redeemed us and has brought us into intimacy with God forever. The Apostle Paul even says that “He was raised for our justification” (Roms. 4:25).

May you rejoice today beloved that all has been accomplished in and through the sinless life and perfect death and bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ that is needed for our salvation. Do you know Him as your Lord today? Then take hope in this: you are clothed with the perfect rightouesness of Christ and therefore you will never face judgment or eternal wrath. What confidence we may have to approach the throne of grace to find help in time of need.

Solus Christos