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On the Understanding of Christian Righteousness

I’d like to give a statement of the position I’m inclined to hold, regarding the understanding of
Christian righteousness. Then, I’ll jot down some arguments and scripture references to support
this position. I’d even like to propose a name for this position: EOTRIFS – Extension of
Trinitarian Righteousness in Full Salvation.

One thing I’m curious about is how many other Christians, in the modern day and in the past,
have also arrived at essentially the same position that I’ve arrived at. I think my position seems
so natural and not cleverly contrived, that it would be hard to think that it really is novel. As I’ve
searched on the Web for espousal of this position, I guess I can say that I’ve so far found “bits
and bobs”. For example, the book “Justified in the Spirit: Creation, Redemption, and the Triune
God” by Frank D. Macchia (which I’ve seen snippets of in Google Books), appears to advocate
similar ideas, at least in some respects. But please don’t equate my reference to this book with
full endorsement of the book. (I do not, for example, share the author’s high view of
ecumenism.)

Firstly then, some essential doctrines about salvation that I affirm:


 Penal substitutionary atonement – Isaiah 53, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13, 1 Peter
2:24.
 Necessity of repentance from sin for salvation – Mark 1:14-15, Luke 13:1-5, Acts 2:38,
Acts 20:21, Romans 2:2-5, 2 Corinthians 7:10, Hebrews 10:26-31.
 Justification by faith alone – Romans 4:1-8, Romans 9:30-10:13, Ephesians 2:8-9.

Now to state briefly my position on Christian righteousness:

Consider the Triune God, with their one divine essence, and with that, the one essence of
divine righteousness. We can consider here, the inherent attribute of righteousness, and also
the manifestation of this righteousness in all that the Triune God does – and this would include
the perfect life of obedience of the Son when, as a man, He was on the earth. And then, we can
also consider the following manifestation of this divine righteousness: the saints’ unmerited
righteousness in salvation.

The identity of a Christian's righteousness, in both justification and sanctification, is the


righteousness of the whole Triune God. In this, it is Christ, the Son, who is the Mediator. It is
not that the believer possesses all the divine qualities that characterise divine righteousness.
But rather, there is a gracious incorporation into the status of this righteousness, through
Christ’s mediation. And along with this status, comes the relationship that the believer now has
with God – a love relationship (God’s perfect love to the believer, the believer’s love response
back to God), with the believer surrendered to God’s rulership.
Furthermore, it is on account of this righteousness, which is inherent of the Triune God, and
which manifests to the Christian as both justification and sanctification, that the Christian is
accepted into Heaven.

Note: In referring to “full salvation” within the proposed name for this view, I have in mind
salvation being not only justification, but the full package of justification, sanctification,
discipleship, glorification – everything opposite to the path that we would be on if it were not
for the redemption in Jesus Christ.

Scriptural support

Now for supporting scripture references and arguments, I’ll break it down into 3 parts.

Part 1:

(i) To list some passages that reference the “righteousness of God” in relation to our
salvation – Matthew 6:33, Romans 1:16-17, 3:21-26, 10:1-10, 2 Corinthians 5:21.
Observe from 2 Corinthians 5:21 the explicit reference to us “becoming / being
made” the “righteousness of God”. Note also that while of course, Christ is God,
nevertheless, often “God” in scripture refers to the Father, and this is particularly
evident in Romans 3:21-26, where “God” and Jesus appear as distinct persons. So
this “righteousness of God” in Romans 3:21-26 is evidently a righteousness that
belongs to the Father and not exclusively to Christ.

(ii) Some further scriptures that relate Christ, righteousness and our salvation –
Jeremiah 23:5-6, Romans 5:18-19, 1 Corinthians 1:30, 1 John 2:1. (Note that in the
Jeremiah passage, there may be ambiguity as to whether it says “Yahweh
[Jehovah/the LORD] our Righteousness” or “Yahweh [Jehovah/the LORD] is our
Righteousness”.)

(iii) And since indeed, Christ is the “image of God”, “radiance of the glory of God” and
“exact imprint of His nature” (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3; understanding these to
be statements about Christ in relationship to the Father), it surely makes sense then
that Christ is one with the Father in divine righteousness – also consider John 14:9-
11.

(iv) Then, relating the Holy Spirit and righteousness – Romans 8:10, Romans 6:12-23
when read in light of 8:1-14.

(v) And since indeed, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God – both the Father and the Son
(John 15:26, Romans 8:9-11, 2 Corinthians 3:17) – it surely makes sense then that
the Holy Spirit is one with the Father and the Son in divine righteousness.

Part 2:
(vi) It is right to hold a conceptual distinction between justification on the one hand, and
inward sanctification along with obedience on the other hand. Nevertheless, when
considering the righteousness imputed in justification, and the righteousness
characteristic of sanctification and obedience, there is scriptural support to suggest
they are in essence, manifestations of but one righteousness, rather than “two kinds
of righteousness” – to start with: James 2:22-23, 1 John 3:7.

(vii) Further argument: How do we reconcile the free gift of righteousness (Roman 5:15-
17) with the necessity of repentance for its reception, where such repentance may
well feel costly (Matthew 5:29-30, 16:24-27, 18:8-9 19:21-29, Luke 14:25-33)? Isn’t
the most sensible answer that it is an inherent feature of the gift of righteousness
that this righteousness must take hold of a person’s life, not just legal status?

(viii) Furthermore: where I can readily think of scriptures that lay out two kinds of
righteousness side-by-side, it is not two righteousnesses that go together hand-in-
hand like justification and sanctification, but rather the contrasting principles of
justification by law/works and justification by grace/faith – Romans 9:30-10:13,
Galatians 3:11-12, Philippians 3:9. Observe the association of the former with one’s
own righteousness, and the association of the latter with God’s righteousness.

(ix) Building further upon this, notice the distinctive association of the transformative
work of the Holy Spirit with the grace (“righteousness of God”) covenant, over and
above the Law (“own righteousness”) covenant – Romans 7:4-6, 2 Corinthians 3,
Galatians 5:18. And then consider, does it not seem reasonable to suggest that since
the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of none other than God (the Father and the Son), so the
righteousness that the Spirit works is the righteousness of God?

(x) Another observation: We perhaps see from James 1:20 (depending on translation
and interpretation), the “righteousness of God”, or absence thereof, in connection
with human behaviour.

(xi) Objection: “But the righteousness of God is utterly perfect, and a believer’s
justification is also perfect, whereas the believer’s righteousness in sanctification
and obedience is imperfect, so how can it all be the same righteousness?” Brief
answer: God’s righteousness is perfect and He perfectly justifies believers, but the
alignment of the believer’s life to this righteousness is not necessarily perfect. We
can similarly say this: the Holy Spirit whom every believer has is perfect, but the
believer himself/herself still has the capacity to sin rather than follow the Holy
Spirit’s perfection. Nevertheless, to whatever extent there is a genuine walking by
the Spirit, it is a manifestation of God’s righteousness in the believer’s walk of life.

(xii) When we consider then, the doctrine of the Trinity, combined with the picture of
Christian righteousness portrayed in scripture, does it not fit harmoniously to say
that Christian righteousness is the incorporation of the believer into the
righteousness of the Triune God?

Part 3:

(xiii) On account of what righteousness is the believer accepted into Heaven? It is evident
from Philippians 3:9 that the only righteousness that the apostle Paul has an interest
in being found with is the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ.

(xiv) However, various scriptures do seem to associate acceptance into Heaven with
things beyond just faith alone – Matthew 5:20, 7:21-23, 16:24-27, 25:14-46, John
5:28-29, Romans 2:5-11, Romans 8:13-24, Philippians 3:7-11, Hebrews 12:14. (I’m
aware that this point has been a matter of controversy surrounding John Piper.)

(xv) What can be inferred then is this: when an unsaved sinner appears before the Lord,
he appears before the Lord with all his sin, and all his sin is condemned and eternally
punished. When a saved person appears before the Lord, he appears before the
Lord clothed in divine righteousness, and the appearance of this righteousness
before the Lord includes all of the manifestation of this righteousness in the person’s
walk of life. All of this person’s sin was atoned for at the cross, and this
righteousness is accepted by the Lord. See also Revelation 19:7-8 (but note that
there are differing translations where it refers to “righteousness” or “righteous
deeds”). (I do also recognize, from 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, that even for those who do
go to Heaven, there is reward or loss).

Overlap of EOTRIFS with Imputation of Active Obedience (IAO)

The doctrine of Imputation of Active Obedience states that in salvation, not only was the
believer’s sin imputed onto Christ, but also the perfect obedience of the whole life that Christ
lived on this earth is imputed to the believer, in other words, credited to the believer’s account.
We thus have a two-way imputation going on here, and this is often referred to as “double
imputation”. I’m thinking it would be good to make mention of my own position in relation to
IAO:

(a) I affirm that there is a double imputation going on. We are sinful and Christ is divinely
righteous. In salvation, our sin was transferred onto Christ, and the status of divine
righteousness is bestowed onto us through Christ’s mediation.

(b) In (at least partial) agreement with IAO, we can rightly appreciate that for those who are
no longer in Adam but now in Christ, the righteousness which manifests as their
justification (i.e. imputed righteousness) is also that righteousness which did manifest as
the perfect life of obedience that Christ lived on earth. Furthermore, we can rightly
appreciate that this was a distinctly human manifestation of divine righteousness, in
accordance with the following scriptures: Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 2:52, Romans 5:18-19,
Philippians 2:7-8, Hebrews 4:15, 5:7-8.

(c) In common with IAO, my position would negate the view that in justification, the
imputed righteousness is to be equated purely with the “clean slate” that results from
sin no longer being counted against the believer. Apparent support for that view might
be seen in Romans 4:6-8. But I don’t think that this scripture necessitates that the full
meaning of this imputed righteousness has to be narrowed down to a clean slate.

(d) Where I have uncertainty (not decided denial, just uncertainty), is with the view that
one of the distinctive purposes of Christ’s life on earth was to build up a record of
perfect human obedience, in order that this record would be credited to the believer, as
the means of his/her justification.

One other thing (a bit of an aside): another imputation that is often spoken of is the imputation
of Adam’s sin to all his descendants (other than Christ). Now while I do affirm that we all have
an inherited sinfulness that originated from Adam’s original sin, I’m not as of yet convinced that
Adam’s specific act of sin is imputed to all his descendants. I’m not saying I think it’s definitely
wrong, I’m just not as of yet convinced.