This is why one of the Christian’s favorite verses is this: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just [righteous] to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Who would want God’s forgiveness at the expense of His righteousness? Then God would cease to be God and we would have neither God nor forgiveness.
Righteousness Helps Us Understand Justification
If we are not saved by our own righteousness or by God’s setting aside His righteousness, how, then, are we saved? We are saved by Christ’s own perfect righteousness being imputed to us. Only by possessing divine righteousness can we feel at peace in the presence of the God of all righteousness. With his customary profound simplicity, Dr. Sproul summed it up: “When we put our personal trust for salvation in Christ and in Him alone, then God transfers to our account all of the righteousness of Jesus.”
In his commentary on 1 and 2 Peter, Dr. Sproul went to great lengths to point out that this is a legal transaction where, although no real property is exchanged, the property title is transferred. He warned: “We should never despise that transfer, that imputation of righteousness, that was given to us freely by God when we put our trust in Christ. Because of that, the Father sees his Son, without spot or blemish, when he looks at us.”
If righteousness was one of Dr. Sproul’s favorite words, imputation of righteousness was perhaps his favorite phrase. As he put it, “There is no doctrine more precious than that of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the account of the believer, because the only righteousness by which we will ever be saved before God is the righteousness of Christ.”
Righteousness Helps Us Oppose Roman Catholicism
If there was one thing that motivated Dr. Sproul’s love of the Reformation and his lifelong opposition to the Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation, it was the difference between the Roman Catholic and Reformed views of justification. “The great debate of the 16th century came down to two words—infusion and imputation,” he insisted. “Rome held that one cannot be declared just by God until or unless justice or righteousness inheres in that person’s soul, whereas the Reformers declared that, according to Scripture, we are justified the moment the righteousness of Christ is transferred to us by faith.” Because the righteousness of Christ is perfect and never diminishes, there can never be any increase or decrease in a believer’s righteousness.
Righteousness Helps Us Understand the Christian Life
Dr. Sproul noted that for some people, “justification by faith may be viewed as a license to sin. If we have the righteousness of Christ, why should we worry about changing our sinful ways? Since our good works can’t get us into heaven why should we be concerned about them at all?” He rightly retorts: “Such questions never ought to pass over the lips of a truly justified person.” He goes on: “The goal of Christian growth is the achievement of righteousness. . . . In the Christian world today, such a statement may sound radical. Christians hardly ever talk about righteousness. The word has almost become a swear word.”
Dr. Sproul’s special word is a swear word to many Christians. That’s desperately sad. And deadly serious.