Question 8: God’s Grace and God’s Righteousness in Salvation
Gospel Dialogue, CFP, Watchman Nee
Are we saved by the grace of God or by the righteousness of God? Which part of salvation is done for us by God’s grace, and which part of it by God’s righteousness?
“By grace have ye been saved” (Eph. 2.8), thus indicating that we are saved by grace.
“Christ Jesus: whom God set forth to be a propitiation [literally, mercy seat], through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness . . . ; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3.24-26), thus signifying that we are also saved by God’s righteousness.
The grace of God provides for us a Savior that we may be saved (see John 3.16). The righteousness of God causes salvation to come upon us, for He cannot but save us. That part of God’s provision which extends from the birth of the Lord Jesus to His death and resurrection is done for us through God’s grace. And the part from the ascension of the Lord Jesus to the present moment is done for us through God’s righteousness.
Grace may be given or withheld according to God’s pleasure; but righteousness must be dispensed without favor. Since Christ has died and been raised from the dead, God cannot but save me if I believe. Otherwise, God would be found to be unrighteous. How does 1 John 1.9 read? Does it say: “If we confess our sins, he is merciful and loving to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”? No, it says that “he is faithful and righteous . . .”
The blood of God’s Son has already cleansed us from all our sins. As we believe, God must save us. God cannot be unfaithful, because His word has already been spoken. He cannot be unrighteous, because the blood of His Son has already been shed. We thank and praise God, for He cannot but save us!
Whatever is unrighteous is sin. God cannot be unrighteous, hence He cannot but save us. Suppose we say that God may or may not forgive us. This would almost be like saying that He is unfaithful and unrighteous. Let us lay hold of God’s righteousness. How God is pleased indeed with our laying hold of His righteousness! For to lay hold of His righteousness is truly honoring Him.
Question 9: Righteousness of God vs. Righteousness of Christ
Which saves us: the righteousness of God (see Rom. 3.21-26) or the righteousness of Christ? What are their meanings and differences?
It is the righteousness of God which saves us.
What is the righteousness of God? “Whom [i.e., Christ Jesus] God set forth to be a propitiation [literally, mercy seat], through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3.25,26). The mercy seat sits on the Ark; it is where God meets with men. God has set forth Jesus as the mercy seat, which is to say that He can only communicate in Christ with men. Had there been no mercy seat on the Ark, the law in the Ark would have condemned man’s sin. But with the blood on the mercy seat, the law could no longer condemn the sin of man, because its demand has already been met. Thus is manifested the righteousness of God, which means that God is just.
According to the law, he who sins must die. Since the Lord Jesus has died for us, we do not need to die. Hence forgiveness is given according to the righteousness of God. Suppose, for example, that someone owes you a hundred dollars and he gives you an IOU note. As soon as he pays you back the hundred dollars, you should return the note to him so as to conclude the debt. But if you refuse to return the note, and yet still press him for payment, you are an unrighteous person. I have sinned and I deserve to die. But I have availed myself of the blood of Christ to repay my sinful debt. God cannot require anything from me any further. For this reason, the forgiveness of my sins is according to the righteousness of God. Under all circumstances, then, God must forgive us because the Lord Jesus has died for us.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.9). God’s being “faithful” here is in regard to His own word: whatever God says is firmly established. And His being “righteous” is in relation to the accomplished work of Christ: Christ having met all God’s demands for us, God will require nothing of us any more. His word declares that he who believes is forgiven; we believe, therefore God must forgive us. Christ has died and God’s demand is thereby fully met, so He must forgive. In the passing over of the sins done aforetime and in justifying—at this present season—all who believe, God manifests himself as just.
God has not only justified us, He also has convinced us that He is just. He is just in treating us in the way He has done. Jesus is a man, we too are human beings. Now just as sin entered into the world through one man, so it is to be taken away through one man. When Adam sinned, it was more than a personal matter; it became a concern for all mankind: for Adam is the head, and we all are parts of him. But so likewise are we in Christ: when Christ died, we all too died; and when Christ was resurrected, life flows into us. There is no need for us to implore God plaintively for forgiveness. Christ has already died for us, so God cannot but forgive us. If we believe, we shall be saved.
Nowhere in the whole New Testament can a single verse be found affirming that the righteousness of Christ saves us. For the righteousness of Christ is solely used to qualify Christ himself to be the Savior. The righteousness of Christ refers to His own good conduct. He saves us by His death, not by His righteousness. His death fulfills the righteousness of God. His righteousness is like the veil in the tabernacle made of four different colors. He alone can see God, all others are kept away outside the veil. When the veil is rent (that is, when Christ has died), a new and living way is opened for us that we may draw nigh to God (Heb. 10.20,22).
How, then, are we to explain 1 Corinthians 1.30 which says that Christ Jesus “was made unto us . . . from God . . . righteousness” and 1 Peter 3.18 which mentions “the righteous for the unrighteous”? Is the righteousness of Christ actually being mentioned in these two places? Not at all. For in 1 Corinthians 1 it is Christ himself who is made our righteousness, and in 1 Peter 3 it is Christ himself being righteous who is qualified to be a substitute for us who are unrighteous.
As regards 2 Peter 1.1—which reads: “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us in the righteousness of our God and the Savior Jesus Christ”—the “righteousness” here may be translated as “justness” or “fairness”, thus signifying that He is not partial to anyone since He gives the same precious faith to the latecomers as well as to the firstcomers, to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews (see Acts 10.34,45; 15.8,9,11).
Question 10: Righteousness of Christ vs. Christ as Righteousness
What is the difference between the righteousness of Christ and Christ as righteousness?
Christ as righteousness is found in 1 Corinthians 1.30: “Of him [God] are ye in Christ Jesus, who was made unto us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption”; this verse tells us that God has made Christ to be our righteousness.
The righteousness of Christ is Christ’s good conduct while on earth as a man. It is His personal earthly virtue. But Christ as righteousness is this: that God has given Him to us to be our righteousness. The righteousness of Christ refers to His own goodness, while Christ as righteousness refers to His own Self.
The righteousness of Christ is likened to the meal-offering numbered among the five offerings. There is no blood in the meal-offering because it typifies the earthly life—with its good deeds and virtues—of our Lord Jesus. But Christ as righteousness may be likened to the burnt-offering. As it is an offering of a sweet savor to God, it typifies Christ as being accepted by God. With Christ as our righteousness, we offer Him up as we draw nigh to God, thus being accepted by God even as Christ is accepted. God will look upon us as being as perfect as Christ. On the other hand, the sin-offering signifies how Christ is offered up to atone for the sin of our entire life, and the trespass-offering is offered up to atone for our daily sins. Both of these deal with the matter of sin. Burnt-offering, however, is for God to be able to look upon us as being as good as Christ. In the Old Testament there is a term called “Jehovah our righteousness” (Jer. 33.16). This is to say that God himself is ours. Having Christ as span> our righteousness, we can answer all of God’s demands which had been placed upon us.
Question 11: The Persecution of the Lord and the Death of the Lord
What does the persecution, which the Lord Jesus suffered, signify? And what does the death of the Lord Jesus signify?
ThThe persecution of the Lord Jesus expresses the love of God, and the death of the Lord Jesus expresses the righteousness of God.
If the earthly life of our Lord Jesus had only manifested righteousness, He would not have encountered so much opposition. We need to see that His receiving the tax-collectors and sinners showed forth love, not righteousness. And for this the Pharisees criticized Him (Matt. 9.11). Because He healed the sick on the Sabbath day, the Pharisees took counsel against Him to destroy Him (Matt. 12.10-14). Note His answer to the disciples of John: “Go and tell John the things which ye hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me” (Matt. 11.4-6). Whatever the Lord had done here was grace. Yet He was afraid lest people would stumble over such abundant grace, and hence He added, “Blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling.”
Once He spoke to the people at Nazareth, saying, “There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and unto none of them was Elijah sent, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4.25-27). This too expresses love, for a widow is most pitiful and the Gentiles are looked down upon by the Jews. As they heard these things, those in the synagogue were all filled with wrath. They rose up and cast Him forth out of the city. They led Him to the brow of a hill that they might throw Him down headlong. It may therefore be said that the Lord suffered immense persecution throughout His life. This was due to the fact that whatever He did was expressive of the love of God.
The death of the Lord, though, expresses the righteousness of God. Because there on the cross the Lord bore the sin of the entire world and suffered the judgment of God in order to fulfill all the demands of the law.
How we thank the Lord that He becomes the sinner’s friend before He is the sinner’s Savior. He first loves us and so works in us that we may believe and receive the redemption which He has accomplished on the cross.