Can it really be true that God intended me to have Jesus’ righteousness, even if I have been a sinner all my life and haven’t done one good act that could please God? Well God looks not on the external but on the internal. I mean he sees not our acts but our heart and spirit. All that we require is to have faith in what He has done for us. To understand this better we will look at the life of Abraham who is called the father of faith.
Was Abraham a righteous man? Yes. Why? Was it because he was always doing the right thing that pleased God? No. He married his half-sister, Sarai [Genesis 20:12]. He received God’s calling to leave his father’s house when he was in Ur (Mesopotamia) [Acts 7:2], but he did not act on it and instead chose to remain with his father Terah and went with him to dwell in Haran [Genesis 11:31]. Only after his father died, he began to respond to God’s calling. Out of fear of the Egyptians, he told Pharaoh that Sarai was his sister [Genesis 12:13]. After God promised him a son of his own, he tried to speed up God’s plan (upon the request of his wife Sarai) by having a child (Ishmael) through his maid Hagar [Genesis 16:3-4]. Once again after God spoke of His covenant with Abraham and that he would have a child, Abraham laughed in disbelief and asked God to bless Ishmael instead [Genesis 17:17-18]. Again out of fear, he declared to king Abimelech that Sarai (now Sarah) was his sister [Genesis 20:2], so we see that if Abraham was to be judged by the Jewish Law, then there were scores of things that Abraham did not do right and ought to have been punished instead.
However the Law only came during the time of Moses. So does that mean Abraham had no idea of righteousness? Look at what [Genesis 15:6] says, God accounted or credited righteousness to Abraham just because he believed in the Lord. Paul explains in the fourth chapter of Romans that Abraham was given the promise of an heir not by any effort of his own but just by his faith in God, in the same way when we believe in the One who justifies us even though our past may have been ungodly, yet through our faith we are accounted / credited / reckoned or imputed the righteousness of God [Romans 4:5]. The moment we believe God with all our heart, mind and strength we allow God to work in us this amazing transformation in our spirit. Therefore everyone including those who are against God or Jesus and are persecuting Christians also have a hope. For instance Saul who was murdering Christians was transformed by Jesus Himself and became one of the greatest Apostles to spread the gospel of Christ. The same Paul is responsible for more than half of the New Testament scripture.
God does not call the qualified, instead He qualifies the called. You will notice many biblical examples where God used the weak and despised. God chose Gideon who was the least of men in the weakest clan of Manasseh [Judges 6:15] to deliver Israel from their enemies. When a king was to be chosen over Israel from among the people, Saul who was from the least of all families of the smallest of all tribes of Israel [1 Samuel 9:21], was hiding away in fear [1 Samuel 10:21-22] and yet God chose him. David was the tiniest and youngest of all eight sons of Jesse and was made to take care of the sheep, he wasn’t even informed of the coming of Samuel to anoint a king from among Jesse’s sons [1 Samuel 16:11], yet God chose him. When Jesus chose his disciples he did not consider the highly educated or rich people, instead he chose his disciples among the fishermen, tax-collectors etc. So let not our past determine what God can do with us, instead God can use you in a mightier way if you haven’t anything to be proud of your past. The more you can depend on your own intellect, skills or talents, the harder it is for God to use you for His purpose.
Why is ‘the righteousness of God’ the central theme of the Gospel? Jesus said “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness” [Matthew 5:6] (RSV) and “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” [Matthew 5:10] (RSV). He was talking about God’s righteousness which would be imputed to people according to the prophecy of David [Romans 4:6].The righteousness of God liberates people from taking any merit in what they do, so that all glory goes to God alone.
Imagine if I was called a righteous man because I did not do the wrong things, always prayed and read the Word of God, helped the poor and orphans etc. If the reason for my righteousness is because of what I have done, then I get all the credit and God gets none. Just like the Pharisees when I would walk on the street I would be able to hear the whispers of the people “Look there goes a very righteous man; he does such and such a thing and so on and so forth”. On the contrary I now know that I am righteous not because of what I did but because of what Jesus did. I am not saying that I shouldn’t be helping the poor, reading the Word of God, praying and doing the right things, all these are important, but not the reason for my righteousness. James clearly says that faith without works is dead [James 2:17]. When a person acknowledges God’s love for him, he receives faith from God as a gift [Ephesians 2:8]; this gift of faith causes him to respond by sharing God’s love with his brothers. As God’s love cannot be dormant in a person, it would prepare his heart so that by faith he would desire to do the right things. These good works are purely motivated out of God’s love dwelling in him. Any good work that does not arise from this motivation is a self-effort in order to please man and God. Therefore it would be better if I do these things out of my relationship with God and out of His love that dwells in me rather than to do them to become righteous. I hope you get the difference, it may look minor but it’s what makes all the difference.