What Everyone Needs and No One Has

The righteousness of Christ is a major theme of the New Testament, so let’s look at seven facts about righteousness.

The first fact is a simple one. You must have righteousness in order to have eternal life. This can be conclusively proven from the Bible in many scriptures, but we’ll look at just two.

“Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?

“He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; he who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes, a vile person is despised, but he honors those who fear the Lord; he who swears to his own hurt and does not change; he who does not put out his money at usury, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

“He who does these things shall never be moved.” Psalm 15

“Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, he who despises the gain of oppressions, who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, and shuts his eyes from seeing evil: he will dwell on high; his place of defense will be the fortress of rocks; bread will be given him, his water will be sure.” Isaiah 33:14, last part–16

Isaiah and David are both speaking of those who are righteous. You must be righteous or you will not go to heaven.

The second fact about righteousness is very startling. We see that in order to go to heaven we must be righteous, but the truth is, we have no righteousness. What we need, we do not have.

“All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6

“There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.” Romans 3:10–12

Not one single person has the righteousness necessary for heaven.

The third fact about righteousness is its definition. What is righteousness? There are two definitions. The first is found in Romans 7:12

“So then, the law is holy and the commandment is holy and just and good.”

God’s law is righteous. Righteousness is that which is in harmony with the ten commandments.

What if a person breaks the law? “All unrighteousness is sin.” 1 John 5:17. “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. … He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” 1 John 3:4, 7, last part

So, righteousness is when the law is being kept because the law is righteous, and unrighteousness is when the law is or has been broken.

The second definition of righteousness is found in 1 John 2:1.

“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

This definition of righteousness says that Jesus Christ is righteous; so righteousness is that which is like Him. This definition does not conflict with the first, but rather they complement each other, because Jesus said in John 15:10, “I have kept my Father’s commandments.”

Righteousness, first, is that which is in harmony with the ten commandments, and then it is that which is in harmony with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

The fourth fact about righteousness is that when you are perfectly righteous, then you are holy. I believe that inspired writings prove this, but I will let you study it out for yourself.

A fifth fact, regarding righteousness has to do with the motives of the heart—our thoughts and feelings. Jesus brought this out very clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. “ ‘For I say to you that except your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ ” Matthew 5:20

This was a shocking statement because the Jews thought that the scribes and Pharisees were the most righteous people on the face of the earth. And here, Jesus was saying that they had to be more righteous than they or they would not be able to enter heaven.

But Jesus went on to explain that righteousness has more to do with what is on the inside than what is on the outside. “ ‘You have heard that it was said by them anciently, “You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment [condemnation].”

“ ‘But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever will say to his brother, “Raca!” shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, “You fool!” shall be in danger of hell fire.’ ” Verses 21, 22

Jesus is not talking about the person who actually took a club or a spear or a sword and killed somebody. He says that if you are angry with your brother to the point of hatred, then you are guilty of murder, as if you had committed it as Cain did. John supports this in 1 John 3:15, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” On the outside, it looked like the Pharisees were keeping the law, but Jesus said in their hearts, they were not.

As human beings, we tend to look at what’s on the outside; that’s all we can see. But Jesus deals with what is unseen by man, the motives and desires of the heart. He spoke of this same thing in reference to the seventh commandment.

“ ‘You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ ” Verses 27, 28

It may be true that we haven’t literally broken the law by actually killing someone or robbing a bank or sleeping with someone who is not our spouse, but if in our hearts we desire it above all things or harbor strong feelings against someone, then in the eyes of God, it is the same as if we actually broke the law.

The commandments go right to the heart. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” Hebrews 4:12, 13

So, this fifth fact has to do with what is in the heart, not just what you say or do, but our motives and feelings, too.

The sixth fact about righteousness is that you cannot become righteous by simply deciding to do what is right and good. Paul tells us in Philippians 3 that he had already done that. He had determined to do what was right, he was born into the right race and family, he had been circumcised on the eighth day, he had practiced carefully and perfectly his religion, and he says in verse 6, “concerning the righteousness which is in the law, [I am] blameless.”

But notice what he says next in verses 7–9: “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and might be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith … .”

Paul recognized that his righteousness was worthless to gain eternal life. He realized that he could go through all these forms and rituals and ceremonies, and he could keep the ceremonial law perfectly, and still not go to heaven.

It is the same in the Christian church today. Our name is on the church roll, we are baptized, we participate in the communion and foot washing services, we pay tithes and offerings, and hold offices. But not a single one of those things will make us righteous.

“That I might know Him and the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Verses 10–14

Paul knew that the righteousness he needed could come only from Jesus Christ. This is the seventh fact about righteousness. Righteousness has to do with the heart and we are all sinners. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. The human heart, left to itself, is filled with wickedness. We are incapable of generating righteousness.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9

Deceitful and incurably wicked is the condition of the heart we all possess.

“I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells … .” Romans 7:18, first part. How much good? Nothing. None.

This shows us that we cannot be righteous by deciding to do good or even if we do good things. If we are to be righteous, we must receive righteousness from Jesus Christ.

So, we know where righteousness comes from. The question is, how can we receive it?

The 19th century was an optimistic age. Because of the teachings of evolution, people believed that as a species, we were getting better and better. The many inventions that were created during that time only reinforced that idea; so people believed they could do anything, even make themselves righteous. In theology, that is called perfectionism. The problem with perfectionism is that people believe they have made themselves perfect all while breaking God’s law.

The 20th century became a very pessimistic century. People were asking, How can I do it? I’m a sinner. I can’t. So a “new theology” was created; one that said Christ would do everything for us. All a person had to do was believe in Christ and they would be justified, and then Christ would do the rest. You could be living like the devil, but the Lord was going to save you if you just believed.

In actuality, the Lord is going to do everything, but not without your cooperation.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Philippians 2:12

Someone might say that this is teaching salvation by works. In a way, it is.

“For it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure.” Verse 13

God wants to perform a work of righteousness in your life and mine. But He will do this only when we cooperate with Him. What does it mean to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? The Bible teaches that we do this by looking at ourselves and recognizing that we are filled with sin and need a good cleaning up.

Maybe we have already done some of this work, but we all have besetting sins; those darling sins that we just can’t seem to let go of. The Bible says to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us … .” Hebrews 12:1. It is these sins that we must bring to Christ and plead for His power and grace to overcome them, for only overcomers will see heaven. We cannot be free from sin without divine help, but, we must be willing to give it up. It is in this way that we are colaborers with Christ.

So many people spend their time bemoaning their condition rather than looking in faith to the Lord, who can and will change their thoughts, their hearts, their motives, and their feelings, which will produce a change in their words and their actions.

“The secret of Satan’s power over God’s professed people lies in the deceitfulness of the human heart. Their constant stumbling and falling reveal that they have not maintained a stern conflict with their besetting sins.” The Signs of the Times, December 13, 1899

Paul is an example of this stern conflict with besetting sins and the cooperation with the Holy Spirit to affect the necessary change in his life. Remember he says in Philippians 3 that he cannot change, but that he stretches, extends himself as far as he can, then he will press, pursue, struggle until he reaches the prize of the high calling of God.

The New Testament does not teach a backseat religion where we do nothing and just expect the Lord to do it all. New Testament religion is going to the Lord, admitting our inability to overcome our sins, and claiming His promise to do in our lives that which we cannot do for ourselves; to change us according to His good pleasure. In this way only are we able to be overcomers.

This change occurs only by stern conflict, supreme effort. And if we are not willing to maintain this stern conflict against our besetting sins and our own inherent nature, then we will not overcome, but will be overcome. That is what Paul is talking about in Philippians 3.

“They have not depended wholly upon Christ, because they have not realized that they are in peril of being overcome by these sins. It is the sin which appears small and unworthy of our notice against which we should be on our guard.” Ibid.

How true! It is the little sins that we don’t think even amount to much that, if not overcome, will become bigger and bigger until we lose all desire to give them up.

But we have in the courts in heaven an all-powerful Mediator.

“God is approached through Jesus Christ, the Mediator, the only way through which He forgives sins. God cannot forgive sins at the expense of His justice, His holiness, and His truth. But He does forgive sins and that fully. There are no sins He will not forgive in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the sinner’s only hope, and if he rests here in sincere faith, he is sure of pardon and that full and free. There is only one channel and that is accessible to all, and through that channel a rich and abundant forgiveness awaits the penitent, contrite soul and the darkest sins are forgiven.” The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 7, 479, 480

Hebrews 7:25 is a text that we should commit to memory so that we can be encouraged when discouragement looms heavy upon us. “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

No one can truthfully say that they are too great a sinner for Christ to save. If you are willing to be saved in the way He wants to save you, He can and will save you.

“It is not because there is any flaw in the title which has been purchased for you that you do not accept it. It is not because the mercy, the grace, the love of the Father and the Son is not ample, and has not been freely bestowed, that you do not rejoice in pardoning love. … If you are lost, it will be because you will not come unto Christ that you might have life.” Our Father Cares, 92

When you are sick, your physician must determine what needs to be done to help you get better and then you decide whether you are willing to accept the treatment or not. As the Great Physician, Jesus can heal you from the sting of sin, which will cause you to die eternally, but He can only save you if you are willing to accept the cure that He offers.

In an emergency room setting, you would likely hear someone say, “Whatever it takes, I want to live.” We must come to Christ with this same whatever-it-takes attitude. We must be willing to put ourselves in His hands, for this is the only way we will be saved.

One of our biggest problems as human beings is that we do not realize just how defiled we truly are. When people realize that they are terrible sinners and that there is no way they can be saved, that means there is hope, because then they are ready to say, “Lord, I commit my case to You. Whatever it takes.” You see, friends, our prayers, our worship, our services are all defiled and worthless unless Christ adds His righteousness to them.

“The religious services, the prayers, the praise, the penitent confession of sin ascend from true believers as incense to the heavenly sanctuary, but passing through the corrupt channels of humanity, they are so defiled that unless purified by blood, they can never be of value with God. They ascend not in spotless purity, and unless the Intercessor, who is at God’s right hand, presents and purifies all by His righteousness, it is not acceptable to God. All incense from earthly tabernacles must be moist with the cleansing drops of the blood of Christ. He holds before the Father the censer of His own merits, in which there is no taint of earthly corruption. He gathers into this censer the prayers, the praise, and the confessions of His people, and with these He puts His own spotless righteousness. Then, perfumed with the merits of Christ’s propitiation, the incense comes up before God wholly and entirely acceptable. Then gracious answers are returned.” Selected Messages, Book 1, 344

We must have Christ’s righteousness or else we cannot be saved. Peter said, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12. Jesus is the only One who is righteous, and only He will, through His Holy Spirit, give you the righteousness you lack if you will surrender to Him and become a coworker with Him in working out your salvation.

Christ came to this world to save mankind from sin. John 1:29 says, “Behold! The Lamb of God [this is John the Baptist speaking] who takes away the sin of the world!” How did He do it?

Paul confirmed that concept when he wrote, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21

Jesus went to the cross knowing that all the sins that had been and would be committed from the beginning of the world until the end of time would be placed upon Him. He had no sin of His own for the righteousness of God was in Him, but He was made sin for us. When we confess our sins to Him, He takes away our sin, He bears it away from us, and then He gives to us His perfect righteousness in return.

Psalm 40 contains a prophecy of Jesus Christ and describes the basis of His righteousness, “I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart.” Verse 8

Jesus’ righteousness caused Him to delight in doing God’s will. And He rejoiced that God’s law was in His heart. And when He gives His righteousness to you, His law will be written in your heart and you will seek and enjoy doing God’s will. However, this is a process accomplished over time.

When you confess your sins, and exercise faith in Jesus, you will realize that you have no righteousness of your own and that you won’t be able to go to heaven without the righteousness of Christ, which is acquired by faith. So Jesus says He’ll give you His righteousness and take away your sins. And then the Holy Spirit starts to work. He begins writing on the heart the principles of God’s law and as that happens, we look at our sinful life and decide that we aren’t going to live, think, feel, or talk that way anymore. That is what always happens when a person receives Jesus and His righteousness.

The sinner says, “How can you save somebody that is as bad as I am?”

The Lord says, “I can save you perfectly. Anybody that comes to God through Me, will be perfectly saved.”

When the Holy Spirit begins to write God’s law in your heart, you want to do what is right. And that’s the kind of religion you want; one in which you do what is right because it is right and not just trying to keep from doing wrong because you don’t want to be lost.

Every day, as the Holy Spirit works the miracle of writing God’s law in your heart, you begin to want to do His will. You see, preparing for heaven, you are doing good according to God’s will more and more until you don’t want to do anything else. Down here in this world, we must fight, because we have a sinful nature to fight and an enemy who constantly tempts us to do wrong. And in our flesh, we cannot do anything good.

Paul explains this when he says that he brings his body into subjection. “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:27

In heaven, when you no longer have a sinful nature, you will never have to struggle with yourself. Every time you are struggling to overcome a besetting sin, just remember a time is coming when all the struggling and fighting will be over. Your sinful nature will be gone. The devil will be gone. The world we know today will be gone. All in the past. But, if it is going to be in the past, then we must receive the righteousness of Christ now. And finally, you will be doing what you want to do, living like Christ.

“Righteousness of Christ imputed to men means holiness, uprightness, purity. Unless Christ’s righteousness was imputed to us we could not have acceptable repentance. The righteousness dwelling in us by faith consists of love, forbearance, meekness, and all the Christian virtues.” Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, Adultery, and Divorce, 134

We need to be righteous if we are to be saved, but we have no righteousness and we can’t generate it. There is only one place from which we can get it and that is from Jesus Christ. He has a sufficient supply for everyone, and if we will commit our lives to Him and choose to cooperate with the work He wants to do in our lives, then His righteousness will become ours.

God has something for us that is so much better than anything we can think of ourselves. Do you want God to work in your life, to work out His good pleasure?

“For it is God who works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: historic@stepstolife.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.