2 Cor. 5:21 “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Here is the gospel in a verse. We had a sin problem with God. We sin and God’s holy wrath had rested on our sin. But God made Christ, sinless though he was, “to be sin” for us.
Not that Christ became sinful, but he was counted as a sinner, or better still, our sin was counted to him as though his.
Having born in his body the just penalty for our sin, we are freed from the penalty of sin and more. Having imputed, or counted, our sin to Christ—legally and really—God also counts Christ’s righteousness to us, legally and really. “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).
This is the double imputation: our sins imputed to Christ, his righteousness imputed to, counted to us. It means that, not only are all our sins pardoned, so that our debt to God is erased, taking us to zero, but his righteousness is counted to us such that we are rightly called “the righteousness of God” for we are counted as fully righteous.
We are the righteousness of God! It is a shocking statement to read or hear!
In what way are we God’s righteousness?
We are recognized by God as righteous before his Holy Law. “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:3-4). We are counted as those who have fully met the righteous requirements of the law!
Our righteousness can never be lost. Imputed to us by God from Christ, this righteousness, ours now, stands for all eternity in our account. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Is. 53:11). We are accounted righteous, and this is not an accounting trick but a metaphysical reality.
If ten trillion dollars were transferred into your account, whether you believed it or not, it is yours. Further, no one can remove it and surely no matter how fast you spend it, it can never be depleted. For in reality, it is not ten trillion dollars’ worth of righteousness given to us, but a blank check, eternal and infinite righteousness.
While we should always seek to mortify sin, we do not do so to add to the perfect righteousness of Christ given to us. Our sin may present a relational breach with our heavenly Father, needing repentance, yet it cannot remove this imputed and perfect righteousness in which we live. “For in the gospel a righteous from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith, from first to last” (Rom. 1:17). Our right standing with God is sealed by the work of Christ applied to us by faith in him. “Just as it is written: ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:17).
Nor can our imputed righteousness ever be increased. As it cannot be diminished by sin neither can it be increased by our righteous acts or thoughts. Infinite, perfect righteousness cannot be added to by our works. Work we should, but not to increase our righteousness before our Father. Rather, we grow in faith and obedience to conform to the image of Christ more and more. Our sanctification can certainly progress, and will, since we are united to Christ by the Spirit.
But our perfect righteousness in Christ stands whole and complete now and forever. “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). Christ does not end the law as our standard of obedience and conformity to the image of Christ. He is, however, the end of the law, as this passage says, for righteousness, or to gain righteousness. We may only gain it by faith in Christ, and once we have it, his righteousness is ours!
This righteousness stands forever, Christ’s and ours. We stand and live forever righteous before our Holy Father. Thanks be to Christ!