Because we cannot attain a sufficient righteousness on our own, God has provided it for us. This righteousness from God is none other than the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, who through His sinless life and His death in obedience to the Father’s will, perfectly fulfilled the law of God. That is, the righteousness that is a gift from God is a real righteousness, worked out in a real world, by a real person, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is nothing less than perfect conformity to the law of God over a period of thirty-three years by the Son of God, who became a human being and lived a life of perfect obedience.
The righteousness of Jesus Christ is as much a historical reality as is the fact of sin, and in the book of Romans they are set in contrast to one another; that is, Adam’s sin against Christ’s righteousness (see Romans 5:12–19). Nineteenth-century Scottish theologian George Smeaton wrote, “[The apostle Paul] exhibits the two great counterparts of sin and righteousness as equal realities—the one as the world’s ruin, the other as its restoration. The one is a completed fact as well as the other. They are the only two great events or facts in the world’s history, and they confront each other.”
It is important to realize that our Lord Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the law of God, both in its requirements and its penalty. He did what Adam failed to do—render perfect obedience to the law of God. Then by His death He completely paid the penalty of a broken law. So, from the standpoint of obedience to the law and of paying the penalty for breaking the law, He perfectly fulfilled the law of God.
Therefore when God justifies us, or declares us righteous, He does not create some sort of legal fiction, calling something righteous that is not. Rather, He declares us righteous on the basis of the real, accomplished righteousness of Jesus Christ, which is imputed or credited to us through faith.
Another Scotsman, Robert Haldane (1764–1842), author of a masterful commentary on Romans, wrote these words about the righteousness of Christ: “To that righteousness is the eye of the believer ever to be directed; on that righteousness must he rest; on that righteousness must he live; on that righteousness must he die; in that righteousness must he appear before the judgment-seat; in that righteousness must he stand for ever in the presence of a righteous God.”
The righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed or credited to us forever. From the day we trust in Christ as our Savior, on throughout eternity, we stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Isaiah the prophet spoke of this righteousness when he wrote,
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)
This standing in Christ’s righteousness is never affected to any degree by our good-day or bad-day performance. Unless we learn to live daily by faith in (that is, by reliance on) His righteousness, however, our perception of our standing before God will vary depending on our good or bad performance.