“The Righteousness of Faith”
Though no man is righteous and no man has the ability to do or produce righteousness before God, God reckons the believing sinner as having done all righteousness. He looks upon the believer in Christ and declares him righteous for Christ’s sake, by the merits of Christ’s obedience unto death as our sin-atoning Substitute. Though our faith is not righteousness, and can never produce righteousness, the Book of God speaks of “the righteousness of faith.” How can that be?
The Righteousness of Christ
The righteousness of faith is the righteousness of Christ imputed to God’s elect, the righteousness by which we are justified before the thrice holy Lord God. The righteousness of faith is not a righteousness we establish by faith, but the righteousness we receive by faith in Christ. It is in this sense that faith is counted to us for, that is to say, in order to, righteousness.
We are "justified by faith" only in this sense. We receive the justification Christ accomplished when he died and rose again by faith in him. Faith does not accomplish our justification, any more than faith accomplishes atonement. Faith, as the gift and operation of God the Holy Spirit in us, is that by which we are joined to Christ. Faith is the bond between us and our all-glorious Substitute.
The Object of Faith
It is the Object of our faith (the Lord Jesus Christ), not our faith, that justifies us and makes us righteous. Yet, our faith in him is vital to our souls. Faith fetches peace to the believing sinner from the finished work of Christ, from Christ himself, by whom we are justified (Rom. 4:25-5:1), just as the rod, by which Moses struck the rock, fetched water from the rock. Without the striking of the rod the water would never have gushed forth. Yet it was the rock and not the rod, that contained the water.
In the typical pictures of the Old Testament the worshipper laid his hand upon the head of the sacrifice. By that act, he identified himself with the innocent victim; but it was the victim that died, not the worshipper. The Israelite who was bitten by the fiery serpent looked to the brazen serpent uplifted before him to be healed. Yet, it was not his look, but the uplifted serpent to which he looked that healed him. Yes, we may say it was his looking that healed him, just as our Lord said to the some, "thy faith hath saved thee" (Luke 7:50; 18:42); but this is only said figuratively. It was not his act of looking that healed serpent bitten Israelite, but the object to which he locked.
Faith Not Our Righteousness
So faith is not our righteousness. Faith simply knits us to Christ, the Lord our Righteousness, thereby making us partakers of his righteousness. Faith is simply believing God. It is consenting to be saved by the merits of Christ. It is not our faith that is great, but Christ the Object of our faith. Faith is precious because it links us with him who is precious. The righteousness of faith is the righteousness of God in Christ the Righteous One, to whom faith bonds us. Amen.