The previous Study has demonstrated how the Lord Jesus had our human
nature and was tempted to sin just like us. The difference between him and
us is that he completely overcame sin; whilst having our nature, he always
exhibited a perfect character. The wonder of this should endlessly inspire
us as we increasingly appreciate it. There is repeated New Testament
emphasis upon Christ's perfect character:-
• He was "in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15).
• He "knew no sin". "In Him there is no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 3:5).
• "Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth" (1 Peter 2:22).
• "Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26).
The Gospel records demonstrate how his fellow men recognized the perfection oozing from his character, shown in his words and actions. Pilate's wife recognized that he was a "just man" (Matt. 27:19), undeserving of punishment; the Roman soldier who watched Christ's demeanour whilst hanging on the cross had to comment, "Certainly this was a righteous man" (Luke 23:47). Earlier in his life, Jesus challenged the Jews with the question: "Which of you convicts Me of sin?" (John 8:46). To this there was no reply.
As a result of His victorious perfection in every way, Jesus of Nazareth was raised above the Angels (Heb. 1:3-5REB). He was given an exalted name (Phil. 2:9), which included all the Angelic titles. “His name will be called Wonderful [cp. Jud. 13:18], Counsellor [2 Kings 22:20]” (Is. 9:6). Evidently this high position was not possessed by Jesus before His birth and death; the idea of Him being exalted to this position rules this out.
Due to his perfect character, Jesus was the manifestation of God in flesh (1Tim. 3:16); He acted and spoke as God would have done had He been a man. He was therefore the perfect reflection of God - "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15). Because of this, there is no need for mortal men to physically see God. As Jesus explained, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us (physically) the Father?’" (John 14:9). The repeated Biblical emphasis is that God the Father was manifest in Jesus Christ His Son (2 Cor. 5:19; Jn. 14:10; Acts 2:22). The doctrine of the trinity teaches that the Son was manifest or ‘incarnate’ in Jesus; but the Bible teaches that God was manifest [‘incarnate’ if we must use the term] in Jesus. The word became flesh (Jn. 1:14), rather than the word entering into a fleshly form.
Living in a sinful world, beset by sin and failure in our own lives, it is hard for us to appreciate the totality and immensity of Christ's spiritual supremacy; that a man of our nature should fully reveal the righteousness of God in his character. Believing this requires a more real faith than just accepting the theological idea that Christ was God Himself; it is understandable that the false doctrine of the trinity is so popular.
Christ willingly gave his perfect life as a gift to us; he showed his love for us by dying "for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3), knowing that through his death he would gain us eventual salvation from sin and death (Eph. 5:2,25; Rev. 1:5; Gal. 2:20). Because Jesus was perfect in character he was able to overcome the result of sin by being the first person to rise from the dead and be given immortal life. All those who identify themselves with Christ through baptism and a Christ-like way of life therefore have hope of a similar resurrection and reward.
In this lies the glorious significance of Christ's resurrection. It is the "assurance" that we will be resurrected and judged (Acts 17:31), and if we have been truly like him, share his reward of immortal life, "knowing (confidently) that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus" (2 Cor. 4:14; 1 Cor. 6:14; Rom. 6:3-5). As sinners, we deserve eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Yet, on account of Christ's perfect life, obedient death and his resurrection, God is able to offer us the gift of eternal life, completely in accord with all His principles.
To displace the effects of our sins, God "credits righteousness" (Rom. 4:6NIV) to us through our faith in His promises of salvation. We know that sin brings death, therefore if we truly believe that God will save us from it, we must believe that He will count us as if we are righteous, although we are not. Christ was perfect; by being truly in Christ, God can count us as if we are perfect, although personally we are not. God made Christ "who had no sin, to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God " (2 Cor. 5:21NIV), i.e. being in Christ through baptism and a Christ-like life. Thus for those "in Christ Jesus", he is "became for us ... righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30,31); the following verse therefore encourages us to praise Christ for the great things he has achieved: "In the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith" (Rom. 1:17 NIV).
All this was made possible through Christ's resurrection. He was the "firstfruits" of a whole harvest of human beings who will be made immortal through his achievement (1 Cor. 15:20), "the firstborn" of a new spiritual family who will be given God's nature (Col.1:18,19 cp. Eph. 3:15). Christ's resurrection therefore made it possible for God to count believers in Christ as if they are righteous, seeing that they are covered by his righteousness. Christ "was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification" (Rom. 4:25 NIV), a word meaning 'to be righteous'.
It takes a conscious, meditated faith in these things to really be convinced that we can be counted by God as if we are perfect. Christ can present us at the judgment seat "faultless before the presence of His glory", "holy, and blameless, and irreproachable in His sight" (Jude v. 24; Col. 1:22 cp. Eph. 5:27). Given our constant spiritual failures, it takes a firm faith to really believe this. Just putting our hand up at a 'crusade' or making an academic assent to a set of doctrines is not related to this kind of faith. It is a proper understanding of Christ's resurrection which should motivate our faith: "God... raised Him from the dead ... so that your faith and hope (of a similar resurrection) are in God" (1 Pet. 1:21).
It is only by proper baptism into Christ that we can be "in Christ" and therefore be covered by his righteousness. By baptism we associate ourselves with his death and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5), which are the means of our deliverance from our sins, through being 'justified', or counted righteous (Rom. 4:25).
The marvellous things which we have considered in this section are quite out of our grasp unless we have been baptized. At baptism we associate ourselves with the blood of Christ shed on the cross; believers wash "their robes and (make) them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14). Figuratively, they are then clothed in white robes, representing the righteousness of Christ which has been counted ('credited') to them (Rev. 19:8). It is possible to make these white clothes dirty as a result of our sin (Jude v. 23); when we do this after baptism, we must again use the blood of Christ to wash them clean through asking God for forgiveness through Christ.
It follows that after baptism we still need to strive to remain in the blessed position which we then entered. There is a need for regular, daily self-examination, with constant prayer and seeking of forgiveness. By doing this we will always be humbly confident that, due to our covering with Christ's righteousness, we really will be in the Kingdom of God. We must seek to be found abiding in Christ at the day of our death or at Christ's return, "not having (our) own righteousness ...but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith" (Phil. 3:9).
The repeated emphasis on faith resulting in imputed righteousness, shows that in no way can we earn salvation by our works; salvation is by grace: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works" (Eph. 2:8,9). As justification and righteousness are 'gifts' (Rom. 5:17), so, too, is salvation. Our motivation in doing any works of Christian service should therefore be that of gratitude for what God has done for us - counting us as righteous through Christ, and thereby giving us the way to salvation. It is fatal to reason that if we do works we will then be saved. We will simply not succeed in gaining salvation if we think like this; it is a gift which we cannot earn, only lovingly respond to in deep gratitude, which will be reflected in our works. Real faith produces works as an inevitable by-product (James 2:17).