Summary: God not only forgave our sins, but paid the debt on our behalf. Because of His amazing grace, God invests His righteousness to our account.
Lets begin by looking at Romans 6:12-16:
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.
13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!
16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
The relationship between grace and holiness is a delicate balance. If your life misses this balance, you will struggle throughout your spiritual walk. If you lose sight of grace or neglect the purpose of God’s grace, you will carry the burden of working to measure up on your back or the weight of guilt on your chest. Symptoms of missing grace are legalism, spiritual burn out, or an unhealthy feeling of unworthiness that drives people away from God and into the dungeon of guilt. Symptoms of a life missing holiness is a disregard for God’s purposes, free-fall indulgences into sin and a false view that forgiveness on the cross is a license to sin freely. Both these views are equally unhealthy and both will rob anyone of freedom in Christ and the abundant life God designed for each person’s life.
Can we fall beyond the reach of His grace? Can we use up all of our chances? Can we freely sin without fear of being held in account? Will Christians be judged for their sins? It is vital that we understand the answers to these questions and understand the principles of scripture that answer these questions. I think we must first understand what makes us righteous before God, understand how God produces fruit in our lives and we must understand God’s plan for dealing with our sins.
What makes us righteous?
To understand what makes us righteous, we have to understand what does not make us righteous. Good works and good deeds cannot produce righteousness. Isaiah 64:6 gives the best explanation when the Bible says that all our righteous acts are like vile, filthy rages before God. The Bible uses the strongest terminology possible here to make this point. The intent is clear, nothing we can do can get beyond our sin and therefore we can never earn God’s favor by good deeds. Righteousness is not something that we can create, but it must be imputed or credited into our account. Only the righteousness that reflects the holiness of God is acceptable before God, therefore, only the righteousness from God can be acceptable to God. Only when we are covered by His righteousness can we become acceptable to God. Look at Isaiah 61:10,
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
God literally wraps His righteousness around us, covers us by His grace and clothes us with His salvation. If you don’t feel like you are clean enough to come before God you are on the right track. It is those who don’t know they are covered by sin that are on dangerous ground. Salvation is not to the godly, but the ungodly. The Bible says that Jesus died for the ungodly. Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."(Mark 2:17). The irony of this statement is that Jesus addressed this to the religious leaders who criticized Him for reaching out to the sinners that were scorned by the culture. It is ironic because those who believed they did not need repentance were consistently warned of God’s judgment unless they also repented. The point is that we must first see that we are ungodly and that we can’t do anything to change it. It is only when we see our inability to measure up to God’s standard that we are able to see our need for God’s grace. Only when we see the failure of our own attempts at righteousness will we be willing to humble ourselves and allow God to clothe us with His righteousness and give us His salvation.
Philippians 3:8-9 tells us that we must first count all our ways as trash and then be found in Him (Jesus Christ), not having our own righteousness from our own efforts but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith. We become righteous when we see our sins, recognize that we are indeed helpless to change our lives and then exchange our lives for the life God has created for us in Christ. The Bible tells us that God is merciful and forgives but takes vengeance upon our deeds. Because the wages of sin is death, only the perfect sacrifice of Jesus’ death on the cross could pay that penalty. So Jesus paid our debt by taking the debt of sin in our place and through faith in His completed work, we become the righteousness of God through Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Because of this payment, the Bible tells us that if we will receive Christ, we are given the right to become the children of God and heirs to the kingdom of heaven with Him. Righteousness only comes from God and is invested in us through faith in Christ.