It was a simple command. They could eat from every tree in the garden but one. He told them to stay away from that tree, “For when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) From that, He inferred that as long as they were obedient and did not eat from it, they would surely live.
Genesis 3 tells how the first human beings broke this covenant. At that point, they fell into sin and needed a better righteousness than their own which was now ruined. Because of their sinful disobedience, that sin was imputed to the rest of humanity and we cannot make ourselves acceptable to God. We need something more than we have. Throughout the Old Testament, God promises to make that available to us . . .
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ (Jeremiah 23:5–6)
The grand story of Scripture is the love of God to humanity, for what we could not do, Jesus Christ does it for us. As the New Testament says, in order that God might be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus, Jesus took the nature of a servant, even human nature. In that nature he obeyed, doing everything that God wanted of us. He displayed to the world the glory of God in human flesh. By His sinless life, Jesus fulfilled all of the moral law and that covenant in our stead.
But this sinless life angered the religious leaders and they determined to destroy Him. They had no idea that His death on the cross was part of God’s plan for sinners. He took our sin to that cross and died for it, taking the punishment we deserve upon Himself. As fully God and fully human in one person, He satisfied both the plan of God and the wrath of God. He worked out a full and perfect righteousness for us, a righteousness He offers as a gift.
How do we get it? Gifts are not earned. Rather they are given, and the Bible says this is an imputed gift. It means God attributes (righteousness, guilt, etc.) to a person or persons vicariously, ascribing it as derived from another. Just as the disobedience of Adam and Eve was imputed on the entire human race (for we all have sinned) so also is the righteousness of Christ made available for sinners. As the New Testament says, we become in Christ the righteousness of God because He became to us our righteousness.
God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:28–31)
What touches my heart today is the reminder of what this righteousness means. It is not only the passive obedience of Jesus dying on the cross, but the active obedience of His life. Christ not only died for me, but also lived for me. He not only suffered for my sin, but obeyed God for me. Both His life and death jointly make up that complete righteousness that God imputed to me.
I tend to dwell on the negative, on my sinfulness and therefore on His death for sin as my substitute. This is good, but it is not all that the Gospel means. As I struggle to live for Him, I need this reminder that Jesus is also my substitute for that life that I am unable to live on my own.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Because the Lord is my righteousness, and because this righteousness is imputed to me, I don’t need to flounder or fret over my weaknesses and inabilities. By the power of God and the gracious gift of His righteousness, He has given me all that I need to live.