“And that I might be found in him, not having my own righteousness from the Law, but rather through faith in Christ — a righteousness from God that is dependent on faith.”
“Therefore, having been justified as a result of faith, we have peace toward God through our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
This is one of the most theologically significant verses in Scripture when it comes to the nature of the righteousness we have in Christ. Paul is making it very clear that the Christian does have a righteousness … a righteousness that comes not from the works of the individual (for our works are surely dung) but instead that comes from Jesus himself — the works of Jesus imputed to the believer. We might even say, on the basis of this text, that this righteousness is a sign that genuine faith has been given to the believer (a sign of rebirth).
I think that it is worth clarifying a distinction here between Paul’s language in this verse and the language he uses in Romans 5:1…namely the distinction between righteousness dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosune) and justification dikaio/w (dikaio’o). We should note that both are related words, the first being a noun and the second being a verb. They also both deal with a legal standing that one might have before a judge or a court of law. The verb, dikaio/w (dikaio’o) — “to justify” — refers to a pronouncement made by a judge that a person is righteous. The noun, dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosune) — “righteousness” — refers to that actual righteousness that a person has which is the basis for the pronouncement by the judge.
Why is this important? It is argued by some (incorrectly so) that the reason those justified are righteous is because of the pronouncement that they are righteous. Yet, that presumes righteousness to be an adjective and not a noun, and thus a description and not a thing. Yet, when the term dikaiosu/nh (dikaiosune) — “righteousness” — is used in Paul (and also in the LXX), it is a term that refers to the actual righteousness of the one coming under judgment.
Are we splitting hairs here? At first, it might seem like it, but let me explain a little further. If righteousness is something that is based on the declaration of God as judge, then it has been argued by some that the personal nature of salvation becomes something that God does for a group or a body of people — God declares the church to be righteous…further, your standing before God then relies on the standing of the church and not your own standing before God.
While Jesus did establish the church, our righteousness does not come from the church or our relationship to it. What Paul is teaching here is that God pronounces us to be justified because we are righteous. And why are we righteous? Certainly not because of our own works … they are dung … we are righteous through faith in Jesus Christ. God gives rebirth, generates saving faith within us which imputes to us Christ’s righteousness, and then he declares what is so — that we are righteous…not by works of the law, but by the work of Christ. And faith, which Paul writes is the basis on which righteousness stands or falls, comes from and finds its power in Christ.
And folks, that is good news because our works are dung and the church has often misled, falling far short of what Christ instituted it to be. That does not mean that we abandon the church as some in the emergent movement have sought to do, but simply that we recognize that our standing before God is not built on the church. Yet, as people who have been made righteous, we are to work as the church to be salt and light, to disciple the nations, and to tear down the high places that this world has set up to rail against God. We have work to do as the church, work not done in our own strength, but in the strength that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit…and work that is done righteously not because of our own righteousness, but because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us.