Romans 1:17 "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.”
Romans 4:3 gives us a profound statement on how one man, Abraham, was deemed acceptable, pure and innocent in the sight of God: “For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” The Apostle Paul of course is getting into the heart of the Gospel by unfolding to us the doctrine of justification by faith. Contrary to what some may teach, the Old Testament does not teach one way of salvation and the New Testament another. Paul’s whole point in explaining how the righteousness of God is brought down to the sinner at saving faith is to show how such truth was communicated in the Old Testament, beginning with the Book of Genesis.
When we talk about "righteousness", what is meant by that term? righteousness is a life and conduct that is pure, innocent and perfectly pleasing with and before God. Since God’s righteousness is the righteousness of Jesus Christ and vice-versa, it stands from scripture that His righteousness is the only acceptable righteousness before God.
So then, how does that righteousness become my own? For we know from scripture that self-righteousness or any attempt to gain salvation by our own efforts falls far short of the purity, innocence and perfection that God and Christ have. Romans 3:20 states – “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Galatians 3:11 echoes similarly – “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.”
Notice how often we see the terms “justified” or “credited” or “reckoned”. These terms explain how the righteousness achieved by Jesus Christ in both His life, death and resurrection are transferred to the sinner’s account. Whenever a person writes a check and gives it to another as a gift, what happens is that the monetary amount written on that check is coming out of someone’s account. It was earned by labor or some other way. Whenever they give that check as a gift, the recipient must receive it in order to place it in their account. Once the person brings the check to the bank, the bank teller looks at the check and looks at the person who signed the check on the back and applies it to the recipient’s account. What has happened? The bank has regarded that money as the recipient’s own, even though the check clearly came from another person from the outside.
This illustration serves to aid in understanding how the righteousness of God and Christ is applied to sinner’s at salvation. Faith alone is both necessary and sufficient. Faith is the means by which the righteous merit of Christ’s life, death and resurrection is applied and received. The cross of Christ is the grounds and the choice and calling of God to that sinner is the beginning point of such salvation. The righteousness demanded by the law and yet unattainable is the same righteousness promised by the Gospel that is received by faith and credited to the sinner.
Such “credited” righteousness is sometimes described by term “imputed righteousness”, meaning that the work of another outside of myself is credited to me as if I had accomplished it. David in the Old Testament states in Psalm 32:1-2 “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered!2 How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!” Though Christ had not yet come into the world, nonetheless what He would achieve was of such great value that it not only reaches forward into time today but was also the same righteousness credited to Old Testament believers who looked to the promises of God by faith. 2 Corinthians 5:21 summarizes this “credited righteousness” or “imputed righteousness” (both meaning the same thing) – “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”