“He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
When you get into the meat of the theology behind the Gospel, you eventually find yourself having to slog through some big words whose definitions are not at all clear to most people. The reason is simply that we don’t use words like that very often anymore; at least, not in the way they were understood in previous generations or by the various New Testament authors. At the same time, they’re really important words whose ideas are central to grasping the nature of the salvation made available in Christ. One of the most important of these is the word “righteousness.” Let’s talk for a minute about what it means and why it makes Christmas so important.
Let’s start with a definition: Righteousness means right relationships. It really is that simple. Big word, simple idea. Whenever you hear the word “righteousness,” think: right relationships. Someone who is fully righteous is rightly related to God and people (all of them) in that order. Both are necessary to meet with the definition. If you are not rightly related to people, you won’t be able to be rightly related to the God who created and loves them. But, if you aren’t rightly related to God, you aren’t going to have the resources you need to be rightly related to people.
This, of course, is where the problem comes into play. Way back in the Garden, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit God told them not to eat, our relationship with Him was broken. The sin that infected us in that moment and has been spread down through the generations of humanity since has kept the relationship broken. And, because our relationship with God was broken, our relationship with people has also been broken. Righteousness, in other words, was lost.
Here’s where the problem gets deeper. Because God is holy, anything unrighteous cannot be in His presence. After the fall, that included us. Because of the sin that has become a part of who we are, though, we weren’t able to do anything to fix the problem on our own. We were stuck separated from God.
In His abundant patience and grace, He did not immediately deliver us over to the consequences of our separation from Him (which would have been immediate death). Instead, He waited. He waited for the right time to set things right again. In the meantime, He gave us some means by which we could still pursue the relationship with Him He created us to have and still very much wanted with us. But, until there came about some means of restoring righteousness in us, nothing He did was anything more than a bandaid on a broken leg.
Enter Jesus. Because God knew that we were never going to be able to hit the mark of righteousness on our own, when the time was just right, He came Himself as God the Son. He brought His righteousness with Him with the intention of giving it to us.
That’s what Paul was talking about here in his letter to the Corinthian church. The God who was perfectly righteous became sin—that is, He took our sin upon Himself; He had it credited to His account—in order that we could share in His righteousness. The glorious, holy, righteous King of Heaven left His throne and entered the brokenness of our world in the most humble circumstances possible, shined the light of His righteousness for all to see, and now lets us stand in that light if we so choose.
You see, our tradition of giving gifts at Christmas didn’t come out of nowhere. The infant king came bringing the first gift with Him: righteousness. We are still broken by sin and possess no righteousness on our own. The righteousness that enables us to stand before our gracious God once again in the ways He always intended for us is not our righteousness at all. It is His, shared with us through His Son. That’s what Paul means when He says that in Christ we become the righteousness of God.
Here then is the piece that is most for you to hear: How’s your relationship with God? Is it right? How about your relationship with people? If both pieces aren’t as God intended them to be, you’ve got a problem. The baby born at Christmastime has the solution. In Him you can be declared righteous and enjoy to its fullest the relationship you were designed in the beginning to have. Don’t miss another day of the Father’s presence. Go to Christ, and enter into His righteousness by faith. You’ll be glad you did.