Declared Righteous by Jehovah
THE matter of being declared righteous by Jehovah is not one to be lightly pushed aside. It is a question of life or death, for only those whom Jehovah declares righteous will receive everlasting life. Jehovah’s declaring his servants righteous is not for the purpose of acquitting or absolving them from the false charges made against them by their enemies, seen and unseen, for such charges do not influence him. Rather, his declaring his servants righteous concerns their standing with him and the freeing of them of the charges and penalties that his own justice has placed against them.
Why are we in need of being declared righteous by God? Because our first parent Adam willfully disobeyed God’s law and therefore lost his righteous standing before God and his conditional right to life. Having lost these priceless possessions he could not pass them on to his offspring, and so all of them were born in sin, imperfect, without a righteous standing before God and without a conditional right to life. That is why “there is not a righteous man, not even one,” for “through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Rom. 3:10; 5:12, NW.
By his sin Adam ran us into debt to God’s justice. God was not obligated to provide release for us, to pay that debt, but because God is love he mercifully provided for our release, to pay that debt for us. The Scriptures reveal how God could be just and yet declare those harmed by Adam’s transgression righteous, namely, by faith in Christ’s ransom sacrifice.
But did not the Law furnish a basis for the Israelites to be declared righteous? No, it did not; in fact, it could not. Why? Because it could not remove their disability, it could not free them from debt. It merely gave them a standard, something to strive to attain to; which only made it even more apparent how far they were coming short of God’s righteous requirements. So the Law, by showing the many things that constituted sin, actually made sin to abound all the more. And by its required sacrifices it impressed upon the Israelites their need for a valid sacrifice as well as kept them in Jehovah’s pure worship until their Messiah came who could furnish them release from sin.
Still someone may ask, Was not Abraham’s faith in Jehovah “counted to him as righteousness”? Yes, but only to the extent that “he came to be called ‘Jehovah’s friend’.” Then are imperfect humans declared righteous in varying degrees and for different purposes? Yes. Abraham had faith in God’s promise regarding a seed, and because of his faith God accepted him as a friend. But Abraham did not know who that Seed would be; so he could not exercise faith in Christ Jesus and in his ransom sacrifice, without which no one can be declared righteous with the hope of everlasting life.—Jas. 2:23, NW.
WHO ARE BEING DECLARED RIGHTEOUS NOW
How was Christ Jesus able to provide a basis for the declaring righteous of imperfect human creatures? In having his perfect life transferred from his spiritual prehuman existence to the womb of the virgin Mary he was free from Adamic sin. As a perfect human creature he was the equal of the perfect man Adam in Eden, and continuing in that righteous condition he could have lived forever on earth. But that was not God’s purpose or will for Jesus, and so Jesus was not given a wife and a mandate to be fruitful and fill the earth. Rather, God’s destiny for Jesus was to be the divine King of the new world. So his stay on earth was only temporary, just long enough to learn “obedience from the things he suffered,” to “bear witness to the truth,” and “to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.”—Heb. 5:8; John 18:37; Matt. 20:28, NW.
By voluntarily laying down his life Christ Jesus released merit, something of value that he could use for the benefit of others. Upon his resurrection as a spirit and his ascension into heaven he presented this merit to God, who accepted it in lieu of the claims His justice had against the human race.
Have any received the benefits of this provision, and, if so, who, how and when? Ever since Pentecost the “body of Christ,” which is limited to the one hundred and forty-four thousand that John saw “standing upon the mount Zion” with the Lamb, have been receiving the benefits of this provision, being declared righteous in the sight of God because of their faith in Christ’s sacrifice and their dedication to do Jehovah’s will.—Rev. 14:1, NW.
The declaring righteous of these is only a means to an end. And what is that? That they might be eligible for membership in the body of Christ as his footstep followers. At the age of thirty he, as a full-grown perfect man, sacrificed his human life so that he might obtain a heavenly inheritance.
However, these who would be Christ’s followers, being imperfect, cannot meet God’s requirements for an unblemished sacrifice. Neither have they a right to life to sacrifice on the basis of which they could be given the hope of spiritual life. But on the basis of their faith in Christ’s sacrifice and their dedication to Jehovah, Jehovah credits them with Christ’s merit, thus making them acceptable for sacrificing and giving them something to sacrifice, which they do sacrifice, God then begetting them by his spirit to a hope of heavenly life.
Their righteousness being imputed by faith, rather than being actual, these cannot keep themselves wholly free from sin. But they will not willingly yield to sin, and though repeatedly coming short they are able to keep their righteous standing before God by appealing for Christ’s merit to be applied to them to cover their sins.—1 John 1:9, 10; 2:1.
WHAT ABOUT OTHERS?
Christ Jesus furnished ‘propitiatory sacrifice, not only for the sins of his body, the Christian congregation, but also for others of mankind.’ (1 John 2:2) When will these others, the faithful men of old who died before Christ came, those of mankind in general in their tombs and those of the “great crowd” of other sheep who are now faithfully serving Jehovah, be declared righteous? In view of what we have seen about justification or being declared righteous by faith as being only a means to an end, so that certain ones might be eligible to membership in Christ’s body and share heavenly glory with him, it follows that all whose destiny is the earth, the foregoing ones mentioned, would have no need of having righteousness imputed to them.
Those of the other sheep today may be said to have a token forgiveness. By reason of their faith in Christ’s sacrifice, their dedication to do Jehovah’s will and their separating themselves from the world, they are pictured as having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:14, NW) Because of seeking Jehovah, righteousness and meekness, they have the hope of being spared during the great tribulation of Armageddon to enter the new world of righteousness without first going into the tomb. In that new world they will gradually attain to actual perfection under the ministration of Christ and his body of kings and priests.
The faithful men of old, who died before Christ gave his life as a ransom, having done “good things,” because of their following a righteous course, will be brought forth to a resurrection of life. Theirs will be a resurrection to life, not in the sense that they will come forth with perfect bodies, for they will not, but in that they will be well along on the way to life because of their past integrity-keeping course. They will at once vow and render allegiance to Christ, the reigning King, and will share with others in the privilege of serving as “princes.”—Ps. 45:16.
The resurrected faithful men of old and the other sheep will join in making the earth a paradise after which will come the resurrection of mankind in general, those in the “memorial tombs” and who had “practiced vile things.” (John 5:28, 29, NW) These likewise will have the opportunity of availing themselves of Christ’s sacrifice and benefiting from his reign, thereby attaining perfection by the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ.
Then all on earth will be put to one last test by the loosing of Satan and his demons from the abyss, to which they had been confined while the uplifting work of Christ’s reign was taking place. While, during the thousand-year reign, those who refused to get in line were destroyed, the test at the end of the thousand years will reveal all those who turn selfish at heart, who will then be destroyed together with Satan and his demons in what is termed “the lake of fire” and “the second death.” (Rev. 20:1-10, 14) Those maintaining integrity will be declared righteous by Jehovah and be given the right to everlasting life.
Thus, in summing up, we see that from Pentecost to the present time only those of the “body of Christ” are declared righteous, and that by faith; these will gain actual righteousness in the “first resurrection.” And the rest of the obedient ones of mankind will be declared righteous to life everlasting after meeting the test at the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ.
By works of law no flesh will be declared righteous before him, for by law is the accurate knowledge of sin. But now apart from law God’s righteousness has been made manifest, as it is borne witness to by the Law and the Prophets; yes, God’s righteousness through the faith in Jesus Christ, for all those having faith. . . . For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and it is as a free gift that they are being declared righteous by his undeserved kindness through the release by the ransom paid by Christ Jesus.—Rom. 3:20-24, NW.