“This is His name whereby He shall be called, ‘The Lord, Our Righteousness.’”
The messianic prophecies of the Old Testament provided immense comfort and hope for the penitent sinners of that time who clung in faith to the promises of God’s grace in the coming Savior. Sometimes that comfort was contained in the very names, or titles, given to the Messiah in those prophecies. Consider Isaiah 9:6, where the promised Messiah is named the “Prince of Peace;” or Isaiah 7:4, where He is called “Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). Similarly, in Jeremiah 23:6 we find a most comforting title given to the promised Savior, namely, “The Lord Our Righteousness.” For us to have true righteousness —holiness, sinlessness— is absolutely crucial if we are to have a favorable relationship with the Lord, of whom it is said in the inspired Scriptures: “Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness; neither shall evil dwell with Thee. The foolish shall not stand in Thy sight; Thou hatest all workers of iniquity” (Psalm 5:4–5). And since the Bible also declares, “There is no difference; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22–23), how can anyone hope to stand in God’s holy sight? On the basis of his own inherent righteousness (of which he has none), no man can stand before Him (Psalm 143:2; Galatians 3:11). Nevertheless, there is hope for us sinful creatures through Him whose name is “The Lord, Our Righteousness.”
The only human being ever to be born into this world without having any sin at all is the God-Man, Jesus Christ. According to His divine nature, Jesus is righteous in His very essence, because that is what God is. “Righteous art Thou, O Lord; and upright are Thy judgments” (Psalm 119:137). “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works” (Psalm 145:17). But also according to His human nature, Jesus was completely righteous even from the time of His conception. Referring to the Child to be born of the virgin Mary, Gabriel said: “That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Not only was Jesus kept pure from every stain of original sin in His mother’s womb, but throughout His earthly life He successfully resisted every temptation of the devil. As a true man, Christ “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Consistently acting, speaking, and thinking in perfect compliance to the whole Law of God every second of His life, Jesus “did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth” (I Peter 2:22). Very appropriately, therefore, the Apostle John refers to Him as: “Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1). Thus the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ, was and is completely righteous in Himself —not having any original sin, nor ever committing any actual sins.
But the title given Him in Jeremiah 23:6 is not “The Righteous Lord,” or “The Lord who Epitomizes Righteousness,” or “The Lord who Abounds in Righteousness,” but rather: “The Lord, Our Righteousness.” What then explains that title? It is explained by the glorious teaching of the Gospel that Christ’s righteousness is credited to us, because His redemptive work was accomplished on our behalf and was accepted by God for our righteousness (II Corinthians 5:21). The purpose for which the Son of God was born into this world as a true human being was to redeem the whole world as the Substitute for every sinner under the Law of God. “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law, to redeem them that were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4–5). Thus in order to redeem all people from their sins, Christ willingly took the place of sinful mankind under the requirements and punishments of God’s holy Law. By His active obedience, He kept all of God’s commandments perfectly, not for Himself, but for the entire human race. By His passive obedience, He suffered the punishment of hell on the cross, not for His own transgressions (since He had none), but for the sins of the world, which were laid upon Him. “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him. … And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5–6). The result of this universal and vicarious atonement is that God has established peace between Himself and the whole world through the forgiveness of their sins (objective justification). “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (II Corinthians 5:19).
Because Jesus perfectly fulfilled God’s Law in the place of all people, His righteousness is imputed to all. The entire multitude of mankind was made, is made, and will continue until the end of the earth to be “made righteous” in the sight of God on account of Christ Jesus’ perfect obedience to the holy Law of the Lord as man’s Substitute. “As by the offence of one [Adam] judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of One [Christ] the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience [the] many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall [the] many be made righteous” (Romans 5:18–19). Just as the sinless Christ was reckoned by God to be a sinner —having imputed to Him our guilt— so also we sinners are reckoned by God to be righteous —having imputed to us Christ’s righteousness. “He [God the Father] hath made Him [God the Son, Christ Jesus] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).
Sadly, even though this righteousness has been earned for all mankind (universal atonement), even though it has been given to and bestowed upon all people in the heart of God (objective justification), and even though it is rightly proclaimed in the glorious Gospel (“the Word of reconciliation,” II Corinthians 5:19b) as comfort to all those who are troubled in their minds on account of their sins, yet all people by nature regard the Gospel of Christ to be “foolishness” (I Corinthians 2:14), reject in unbelief the righteousness of Christ, and, therefore, do not receive His righteousness. And while the vast majority of people persist in that condition until their death and eternal destruction (I Corinthians 1:18; Matthew 7:13–14), thankfully in some, through the very message of God’s grace in Christ Jesus, the Holy Ghost changes the stubborn unbelieving heart into one that rejoices and confides in the imputed righteousness of the Redeemer. It is through that faith alone, without any merit or worthiness in the individual sinner, that a man is declared righteous by the Lord —receiving Christ’s righteousness by faith. “A man is justified [declared righteous] by faith without the deeds of the Law” (Romans 3:28). “Whosoever believeth in [Christ] shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).
Though we Christians have been given a New Man, which “is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24), and have thus been designed for the performance of good works (Ephesians 2:10), yet, apart from the righteousness of Christ, “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6), because our best works are still always marred by the sin that is continually active in our Old Adam, in our sinful flesh. Consequently, St. Paul describes his own condition in this way: “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man; but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:18–24). Far from bringing us God’s declaration of righteousness, our sin-corrupted works could only bring this one verdict: Guilty of transgressions exceeding human calculation and worthy of eternal condemnation in hell. Indeed, because the holy Law of God demands of us absolute perfection (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48; James 2:10; Galatians 3:10), we cannot possibly have true righteousness before God based on our own imperfect works and efforts. “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the Law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin” (Galatians 3:21–22).
The only way we can have true righteousness before God is to have foreign righteousness (the righteousness of another) imputed, or credited, to us. Praise be to our gracious God that Christ Jesus, the Lord, is “our righteousness.” His righteousness is imputed to us, and thus we are declared righteous for His sake. This glorious teaching of Holy Scripture provides the greatest comfort to us in our anguish over the numerous sins we commit each day in thoughts, words, and deeds, because it assures us that, though we have broken God’s Commandments more times than we can know, Christ is “The Lord, Our Righteousness.” All our guilt is covered and canceled by His righteousness. Because we receive His righteousness by faith, and because of the intimate connection between the Lord Jesus and all true believers, His Church in Jeremiah 33:16 is given the exact same title that is ascribed to Christ Himself in Jeremiah 23:6, namely, “The Lord, Our Righteousness.”
It was absolutely crucial for the accomplishment of this plan of grace —for the righteousness of Christ to be imputed to us— that our Redeemer be both true God and true man in one undivided and indivisible person. In order for Him to be our substitute under the Law of God, it was necessary that the Messiah be a true human being (Galatians 4:4–5; Hebrews 2:14); and in order for His perfect obedience under the requirements and curse of God’s Law to be of sufficient value to cancel the guilt of the entire world of sinners, it was necessary that He be true God (Psalm 49:7–8; Romans 5:18–19; I John 1:7). Thus at Christmas time we have as our special focus of meditation the miracle that made our redemption, justification, and salvation possible, the without-controversy-great mystery of Godliness (I Timothy 3:16), the miracle of God becoming man (incarnate) so that we could become the recipients of His imputed righteousness! The prophecy of Jeremiah 23:6 certainly gave much comfort to the Old Testament believers as they looked forward in faith to the birth of the promised Messiah; and this verse still fills us Christians today with the greatest joy in the celebration of the birth of Him who is “the Lord, our righteousness!”
Thy cross, not mine, O Christ,
has borne the aweful load
of sins that none could bear
but the incarnate God.
To whom save Thee, who canst alone
for sin atone, Lord, shall I flee?
Thy righteousness, O Christ,
alone can cover me;
no righteousness avails
save that which is of Thee.
To whom save Thee, who canst alone
for sin atone, Lord, shall I flee?
(TLH 380, vv. 3, 5)
—P. E. B.