What is true righteousness and holiness? Is this something only God possesses, or can we as sinful human beings also reflect this, and how?
“And that you put on the new man which was created according to God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24)
While it is true that only God is completely and perfectly righteous and holy, the fact that Christ came to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) tells us that God does not want us to be hopelessly mired in sin. And while we will never have the kind of holiness God exhibits while we are still in these earthly bodies, God does have a plan.
1) The first way we receive true righteousness and holiness is by having it attributed to us by the Father through Christ. This is called justification. Because He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)—completely holy—it is as though we switch robes with Christ. He took on Himself our filthy sin-covered rags at the cross and gave us the white robe of His holiness in exchange. This is “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27) After we trust Christ for forgiveness, when God looks at us He no longer sees our sins; He sees Christ’s righteousness and holiness in us through His Spirit.
2) The second way we receive true righteousness and holiness is by allowing God to work in us through His Spirit in an ongoing way as moment by moment and day by day we submit to His will instead of indulging ours. This is called sanctification, and it is the process of our putting off the old man—our inborn desire to do what is unholy and unrighteous in direct rebellion against God–instead choosing to be renewed in the spirit of our minds through His Word, the Bible, and putting on the new man—the new us—which God tells us is created according to Him in true righteousness and holiness.
Sometimes we can better understand a verse by examining it in several different versions of the Bible:
“…the new man was created according to God in true righteousness and holiness.” (NKJV)
“…the new self [was] created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (NIV)
“…your new nature [was] created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” (NLT)
“…the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (ESV)
Another rule of Biblical interpretation is that Scripture interprets Scripture—in other words, reading a certain verse can help us better understand another verse. Today’s verse tells us that the new man is “created according to God (or to be like God, or after the likeness of God) in true righteousness and holiness.” If we look at other uses of the term “likeness of God” in the Bible, we learn something interesting:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26)
“When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” (Genesis 5:1b)
We see that we were created by God in His likeness, in His image, in true righteousness and holiness. Before man sinned, he was genuinely good and perfect. Yet now, after the Fall, we are born with a sin-infection within ourselves. It is the effect of this contamination that Christ came to counter-affect, and He does this through the ongoing process of sanctification.
So does God tells us more about the new man/new nature? To answer this, let’s look at some more verses:
“We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:4)
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13:14)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
“And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:10)
“Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:4)
God tells us to put on the new man, because this new nature reflects His image of true righteousness and holiness. Sanctification undoes what sin ruined. And while we still experience the presence of sin both in ourselves and in others, in this life, through His Word and by submitting to His will on a daily basis, God is making us increasingly like Him.
3) Ultimately, we will be saved from even the presence of sin. This is called glorification, and it is what Christ’s people will experience after He resurrects our dead bodies when He returns. It is what we long for and look forward to.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body…For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Romans 8:18-30)
Help us put on the new man, which was created according to You in true righteousness and holiness. Amen.